've always held pacifism as a right philosophy, but I hadn't given it due consideration until earlier this year when an experience in the dojo forced me to come to terms with pacifism and violence as a Christian and martial artist. Back in May when I was thrust headlong into the dilemma I shared my struggles with some friends; many of whom responded with excellent wisdom that I've since had the pleasure of meditating on and integrating into my perspective. In this week's post I'm honoured to share with you the response from one of those friends.
Jeff Wheeldon's (from Stumbling Through Theology) words reflect not only a deep wisdom but they actually resonate with something transcendent, something deep inside that makes me want to throw my fist in the air and yell "F&#$ YEAH!". You may not agree, but Jeff's words formed the cornerstone from which I was able to process the input from others and eventually come to terms with how it is that I can be so engaged in a fundamentally violent activity and yet hold fast a Christ-like pacifism.
So here it is, reprinted with permission, his email from earlier this year.
From: Jeff Wheeldon
Sent: Wednesday, May 14, 2014
To: Sven Thomas
Subject: RE: Dilemma
Thanks for sharing this, Sven. I appreciate it a lot.
This is why I love the Karate Kid; it really turns this issue on its head. The Karate Kid is trained in martial arts, and is obviously very able to defend himself, but he's also trained to almost never use his skills. That's why he's able to defeat the bullies - because he prioritizes skill and discipline (the ability to carefully direct and restrain physical force) over the ability to unleash physical force.
Coming at it from another side, pacifism without power is nothing. Refusing to hurt someone when you don't even have the ability to do so is not a virtue, or even a choice; and making yourself weak for the sake of pacifist ideals is a false pacifism. Theologians make much of the weakness of Christ, his vulnerability, but what makes that powerful is that it involved a self-emptying, a giving up of power. Jesus telling Peter to put his sword away in the face of a Roman legion is not pacifism, it's just good sense; but Jesus knowing that he has a legion of angels at his behest, and refusing to call on them - THAT is pacifism. True pacifism must come from a position of strength.
That said, true pacifists don't usually show their strength. Jesus appeared weak, and to his enemies, he appeared weak all the way to the grave. His true strength was showed in his restraint, and true restraint includes restraint from boasting and posturing. You and I are big guys, and because of that it's always assumed that we have great strength, so all it takes is a small reminder of that to scare most people off. But pacifism is about accepting the harder solutions for the sake of the other, even the attacker; while puffing out our chests might prevent a confrontation from escalating (though it often has the opposite effect), our strength would be better shown by a quiet demeanour that de-emphasizes our own strength, and then the careful exercise of that strength (and skill, though I lack it) to restrain and disarm an attacker when other solutions fail.
The greatest show of strength is the refusal to show the greatest strength, and the world's best martial artist is anonymous. That's what makes the martial arts so great: they have such a profound humility and respect for strength, and because of that they emphasize restraint. In that sense, I think that the martial arts may be the best thing for any pacifist to pursue, and I love living vicariously through you in that regard :)
Thanks again for your thoughts, Sven. I'm sorry that the pacifism you grew up with had become so diverted from its true nature and strength, and I pray that you will overcome that weak and reactionary pacifism with a true and powerful and empowering pacifism.