Lent courses are ending everywhere – some with a flourish and ours not with a bang, as we were considering peace-making and loving your enemies. We talked a bit about non-retaliation and pacifism, especially whether it is right to keep your personal integrity whilst benefiting from others getting their hands morally dirty defending you from enemies.
I had brought along a copy of a little leaflet a colleague had given me, which was produced by the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors (C.O.s) in 1944. It set out questions that C.O.s were likely to be asked by Tribunals so they could prepare their answers. Religious Objectors could expect some pretty bizarre enquiries:
“Christ’s method of dealing with the evil-doer was to threaten him will Hell – Can you state any single instance where Christ won over the evil-doer by love?” Hum.
or: “Do you not nullify Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross by your refusal to fight against evil?” Double-hum.
or: “Why do you object to killing if you believe in the Resurrection?” Well, I guess these all at least prove a greater ability to use Christian language than we would find today.
But the difficult one was, “Don’t you think yours is a very selfish religion?” – presumably going back to the ‘keeping oneself pure at the expense of others’ dilemma. As one of the group remarked, we don’t know half of what goes on to keep us safe, nor what it costs,spiritually and morally, those individuals who act on our behalf.
But what about enemies? Can we eliminate them by understanding them and turning them into those we ‘love’ (and Karen Armstrong says that ‘love’ in this context means not ‘like’ but rather treat as someone you have made an loyal alliance with, in a legal sense)?
Or do we actually need enemies to help us define who we are and hold ever more strongly to our values and beliefs? They say that faith becomes much more vigorous when it’s under attack … And on a personal level, do we seek enemies, real and imaginary – even internal sinful shadow selves – that throw into sharper relief who we are or would like to be?