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Friday 23rd of August 2019
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The “Ontology of Violence” in Western Foreign Policy

In our world today, countless people suffer from violence. Many nations are afflicted by the destruction of ongoing wars. Others live under constant threats of violence from other nations and militant organizations. Some of the actual violence and the threats of violence arises from people who claim to belong to one of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
When God called Abraham, according to the Torah, God made a magnificent promise: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Notice that this promise seems to contain two different parts, or halves: 1) I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you, and 2) in you will all families of the earth be blessed. Throughout history, some followers of each of the three Abrahamic religions have emphasized the first half of this promise: they believed that God called them to curse, or conquer, all other peoples, including adherents of the other two Abrahamic faiths. Other Jews, Christians and Muslims, however, have emphasized the second half: they believed that the purpose of their faith was to bless all peoples.

Notice, however, that the first half of this promise to Abraham does not say to his followers “curse and conquer everyone else!” Instead, God says: “the one who curses you I will curse”-- in other words, if other people curse you first, then I will curse them. Only those who strongly oppose Abraham’s descendants will come under God’s curse. Descendants of Abraham, then, are to be guided by the second half of this promise: to spread God’s blessing to all families of the earth.
From Abraham’s time down to our own time, however, people of different races, cultures and religions have often fought against each other. Our world, it seems, has been filled much more often with violence than with blessing. And as weapons become more and more destructive, the more dangerous does our world become. If a nation or people wishes to survive today, how should it regard other nations and peoples? It might seem best to consider the others as potential enemies and treat everything they say and do with suspicion. But people of the Abrahamic faiths should first ask: what was God’s purpose in creating so many kinds of people?
First of all, the creation of many peoples was no accident. According to the Qu’ran, “the diversity of your tongues and colors” is sign of Allah’s wisdom; and second, God “made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another.” According to the New Testament, God set various peoples in different historical periods and within different boundaries “where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him— though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For `in him we live and move and have our being....’” And despite the frequent wars among these peoples, God’s overall purpose, according to the Hebrew prophet Micah, is that one day they will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid....”
The God of Abraham, that is, created many kinds of people so that they might come to know each other, might search for God in diverse ways, and might finally live in peace together. For relationships among people are richer and deeper when these people are not all alike, but are truly different. To be sure, these differences often lead to misunderstanding and conflict. But since they play a positive role in God’s plan, it would seem that when violence or threats of violence arises among countries, people of Abrahamic faith should not treat other countries simply as enemies, but should ask whether these others might share certain interests and goals, which would make possible more fruitful, peaceful relationships.
However, a different approach has influenced many western nations since at least World War II. It is often called “realism,” since its proponents claim that they do not believe naively in human goodness, but are “realistic” about the evils and widespread violence in our world. Realists believe that people are self-centered, and seek, above all, to satisfy their own desires. Nations are the same: to obtain what they want, they seek to gain power over other people, and seek security against those who try to gain power over them. This means that in relationships among nations, power is the “immediate goal and the modes of acquiring, maintaining, and demonstrating it determine the technique of political action.”
For Realists, international relations are not governed by moral laws, but transpire in a state of anarchy which is riddled with conflicts, whether these conflicts break out into actual violence or not. Since the only goal is to obtain and maintain power, moral rules like telling the truth and keeping promises do not hold.

I will argue that this approach does not simply take violence seriously, but that it is based on the assumption that human nature and society are intrinsically, or necessarily, violent. Violence does not simply occur occasionally in human life, but it characterizes human beings in their basic nature, or ontologically. I will indicate how this view developed in the West, and how it influences western foreign policy, especially American policy, today.
However, since this view has arisen in the West, and the West is thought to be Christian, it is sometimes supposed that “Ontological Violence” is a Christian view. For this reason, I will first say something early Christianity, and about how this view developed in a way that seems quite different. Finally, I show how some insights from early Christianity point towards a different approach to violence. Hopefully, this approach will be helpful for all followers of Abraham, and indeed for all people, who desire peace and justice in our troubled world.

I.) Christianity and the West
Christianity is often called a “Western” religion. Since the New Testament says much about the spread of Jesus’ message to Greece and Rome, it is frequently supposed that it traveled, for the most part, westward from Jerusalem. However, this early movement spread to the east as well as to the west.
Within its first few years, churches arose in Damascus and Antioch. Within the first few decades, Jesus’ disciple Thomas probably reached India. Christians arrived in Armenia by the early 2nd century C.E., where the king was baptized in 301 C.E. Edessa (modern Urfa), positioned on a westward extension of the “silk road,” became a major Christian center during the 2nd century. By the early 3rd century, merchants and monks had carried the new faith to the upper Oxus River (today, the Amu Darya River in northern Afghanistan). By 635 C.E., Christianity had traveled beyond Marv, Bukhara and Samarkand, and become an official religion of the Tang Empire in China.
Earlier, the new faith had spread beyond the Tigris by the first half of the 2nd century, and was established near present-day Baghdad and in southwestern Persia by the early 3rd century. Those Christians in today’s Iraq and Iran had occasional contacts with Christians in the Eastern Roman Empire. Because of this, the Sassanid Empire suspected them of supporting Rome, and unleashed occasional persecutions, beginning in 225, and a major persecution in 339 which killed tens of thousands. But in 410 the Sassanids allowed Persian Christians to establish their own Church— the one which spread all the way to China. Yet this Church, which eventually became known as the Syrian Orthodox Church, was never supported by any government. It sought to show its Sassanid rulers “that the Christian religion was not at all identical with the Church of the Roman enemy.”
During the first few centuries of Muslim rule, Christians in these areas often held government positions and contributed especially to education. Christian scholars translated many works, included a wealth of Greek and Roman literature, into Arabic. Under the Abbassids, the Patriarch of the Persian Church moved to Baghdad. There he dialogued with Muslim leaders, including the Caliph, and oversaw the activities and the mission of the “most widespread church in the Middle Ages....”
I do not mean to imply that Christianity, as it spread eastward from Jerusalem to Syria, Iran, India, and China, was always free from faults. But I have not mentioned this movement in order to evaluate it. I have only sought to provide some illustrations of how Christianity, from its beginnings, was not a “western” religion, but a movement which sought to bring the blessings promised to Abraham to all families of the earth.

II.) The Origins of the “Ontology of Violence”
During their first 300 years, Christians in the West were also despised and persecuted quite often, much as were those in the East. Only in the early 4th century C.E., when the Roman Emperor Constantine favored Christianity, did it become the major religion of a major empire. Afterwards, when the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the late 5th century, and honest, capable leaders were needed to stem the chaos and destruction, Christians took over many public functions. For the next 1,200 years or so, Churches often wielded great influence in western governments. Sometimes the Church elevated the moral and social life in Western nations. But at other times its leaders descended, along with kings and princes, into promoting evils like persecutions of the Jews and the Crusades against Islam.
Criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church’s political involvement and its failures in promoting Christian values helped to bring about the Protestant Reformation. But Protestant Churches were also “State Churches:” they supported, and were supported by, the governments of the various nations where they existed. Sometimes their Christian values led them to critcize their rulers. But at other times, especially in wars against other nations, Protestant Churches strongly supported their own governments.
During the 17th century C.E., however, a philosophy arose which sought to free governments and society from the restraints of Christian values altogether. This was the “Ontology of Violence,” articulated by thinkers like Hugo Grotius, Baruch de Spinoza and Thomas Hobbes. This Ontology was among the first of many western attempts to explain the origin and nature of human society without reference to God, revelation or spiritual reality, and to greatly reduce the influence of Christianity. Its proponents conceived the world as an autonomous realm, or sphere, governed entirely by natural laws. They taught that religions had filled this sphere, as it were, with deities and revelations which were actually unreal. Their philosophical task, then, was to eliminate these pseudo-realities from the world, in order to lay bare its autonomous, non-religious, secular character.
Why did these philosophers remove religion from the world? Because they wanted reason and science to reshape the world, and they believed that religion opposed these. By the end of the 17th century, reason, science, and values like freedom, democracy and progress were being extolled by the “Enlightenment.” The Ontology of Violence, as we shall see, formed the pessimistic side of the optimistic Enlightenment which sought to improve human life by reason, not religion.
However, the Christian social theologian John Milbank argues that these philosophers did not discover any sphere which was empty of religion; instead, they created or invented it. According to Milbank, no earthly realm devoid of spiritual realities ever existed. Therefore, in order to free human society from religious institutions and values, these philosophers created such a realm. This new philosophy differed in some important ways from the medieval Christian theology of society.
Western medieval theology had taught that some people can exercise power in society, and that most people have the right to own private property. But since God is concerned about the welfare of the whole society, each person’s property and power had to be used to promote, and had to be limited by, the Common Good of everyone.
But the “Ontology of Violence” was based on a different understanding of power, derived from ancient Roman law. Power now became unrestricted lordship over everything that one controlled: such as children, wives, slaves and lands. The right to own property became the right to do whatever the owner wanted to do with it, rather than subordinating the use of that property to the Common Good. In other words, this new philosophy loosened ownership of property from justice.
According to the Torah, God originally gave humankind dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28) In Medieval theology, this dominion had become Adam’s rule over the human race, which was passed down through history to political rulers. The new philosophy interpreted this “dominion” also in the Roman way: as the absolute control of rulers over their lands and subjects. This principle was sometimes called “the divine right of Kings.” Although this “right” could be limited somewhat, in theory, by Christian principles, it often was not so limited in practice.
But the new philosophers wanted to be entirely “scientific.” Thinkers like John Locke (1632-1704 C.E.) eliminated the “divine right of kings,” and denied that any basic religious or social bonds hold people together. Locke dissolved society into a mass of individuals. Each individual had its own physical drives, social preferences and intellectual opinions, which often conflicted with those of others. How, then, could a stable society arise from this mass of conflicting urges? Locke’s answer, briefly, was democracy: if every adult could vote for the leaders they wanted, these conflicting urges would balance each other out, and a government which could best satisfy the desires of everyone would be elected. American understandings of democracy probably come more from Locke than from anyone else.
About a century later, Adam Smith (1723-1790) applied this basic principle to economics. Each person, according to Smith, wants to purchase things as cheaply as possible, and to sell things as expensively as possible. Further, every worker wants to earn as much as possible, but every employer wants to pay workers as little as possible. How, then, can governments keep buyers and sellers, and workers and employers, from constantly opposing each other; and how can they prevent some employers from eventually controlling all the wealth and production and reducing everyone else to poverty? Smith’s answer was laissez-faire: that is, governments should “let alone,” or avoid interfering with, these conflicting economic forces; then these forces will balance each other out, and create the greatest possible prosperity for everyone.
It is important to notice that when the new philosophers examined human beings “scientifically,” they treated human desires much like animal drives which simply sought satisfaction, unaffected by religion or morality. But if every individual expressed these desires freely, how could this lead to social harmony, instead of violent conflict? Basically, because these philosophers believed that people were also guided, to some extent, by reason. “Rational self-interest” showed each person that they, like everyone else, must moderate their desires somewhat to attain harmony and avoid conflict. Therefore, most people would accept governments and social arrangements which limited their desires to some degree.
Paradoxically, however, the attempt to explain human nature scientifically-- by means of reason and not religion— eventually led many western thinkers to conceive reason itself as the mere product of physical processes. They emptied the social sphere not only of God and revelation, but also of reason itself (except for a kind of “reason” which arose from and served the physical drives).
By the late 19th century, all human drives could be considered products of evolution, a struggle for survival which only the strongest creatures survived. Evolution was consistent with the old Roman notions of power and ownership of property as absolute control over everything which one possessed. In this Darwinian view, the Ontology of Violence appeared in a very clear form: violent struggle was basic to all human life, including all relationships among nations. Further, since stronger creatures had subdued weaker creatures in evolution, this view gave stronger nations the “right” to conquer and control weaker peoples. When western nations, with their superior technology, dominated nations which lacked that advantage, westerners could justify this as “progress,” or the advance of stronger, better people over inferior people.


III.) The “Ontology of Violence” and Western Foreign Policy

From the 17th century to the present, however, western people have frequently been uncomfortable with the brutal, stark features of the Ontology of Violence. Consequently, they have often de-emphasized these features and emphasized the optimistic side of the “Enlightenment” view: that humans are basically rational creatures, and that scientific progress is leading to world-wide moral and social progress. Western people want to believe that their dominant position over other peoples does not vicitimize them, but brings them the benefits of progress.
Examined more closely, his “Enlightenment” view, combines three different understandings of history. First is the Christian, and Abrahamic, vision of God guiding the nations towards a future when they all will be blessed. But this vision, second, is secularized: reason, science and human progress guide this process, instead of revelation, religions and God. Third, this view is militarized; it took over the old Roman concept that a superior western civilization with overwhelming military superiority would bring these benefits to other nations. This third strand connected Enlightenment optimism with the more pessimistic Ontology of Violence.
In the late 19th century, despite the influence of Darwinism, many western leaders highlighted the more optimistic side. They believed that humans had become too enlightened to settle their differences by war, but could now resolve them in more mature ways. Prior to both World War I and World War II, when some countries threatened to wage war, these leaders sought to deter them by moral and rational persuasion, and avoided strong threats of force. But when rulers like Adolf Hitler ignored these attempts, and when both wars led to unimaginable destruction, many western governments concluded that more “realistic” foreign policies were needed.
During the “Cold War” that followed World War II, many western powers retrieved the Ontology of Violence, and insisted that every nation seeks to increase its power against other nations. This meant that the best international situation possible was not genuine harmony among all people— for that was impossible-- but a “balance of power” in which opposing nations were so nearly equal in strength that none would dare to attack the others. Many western political theorists believed that a “bipolar” world situation, where only two major powers existed, would be the safest for everyone. For the more “poles,” or groups of hostile nations, there were, the greater would be the possibilities of war.
During the bi-polar Cold War, Westerners usually attributed the negative features of the Ontology of Violence— the unlimited drive for power and control over others without moral scruples— to the Soviet Union and its allies. But Westerners identified the positive side of the Enlightenment view— progress of towards greater prosperity, peace, and justice for everyone— with themselves. This produced a “black and white” view of the world: since the Communist bloc was wholly evil, the West, which opposed it, was thoroughly good.
The fall of most Communist countries around 1990 left the United States as the world’s strongest power by far. Now that the conflictual “bi-polar” world had vanished, many Americans thought it was time to reduce their military forces sharply, to seek “multilateral” relationships with other countries, and to treat potential enemies in less threatening ways. But while some movement in these directions began during the Clinton presidency (1992-2000), the Ontology of Violence, revised in the form of “Neoconservatism,” regained its dominance with George W. Bush. Like Cold War realism, Neoonservatism seeks to blend this pessimistic Ontology with Enlightenment optimism.
According to Neoonservatives, America has a special mission: to spread Enlightenment ideals— like freedom, democracy and prosperity— through the world. Yet international relations, in this theory, are still governed by those violent, totalitarian quests for power which were formerly concentrated in the Communist world. These forces have dispersed, and have reappeared in anti-democracy movements around the globe. This means the world will remain relatively stable only if the leading democratic nation opposes these movements wherever they operate. But if America is to meet this challenge, it cannot decrease its military budget— even though it has no enemy of comparable power— but must actually increase it.
According to Neoconservatives, America’s military might must be overwhelmingly superior, and must constantly be uprgraded. And to move quickly around the globe, the United States must be able to act unilaterally. It cannot be slowed down by alliances with other countries, international treaties, or the United Nations. Moreover, since international relations are still governed by the Ontology of Violence, the United States can— and must— follow its principles: must acquire and maintain as much power as it can.
Neoconservatism promotes a “unipolar” view of the world. One unconquerable nation, with occasional help from its allies, imposes “peace” on the other countries— not peace in the sense of deep harmony and friendship among nations, but a peace imposed by violence and threats of violence, and hopefully accompanied by the spread of Enlightenment ideals. But even if the world becomes more Enlightened, violence will always be “ontological:” intrinsic to human nature and society.

IV.) A Christian Alternative

Although the Ontology of Violence arose in a society that called itself Christian, and is promoted today by many people who claim that name, several main differences between it and authentic Christianity should be clear. This Ontology includes a vision of progress towards international harmony and well-being, which it derived from Christian and Abrahamic origins. However, humanity is guided towards it by reason, science and human effort, not by God. Moreover, since nations are driven by desires for power, possessions and security, they cannot reach this goal through increasing co-operation. They must be led, instead, by a western people with overwhelming violent power and innumerable possessions— a notion inherited from the Roman Empire.
But if this Ontology of Violence cannot really lead to the fullness of blessing promised to Abraham, can I suggest a more promising way? I will do so by referring briefly to the ultimate source of Christian social theology, the teachings of Jesus.

A.) “Love Your Enemies,” “Turn the Other Cheek.” These sayings, most people think, teach a totally passive approach to violence: that if someone abuses you, or abuses other people, just let them do it. But to grasp their true meaning, let us consider a parallel saying which teaches much the same thing: “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Jesus was speaking mainly to Jews, most of them peasants, who were heavily oppressed by the Romans. Who could force a Jew “to go one mile?” A Roman solider could command one of them to carry his heavy pack that far— but no further.
How might a soldier respond, then, if a Jew, probably tired already from the first mile, began to walk another mile? The soldier could hardly consider this a passive response, for the Jew was doing it voluntarily. Most likely the soldier, in some confused way, would perceive it as an act of kindness by someone to whom he had shown no kindness. The soldier might come to see the Jew as a real fellow human being, trying to do something for him which he did not deserve. Perhaps he would realize how harsh and impersonal his command, to carry the pack, had been— and to realize that Romans usually spoke to their subjects like this..
Jesus’ parallel teachings— if someone strikes you turn the other cheek; if someone takes your coat, give him you cloak (Matthew 5:39-40)— also encourage not passive, but creative, unexpected responses to violence.
These teachings picture two enemies: one is the oppressor, the other is oppressed. But when the oppressed persons do something unexpected for their oppressors, they are not accepting their oppressed status; they are rejecting it by doing what they choose to do. And by these same acts, they cease to define the other as an enemy. This opens the possibility that the two might begin to relate quite differently.
Such teachings must be seen in the light of Jesus’ most basic message: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand! Jesus meant, very roughly, that the blessings promised to Abraham were becoming available, although not yet in the full sense. Jesus, I propose, was saying: when people hurt you, and your natural response is to hurt them back... Stop! the Kingdom of God is at hand! there must be a better way to respond! His teaching was well summarized by the Apostle Paul: Jesus taught not only “do not repay anyone evil for evil,” but also, and primarily, “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17, 21)
Neither Jesus nor his apostles denied the reality of violence. But they denied that it is ontological, or an essential feature of human nature. For it is possible for people, when they open themselves to God’s Kingdom, to respond to violence in unusual, creative ways. And these responses may move those who violate us to treat us quite differently.
Since Jesus and his followers were oppressed by an extremely violent, foreign empire, he meant these teachings to guide not only individual behavior, I propose, but also social and political relationships with other peoples.
This claim is often considered to be extremely idealistic— to be the opposite of “realistic!” Yet the social and political potential of non-violent, creative action was often demonstrated in the 20th century. When large masses of people in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe protested against their very oppressive governments and refused to co-operate with them, most of these governments fell with hardly a shot being fired.

B.) Wealth and Social Class. Jesus’ teachings on creative, non-violent action show that while most people desire to have power over others, this is not a necessary, ontological feature of human nature. Similarly, his teachings on wealth indicate that while most people desire many possessions, or property, this desire need not control us. Precisely speaking, Jesus did not critique wealth itself, but the inordinate desire to possess wealth. Yet he criticized “riches” strongly enough to imply that simply having riches almost always arouses the desire for more. Yet this desire for wealth is not ontological; it too can be overcome when people respond to God’s Kingdom and God’s Spirit.
Like Jesus’ teachings on violence, his teachings on wealth were not intended only for individuals. Jesus repeatedly contrasted “the rich” and “the poor” as large social groups. When people from each group joined in God’s Kingdom, the attitudes of both towards wealth had to change greatly.
Jesus’ call to God’s Kingdom broke down social barriers not only between the rich and the poor, but also between men and women, between Jews and Gentiles, and between religious and non-religious persons. God’s Kingdom broke down thick, often hostile, barriers of social class, gender, nationality and religious practice. This showed that divisions among these groups were not ontological.
In Jesus’ message the Abrahamic theme that all peoples are made for relationships with each other, and that God can and will bring them together, resounded again. Jesus, it seems, would agree with the Qu’ran, that God “made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another.” (Surah 49:13)

C.) Hatred and Murder. According to the Ontology of Violence, murder is rooted so deeply in human relationships that governments can limit it only by threatening and exercising violent punishment. Jesus, however, sought to eradicate the root of murder, which is hatred in the heart. To do so, he taught that whenever negative feelings and disagreements arise among people, they should seek to resolve these quickly and personally. If these disagreements turn into legal disputes, as they often do, people who are accused should do all they can to resolve the issues personally and out of court. In other words, people should not only love their enemies, but when conflicts arise, they should talk with their enemies (who may turn out not to be their enemies).

V.) Some Implications for Foreign Policy
Although I have barely begun to sketch Jesus’ approach, what kind of orientation to international relations might it suggest? For Jesus, as for the Ontology of Violence, the evil and violence in the world are extremely real. Jesus had a “realistic” understanding of the way that individuals and societies usually behave. But he also taught that quite different kinds of behavior are possible.
The Ontology of Violence assumes that nations are always driven by desires for power, possessions and security, and are unrestrained by moral values. It inclines countries to approach each other with deep suspicions about their motives; to suppose, from the start, that those countries want to gain as much power over one’s own country as possible. It inclines a nations to assume that whatever other nations say are probably lies or partial lies, and to continually dig beneath their actual words for hidden, threatening meanings.
Often, nations guided this Ontology prefer to deal with other nations not through negotiations, but by force or threats of force. For power, they believe, is the only language that other countries really understand. Such nations usually view negotiations and compromises as losses of power.
However, a significant inconsistency appears in the western Ontologies of Violence which I have discussed. They insist that all nations are driven by violent struggle for power, and yet they exempt themselves at one point. They argue that they can inflict violence on other peoples, since this is unavoidable, and yet that their own violence brings something positive to the world: some degree of freedom, democracy, progress and prosperity. But violence by their enemies, in their eyes, is only destructive.
An approach which takes its cues from Jesus would treat other peoples, first, as beings created by God; and second, as people whom God desires to guide towards the blessings promised to Abraham— the same blessings that God desires to bring to one’s own people. Since God created both peoples, and wants to bring them both together, they actually do share certain common values and interests. This approach would seek to discover these values and interests, though the may well be obscured by misunderstandings and hatreds. For God truly is calling both peoples on a journey towards blessing for all humankind.
Further, while differences among peoples often lead to conflict, they also provide opportunities to “get to know one another.” (Surah 49:13) This implies, I propose, that even serious differences over international issues offer possibilities for nations to understand other nations better, including issues on which they disagree. Jesus not only taught: love your enemies; but also: listen to your enemies— and listen to those whom you think are your enemies... and maybe you will discover that they are not your enemies.
According to western versions of the Ontology of Violence, only one nation or group of nations—western nations, of course-- understands how other nations can attain prosperity, freedom and peace. But Jesus’ teachings imply that no nation or group of nations can understand this without the help of other nations. Because God made us different, we really need each other-- though differences often lead us to the opposite conclusion: because we are different, we do not need each other.
In international relations, then, it is important to listen carefully to other peoples as they describe their views, their experiences, their hopes, and their objections against one’s own people. To be sure, they may not always speak truthfully. But if we begin by assuming that they are lying, as the Ontology of Violence suggests, we probably will never discover what is really true and really false. Jesus’ apostle James gave some very good advice: “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
It might be true, or partly true, that another nation is driven by desires for power, possessions and security, as the Ontology of Violence claims. Jesus and his followers took violence very seriously. Christians believe that Jesus experienced the violence of the world’s mightiest empire, Rome, directly, in his body, in the most painful way. But if the Ontology of Violence includes much that is true, it does not include all that is true. It does not know that God created human beings for something quite different, and that because God’s Kingdom and God’s Spirit are present, humans can respond to threats and outbreaks of violence in creative, positive ways.
Consequently, even if an opposing nation is mainly seeking to gain power, another nation will not discover what other motives it may have, or discover other ways of relating to that nation, if it assumes from the start that power is the only issue. People who want to understand other peoples, I propose, must begin by assuming that what the other says is true and is inspired by positive motives. But if and when these others starts contradicting themselves, or denying true facts, then it is proper to question them. Jesus advised his followers: “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” That is: listen carefully, and if need be critically, to everything that others say; but always treat them respectfully and seek for ways that lead to understanding and peace.
Finally, much of what I have said about the Ontology of Violence, and about its neoconservative form that now guides American foreign policy, has been negative. I need to add that I do not mean to be negative about America itself. Many Americans disagree with Neoconservatism, and future governments can adopt different approaches. I have been critical of America’s Ontology of Violence because I believe that it not only hurts other nations, but that it also hurts America. I believe that this approach, regrettably, has not made my children, my grandchildren and all other American adults and children safer, but less safe. I care deeply about my country-- but I also care about all other countries, including those which my government calls our enemies. I speak ultimately as a follower of Jesus and Abraham, who looks forward to the day, and works for the day, when all the families of the earth will be blessed.

 

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