Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Warrior and the Pacifist

There is a young man who works at the food coop with me, I'll call him "D". Last week he told me way too much of his life story for having just met me: I want to tell him not to cast his pearls before swine, not to throw what is holy to the dogs. But that's a different subject. This morning I want to write about the path of the "warrior".

D told me he was violently abused by his father until the age of 12, when he was rescued by his mother (from whom his father had kidnapped him), with the help of his father's sister. His father was habitually violent to women as well as to his son. D says he once saw a woman jump from a 2nd-story window to get away from him ... and then come back for more. Parental violence is nothing like parental discipline, and D said "there was a special seat for me in the principal's office." When he next saw his father, as a young adult, he prepared for the meeting by getting smashing drunk.

He told me all this after I expressed surprise at overhearing him, a guy who just exudes peace and love and gentleness, talking very enthusiastically about a boxing match the night before. He was discussing the match with a friend, at length, in terms that made it clear that he was a great follower of the sport. So he said it's no contradiction -- he's all about being a "warrior". I also asked about the tattoos on his forehead, and he said one represents his "third eye", and the other a martial art form that he is developing (a warrior discipline).

Now, I've heard of this concept of the "warrior" as related to a spiritual path, but I confess I have never paid it much attention. I have always been a rather radical pacifist. I'm too young to remember Dr. King (born in 1967), but nonetheless his sermons seem to have shaped my view of what is right and true and good. I've always thought, if "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies" -- and Jesus's own example on the Cross -- means anything at all, it means that even self-defense is not a valid motive for a Christian to react violently. I know the Church has a doctrine of Just War, but I've ignored it because it just seems wrong to me. Is it really possible for a Christian to defend herself from violence violently? King and his disciples suffered violence, not to mention Jesus and His disciples, how many holy martyrs? What does that martyrdom mean, if we say it's OK to strike back in self-defense?

Now before I go any further, let me make it clear that I have not spent my life pondering this question from the safety of some walled enclave. On the contrary, I have lived in some pretty dangerous inner-city neighborhoods, heard gunshots from my front steps multiple times, been personally in-my-face threatened with mugging. Then again, when I was raped, it was out in the "safe" suburbs. It seemed the mugging didn't come off because the guy was so taken aback by my serene, fearless smile -- I was on the way home from some 12-step meeting, my spirit was strengthened, and I was communing with my "Higher Power": nothing could touch me! I must have been glowing. Those 12-step programs formed the rock-solid foundation of my faith in God, and in them I met in loving communion with some of the toughest, baddest, meanest and dirtiest, most humbled sinners you'd ever want to know. I used to live in fear, but by then I had lost it in discovering God -- it was a honeymoon time for me with God -- and I also knew the heart of street thugs and addicts. There was nothing to fear, because nothing, not mugging nor even murder, could separate me from the love of God as I had come to know Him.

Then what is this "warrior path" about? It is obviously genuine, a legitimate spiritual path. D, in particular, is as I have said a loving, gentle, peaceful man, who strives to be a "warrior", to cultivate a "warrior spirit". Then again, I have no doubt that I am capable of killing a man, in anger or in self-defense, as upsetting as it was when I had to kill a chick that had been mauled by a raccoon. I don't know. I still believe in radical non-violence, but ... I don't know. I want to understand the other side of this, how violence can in some way be even sacred. I will work at the co-op again tomorrow, and maybe I will ask D to tell me something about it.

Blessings to you, and to D, to all victims of child abuse, and conversion for their abusers, and for all those desperate, broken-hearted street thugs and addicts. If you come across this blog, please pray for me, too.


  1. Ghandi once said he would prefer the company of violent people to the company of cowards. From this I gather that a pacifist should understand violence.

  2. Hmm. Understand violence, as in one's own capacity for it? One's own tendency to strike out? Yes, it's important to understand that. Understand it as in "knowing the heart of street thugs", as I put it in this post? That, too, is important. I have always been much more interested and sympathetic to the perpetrators of violence than to their victims. The dreadful inner turmoil that leads one to violence ... the unrestrained anger, the hurt, the lack of self control. My heart aches more for Chris Wood than for his wife and children (the murder-suicide that touched my brother's family last week).

    But violent people can also be cowards, right? Doesn't most violence arise out of fear? But for sure, I would prefer the company of violent people to that of the passive type of cowards. It takes a lot of courage to be a pacifist in the way Ghandi and King were pacifists.