Gore-Booth, Eva. Religious Aspects of Non-resistance. Bishopsgate: Headley Brothers Printers, 1915.

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arm towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is lead forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action.
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father let my country awake."
                                                                                                RABINDRANATH TAGORE.

Religious Aspects of Non-Resistance

ALL of us who have been thinking about the present war must surely have been struck by two facts that at first sight seen to contradict each other. First of all there has never been a war in the world's history in which have been engaged so many kindly, humane and enlightened people, who hate the whole horrible business from the bottom of their hearts, and who are anxious to civilise war and carry it on with as little cruelty and as much humanity as may be. Secondly, in spite of this, this war is a specially fearful, destructive and cruel war, it affects non-combatants on a larger scale and more terribly perhaps than war has ever done before in history. It is, in fact, causing the most gigantic accumulation of pain and misery and death that the world has ever seen.

      And this seems to be chiefly because we are cleverer than our ancestors. Now to my mind it is not the least of the condemnations of war, that, the cleverer you are at it, the more intolerable it becomes. It is only if you are very stupid and primitive in your methods that it is at all endurable to humanity. Take, for instance, the fact, that we have all read in the papers, that one shell from a naval gun has killed 500 people and destroyed six months' stores, and contrast that with the amount of damage done by the bows and arrows of our ancestors. When we think how imperfect is our present understanding of scientific forces, and yet what we can do with it, we must realise that unless we make some vital change in our way of looking at life, every step in our advancing knowledge of science is a new danger for the human race, and that perfection in that knowledge might really and practically work out at the wiping out of humanity itself.

     Now it is no wild Utopian theory but a hard practical fact that those among us who think life worth preserving as in itself a good and beautiful thing, who have some kind of faith or interest in the human race, have only two courses open to them, to make war on science and to save ourselves through stupidity, or to make war on war. To try to stop the progress of science, as the churches found in the Middle Ages, is a desolate and hopeless enterprise, as it is making war on that progress and evolution which is an essential part of life itself. To stop scientific development and research, even in the interests of the survival of the race, is of course an absurd and impossible idea, and, if it were not, which of us would care to survive at the expense of our brains?

    When people in the Middle Ages found that there was beginning to be a clash between their scientific and their religious ideas, their first impulse was to try and stamp out this science which they felt to be a danger to their religious life. When they found fire and sword could not stop the growth of knowledge, they began to readjust their religious views to such good purpose that, nowadays, it would seem quite absurd to us to think that the fact that the earth goes round the sun could upset anyone's religious faith. Has not our knowledge, like theirs, outgrown our wisdom, and is not therefore the necessary task before us not to decrease our knowledge but to increase our wisdom. Whilst our science is the science of the twentieth century, our morality is the morality of the Middle Ages. Is there not some understanding we might attain to, which would allow us to profit from the wonderful discoveries of Sciences as regards the annihilation of space, the resulting drawing together of the race, whilst resisting the temptation of using them to destroy our neighbours?

    Now, personally, I do not believe that the human race is going to rush to its own destruction. We are not Gadarene swine, animals rushing headlong over a precipice at the mercy of some blind and infatuated instinct of self-preservation, but human beings, with minds and capacity for thought, and it only remains to be seen how much suffering it will take to stir our minds into activity on unaccustomed lines, to force us to question the philosophy and traditions of the past, the host of suggestions that have surrounded us from infancy.

    It is useless to think you can ameliorate or civilise war. If Science discovers more effectual means of destroying masses of human beings, those means will be inevitably used. For the object of war is to maim, kill, weaken, and cripple your adversary into a state of helplessness, savagery, and unscrupulousness will help a nation to win, whilst humanity, scrupulousness or pity must inevitably tend to failure. As a matter of fact, the standard in war must always be set by the most savage combatant. The kingdom of fell as well as the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed. We may begin by making resolutions to be moderate, civilised or humane. But standards are quickly lowered by the pressure of an iron necessity, passions develop by the way, and those who are carrying on war will soon find that they are carrying on a crazy competition in destructive cruelty, and that when once the grain of mustard seed is planted, it grows swiftly and inevitably into a great tree that overshadows the earth and hides the sun.

   Faced with this appalling calamity of present cruelty and destructiveness of war and the unthinkable horror of its future development, we are justified in trying to find some way of thought, some change in our ideals, that will make war impossible. I hope nobody thinks this is a mean motive, like being driven into a religious life through the fear of hell. We know that no religion could be founded on fear. And yet, on the other hand, nobody could think it mean or cowardly, when in a community, after some frightful experience of the ravages of cholera, small pox or typhus, people are driven to reconsider their way of life in the light of the laws of hygiene and cleanliness.

    Now I want to take all this, for a moment, from the point of view of the wisdom to be found in the New Testament. I suppose the key to every religion is to be found in its conception of God. In the New Testament one finds two conceptions of God, one is Light, the other is Love. I do bot think it will be denied that Light and Love are the same things as knowledge and humaneness. If it is true that every advance in knowledge makes war more intolerably anti-humane than before, and every advance in humanity must make it more unsuccessful, how can anyone who believes in the Divine Nature of light and love or knowledge and humanity not see that there is something utterly irreconcilable in the essence of war itself, with that conception of Divinity, no matter in what cause the war is begun?

      Those who think that force is allowable in a good cause, as what has been called high-handed righteousness, though not in a bad one, have to face the fact that this theory would justify almost every violence in history. Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia for the purest motives of patriotism. In the Middle Ages, all sorts of people, such as Joan of Arc, Giordano Bruno, Latimer, Father Campion, and thousands of others on both sides were burned or hung in the cause of religion. Christ was crucified to save disorder and rioting, and because it was necessary one man should die for the people. Socrates was poisoned because his teaching was considered a danger to the State. Every war that has ever been fought, civil or international, has been fought for at least two good causes, one on each side, because naturally every cause is a good cause to its adherents. For indeed whatever the cause of violence may be, its result is always the same, no amount of good motive makes any difference to the amount of pain, suffering, and death brought into the world by violence. "Oh, Liberty, what crimes are done in thy name," exclaimed Madame Roland, and, indeed, one often thinks that the cruellest deeds of the world have been done by those human beings who have been able to convince themselves that strong measures are justified in the defence of all they hold most sacred, be it religion or patriotism, or liberty, or even the safety of those they love.

      The question is, are we going on for ever with all the cruelty and destruction of war, saying that it is inevitable that we should do evil in a good cause, or are we to find some other way of serving liberty and justice and noble causes, that does not involve the wholesale massacre of human beings. If it is true that violence for righteousness' sake results logically and surely in a measure of suffering and destruction, not the least lessened by the goodness of the cause, but in exact proportion to the amount of violence used, it must surely be true that in some way or other our popular standard of right and wrong has been mistaken, that the fact that we have fallen not into a ditch but over a precipice, means undoubtedly and truly that the blind have been leading the blind. Now it sounds paradoxical, but is nevertheless true, that nobody will arrive at the idea of non-resistance unless he has most strongly cultivated his powers of mental resistance to suggestion. For to arrive at the substitution of goodwill for force in human relations one must be able to resist the sway of a host of ideas and assumptions that have come to be an integral part of the subconsciousness of a great many people. Ideas such as, "You must be ready to fight in a great and noble cause," "You must stick up for your friends and crush your enemies," "If you see the strong attacking the weak you must go and knock down the strong," "You must help your side against the other side," "You must be ready to face fearful odds in the defense of all that is dear to you." You must in fact use force and coercion, though with regret, when it is necessary to secure the triumph of good against evil.

      I think all these ideas get their influence on our minds from the fact that they have a certain amount of truth in them. For instance, if you are going to fight at all, it is better to fight in a good cause. If you must crush your enemies, it is a step in the right direction to stick up for your friends. If you must take sides in a fight, it is less mean to help the weak against the strong, than to help the strong against the weak. If you must kill, it is more generous to do so in defence of other people's lives than in defence of your own. If you feel it necessary to use force and coercion in your relations to the world, it is better to strive consciously for the triumph of good than to fight for the possession of money or power. If you are going to use a wrong method it is perhaps better to do it for a right motive. The idea that lied behind all these phrases, inspiring and justifying them, is one that has caused great havoc and suffering in human affairs. Most people, indeed, take for granted, without discussion or insistence, that a human being is naturally a fighter, and that a criticism of causes and methods is the only concern that morality can have with the question of war. And this again is a half truth, because each human being is indeed, naturally a fighter, but not a fighter against other people. Our brains and arms are weapons indeed in the great struggle of humanity with adverse forces, mental and physical, but to use them to destroy other people is to turn our weapons against our friends, and by doing so lose ground in the real battle, the battle of evolution, by which the human race is seeking to wrest knowledge and unity, happiness and beauty out of a world of stubborn and adverse forces.

      To concentrate all our force and courage and heroism in this struggle is the opportunity that comes to those who refuse to use these qualities in a struggle against other living beings. To those who believe in the oneness of the Spirit of the Universe, whether in its old Eastern form as the doctrine of the unity of all things, or put into modern theological language as the unity and Fatherhood of God, such a change of the field of battle will seem natural enough. It is curious to note how the foundation of this idea has been strengthened by the discovery in modern science of the unity of all physical life, involved in the idea of evolution, and popularised as a vague insistence on our relations to the monkeys. The fact of this physical brotherhood makes more real to us what many people look upon as a mystical Eastern dream, that sense of unity which is the inspiration of all art, whether it is expressed in the subtle relations of the vibrations of colour and form, or the mysterious movements and affinities of rhythmic sound, or the strange new values and sympathies and identities involved in poetic imagery. Again and again this haunting sense of the oneness or reality has inspired revolutionary genius in the attempt to bring new values and relations into our mental and moral outlook. Indeed, the two great religions of the world that have been founded on a logical conception of the unity of all life, Christianity and Buddhism, have also been united in their effort to set a new ideal before humanity. Instead of the mighty and successful warrior, the knight errant rescuing the distressed, rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies, he have, in Buddhism, the ideal of the friends of all the world, the enlightened and all-powerful man who, as Buddha says, "neither contends nor kills, who desires not to get the victory, who is moved by goodwill to all the world." The conception of a character who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, and when he suffered threatened not, who loved his enemies, did good to those who hated him, and would not allow his friends to strike a blow in his defence, or in the defence of the cause he represented, but suffered the last extremity of pain and death without a struggle or even a protest, seems far removed from what we know of the stormy fighting gods of the Celtic, Teutonic, or Scandinavian nations. On the whole, such an ideal seems also foreign to the orthodox religions of Egypt, Greece and Rome, though here and there among the Greeks we find traces of such thoughts. They are also to be found in the writings of the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tze, a contemporary of Buddha's, whose belief in the power of gentleness is one of his most characteristic thoughts. There is something very human and modern about his complaint of the unreasonableness of people: --

      "Nothing on earth is so weak and yielding as water, but for breaking down the firm and strong it has no equal. All the world knows that the soft can wear away the hard and the weak can conquer the strong, but non can carry it out in practice."

      It was perhaps in ancient India that the sway of the gods of force and conquest was first disputed by the foreshadowings of a new philosophy, a philosophy put into form by Buddha five hundred years before the birth of Christ in words such as these, "If a man foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my ungrudging love, the more evil comes from him the more good shall go from me," and again, "what now, brothers, is right action, a man, brothers, has given up killing, without stick or sword, compassionate, full of sympathy, he cherishes kindness and pity for all living things."

      The story of the pilgrims and the lion is an illustration of the logical completeness and unflinchingness of Buddha's point of view.

                FROM THE DHAMMAPHADA

Two pilgrims journeyed through a desert place
                To find the grove where that world-honoured one
Preached unto men and Devas, by God's grace
                A lion met them at the set of sun.

Unto the love of all things bound and vowed
                One pilgrim dared to die nor drew his sword,
And his white soul, winged like a silver cloud,
                Stood with the Deva throng before the Lord.

The other, gazing on his brother's clay,
                Longed so for the Lord Buddha, that he slew
The lion standing on the Holy Way,
                Nor any gentle dream of pity knew.

But stumbled on the path and wandered far,
                And toiled across the sandy desert wide,
And found our Lord under the evening star
                And a bright Deva standing by his side.

And knew his comrade by the lion slain,
                And marvelled much and longed to see him there,
Deeming him rotting on the distant plain
                Who dwells with Buddha in the inner air.

Whence come you brother, whom I left for dead,
                Such worlds away by that fierce lion torn?
Ah, long I wait for you, the Deva said,
                Here by his side who waits for all things born.

And gently on those brave companions smiled,
                The Lord of all things at the inner gates,
Where through long centuries with blood defiled
                Gotama, dreaming, for the Lion waits. 

       The idea of the unity of life and its capacity for perfection is expressed very strikingly in this story, where the three persons of the legend, the one pilgrim in his self-defence, the other in his non-resistance, and even the lion himself in his aggressive fierceness, are represented as all journeying by degrees to the same goal of universal love and unity, the goal that Buddha himself has already attained to after many lives in different forms.

       Again we read in the Dhammaphada, how Buddha, in explaining the reason of a misfortune that has befallen some seemingly innocent person, tells that in a past life the sufferer has been guilty of causing the same pain to someone else, as he says, "that which I now do in my body hereafter shall I myself receive," or of the mercy earned by another man, because of the mercy he has himself shown, as in the story where he explains his own kindness to a very revolting mendicant after appealing to the general principles of mercy and deliverance, by telling how, in a past life, this very mendicant was executioner to a wicked king, and that he had shown mercy in one particular case to a man who begged for it, and Buddha ends the story by saying, "As I was the man who begged for mercy, my lot is now to help this wretched man as he had mercy on me." The theory seems to be that, because of the unity of life, you can never escape the consequences of your actions, for what you do to another you do potentially to yourself. This is no question of a punishing God, but, as the future flower is contained in the bulb, or to use a modern illustration, as the photograph is contained in the undeveloped film, so does every deed of force involve future force against yourself, every cruel action means a future suffering from cruelty, every act of rigid justice against some offender works out in the end as an act of rigid justice against yourself, and every actions of kindness or mercy means kindness and mercy earned by the doer, in the midst of those circumstances produced in a future life by one’s present actions. And this, because it is part of the little understood nature of things, that as all life is one, all actions one does are really and practically done to oneself. This doctrine of the justice and mercy of the Universe is indeed founded on a deep conviction of the unity, of the goodwill, the slow inevitable evolution, and what one might call the interchangeable sensitiveness, of all things human and divine.

       The same idea may be found very strongly expressed in Christ’s teachings, as for instance when he identifies the suffering of a sparrow with the consciousness of God, or in sayings like, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren ye did it unto me," and the repeated assertion that what you do unto others shall be done unto you, whatsoever measure you mete it shall be meted unto you, also, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy," also in the often quoted, "They who take the sword shall perish by the sword." It is very noticeable that this saying might be put as a moral at the end of many of the stories in the Dhammapada that illustrates the Buddhist doctrine of Karma by explaining how an injury done to another person is always in the end suffered by the doer of the injury, even after many years and lives. "That which I do now in my body, hereafter I shall myself receive." But perhaps the great force of Christ’s doctrine of non-resistance, as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, is due to the fact that, in his justification of it, he appealed not only to this doctrine of the unity of all nature, which has indeed been the essential belief of mystics of all ages, but he added to that an idea which must have been strange to his hearers. After he had attacked the ideals of his time, and indeed of our time, the old instinctive defensive standard of the nations, "Love your friends and hate your enemies," and the old ideal of justice, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," he expressed his own ideals in words so familiar that I need not quote them, about not resisting evil, and turning the other cheek, and so on. And then he justifies his position by a startling appeal to his conception both of the nature of God and the divine nature of human life. To those who have been taught to conceive of God as the Lord of Hosts, the Judge and Avenger of the Jews, it must have been rather shocking and startling to be appealed to to prove their identity with an unflinching, logical, impartial force of kindness and goodwill, to be asked to show themselves the children of "your father who is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust."

       This appeal to our identity with the divine impartiality leads of course straight to what one might call the foundation idea of non-resistance, for it implies that one should treat other people according to what one is oneself, not according to what they are. And that self must be without variableness or shadow of turning. "Perfect as your father in heaven is perfect." Some of us are accustomed to feel uneasily that there is a certain amount of loss of fine qualities of determination, endurance and courage involved in non-resistance, but is it not rather a gain in strength of character to act always unswervingly according to what is in your self, independently of outside circumstances or the deeds and passions of other men. To those people who wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume those whom they honestly felt to be the enemies of God, Christ answered, "You know not what spirit you are of." Violence, force and hatred in public or private life only become possible when we have mistaken our own nature, and have allowed ourselves to be swept away by the pressure of circumstances, from the truth that is in us, till we are out of touch with the overwhelming inevitable purpose of all things, that spirit of unfaltering goodwill what we call God, the light and love that is also the deepest principle of our own minds.

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