I had an interesting discussion the other day with an intelligent friend of mine. (Yes, Virginia, I do have friends and yes, they are intelligent. Or some of them are.) He was talking about the use of violence for political ends and declared that, as a humanist, he rejected it completely. The idea of taking the life of another human being – or the idea of another human being trying to take his life – was repulsive and unthinkable.
I have similar feelings. Human life is an amazing gift, regardless of where you believe that gift came from. Go to the window now – that’s right, press your little nose against the pane. Look at that sunshine. Or rain. Look at the trees blowing and churning in the wind. Look at the sky with its drama of the clouds. Look at your own hand and its complexity. Touch your nose and think of all the smells and odours it can distinguish. This is life and aren’t we lucky to have it? And wouldn’t it be an abomination to quench the spark of life in another, or have your own spark quenched?
My friend went on to say that not only was political violence revolting but that it was futile. “Does anyone think that people can be forced by violence into doing something? It may work in the short term but in the end it will fail.”
That, I think, is the part where I’d leave him. In the world today – in the world maybe since the first dawn – violence or the threat of it has been used to pressure people into doing what we want. When someone is arrested for theft, or drunken driving, or any of the many other things which the law forbids, that person isn’t asked to please change their ways: they’re put in a cell, by force if necessary, and then they’re given a prison sentence or a fine, regardless of their wishes. What’s more, all of us accept this form of violence to ensure a working state.
Likewise at the national and international level: war or the threat of war has been used time and time again to shape society and its citizens. It may be that those who issue these threats or visit this violence believe it’s for the greater good of the greatest number, but they don’t achieve their ends by appealing to people’s better nature. They achieve it by killing or threatening to kill people. The notion of appealing to people’s sense of justice or goodness is nowhere near strong enough to get people to do what you want. Or certainly that’s how it has always been.
BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’ s Sunday Sequence was looking at this notion in Christian terms. this morning. I’ve never quite got the notion that war is compatible with being a practising Christian. For example, I was on Nolan’s radio show last week with the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson. Now Jeffrey is a committed Christian – look on his lapel and you’ll see the little fish badge. Yet Jeffrey was calling for the US and Britain to intervene in Iraq (again) for the common good. When he was a warrior…sorry, member of the UDR, Jeffrey no doubt carried a weapon and was prepared to use it. Yet at the same time he was a devout Christian. And yes, I know the Christian argument for a just war, but it has just one drawback: the founder of Christianity didn’t include any get-out clause when he said “Love your enemies. Do good to those that hate you”.
But as I say, my friend was a humanist. He was right about the taking of human life being an abomination. But he was wrong if he thought that’s not how the world works, for humanists and Christians and most other religious sects.
God, we’re a terrible shower of hypocrites, aren’t we? Doublethink? We could do it all day, even all our lives.