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Friday, August 25, 2006

The Root of War is Fear

This essay from Sojourner’s Magazine is about the war in the Middle East.

It seems to me that the root of all wars - including the the present theological wars in the Anglican Communion - is the same.

'Fear Not!' for 'The Root of War Is Fear'
by Timothy Seidel (8-23-2006)

Every Thursday at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, staff members hold a simple communion service. During this service, instead of delivering a sermon, Sabeel's director Rev. Naim Ateek offers a few reflections on the day's texts and encourages the rest of us to do the same. Specifically, Ateek challenges us to reflect on scripture in the context of the situation that surrounds us, seeking to hear the word that God has for those suffering under the weight of violence, oppression, and injustice.

One of the texts read this past Thursday was from the gospel of Mark. In it, Jesus goes to meet his disciples on the Sea of Galilee, offering the words of comfort that are repeated time and time again in the gospels: "Do not be afraid" (Mark 6:50).
"Do not be afraid." How appropriate right now. These words brought me immediately to another reflection that is all too relevant. It was written by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, many years ago and titled "The Root of War Is Fear" (from New Seeds of Contemplation). Merton wrote: "At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear that men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. ... They cannot trust anything because they have ceased to believe in God."

The allusions to idolatry are all too clear. This conclusion for Merton means that we no longer are able to take a look at our own selves, at the evil in our own hearts, and instead project out onto those "others" all the evil that we cannot honestly deal with. Merton says we begin to obsess with evil and drive ourselves mad to the point where "there is no outlet left but violence." "By that time, we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world. He is the cause of every wrong. He is the fomentor of all conflict. If he can only be destroyed, conflict will cease, evil will be done with, there will be no more war."

This fear prevents us from grasping the realization that we all have sins in need of atonement, faults and limitations, greed and self-righteousness. Realizing the subjective demands that are placed squarely on our shoulders should also move us to the realization that any prayer for peace must be consistent with our actions toward peace. Again, Merton: "It does not even seem to enter our minds that there might be some incongruity in praying to the God of peace, the God Who told us to love one another as He had loved us, Who warned us that they who take the sword will perish by it, and at the same time planning to annihilate not thousands but millions of civilians, soldiers, men, women, and children, without discrimination, even with the almost infallible certainty of inviting the same annihilation for ourselves!"

These words are a sharp indictment, especially for those of us from the U.S. where hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year on the weapons of war and destruction, and from where billions of dollars are sent to the state of Israel for the same purpose - including a recent shipment of arms from the U.S. to Israel at the height of Israel's offensives into Gaza and Lebanon (see "U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis").

In this part of the world, Merton's words about the root of war take on an especially deeper meaning. The British journalist Robert Fisk, who has lived in and reported from the Middle East for more than 20 years, talks about war in a similar vein as "the total failure of the human spirit":

"If you go to war, you realize it is not primarily about victory or defeat, it is about death and the infliction of death and suffering on as large a scale as you can make it. It is about the total failure of the human spirit. We don't show that because we don't want to. And in this sense journalists, television reporting, television cameras are lethal. They collude with governments to allow you to have more wars because if they showed you the truth, you wouldn't allow any more wars."
The words of Jesus to "not be afraid" are always challenging. Perhaps they seem most difficult because at their core, they form a call to repentance, a call to turn away from the illusions of self-sustainability and self-righteousness, the idolatry of war and violence, to hear the gospel's call to conversion to a life modeled by the self-giving love of Jesus.

It is a subjective demand calling us, as Merton tells it, to a love and a humility that "can exorcise the fear which is at the root of all war."
"So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and disorders in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another."

Earlier this week, at an Ecumenical Service of Prayer in Jerusalem that was sponsored by Sabeel and included representatives from a number of the church traditions in Palestine, we gathered to remember and to pray for all those suffering during this difficult time. For the gospel reading, we heard from John and again I heard the challenging yet comforting words of Jesus:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid " (John 14:27).

"Do not let them be afraid." As the situation worsens in Lebanon, northern Israel, and in Gaza - a place many have forgotten - may we examine our own lives and seek the humility and the love "that casts out fear" (1 John 4:18) and continue to pray for the displaced, the injured, and the mourning who are living in areas that are being subjected daily to heavy shelling and experiencing great fear.

Timothy Seidel is a peace development worker with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where he has lived for the past two years.

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