Dec 7, 2009

The Faithful Dissident Meets Mormongandhi

Recently I discovered that, lo and behold, I was not the lone member of the Bloggernacle in Norway. Through my activities on The LDS Left, I discovered an interesting blog, Latter Day Satyagraha, by one called "mormongandhi" -- a Norwegian who is "an advocate for nonviolence in the Restoration movement." The small letter cases are intentional, as mormongandhi feels that "it is important to provide other ‘mormongandhis’ in the LDS church, and also more generally within the LDS movement, a place of refuge, a haven of peace, where we can express our nonviolent faith."

When I decided to take a break from this blog (see my last post), I had hoped to continue to at least feature different blogs and articles from around the Bloggernacle that I felt everyone should see. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing that the past couple of months and so, after spending a couple of days with mormongandhi and hearing his views, I've been reminded of my original intention. I learned a lot this past weekend after meeting mormongandhi and I feel that it is worthy of being shared with others.

In addition to his blog, mormongandhi has started the Peaceable Followers Forum, a "discussion forum for peaceable followers of Christ to discuss and comment on the nonviolent study chapters of the book of mormon posted on the main “latter day satyagraha” site."

In his own words, mormongandhi states:

"I am not a trained theologian (at all), but on the other hand I did finish institute and seminary, I served a mission and I certainly came to love the scriptures. I have a bachelors degree in peace and development studies and a master’s in peace operations (including a couple of years in the military).

The source of my nonviolence comes from believing the words of Jesus in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. You have to use those books together, like they say, and not just read them. There is a reason why the Sermon on the Mount is such a central text in both books. Mormons should therefore be twice as committed as anyone else to those same teachings.

I appreciate the warnings of the prophets – mostly referred to as presidents of the church – and the advice we receive from apostles too. For this reason, I quote widely from their talks and conference addresses. I see no contradiction in that. I love the Temple and its rituals, and am not therefore a stranger to what is taught there. I miss it. I do. I am saddened however that too many members fail to see the rituals and the teachings we receive there as an elongated Sermon on the Mount."

He also expresses his intention with his blog:

"My intention with (my) blog is to love my opponents in the faith – those who still practice the saying: an eye for an eye. I want to do good to those who have difficulty showing love, to bless those who speak evil of others whom they do not know, and my prayer is that latter day saints would see us, the mormongandhis, the jesus radicals, the anti-nephi-lehies, the pacifists, the nonviolent practitioners, the LDS anarchists, as co-partakers of the fruit and that through our words and our actions they too might be converted – not the other way around.

Someone once said: ‘it is better to be alone than in bad company. It is even better to be in good company than to be alone’. Being a minority within a minority has never been easy for anyone (a nonviolent practitioner in a violent faith in a predominantly secularized society), and these are difficult questions to grapple with – emotive questions. I share the little I have come to know in the spirit of humility, motivated by brotherly love. I hope that one day, we will all come to see him – the other (black, muslim, female, gay person with disability and internally displaced with nowhere to go, victim of war and/or prisoner of conscience) - as he is, and see that he is a man like ourselves (D&C 130:1)."

The topic of peace seems to be especially relevant at the present time, with wars raging in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "Holy" Land. But "peace," as I learned from mormongandhi, is about much more than simply the absence of war. With Christmas just around the corner, people are often talking about "peace." "Peace on earth, peace be with you, the Prince of Peace," etc. What does that all really mean and do we give it enough thought? Probably not.

We always hear that the Book of Mormon was meant for our day and that it's just as relevant today as it ever was. So perhaps it's time to study the Book of Mormon through a new lens and to see it for what it really is: not a record of war, but one of peace.

Latter Day Satyagraha: http://mormongandhi.com/

Peaceable Followers Forum: http://peaceablefollowers.wordpress.com/

15 comments:

thefirestillburning said...

The BofM teaches a sophisticated mix of situational responses to threats of violence of which pacifism, even to acceptance of personal martyrdom, is definitely included. (I think it is uniformly condemming of violence as vengence, however.)

More importantly, I think, it teaxhes the notions of positively seeking peace and justice BEFORE the violence arises. In the absense of that effort, violence will eventually come looking for you or for innocents -- and then the choices get very hard and morally unclear.

FireTag

The Faithful Dissident said...

"More importantly, I think, it teaches the notions of positively seeking peace and justice BEFORE the violence arises."

An important point, Fire Tag. I think that we generally give too little thought to violence before we've come to the end of the line. "Preventative medicine," if you will.

Sanford said...

I didn't have a chance to write on your farewell post so I am glad you're back. I have been thinking and reading a lot about Iraq and Afganistan lately. I have gone back and forth many times on what to do there. I have two nephews serving in Iraq so it's very personal for me. I have been a pacifist at times in the past based largely on my reading of the Book of Mormon but I am torn about how to implement it in practice. I envy Scandanavian countries but wonder if every country in the world can be like them. In practice, do you oppose all wars whatever the circumstances? I suppose your post is more about mormongandi and his pacifism but it seems as though you feel likewise.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Sanford, so good to hear from you!

I'm probably in a similar stage as you are. I'm still learning and I feel torn at times, especially about Afghanistan. I wouldn't say that I oppose all wars whatever the circumstances. I believe in self-defense personally, but my definition of self-defense is probably different from others in the sense that I'm not for bombing people on the basis of a mere suspicion that they are going to attack. I would also have to ask what we are defending. Are we defending other nations from an ideology or a gov't that we may not agree with, or are we defending their very lives? And even then, is it always appropriate to take one life to save another?

Regarding places like Iraq and Afghanistan, I sympathize with your being back and forth many times on what to do there -- at least with Afghanistan. Sometimes I think, how can we NOT be there? But then I think, is it our place? Can we really expect that once we eliminate the Taliban (assuming that we even can), that the people are going to embrace a democratic system with open arms? When we see the changes that happened in eastern Europe and the fall of communism, they happened from within. I think that's why they succeeded (although even then it will take many more years to change the culture of corruption and old-school thinking in places like Russia), and I have serious doubts about the long-term success of any changes in Afghanistan that are implemented from without and not from within. And yet I know that there must be innocent people there who care about nothing other than one day having peace and being able to live out their lives the way that they deserve as human beings -- and not just in Afghanistan, but Pakistan as well. It's a tough one. There will be horrible losses of life whether we stay there for decades or whether we all go home now. It's like we're damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

I like this quote:

"President David O. McKay pointed out that 'there are conditions when entrance into war is justifiable, and when a Christian nation may, without violation of principles, take up arms against an opposing force. Such a condition, however, is not a real or fancied insult given by one nation to another. When this occurs proper reparation may be made by mutual understanding, apology, or by arbitration. Neither is there justifiable cause found in a desire or even a need for territorial expansion. The taking of territory implies the subjugation of the weak by the strong—the application of the jungle law. Nor is war justified in an attempt to enforce a new order of government, or even to impel others to a particular form of worship, however better the government or eternally true the principles of the enforced religion may be." (In Conference Report, Apr. 1942, p. 72.)

I find that last sentence particularly important. When taken into account, how many of the wars that we've seen even in just the last 100 years are justifiable? I think it would shorten the list considerably.

Perhaps we can get mormongandhi to expand on his views here and to educate us a bit more on the subject. :)

mormongandhi said...

peace.

I think your comments is a great place to start to having a deeper discussion on the issue of war - also in connection to Afghanistan and Iraq. Thank you, Faithful Dissident, for providing this space on your blog for this topic and for highlighting the sensitive nature of these issues from one of my posts:

"and these are difficult questions to grapple with – emotive questions". In fact - what is more important in the world today than to take a nonviolent stand on the issue of violence? The levels of violence in our societies are increasingly rising unabated, both urban violence, domestic violence and organized state-sponsored violence within states, however with a somewhat decrease in overseas wars. There are still however major international disagreements (rumors of war).

Now, I was against the decision to go into Afghanistan and also the invasion of Iraq - at several levels. I suppose that it is in a way easy to take a pacifist stance: God always says no to war and no to violence. There is no guessing - no moral or ethical dilemma. Is that the easy way out? Not always. It requires more thinking on the part of the individual and the collective to finding the path to nonviolent alternatives. It requires courage also: Are you willing to sacrifice your life by not killing the other, but by letting yourself be killed? It goes against every survival (animal) instinct, but if you are a True Believer, is that not the only way to go? The natural man being the enemy to God.

I think that the Book of Mormon offers to True Believers the very real option of making a covenant of nonviolence.

See Alma 26: 31-35: "Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors (proselytizing mission); and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.

For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren. And now behold I say unto you, has there been so great love in all the land? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, there has not, even among the Nephites. For behold, they would take up arms against their brethren; they would not suffer themselves to be slain.

But behold how many of these have laid down their lives; and we know that they have gone to their God, because of their love and of their hatred to sin.

Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began.

Both Alma and Mormon are overjoyed by the faith that these men and women demonstrated and by their hatred against committing sin (or violence). My thinking goes along the lines that we all have personal responsibility for the violence in the world. To defer that responsibility to leaders - democratically elected or not - is in and of itself to not take personal responsibility for the actions of your government (the silence of a responsible and engaged citizenry). It is therefore very important to participate in political processes, so that nonviolent alternatives are pursued as a first option or choice - every time.

Some people say that to take a choice of non-participation in the military is an irresponsible choice. Defending ones country is the duty of every citizen! Says who? Well, the Book of Mormon says so... Well, the government says so... Hmmm... What did Jesus say?

mormongandhi said...

I spent a couple of years in the military, and one of the recruits in base camp came up to me and asked me (I was an officer at the time): Sergeant, aren't you a christian? I answered: yes. He replied: "So what on earth are you doing here?" Would the Norwegian military suffer if I chose not to take up arms, because I do not want to kill my brother? No, but it would if we all decided to do so... See Helaman 6: 26-27 and now, as Nephi taught, liken the scriptures unto us:

Now behold, those secret oaths and covenants [...] were put into the heart of Gadianton (the modern man) by that same being who did entice our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit— Yea, that same being who did plot with Cain (that's me, let's say), that if he would murder his brother Abel (that's you), it should not be known unto the world. And he did plot with Cain (me) and his followers from that time forth.

Violence entered into the world very early in human recorded history. Are we willing to continue to live with the consequences of that - to repeat the mistakes of Cain (the most despised of all of God's creatures) - or are we willing to reverse the effects of war and violence – the logical extension of wanting to kill one's brother or sister?

Because what message did the angels deliver to the world? Peace on earth, goodwill to humanity - A savior is born today! In fact, everyday. A baby is born every day from now on, that will take responsibility for his own actions and reverse, as well as mitigate, the effects and also the perpetuation of the sins of the fathers by their children. Jesus showed us how. We need to decide, each and everyone of us, on a daily basis, to not cooperate with evil. For this reason, have I also buried my weapons of war...

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

thefirestillburning said...

FD:

In regard to the President McKay quote, something struck me in my BofM studies over the last few days that had never occurred to me before.

There is no unambiguous statement in the BofM between the time the Nephites flee Laman's faction after arriving in the promised land and the time Mosiah's people flee the land of Nephi and discover Zarahemla several CENTURUES later that the "Lamanites" the Nephites are fighting are actually Laman's descendents at all. The BofM is silent about Laman's history. entirely.

The Nephites go into the wilderness, settle in the land of Nephi, and suddenly enemies pop out of the woodwork in hordes -- in less than 40 years from landing -- that don't look anything like Laman and Lemuel. "Lamanite" becomes a general term for all Nephite enemies, probably because the Nephites have been expecting attack by their brethren AND HAVE NO REASON TO BELIEVE ANYONE ELSE IS AROUND.

The irony: these "Lamanites" ARE defending their lands from Nephite invaders. Attempts to "restore" them to the knowledge of their fathers can't succeed because their "fathers" had no such knowledge of Jerusalem to lose in the first place.

When and how Laman makes contact with these people hardly matters; the enemy of my enemy becomes my friend, particularly when this new friend has knowledge that can help me defeat the invader.

This adds a whole new wrinkle to me. Three first contacts between embryonic civilizations in those first centuries, with little but individual character and situation to separate the contacts, but very different historical outcomes. (And God clearly set the contacts in motion by moving Lehi out of Jerusalem.)

Very complex lessons about peace and justice beginning with me are being taught indeed.

thefirestillburning said...

Earlier this week I found a viewpoint expressed by a Jewish writer in an opinion piece on the Jerusalem Post online that was so provocative to me as a Chrisitian that I wanted to wait a bit before bringing it to this thread. (The Post stories don't stay up long before being archived, so I can't link it directly.)

The writer is a humanitarian trying to work in Africa in association with Christians working for peace in Zimbabwe, who, from his Jewish perspective asks in exasperation, "Why do Christians Refuse to Hate?"

He recounts the following:

"Ben Freeth, a sunny Christian farmer who, after publishing an article in the Western press about the illegal and murderous farm seizures being carried out by Mugabe's Zanu (PF) party, was savagely beaten and later watched as his farm was burned to the ground. ...In the midst of the assault that fractured his skull, he suddenly reached out and touched the feet of his assailants and said, "Bless you, bless you." My Christian counterparts were deeply moved by this quintessential story of Christian love for one's enemy. I, however, was aghast."

"...A debate broke out in the room. I alone maintained my position. Yes, I said. But your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. God's enemies are those who murder His children. And Jesus never said to love God's enemies. To the contrary, the book of Proverbs is clear, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Psalms reinforces the point. "Those who love God hate evil."

He continues:

"This is something that has always puzzled me. The hearts of evangelical Christians are enormous repositories of loving-kindness. But why must the heart be so wide as to extend to Mugabe's killer henchmen? What place have murderers earned in our hearts? The same is true of my many Christian brothers who have told me that their faith commands them to love Osama bin Laden."

"MY FEAR is that such distortions of Christian teaching undermine our resolve to confront evil regimes. When Jesus enjoined to "turn the other cheek," he meant to petty slights and humiliations. Does any sane person really imagine that he meant to ignore and overlook mass murder?"

"...I don't do well with tyranny. I have undisguised contempt for tyrants and knowing that I was staying just a few miles from Mugabe's house spooked me throughout my stay in Harare. ... Is this a man whom my Christian friends tell me I must love?

No, I refuse. I will go further. Anyone who loves the wicked is complicit in their wickedness. Anyone who blesses the cruel is an accomplice to their cruelty."

A very different view of Christ's intentions than we normally consider, that perhaps explains how the Sons of Heleman can coexist in the BofM with their willingly martyred parents' generation.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Fire Tag, thanks for sharing that story. You know how I like provocative questions and anecdotes. ;)

I couldn't sleep last night and I was thinking about this a lot, especially since Obama was in Oslo yesterday for Nobel and I watched his speech.

I was also thinking a lot about Afghanistan and I still don't know. I still feel very torn. I can't really say I'm a true pacifist, but mormongandhi's message has certainly made me think and I like that. I think that he challenges Christians to take Christ's message to a higher level and to examine it from a new perspective. I think it's good that we're asking ourselves these questions.

I think that truly, no man hath greater love than he who buries his arms even as he loses his own life to his enemies. He who will take Christ's words literally and turn the other cheek. I understand the frustration of the Jewish author over the Christian who said "bless you" to his attackers. I understand it because I'm still there. I can't really say I'm a pacifist because I can imagine perhaps killing someone if I felt they were going to kill me or an innocent by-stander. And I sympathize, for example, with Obama's Afghanistan approach, even though I'm not convinced it's the right thing to do or that it will even work. I'm not terribly optimistic about it, but I think he's a good man and that his intentions are good, even if he believes violence is sometimes necessary to keep the peace. I also like what he said about Gandhi and King:
"I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago -- "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naive -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King."

Unfortunately, many dismiss nonviolent pacifists as naive or too idealistic. But what are we if we don't have our ideals? When I was visiting mormongandhi, I think I drew the comparison of the whole vegetarian movement. I know that my not eating meat is not going to result in slaughterhouses being shut down and animal abuse being stopped. But I feel compelled to do my part, and to inspire others to do live what I believe is a higher law, knowing that most aren't ready to do so. I feel that it's perhaps the same thing with pacifism.

When I really think about what CHRIST said, if it is CHRIST whom we claim to follow and who we claim embodies EVERYTHING that we should aspire to become, and if we wish to LITERALLY follow him, then I think it's clear that he preached a gospel of nonviolence and pacifism. The later statements (such as the one by David O. McKay) are, the way I see it, inferior to Christ's Sermon on the Mount (even though I admit that I am currently more where McKay was than where Jesus tells us to be). So, I think that nonviolence is the higher law, the law that Christ intended us to live, but which so few are ready to live, including myself. Perhaps it could be prepared to the Law of Consecration in that way, in the sense that most Mormons will proclaim that that is how God intended us to live, but will find every reason to rationalize not living it now (myself included).

"Very complex lessons about peace and justice beginning with me are being taught indeed."

Indeed. And it really makes you examine how much love you have for your fellow man -- including and especially your enemies. I know that pacifism seems ridiculous to some. But to those who believe Christ to be the perfect example, in my opinion he lived and died in nothing but pacifist fashion. He was a radical.

mormongandhi said...

I got a great comment in our chapter 1 discussion at peaceable followers forum by J. Madson from mormonworker: http://peaceablefollowers.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/chapter-1-discussions/#comments

"What Jesus does by non-violently submitting to the cross is both reveal the non-violent nature of God, and reveal to the political, religious, and other authorities that their means and methods of ruling are simply murder.

I personally have a very different take on Jesus’ death and dont think it was necessary but rather inevitable. I think God would have preferred if Jesus wasn’t crucified. Jesus certainly had the option of taking up the sword and rule through might. But it is the very nature of a non-violent deity in my view that if he was to come among us he would be killed. This is of course what happened with Jesus."

This post I made earlier this year explains better some of my thoughts on the matter: http://themormonworker.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/good-friday/

thefirestillburning said...

Mormongandhi:

I have appreciated your discussion both here and on Saint's Herald, because you acknowledge that pacifism may require a willingness to die. The "shallow" pacifism that often disturbs me is the kind that thinks pacifism will lead inevitably to mollification and then NOBODY will get hurt. The latter, IME, often leads to others dying for our sense of moral purity, and I am glad you do not embrace it.

I tend to believe that those who die because of the forseeable consequences of my inaction are just as dead as those who die as the forseeable consequences of my actions -- and my responsibility is the same in both instances. Asimov's first law of robotics is a pretty good summary of the beginning of moral reasoning.

I also tend to disbelieve that God is non-violent. My spiritual journey led, through modern cosmology, to a point where the recognition of God's paradoxically violent and loving nature -- as both creator (alpha) and destroyer (omega) of worlds -- is a hallmark of my thinking. A picture of God doing both even adorns my blog heading.

I think that God is interested in promoting growth and complexity; sometimes violence best contributes to that end and is embraced. More often violence is a terrible waste of potential and is hated. As humans, we are trying to listen to the Spirit and follow Jesus'teachings to minimize WASTEFUL destruction of humanity AND the rest of creation.

I guess that makes me a Christian realist rather than a pacifist. I will note that Christian realism (along with just war theory) survives as a viable approach to practicing Christianity because all three theories predict Jesus should be non-violent as part of a nation captive to a then-invincible Rome.

Mormon Heretic said...

FD, glad you're back. I expected you to post something on Obama since he came to Norway for the peace prize.

Interesting discussion. I'm definitely not the pacifist you all are, but I'm enjoying the discussion.

online bachelor degree said...

More importantly, I think, it teaches the notions of positively seeking peace and justice BEFORE the violence arises."

velska said...

"... Nor is war justified in an attempt to enforce a new order of government, or even to impel others to a particular form of worship, however better the government or eternally true the principles of the enforced religion may be."
--David O. McKay, In Conference Report, Apr. 1942, p. 72.

In this comment, I think, a finger tends to point to the late (unsuccessful) attempts to force democracy on a people. I appreciate the fact that in Iraq, there actually was an election that was outwardly fair and free — but how many voters actually knew the issues? (One could ask the same thing about American voters, or any other...) In Afghanistan, though, the situation almost seems worse.

I just watched the movie Gandhi a couple of days ago. After that I was more interested in pacifist issues, because Gandhi is often said to have been a pacifist, but he was not; he advocated nonviolence, which is not exactly the same thing. He sought confrontation, which may or may not be the right strategy, depending on the circs.

I remember those Lamanites, who would not take up arms, because they felt the sinfulness of their former ways so strongly they'd rather let themselves be slain than shed blood again.

I realize, that there is also such a thing as "just war," but I see it is very hard for us to judge from the outside. But I also cringe when I see LDS military members boasting about violent acts (no links provided)... why are there so many willing executioners? I would never take shedding of human blood lightly.

My father fought in WWII. I asked him what it felt like to shoot a "russkie" (us six-year-olds had been talking...), and his reaction has forever burned in my memory: "They are humans! It is a hateful thing to kill another human! Never idolize something like that!"

That may not have been his exact words (spoken in Finnish to begin with), but that was what his message was — his sentences were a bit longer, as it took some thinking to get his message straight; he was not used to talking about that. The only times I heard him voluntarily speaking about the War were times when he was with other veterans, and they were in their cups a little (tipsy, a little drunk)...

When I read the Book of Mormon, I realized how Moroni did not enjoy or glorify shedding of blood. He wanted to deal fairly above all. His stratagems were never to shed as much blood as possible, but rather to the contrary.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Velska, thanks for sharing your thoughts. That was a great story about your grandfather. Do you currently live in Finland?

I've been reading a bit about Gandhi, but it would be interesting to see if I can get the movie at the library.

The distinction between pacifism and nonviolence sounds like an important one that perhaps mormongandhi can elaborate on later. He's away at the moment.

One of the common criticisms that I hear about the nonviolence movement is that it's unrealistic and that it would have done nothing to save the Jews in WWII, for example, and that Hitler had to be defeated militarily. True, I think, but Gandhi said some interesting things about WWII and the Jews, which were quite controversial.

I think that once WWII escalated into what it became, then nonviolence was unrealistic. But I think that we underestimate the power of the nonviolence movement in the infant stages of conflict. Hitler didn't act alone. In fact, among his most powerful tools were those who were pressured into committing horrible crimes (even among Jews) because they feared for their lives -- and they certainly had good reason to fear for them. Who knows what a mass civil disobedience in those early stages of that war (or others) could have resulted in. In the case of WWII, could it have been any worse than it was? Doubtful. Lives would have been lost, but perhaps on a much smaller scale.

And yet, how many of us are prepared to sacrifice our lives now in order to perhaps prevent a greater loss of life in the future that we cannot see? Probably not me. Could I be coherced into acts of violence in order to save my own life? As much as I hate to admit it, probably. And so the cycle of violence continues.