[NOTE: Updated Below]
Love is a weapon that cuts without wounding, and ennobles the one who wields it; it is a sword that heals.
Dr. Martin Luther King
I’ve been watching with interest the Occupy protests (at Wall Street and elsewhere) and I must say I’m extremely gratified at their success. They have succeeded in changing the subject from “we must cut the deficit immediately and at all costs!!11!” (which is economic idiocy – the short-term problem is a lack of demand; the long term problem is debt) to “what are we going to do about unemployment and robber-baron-era-like levels of wealth inequality?”
Finally, the national conversation is beginning to be about inequality and its beneficiaries: an unaccountable, reckless and arrogant oligarchy — the injustice and danger of which I’ve been pointing out ever since I first showed up here at Vox Nova, both as a commenter and later when I became a contributor — which is the root cause of the financial and economic crisis consuming the West.
My greatest wish is that at some point, the OWS folks will leaven their movement with an ingredient that is essential to truly heal our economic and social problems: agape love.
The Greek language uses three words for love. It talks about eros. Eros is a sort of aesthetic love. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love and it stands with all of its beauty. But when we speak of loving those who oppose us we’re not talking about eros. The Greek language talks about philia and this is a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends. This is a vital, valuable love. But when we talk of loving those who oppose you and those who seek to defeat you we are not talking about eros or philia. The Greek language comes out with another word and it is agape. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men. Theologians would say it is the love of God operating in the human heart. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. And when you come to love on this level you begin to love men not because they are likeable, not because they do things that attract us, but because God loves them and here we love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. It is the type of love that stands at the center of the movement that we are trying to carry on in the Southland—agape.
The cause of the economic crisis is the consequence of the dominance a group of people whose hearts have been distorted by greed and avarice. In their efforts to stand as plutocratic gods above their brothers and sisters, they move to the most exclusive neighborhoods they can find. They have thrown aside the bonds that bind them to the rest of us; they have refused to allow their consciences to be troubled by the thousands of their newly-impoverished brothers and sisters who now have formed tent cities.
If prodigal Wall Street could walk with truly open hearts among their estranged brethren in those cities of cloth and nylon, their hearts would be broken. Not by the deprivation and primitive material circumstances, but by the realization that the residents have infinitely more riches than the Wall Streeters do: the residents of those tent cities now realize and enjoy the fundamental mutuality that is the very essence of being children of God. They are brothers and sisters, and share what they have with one another not by writing a check, but by making room at their camp stove for a stranger who has it worse than them.I have known people in my personal life who “came from money” – some have been generous and warm-hearted to a fault, of course, but a story I keep hearing is of entire families where whole generations of children sit and wait for someone to die so that they could come into their money. I hear of such circumstances and feel both revulsion at the spiritual desolation that represents, and also a metaphysical dread at a society that considers that as unremarkable as the fact that millions of its children live in poverty.
Those two phenomena are related, I believe. They are both symptoms of greed – and not just at a personal level, but deeply ingrained in the fabric of our society as a whole.
And he is able to love those persons that he even finds it difficult to like for he begins to look beneath the surface and he discovers that that individual who may be brutal toward him and who may be prejudiced was taught that way—was a child of his culture. At times his school taught him that way. At times his church taught him that way. At times his family taught him that way. And the thing to do is to change the structure and the evil system, so that he can grow and develop as a mature individual devoid of prejudice. And this is the kind of understanding goodwill that the nonviolent resister can follow if he is true to the love ethic. And so he can rise to the point of being able to look into the face of his most violent opponent and say in substance, do to us what you will and we will still love you. We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. And do to us what you will, and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. And so throw us in jail, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators and violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And one day we will win our freedom but we will not only win freedom for ourselves. We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience, that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory. This is the meaning of the nonviolent creed. This is the meaning of the nonviolent ethic.
The greed of the oligarchy is morally and socially corrosive, and we of humble economic circumstances are as guilty of tolerating it as the oligarchs are of perpetrating it.
The goal must be reconciliation and healing, not humiliation and dominance. We must not become what we abhor.
It appears that some members of Occupy Oakland perpetrated acts of violence against property, and the persons of police officers, last night and early this morning. This is precisely the wrong thing for the Occupy protesters to be doing, both morally and strategically. If force is used against the protestors, they should respond with peaceful resistance, and appeal to the consciences of the perpetrators of violence; to raise your fist is to lose the moral force of your movement, until that fist is lowered again.
I do hear that this situation is being addressed internally by Occupy Oakland. I pray that they may firmly put aside retaliation and despair, and wield the devastating weapons of joyful hope and non-violent love.