Some days when I’m walking my dogs around the neighborhood, I listen to this great little podcast called Philosophy Bites. They’re short, 20 minute conversations with philosophers about a wide range of topics. I was listening to Jesus as Philosopher with Don Cupitt, who is NOT trying to do theology but is interested in discussing Jesus as an ethicist. (So, don’t expect something other than that if you listen.) He made the rather bold claim that Jesus is responsible for introducing the world to nonviolence. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, and I am wondering if that’s true. I know, of course, that Jesus’ message of nonviolence was as counter-cultural then as it is now, but was he really the first to espouse and live into this ethic?
That’s actually a question. Does anybody know? I think you could make a case for the Hebrew Scriptures in some places limiting violence (an eye for an eye was restraint, remember) and moving us toward nonviolence (beating our swords into plowshares). What about anywhere else in ancient Mesopotamia? India? China?
If Jesus did, in fact, introduce nonviolence to the world…wow. I mean, Jesus is “wow” either way, but I guess I’m just struck at how completely that changed the trajectory of everything that became possible afterward. Think about it: after his example, people realized they could choose how they responded in the face of violence. And they could choose not to be violent in return. Think about the revolutionary nature of that choice being made obvious to you when the only thing you’ve ever known or imagined is the gut-reaction of revenge and retribution. And then, for those of us who confess it, consider what it means that the first person to introduce nonviolence is also God.
There is such power in our example. When we choose to live a certain way, it’s not only about our action alone. What also happens is that others who see us realize it’s an option for them, too. That doesn’t mean they will take it. But it means they become aware of another way to live. And that awareness is the first step toward transformation, always.