God and peace on the streets of Egypt: Daydreams

Posted by Rick Chrisman

Wow, look at what Egypt just did! Do you suppose we could do something like that — a nonviolent revolution? M-m-m, it's doubtful. Not enough outrage, and not enough self-control.

Our Tea Partiers are definitely outraged, but they want to bring guns to their rallies! Imagine: all those men in Tahrir Square for 18 days, and without weapons. We aren't in Arizona any more, Toto.

The Muslim protesters in the Square prayed publicly 5 times a day, demonstrating what the fundamental tenets of religion advocate: nonviolence. If only organized religion could stick to the basics of God and peace, the world would be a better place.

Yes, a good religion is hard to find, but everybody needs one. Why? Because religion provides our spirituality with an outlet, gives some starch to good intentions and provides a community of support when things get rough. Most importantly, it replaces politics as our ultimate endeavor. But people shouldn't adopt religion for the sake of getting into heaven. They must do it for the sake of God and peace.

Consider what Gandhi accomplished through his religion. He managed to peaceably remove the British Empire from India. After a conventional Hindu upbringing, Gandhi eventually wove a faith out of his reinterpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. His religion could be summarized as a devotion to "Truth," and his faith that "Truth," which he equated with God, prevails.

But "Truth" can prevail only when we don't get in its way. In other words, we must not seek out conflict with our "enemies," but understand them and respect them as fellow people. As Gandhi asked "what barrier is there that love cannot break?"

Gandhi was averse to spiritual violence as much as he was to physical violence. He argued that self-abuse, hatred of others, anger and jealousy were qualities that could be shed with meditation. Gandhi took up practices that many of us would consider unrealistic (a strict vegetarian diet, fasting, celibacy, etc.), yet he showed us that peace is achieved only with some degree of self-restraint. He maintained these practices for their own merit, but they also empowered him with the will to topple an empire.

Gandhi was not a saint (there's a lot of evidence to this point), and he would not let anyone call him one. He wasn't motivated for the sake of being pious or virtuous, but to live as closely to the Truth as possible. His biographer Louis Fisher wrote that Gandhi tried "to establish a harmony between words, beliefs and acts." In this way, Gandhi was only "seeking the formula for mental health." Yet he liberated a whole country in the process. What a story. Could it be ours as well?

Gandhi's goal, in a word, was self-realization, which he didn't consider to be fulfillment or happiness, but self-improvement through service. He wanted people to know the freedom of self-reliance, which he called "the beauty self help." He was entirely devoted to serving the poor. In his words, "I made the religion of service my own, as God could only be realized through service." You could say he deprived himself of many material things, yet got something much greater in return.

Gandhi strove to be passion free, to "rise above the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachment and repulsion," as many in our society should. But that spirituality needed a religion whose discipline would get him to that point. In turn, he improved upon Hinduism and Christianity, and he knew God and peace.

That's all religion is: God and peace. Can't we use more of that? Find yourself a good religion. Turn the world upside down.

Rick Chrisman is director of Religious and Spiritual Life, teaches occasionally in the Religion and Philosophy departments and suspects art is the one true religion.

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