Would it depend on how “good” the cause was? Would it depend on how strongly you felt? On how many people it affected? On how deeply your own life was affected? Or the lives of others? How far is too far? To achieve your goal, do you appeal to the mind? Or the heart? Do you aim to inspire hope or fear?
Would you go as far as speaking up? Standing on a street corner? Holding a placard? Sending your money? Giving your time and resources. Would you write and argue your case; appeal to those in power using well researched arguments backed up by facts. What happens when those arguments are ignored, or make the situation worse? Some turn to violence, to strident opposition to injustice with the sword (or these days, the gun, the bomb, the flames). They insist it is the only way to resist madmen, to make the ‘Powerful Indifferents’ pay attention or change. Without actions that disrupt the equilibrium, how will those invested in the status quo ever be motivated to change?
Do you throw yourself on the gears of the machine to grind it to a halt? Do you approach your oppressors with a heart of peaceful resistance as Gandhi (Richard Attenborough’s great work is always worth a watch) or Dr King did. (Reminder to self – MUST watch Selma!). Do you take on the “Violence inherent in the system” but recognise this also damns you as does the Guy Fawkes Avatar of “V”? How bad must the injustice be for even the meekest of us to turn to blowing up houses an postboxes and to starve themselves to draw attention to it?
This last thought is of course inspired by my recent visit to see “Suffragette”. Here are women who endure circumstances that are only just outside living memory in the west. Circumstances for my sisters elsewhere in the world right now are equal to or worse than those in the film. For me, as a card-carrying feminist and equality/justice nut, this was a story I could relate to even deeper than I normally would (and for an empath such as I, that is saying a lot). It made me feel (as every great story should). I feel grateful for the ones who went before me who have given me the privileges I enjoy; I feel empowered by their example (more of that momentarily); I feel saddened and angry at the injustices they suffered (yes, cried a LOT at the force feeding, child being taken away and the police going in with batons against unarmed women at the drop of a hat). And I of course want to DO something. As my friend looked at me and said when we got out… “I want a placard and I want to vote for something, anything”.
What was good about the film was that it didn’t sugar coat or flinch away from some of the potentially questionable actions carried out by the women. Because here’s the question? Would I go this far for my cause? Would I destroy property, starve myself, put others in danger? They had been “polite” for many years and no-one heard them. They saw this as their only way – as do many in present times who see escalating violence as the only way to oppose madmen & oppressors. And the cry of “Deeds not words” is an attractive one; to fight oppression with action; marching, standing together, helping others find their own strength, of course this is attractive. But when that action becomes violent action, when our actions become destructive and harmful, is that too far? Or does the violent oppression of whole segments of humanity warrant it? I’ve heard the arguments for meeting violence with violence and on some level they seem logical. But as a follower of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who met violence with forgiveness, who healed the wounds of one of the enemies who came to take him, whose words of “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” still convict us, as a follower of this man, of this God, I am called to be illogical, to be unnatural, to be non-violent.
And the question of “how far”, or “would I go that far?” is raised for me when I re-watch “The Life of David Gale”. I can’t talk about the sacrifice, or the “how far” without HUGE spoilers, so if you’re planning on seeing it and haven’t (though I would urge anyone to watch it – amazing performances, great direction, heart-wrenching story) then step away and come back once you’ve watched it. Because every time I watch it I’m left broken-hearted at the end, broken-hearted, drained and challenged that this is how we as Jesus Followers are called to react to injustice. This, this self-sacrifice, undermining of violence by giving of self, this allowing oneself to be killed to save others, this is how injustice, how violence, how evil can be opposed. It is how we turn enemies into neighbours – by empathising with them, by turning the machinery of retaliation and vengeance against itself, by utterly giving all of yourself, not just your life, but your reputation, people’s memory of you. I ask myself, would I go as far as Constance? Hers is a terrible death, though no less terrible than the death from Cancer she was facing otherwise. And then I ask would I go as far as David, to put myself on death row and allow myself to die, so that others would be prevented from being sent there? The poetry alone makes it worthwhile. And the potential lives saved, argument won and principle proven. And Justice righted. And the Christlike response instead of violence, terror, guns “to protect ourselves”, closing our doors, exluding others, marching in armies. I hope I would choose sacrifice every time. To stand in front of the sword to protect another, rather than ever using the sword.
How far would you go?