I have been reading a book called The Art of Spiritual Warfare by Grant Schnarr. It’s a pretty good book. For one thing, it tells us that evil has objective reality. Evil is not a social construct. For another, its focus is on the inner resources a person brings to a combat. However real the enemy may be, the one who fights him is liable to project emotional habits (fears and angers) carried over from the fighter’s previous history. In a combat, such projections are weaknesses. They fuel the opposing fighter by playing into his hands.
Let’s play a war game of our own. Suppose an enemy proclaims that we have no right to exist. What does it mean to have “no right to exist”? If you or I have no right to exist, then the one who deprives us of existence deprives us of no right that we previously possessed. We may lose our lives, but we don’t thereby lose any right that we had.
Now suppose, in our war game, we have a spiritual homeland whose “right to exist” is denied by some of our neighbors. That would surely be an unneighborly act — an act of spiritual warfare. But now suppose these neighbors, want to be accepted as good neighbors – all the while not renouncing their war against us. What recourse might they have, given such apparently inconsistent aims?
Why not propose to engage with us, the besieged party, in a form of communication that would be radically incommunicative? What would that look like, supposing it to be possible? It would exclude judgments of fact or value, of reason or right. It would allow only confessions of feeling and other subjective states. It would not touch the point at issue: the legitimacy of our spiritual homeland’s existence.
Now suppose one of the besieged participants already had a public avenue for airing judgments of fact and value – another name for which is reasonable speech. For example, “Dear Abbie” is such a public avenue, where facts and values are aired and shared. People who disagree with anything said here are warmly and sincerely invited to say all that they have to say, in the form of Comments. The more Comments, the better!
Wouldn’t the next, effective move be — for the spiritual war-makers – to silence such an avenue?
Recently, I have been asked not to write again about the sessions where these neighbors are meeting. At least not to write about them till they are over. Taken rather by surprise, I instantly gave the requested promise. But I believe there’s been a misunderstanding here, on my own part as much as anyone else’s.
“There are so many interesting things to write about,” people sometimes say to me. “How do you choose your topic, each week?”
It’s true that there are many things of interest to write about. But I never “choose” my topic. My topic is the sum and substance of what is on my mind centrally at the time of writing. I discover my topic, the way a mariner finds his island. He didn’t invent it. He didn’t choose to find it. Before he found it, it was already there.
So, to be asked not to write about X, if X turns out the topic central to my mind at the time of writing, is the same as to be asked not to write this column!
The columns to which objection has been taken were written in response to a situation that would lie heavy on the mind of any person of conscience. A group has been occupying the central square of the town I live in, carrying placards that single out Israel in a way that would lead people to conclude – were Israel to be destroyed as its enemies threaten to do – that “they got what they deserved.” That’s war propaganda.
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I have Christian friends who, at an earlier point in their lives, would have carried anti-Israel signs, sure of their rightness and righteousness. What changed them? An argument might have done it. Some of these friends are educated and smart. But as it happened, no argument did the work.
What did it then? They had, in each such case I know of – and I know of a few – an encounter with God. I mean it. I’m not kidding. Whose God? What kind of God? There are many names for God, many different views about who or what God is – what reality that word names. Some encounters that purport to be meetings with God would not have affected speech or behavior on so concrete a level. What was told me, in the cases I know of, was that the God-encounter carried an assurance of reality, was close-up, highly personal and overwhelming. Yet it did not obliterate personal boundaries or discriminative thinking. The Biblical encounters with God are like that too, but the experiences reported to me were not commentaries on a text: they were vivid and immediate – happening now.
After the encounter, the person emerged from it changed in a very specific way:
he or she loved Israel.
The person saw – immediately and without having to build an elaborately layered argument – that Israel’s actions are normally taken to defend her life. The person also felt clear and unforced
love and gratitude for Jews.