When I first heard about conscientious objectors who gave up their lives rather than fight I felt they were people of real moral courage.
A courage of strong belief. People of conscience and integrity.
Some would suggest they are cowards but I can't buy that. To die for an overwhelming principle in non violence takes more guts than I might possess.
Our moral values have often sprung from the world's religions and right now, in the current epoch of consumer capitalism, there is a battle between Islam, Judaism and Christianity for the soul of the world. It is a fight that includes rockets and bombs. Right now pacifism is unfashionable and seems to be getting a bit of a pasting.
I am a non believer in any religion but the stories of all the 'prophets' have also held a fascination for me. Great stories too, that offer riveting narratives that require exploration and rigorous critical thinking. The lives of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are lives that illuminate our development of moral systems. When they are elevated to being the word of God I remain somewhat doubtful....were they the Gandhi's, Mandela's and Marx's of their day elevated through time and poetic licence? And where were the women? The line of development for human beings surely is towards complete equality and the male dominance of prophets and leaders has to change and involve women. Perhaps God is sexist....or maybe even more radical........ she's female.........the lack of a female presence in religious texts makes me even more sceptical of them being the authentic word of God.....or does God truly differentiate on grounds of gender!
It's unfortunate that most 'religious' parents will usually indoctrinate their children with their truth. This deprives children of their own free will and starves them of opportunities for critical thinking. Surely such critical thinking is the spark for science that unlocks so much more understanding of our unique and, possibly quite insignificant, place in the universe?
And so many children grow up with the religion and beliefs their parents hand on to them. This is evidenced by the minority of children in very religious societies who are able to turn their back on religion.
How easy would it be for them to state they were converts to atheism (that should be a good barometer for a religion's strength).
Talk of crusades, jihads, infidels and sinners really makes a religion exclusive, bombastic and set on a course of violent collision with non believers, indeed, believers of other faiths too.
Pacifism, in a bizarre paradox, also invites conflict.
And yet where do the world's religions stand on pacifism? Is it ok to kill those who don't share your beliefs (that's pretty much what it always boils down to)?
Jesus is surely the ultimate pacifist isn't he? He gave up his life to demonstrate that passive resistance has a dignity and power way beyond the boot and the bomb.
But after 9/11 the 'so called' Christians Bush and Blair opted for the revenge strategy and the belief that might is right (what happened to turning the other cheek and the meek inheriting the earth?). Surely the days of brute force should be diminishing as we become more civilised....but it still seems to boil down to crusades against jihads.
Muslim theologians would have to advise me but it would appear to me that the Koran does involve battles and killing in the name of faith. Likewise the Old Testament and Judaism is saddled with 'an eye for an eye' but Gandhi's take on this is surely instructive....it will blind the world.
Those who disagree will point to the rise of terrorism unchecked without returning the violence in self defence (but the evidence is that more seem to become radicalised and violence escalates). Those who disagree will also point to the rise of Hitler in the face of appeasement.
I am not so naive as to discount the violence that dwells within all of us (I remember attending a Quaker Meeting once and someone stood up and said 'There's a Nazi in everyone of us'...it was provocative and has stayed with me from many years ago). There is violence that dwells within all of us and every individual has to resolve that as part of the human condition. Our 'fight or flight' response that we default to in times of real crisis and conflict.
Every individual has to learn self restraint.
The world does need policing and does need a strong force or army for good. But this should no longer be at the disposal of any nation state or terrorist group.
The United Nations is the only body that should have an army at its disposal. A well trained, well resourced and well paid force that holds all the world's weaponry and, for that matter, any of the world's nuclear capability.
I know I will be accused of being idealistic and simple minded....but until we allow the United Nations the genuine brief of policing the world's problems and conflicts we will remain stuck in the Dark Ages. Only then will selfish interests of oil,capital,religion and wealth begin to hold less sway in who fights who and a greater good will endure.
Our over reliance on capitalism and the market place has created a culture of greed and self interest. We need to fight back with collectivism a sense of world citizenship.
We need to fight back with a United Nations Army that can police and remains transparent to the world's scrutiny.
We need to fight back with ideas. Ideas of equality, fairness and human rights. We need a moral leadership devoid of wealth and religious bias.
We need to fight back as pacifists.