Turning the Other Cheek
Jesus was nonviolent. Jesus was the first feminist. Jesus was the first anti-racist. Jesus welcomed all people. The Catholic Church is the face of Jesus, the non-violent Revolution. We are gently bringing a new Church into being holding hands and singing.
Jesus is nonviolent, yes. Jesus is a feminist, yes. There is NOTHING wrong with non-violence. What I am calling out is nonviolent arrogance. Trumpeting Jesus’ non-violence goes hand-in-hand with dismissing other religions and movements as violent. Christianity is non-violent, with groovy flower power – and Islam is an oppressive faith. Christian women are feminists, modeled after Jesus, while Muslim women are ‘not given a good example, the poor things.’ (I just read about it in the paper!) (Even though Jesus is a prophet in Islam, people don’t know this). “It’s too bad,” a Catholic woman said, “that Muslims don’t follow Sufi mysticism more, which is similar to the teachings of Christianity, and more loving.” (Not to mention that Sufism is not this monolithic force that is in perfect alignment with that universal phenomenon some say transcend religion, called mysticism, but that’s another post). The white Christian woman in The Faith Club (which is a book I loath, and that’s another post, but I’ll use the pop culture reference here) – feels very smug about Christianity going into interfaith dialogue because she believes that Jesus is the perfect, non-violent model. It is easier for nonviolent arrogant leftist Catholics to buy into “Under the Burqa” or Three Cups of Tea. It is easier for nonviolent arrogant leftist Catholics to be accepted in feminist movements (because radical, woman-centered Catholicism is in line with mainstream peace-loving feminism). Liberal Catholicism and nonviolently ending the oppression of women, especially if that woman is wearing a veil, is feminist chic. (The caveat here is that I know it is hard to be both Catholic and feminist, especially in secular circles, but I think it is easier to identify as Catholic and feminist than Muslim and feminist. Muslim and feminist implies contradictions to a lot of mainstream feminists. I think this also comes from, as many women have said before me, the word ‘feminist’ having a very narrow focus. The word feminist implies a white woman who will yell at you if you say the b-word, desire liberation for all women on her standards, and want women’s ordination or contraceptive freedom NOW! But there are no issues that are not feminist issues. Granted, Catholic and feminist is also a regular wtf, but the ease that Catholicism fits into a Western feminism that still gawks at Islam begins with saying “Jesus was sooo nonviolent and feminist!”)
Jesus is a pacifist, yes. But it’s like saying that Malcolm X was somehow too intense, that there was no need to be so aggressive. This doesn’t mean the Civil Rights Movement isn’t as important. It still is. But being arrogant about Jesus’ nonviolent status lessens his badassery. Really. It lessens Catholic Reform movements. Loving your enemies is a really beautiful thing, something I love about Christianity — all that agape and stuff. As long as you don’t get tromped on or made into a doormat. (I want to point out here that there are plenty of Catholic movements that don’t snub noses, so thumbs up!) Something Jesus DIDN’T do was make himself a doormat, even if he was all pacifist about it, he was very aggressive — so why are we doing that? As Malcom X stated, “We have thought it was Godlike to turn the other cheek to the group that was oppressing us.” It’s like saying there was no need for Muhammad to reclaim Mecca – or – even worse – that the reclaiming of Mecca or Muhammad’s other military campaigns means that the entire religion is violent. (Muhammad’s march on Mecca was nonviolent, by the way. Armed, but nonviolent). There was a need in the seventh century Arab world for politics to be intertwined with religion, the need for self-defense – a political and social climate that Jesus didn’t face. It doesn’t discount God’s message of peace as revealed in the Qur’an. It doesn’t discount a religion of entire emotions.
Nonviolent arrogance implies several things, as Veena Cabreros-Sud points out in her essay “Kicking Ass”:
“The messages are, on the surface, 1. I’m educated and you’re not, 2. I’m upper class and you’re not, 3. I’m a feminist and you’re not (since [the nonviolent white woman’s] brand of feminism is equated with nonviolent moon-to-uterus symbiosis). My ‘men’ can do the fighting, but I, gentle maiden, shan’t; the new feminism remaking a generation in the image of the suburban, wealthy, sophisticated, genetically genteel.”
There are personal repercussions for this. Arrogance about nonviolence makes us feel guilty about our own thoughts. After all, it is not just the man on Law and Order who has had thoughts of violence. I think a lot of us are afraid our violence will explode, if unchecked. So we store away those thoughts as sins. It keeps the insane from us and us away from the insane. They’re over there. We? We can control ourselves. It keeps us calm. We are not crazy. We are reading stories about women who say they’re going out to get a cup of coffee, and then kill themselves. We are reading stories about Amber Hill, Andrea Yates, Medea, Margaret Garner — (although Andrea Yates was trapped in a very different way than Margaret Garner, an escaped slave).
As Cabreros-Sud writes,
“In many of the well-protected enclaves where feminism is discussed, a woman’s response to violence with violence is not viewed as one of the many expressions of resistance nor as a natural, human response to daily humiliation, but as a sociopolitical faux pas. The crazy woman. . . . Terrorized as I am by my understanding and horrified as I am by the act of seemingly random violence, I’d like to go beyond dismissing [the man who shot commuters on the Long Island railroad] as the Crazy Man. Because then I would be the Crazy Woman and we would be living in a society of Crazy Millions. Perhaps the challenge is the question why America created so many Crazies.”
I think we need to get openly angry. Very angry. Lenelle Moïse says (and I’m paraphrasing here) in the “Fuck You Now Manifesto,” “I’m sick of this shit…this be-polite shit, this eloquence is more powerful than profanity shit. It’s elitist bullshit, classist bullshit, it’s keep-oppressed-people-passively-aggressive-type-shit….I’m not going to recommend a good book to the jerk-off who is holding a real or metaphorical gun to my head.”
I have to take a page from Jesus and wonder about some aspects of nonviolent arrogance which have become so palatable they are almost selling out. Nonviolent arrogance tends to think that everything is all one love, one peace, one Earth – I heard it on NPR! —- but also thinks “Reading Lolita in Tehran” and “One Thousand Splendid Suns” is where it’s at. The solution is hardly “to get a gun, Sally,” as Cabreros-Sud points out. She goes on to say: “Because the answer would be armed yupettes en masse blowing away mostly brothers of color in mid-town. It is more a question or a series of inquires into how we can incorporate our daily resistances, the hitting back; the spitting in the boss’s coffee; the ugly contortions of our loud, angry, cuss-ridden mouths, to create an opening, a space where “we” are allowed our multiple forms of resistance which go beyond tame-able, controllable, mass consumable, and ultimately nonthreatening feminism. How this seemingly modest defiance becomes stepping-stones to redefining who the enemy is, what is resistance, why we fight back in the first place.
I still want you to be kind. Nonviolent arrogance doesn’t always mean you’re kind. I want some deep, soothing kind that can ease the fires. I think this blog is a good way to provide lots of Catholics with a voice, all becoming like the Temperance card in Tarot. But in thinking about turning the other cheek, I have to wonder about the image I had when I was younger. I imagined, when I read that verse, that my cheeks would be hurt, and my teeth, and my eyes, and it was GOOD to get hurt. That God somehow wanted that. I wondered, what if I didn’t want to get hurt anymore, to turn another cheek. Where is God, then? Lenelle Moïse continues in her peace, neither my silence, nor my silence nor my silence camouflaged with well-thought-out phrases will protect me. May our understanding of nonviolence enhance our movement, not diminish it and may we keep fighting, keep living, and keep making mistakes.
Quote from Malcolm X from a television appearance. Courtesy of the Black Media Archive.
Veena Cabreros-Sud’s essay entitled “Kicking Ass” appears in To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism.
Lenelle Moïse’s poem “The Fuck You Now Manifesto” is available on her CD Madivinez.
Thanks to Mohja Kahf for delightful conversation.