I listened to Obama’s recent acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. It was eloquent, as usual. He, in fact, performed some fine rhetorical gymnastics as he contradicted himself on at least one very important point. Brian McLaren unpacks it for us:
Two paragraphs in the president’s speech struck me in particular. After acknowledging with humility the complex circumstances around his being named the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, he said he was:
mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago — “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak — nothing passive, nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
The unresolved irony of those two paragraphs wrestles under their composed and muscular syntax. On the one hand, “there is nothing naïve in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.” On the other hand, “I face the world as it is … evil does exist in the world.” It’s hard to read the latter in any other way than denying the former: King and Gandhi were naïve, underestimating the reality of evil in the world.
That’s a difficult point to deny, right? Wrong. A commenter takes McLaren to task on it:
Man, this whole argument of McLaren’s rests on the assumption Obama was calling Luther King “naive”. He wasn’t. He was saying it was naive to believe that nonviolence would always work as a solution to radical evil. Um, he mentioned Hitler, didn’t he? You missed that. How would nonviolence have stopped the rampaging Hutus in Rwanda? It is just self-serving one’s own ideology to think Obama was making an either/or statement.
So, against my better judgment (they can get a little feisty), I weighed in:
I think I remember reading a story in Claiborne and Haw’s book (Jesus for President) about a Rwandan man whose family was murdered and, essentially, became a target himself as he began to directly forgive his enemies. His example, of self-sacrificial enemy-love, is far more powerful and intelligent than any “smart bomb.” Of course, one only has to read the Gospels and learn the stories of early Christians to understand how this works. I suspect there are some situations where Christians cannot do anything to stop “radical evil,” that is, aside from giving one’s own life. But shouldn’t that be the call of those who follow a resurrected man?
Now, mind you, I have no personal experience with that kind of stuff. In fact, I doubt I am strong enough to die for most folks, much less my enemies. I just can’t seem to justify a behavior that Christ and early Christians so readily condemned (both in behavior and teaching), simply because I suck.
Anyone want to take me to task?