Violence--how the individual can respond

VIOLENCE--between nations, on the streets, in the home--is a persistent problem. Today, more than ever, its ugliness is impressed on consciousness. Enhanced means of communication bring even the most hidden instances of violence--domestic strife, for example--to our attention. A temptation is to bow to cynicism--the attitude that violence is innate in human nature and can, at best, be kept within bounds by systems of laws and sanctions. On a more positive note, a number of educational programs attempt to show people alternatives to violence--alternatives such as ways of mediating disputes or helping youth find more constructive paths in life. These are admirable endeavors and deserve active support. But perhaps the most fundamental response has to take place deep within the individual, where daily and hourly the choice between violence and non- violence is made. That choice, in any given circumstance, rests largely on our beliefs about our own basic nature. If there's an underlying belief that man's nature is flawed and violence-prone, the option of violence is always open. And it can seem by far the most alluring choice when pride and will enter in. There is, however, a strikingly different way of viewing man, one that has been present to human thought since the beginning of history--and one that affirms goodness, not evil-mindedness or a volatile mix of good and evil, as man's actual nature. This spiritual view of man springs from the Bible's central teaching that God is the source of man's being. The creator--Spirit and Love, to use other Biblically given names for God-- determines our nature, regardless of the appearances of the moment. That is the essential truth of our being. The evil or violent impulse has nothing to do with our genuine heritage as the creation of an infinitely good God. St. Paul makes it clear that murders, envyings, and so forth, do ``not inherit the kingdom of God.'' ``But,'' he continues, ``the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance''--all the qualities that thoroughly antidote violence. And, he sums up, ``against such there is no law.'' 1 So what does this realization--that our actual nature is characterized by gentleness and love--mean in practical terms? It means that when you're in a situation where violence seems the ``natural'' impulse, you can recognize, then and there, that it's in fact unnatural; that the loving response--the thoughtful one, the patient one, the one that heals instead of aggravates--is the one that's native to you as God's child. Think of those everyday experiences that set the stage for violence--the irritating maneuver of another driver, the seemingly intolerable behavior of a spouse or child. Even in the midst of such trying circumstances the clear, instant realization that one's own nature springs from an unfailingly gentle and benevolent God can dissolve anger. The understanding, as taught by Christian Science, that man reflects God can neutralize the reflex of violence. And as Paul perceived, there's no law, no actual authority, that can work against the impulse of gentleness when its source is understood to be God. In terms that make it clear we're talking about the Science, the unchanging verity, of God and man, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, observes: ``The Christianly scientific man reflects the divine law, thus becoming a law unto himself. He does violence to no man.'' 2 That man or woman is reflecting the divine law who discerns God's presence, and acts according to the impulsion of His commanding presence when others see only the mortal dimension. It's an ability we all can aspire to. It is denied to no one, since each individual has a God-bestowed heritage of goodness and gentleness to claim. As the impulse of violence dissolves from one heart, hope brightens in other hearts. From experience to experience, the lesson deepens: violence is a void that love, flowing from God, utterly fills, and love has a strength that silences pride and willfulness. In this way the Psalmist's heartfelt thanks become our own: ``Thou hast delivered me from the violent man.'' 3 1 Galatians 5:19-23. 2 Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 458. 3 Psalms 18:48.

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