Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Prophet, new era

At the center of most world-shaking events is a prophet. There are some who claim the age of prophets is dead, citing the absence of figures from the Bible for about two thousand years. But the Bible, being perhaps a more conservative tome than even the French dictionary, fails to take in such obvious Prophets as Muhammad and, in more recent times even the twentieth century has its share of prophets: one could consider Einstein and the Ayatollah Khomeni as well as more obvious examples as Lenin, Trotsky, Gandhi and King. Barack Obama may be the first 21st century prophet; it is too early to tell.

A prophet is a prime mover. Whether his inspiration comes directly from God or is spiritual in nature, the prophet is able to channel the powers that be and move humanity in the same direction. Unfortunately for the prophet, he or she is usually far ahead of his time. While this is needed to effect change, the resulting upheaval usually proves fatal to the prophet.

We in the United States are at a tremendous crossroads at the beginning of this New Age. There will be prophets; they are almost inevitable at a time of change. We certainly have a wide range to choose from, from M.L. King to Leon Trotsky in our own century. Our problem will be which prophet(s) to listen to if Washington is to live up to the old adage, "First in war, first in peace, and last in the (National) League."

We could align the historical prophets in two categories: peaceful and warlike, with the warlike type being much more common than the peaceful. Moses is one of the former. As well as killing an Egyptian in his youth, he summarily dispatched of Pharaoh's army and fought his way around the Sinai Peninsula. King David and Muhammad are obviously examples of warriors; their kingdoms were due much more to force than finesse.
Other Biblical prophets are more difficult to pin down. As well as prophesying that swords will be beaten into "pruning hooks," Isaiah predicts war between Israel and Assyria, Israel and Babylon, as well as the devastation of the world (Chapter 24). His prediction of a bloody future is more common-sense than that of his opposite, an eternal peace. If the history of King David is fairly accurate, the countries of the Middle East fought each other constantly. Jeremiah and Ezekiel and other Biblical prophets, also predicted multiple wars between Israel and its enemies, as well as peace in the far-distant future.

Jesus was probably the most peace-loving prophet up to his day. Although he did predict the destruction of the Second Temple, he preached turning the other cheek, forgiving others seventy times seven times, and forgoing lawsuits. His message of personal forbearance, while difficult if not impossible to follow literally, has survived through the thousands of years of war that have followed, more as an ideal than as of a standard of living.

Perhaps we have come to a crossroads in the type of prophet that we help lift to prominence. The twentieth century has seen its share of both peace-loving and warlike prophets. Mahatma Gandhi, while being a Hindu, drew heavily on the teachings of Jesus, as did the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Could the reign of Obama have come without the martyrdom of King? Perhaps not, and probably King would've agreed to the bargain. On the other hand, the violence of Trotsky and Hitler resonated deeply with their respective audiences, albeit for fairly short periods of time.

In our own era, the U.S./Iraqi war was popular at the beginning here at home. But its popularity did not last upon a little reflection and knowledge of the darker sides of the conflict. A "war to make peace," a slogan sign of the Old Age Prophets, did not quite capture the American populace so far in the 21st century.
Even if we dismiss Bush as a prophetic agent of war, we as a people should face some not-so-grim realities. Warfare, once considered relatively safe on a global stage, is no longer so. Nations like North Korea and Iran are flirting with nuclear weapons, with who knows which country as the object of their "affections." While we can try to limit these countries' technological power by means of sanctions, we can not actually force their hand without declaring war on them. While our basis for declaring war on Iraq was much more flimsy than this, not even the more conservative elements in our country are in favor of another ravaging of a small country whose internal policies somewhat disagree with our own.

Yet sanctions may work in the long run. Gandhi used boycotts of European goods to weaken the British rule to remain in India. M.L. King used boycotts for the same reason. But until this day, with nuclear Armageddon in the balance, War Prophets seem more popular. Why is this so?

1. Prophets of Peace can seem wimpy. Nothing stirs up the blood like a real saber-rattler. Peace Prophets' talk of concessions, referendums, marches, fasts and prayer seem very tame in comparison. We as a people need to refine our tastes; what seems strong can actually be weak and dangerous.

2. Prophets of Peace victories take too long. Gandhi's and King's victories each took a couple of generations, and of course King was not around long enough to see Obama. Jesus' spiritual victory took hundreds of years. But these victories seem long-lasting: India has a thriving country today; we finally have a black president and nearly a billion Christians cover the globe, while many disciples of Jesus (see Gandhi among others) do not call themselves Christian.

3. Prophets of Peace do not go far enough. This was a common criticism of Jesus, King and Gandhi; indeed Gandhi was killed by a member of his own religion for promising too many concessions to Muslims. And Judas betrayed Jesus. Again, the militants in the Prophet of Peace's camp should look to the long term. With some patience, a Prophet of Peace can be successful. Anything less than this in these times can be a nuclear crapshoot.

Yes, in our New Age it seems like the resulting global interdependence may mean speaking loudly and carrying a small stick. One act of war can carry completely unforeseen damage to a perfectly innocent part of the globe. Who knows, maybe Bush invaded Iraq in part because he knew that they didn't carry weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, it appears in the New Age that we will need prophets of peace rather than their counterparts in war. Unfortunately we have many fewer examples of peace prophets to draw from, but the ones we have are very striking, well documented and very successful in the long run.

Jesus began with a couple handfuls of apostles and has parlayed that into nearly a billion followers worldwide. It is these followers who may form the base constituents of any New Age prophet.

Whatever the realities of Jesus' godhead, he stands out as the main peacenik of his era. His philosophy was so far ahead of his day that he confused even his apostles, to say nothing of Rome or his own Jewish people. Even two thousand years after his death his policies of turning the other cheek and refusing to sue our enemies seem too theoretical, too other-worldly.

Yet it seems that turning the other cheek may have vast implications on today's world stage. We would have been spared a bloodbath if the U.S. and its allies had refused to react to Saddam's nose-thumbing of the U.N. sanctions. It seems that he was in compliance with most of them, something one would think that could've been nosed out by our spies and technology. Bluffing by Saddam was merely saving face, playing chicken with the U.S. Does it make it right to invade just because we didn't like them, and had almost infinitely more military power? Did lying to our own people about the size of Saddam's cache make it more moral to blow them away?

Most people would agree in hindsight: it would've been better to turn the other cheek. Saddam was an issue only because we made him an issue; our Hollywood instincts got the best of us. Opposed to this tactic are the models of the mid-20th century: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, the U.N.'s policy of sanctions toward Iraq smacked of those of Gandhi and King. Whether they would have worked against Iraq in the long term it is impossible to say, but Gandhi's non-violent practices against a much stronger opponent (the U.K.) wore them down and shamed them into granting India independence in 1946. While it is true that Saddam was flaunting the U.N.'s rules in his last years as dictator, the U.N. had not given up on its sanctions and indeed begged Bush not to invade. But again, the "wimpy" way was discarded in favor of violence.
While the jury is still out, it seems here that a peaceful path would have proved better. The trick here is to get enough peace-lovers in power that something like an invasion is never brought to the table. We need to nurture peace-loving people, from elementary school on up. The old models will merely bring about a nuclear disaster on a scale not seen since 1945.

What then, do we need to look for in our leaders and people? It seems that the Judeo-Christian world is the most likely place to nurture them, at least in the short term, although the example of Gandhi shows us that where there is sufficient social and political turmoil there can be fertile ground for the seeds of peace.
And how do we find our prophets of today? It seems they must have at least seven characteristics to be a drop-dead Leader of Peace:

1. Morals: Not that he/she has to be a Vestal Virgin, or have no temper at all; our New World Leaders can not be a slave to their passions. Gandhi would fast whenever times got tough, likening to Jesus. While starving oneself to purity might not be the answer for the next American president, one incident of excess can lead to another. A Prophet of Peace must be above reproach.

2. Consistency: Double-dealing will get us nowhere when a Prophet of Peace is dealing in intense negotiations with a volatile country. Double-dealing brings about war (see Hitler). Gandhi once said that "lying was the mother of all violence." (Young India 05-20-1925) Again, total consistency is as impossible as always turning the other cheek, but dealing with apples to one party and oranges to another will get a Peacenik nowhere.

3. Diplomacy: A bull in a china shop does not work here. Prophets of Peace must use all their other characteristics as well as extreme sensitivity when dealing with potentially warring factions.

4. Finesse: See above. A little sleight-of-hand and poker playing ability would do a prophet well.

5. Intelligence: The history of diplomats who were duped by conniving statesmen is legion.

6. Vision: This term goes nearly hand-in-hand with "prophetic." Unfortunately it is not easy to tell a long-term thinker from a short-term in the heat of the moment.

7. Breadth of scope: This is what determines a broad-brush artist from a detail person. This aspect cannot be sold short; detail people are so much in demand today that broad-brushers are almost nonexistent. For a recent example of a successful broad-brusher, see Ronald Reagan. For a disastrous one, see Hitler.

One might even expect the next great Prophet of Peace to come from Moslem region. There are pressures of social upheaval, and the ground seems ripe. As Gandhi said nearly a century ago: "The sword is the emblem of Islam. But Islam was born in an environment where the sword was and still remains the supreme law. The message of Jesus has proved ineffective because the environment was unready to receive it. So with the message of the Prophet. The sword is too much in evidence among Mussalmans." (Young India, 12-30-1926). Perhaps the Moslems are finally ready to have a great figure of peace come into their midst.

If such a change comes to the Moslem world, it is not likely to be an easy one. Consider the Jewish nation of two thousand years ago, still pining for the military triumphs of King David and subjugated to second-class status in the Roman Empire. Although Jesus did nothing to assuage their military desires, the people still called for him to be Son of David up to the final week of his life. Of course Jesus went to incredible extremes to prove his pacifism, and plenty of the people (the more militant of his party) considered him a sellout to Rome. As with Gandhi , Jesus paid the ultimate price for a stance which was not popular with violent fringe elements.

Of course my examples of prophets are somewhat limited: they are all men. When reviewing I firmly believe that women are naturals for all of my Seven Necessary Characteristics. The prophetic calling is one of many where women have been neglected and underestimated since the beginning of time.

Women certainly possess an inherent advantage over men in the categories of diplomacy and finesse. This is not an idle sexist remark; women's inherent physical weakness makes them much more practiced in the gentle arts. What we really need now are women on each side of a dispute to recognize and appreciate their own overtures.

We as a nation need to nurture and respect women's (and men's) calling toward the Prophecy of Peace. Their political and diplomatic training should not be made at the expense of their morality. Someone pure in spirit will be recognized as a prophet much more easily than the bully down the street. The pressures put on these neophytes should be political, not moral. While monetary reward should be a carrot to put in front of these prophets, we should not be surprised if they decline it.

The prophets will have to bargain in front of a materially decreasing world less technology is indeed part of this New Age. They will have to deal with the frustrations of people who did not expect to wait so long, or to be dictated to by a wimpy person. But it is only with these Seven Characteristics that a Prophet of Peace can societies toward long-term futures.

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