By Rev. John Dear
(Published in Richard Rohr’s magazine, Oneing, Fall 2018)
“I believe in the essential unity of humanity, and for that matter, of all that lives,” Gandhi once
wrote. He thought all life was sacred, that we are all one, all sisters and brothers of one another,
even one with all creatures and Mother Earth.
This foundational spiritual truth led Gandhi to the conviction that nonviolence is now a
normative requirement for every human being, if we are to honor our sacred unity. If every living
human being is our very sister or brother, we would never dare hurt anyone, much less sit back
silently or passively in the face of global suffering, endless wars, poverty and killing. Neither can
we ignore the millions of creatures going extinct because of our systemic violence or remain
indifferent in the face of systemic greed and nuclear weapons leading to environmental
destruction. Knowing our oneness with creation, we would never harm Mother Earth, or sit back
passively while others dig up fossil fuels regardless of the consequences of climate change.
We are all one, and so, we try to practice meticulous, creative nonviolence toward every one,
every creature and Mother Earth.
Through his long search into the truth of our common unity and its requisite requirement of
steadfast nonviolence, Gandhi came to celebrate the diversity of life everywhere—among all
humans, all sentient beings, and creation itself. This nonviolent openness to our common unity
leads, he learned, to the celebration of diversity in all its forms. These seemingly disparate sides
of reality point us to our generous God—Creator, Christ, and Spirit—as Fr. Richard writes, a
loving God of unity and diversity.
I write these words by hand on a hot summer evening on the mesa in northern New Mexico
where I live, looking out over a hundred miles of sagebrush, junipers, arroyos and distant
mountains as the sun sets in the distance, setting off a wild explosion of red, orange, and yellow
colors against the blue sky.
The daily news breaks the heart with reports of never-ending war, bombings, gun violence,
racism, sexism, the mistreatment of immigrants and prisoners, nuclear threats, wildfires, drought
and catastrophic climate change. Each day brings new evidence of how we have lost sight of our
common unity and beautiful diversity, and this systemic blindness is killing us–spiritually,
emotionally and physically.
In the distance, I see the mountains of Los Alamos, where the first atomic bomb was built over
73 years ago, where tens of thousands of others have been built since, and where today business
is booming, thanks in large part to the thousands of devout, rich, faithful, church-going
Christians who work there.
Seeing both the glories of creation spread out before me—as well as the end of the world in the
distant nuclear labs, I ponder once again the lesson of Gandhi—that since we are all one, created
by a loving Creator to live in peace and love with one another on this earthly paradise, we are
invited to pursue the ancient wisdom of nonviolence, put down our swords, dismantle our
weapons, vow never to harm anyone, return to our right minds, and receive the gift of vision.
That led him to set off on a journey to universal love, universal compassion, and universal peace.
He thought that was the path set out before every human being. Along the way, we discover and
see new depths of our common unity and celebrate new layers of our glorious diversity.
Earlier this year, I crisscrossed the country on a three-month, fifty city speaking tour about my
new book, They Will Inherit the Earth: Peace and Nonviolence in a Time of Climate Change. My
thesis was that Jesus’ third beatitude offers a beautiful way forward in this insane culture of
violence, war and environmental destruction. Thomas Merton wrote that “meekness” was the
biblical word for active, Gandhian nonviolence, so I translate Jesus’ teaching as “Blessed are
people of active, creative nonviolence; they will be one with creation, with all humanity, all
creatures, and Mother Earth.”
In the course of writing the book, I spent time with friends at Tewa Women United in the Santa
Clara Pueblo, the second poorest county in the nation. Seventy-five years ago, the U.S. military
barreled through, stole half their land, including the Los Alamos mountain, and built the nuclear
weapons laboratories there. From the start, they dumped the radioactive waste, literally, off the
cliffs down onto the indigenous people of the pueblo, poisoning the land, spreading cancer, and
ensuring their permanent poverty.
I asked one of the elders, my friend Marian Naranjo, as I write in the book, about her long
journey and Jesus’ third beatitude, and she shared about the indigenous way of peace and
nonviolence. She said that they have been living that beatitude for centuries, that they live and
breathe at one with all humanity, all creatures, and Mother Earth, in their day to day
peaceableness, and not only celebrate diversity but learn from the diversity around them, in each
other, in the creatures, in water, land, plants, trees and sky, so they can better live at peace with
each other. As they learn from the diversity in nature, and honor each other’s gifts, they also
learn more about the Creator. In other words, unity and diversity, within the framework and
geography of nonviolence, helps deepen their culture of peace and devotion to the God of peace,
The mystery and scandal of Christianity is that God is nonviolent. It’s right there in the Sermon
on the Mount, which Gandhi read from every day for over forty years: “Blessed are the
peacemakers; they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons and daughters of your heavenly God
for God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes the rain to fall on the just and the
unjust.” (Mt. 5:9; 44-45)
There, in the most radical, hard-hitting, political, revolutionary sentence in the entire Bible, in
this call for universal nonviolent love for those targeted with death by your nation/state, the
nonviolent Jesus clearly describes the nature of God. God practices universal nonviolent love.
Jesus teaches that God is nonviolent, that to be human is to be nonviolent. We are all called to be
nonviolent. To deepen our awareness of our common human unity and glorious diversity, we
have to deepen into total, universal nonviolence, into the very nature of God. That is the spiritual
journey that lies ahead of every human being.
But in fact, we not only ignore and deny our unity and diversity, we wage permanent war against
unity and diversity. Literally. War kills our sisters and brothers. In our willingness to support
warfare, we declare, “We are not one.” We label others as non-human, as enemies, as disposable,
as objects for death. Along the way, we join the business of death and serve the idols of death.
To reject the culture of disunity and destruction, to embrace human unity and celebrate diversity
is to practice nonviolence.
If you deny anyone their humanity, if you do not recognize everyone as a sister or a brother, if
you oppose others who are different and seek to dominate everything according to your group or
nation, you renounce God, reject Jesus, disregard the Gospel, lose your vision but more
fundamentally, lose your humanity. You become inhuman.
To honor and celebrate human unity and diversity means living within the boundaries of
nonviolence. There, we refuse to hurt or kill another person, we non-cooperate with the culture
of violence, war and killing, we do our best to stop the violence and killings, and we do our part
to build up the global grassroots movements of nonviolence to transform our world into a new
culture of peace and nonviolence.
As people of contemplative nonviolence, we pursue our sacred unity and diversity with all 7.6
billion human beings, and all creatures and Mother Earth, too. We practice active nonviolence,
prophetic nonviolence, and visionary nonviolence, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
We seek first God’s kingdom here on earth, which Gandhi defined as nonviolence everywhere
on earth, as the spiritual landscape of nonviolence. Awareness of unity and diversity summons us
not only to a whole new attitude toward life, but to public action for justice, disarmament,
creation and peace.
Jesus lived, taught and practiced active, creative nonviolence. Even his last words to his
followers in his little community were a plea for nonviolence: “Put down the sword.” In the end,
I think he calls us to live eschatological nonviolence, to act as if we are already in the kingdom
of God, in God’s reign of total, universal nonviolence. In this landscape, we live in sacred unity
every day, every moment, with every word, with every breath.
At the river Jordan, Jesus learns that he is the beloved of God and realizes that everyone is the
beloved of God. He goes forth to call everyone to claim our true identities as beloved sons and
daughters of God—as peacemakers, as sisters and brothers of one another, as people of universal
nonviolent love. But he knows well how unaware and blind we are, and how determined we are
to crush, dominate and destroy that unity and diversity. That’s when he sets off on a campaign of
nonviolence to Jerusalem to confront systemic destruction head on. At one point, after he reveals
his true self in the transfiguration, he teaches his disciples to leave their spiritual comfort zone on
the mountaintop and follow him down the mountain into the public fray of the grassroots
movement for justice. This is the journey of those who honor sacred unity and diversity.
When he finally arrives in Jerusalem, he breaks down weeping over our failure to understand our
sacred unity and diversity (“If only you had understood the things that make for peace,” he
laments) and goes into the Temple where he turns over the tables of injustice, where the religious
authorities people cooperate with the empire to make money off the poor. “No more injustice,”
he proclaims. He undertakes symbolic nonviolent civil disobedience. He’s not mad or angry;
he’s grieving. (I understand this from experience—having been arrested some 80 times, I’ve
learned that anger and yelling only provoke the authorities and violate our meticulous Gospel
nonviolence.) Jesus’ nonviolent pursuit of unity, like Gandhi’s and King’s, leads to nonviolent
public action and its consequences.
The lesson? The Gospel portrays the fulfillment of the contemplative realization of our common
sacred unity with one another and all creation as the difficult public journey into the fray to
speak out and take action in grassroots movements of nonviolence to stop the killings and the
destruction of creation. It entails the willingness to help build the global grassroots nonviolent
movements for justice and disarmament. This unpleasant, untidy, unfulfilling, often frustrating
nearly hopeless, unsuccessful, ineffective work is the fullness of the spiritual life. It’s the journey
of the cross in the footsteps of the nonviolent Jesus from Galilee to our own Jerusalems to
confront our own empire and call for a new culture of peace, nonviolence and global unity, with
all its social, economic and political implications.
With this in mind, my Pace e Bene friends and I organized the fifth national week of action this
September 15-23, 2018, “CampaignNonviolence.org,” with over 2000 marches and events
against war, poverty, racism, and environmental destruction and for the coming of a new culture
of peace and nonviolence. This grassroots organizing is our way of upholding our unity and
diversity. Around the world, billions of people are engaged in the power of grassroots
movements of nonviolence. The recent Parkland students’ “March for our Lives” shows how this
methodology of active nonviolence can awaken new widespread awareness of our common
unity, with powerful social, economic and political implications.
We all do our part to continue Jesus’ campaign of nonviolence. Together, as movement people of
eschatological nonviolence, we are entering the new land of nonviolence and heralding that day
when there are no more wars, no more racism, no more sexism, no more poverty, no more
starvation, no more gun violence, no more torture, no more executions, no more nuclear
weapons, and no more environmental destruction.
We go forward in this beautiful campaign of peace, come what may, because we know that, in
our beautiful diversity, surrounded by the glories of creation, with the eyes of faith and hope,
with sacred hearts of universal love, in the spirit of resurrection peace, in the land of
nonviolence, we are already one