This is the second part of a short series where I reflect on one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read, “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan.
Part 1 is available here.
Chapter 3: Exile
“Another difference is that in the Vietnamese language, the word ‘I’ (toi) is quite different from the ‘I’ in other languages. In our language, toi means ‘your servent’; there is no ‘I’ as such.” – Nhat Hanh
I think language can tell a lot about a culture and provide great insight into new ways of thinking. It is so easy to be Anglo-centric in my thinking, especially as English becomes a more dominant language throughout the world. It is a shame that we don’t have more exposure to other languages, I think it could really spark creativity if we explored the world through additional linguistic lenses.
“when religion is true to itself, it is embarrassing to the politicians.” – Berrigan
This is a theme throughout the book (and much of history). When religion is true to itself it acts as a powerpoint that politicians must fight or coopt. Religion is part of community and government is the opposite of community. Letting another source of power run free and criticize the government is embarrassing (or threatening) to politicians. Religion provides a moral standard for behavior that can often run counter to the legal standard of behavior demanded by politicians.
“That’s a terrible injustice to human beings – to carve the world up and declare who is eligible to exist and who isn’t. Of course, it is another form of war – a war against human freedom and dignity.” – Nhat Hanh
Open borders is the ethical choice if you support human freedom and dignity. If you see humanity as one race that is equally loved by God or deserve human rights then you can’t support putting up walls and punishing people for being born in a different area of the planet. Last I checked, Jesus didn’t command his supporters to allow the children to come to him EXCEPT those that were born elsewhere. His message of love and forgiveness and charity is supposed to apply to all corners of the globe, and that means tearing down the walls and opening our homes (and countries) to those in need instead of declaring war on them.
“After a while one gets the impression that if you are really speaking up for humanity, you’re unwelcome everywhere… practically everyone today should be either in exile or jail or in some kind of trouble.” – Berrigan
This immediately made me think of “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau. As Thoreau said, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison.” If we are acting justly, morally, ethically, and fighting for those in need then we should be the enemy of the state. Our lives should be a struggle. We should be imprisoned, exiled, and impoverished (just like Christ, et al). If not, then we are arm-chair Christians or advocates for justice. We are risking nothing but feel good because we pray, put things on Facebook, or occasionally march in the streets (as long as the schedule matches up with my work schedule and I won’t get in trouble). A real focus on higher ideals means rejecting this world.
“The nation-state is becoming more and more violent and suspicious and repressive. Yet we have no clear alternative to all this except to say no to it.” – Berrigan
I’m not sure if the nation-state is becoming more violent or not. I think that things overall are getting better thanks to the market and technology. It is more and more difficult for regimes to remain repressive, at least in the traditional sense. Violent police officers and war crimes are brought to light more quickly than in the past and people seem much more willing to mobilize than before. There is an alternative, but it is not popular or clear to me that it really would work well. Anarchy. That black flag that conjures up propaganda images of violence and chaos. What it really is is peace, love, and humans working cooperatively and consensually. Sadly, we probably aren’t ready for it.
“He dares to attack a convention, a polite way of coping or dealing; so they decide he must die.” – Berrigan
“Why don’t you do what everyone else does? But if you are determined to go your own way, to do what you like or what you think is right, they think you are crazy. In such cases, you are a little bit in exile just because you don’t act like others.” – Nhat Hanh
The first quote is in reference to “The Stranger” by Camus (I need to re-read that) and leads into Nhat Hanh’s thoughts. Society is often more concerned with maintaining norms than the pursuit of justice. We punish people because they fall out of line, not necessarily because they cause harm. Sometimes the justice is legal and sometimes it is a form of ostracism from society because behavior makes us uncomfortable. We preach and preach about being loving and accepting, but when faced with a way of living that isn’t our own we cast those people out. If you tell someone that you are choosing to remain childless, decided not to have a career and instead travel around for decades, have a consensually sexually open relationship, or responsibly use drugs recreationally then people (all but your closest friends) freak out. They become threatened by your life, even though it has no impact on them. I think this is because it stirs up doubts, it makes them wonder if they could have lived a different (better?) life. It is easy to be content when everyone is living the same way, but that contentment is shattered when a stranger walks into your life that is happy and did everything differently.
Alright, that’s it for today. Tomorrow I will tackle a couple more chapters with comments on sections that I highlighted. I definitely, definitely, definitely recommend this book.
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Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”