For ten days at a time, we didn’t see a speck of land. Nothing but the flat blue below and clouds of white above. The texture of both changed with the winds, the seas piling up, foaming and angry, launching us swiftly down their faces, then falling flat in moments of eerie calm, the clouds gathering with rain, before it all started over again.
It is a life of extreme calm in many ways. Downwind sailing, the current behind us, logging two hundred nautical miles a day. We read, cook, eat, watch films, sleep, hang laundry on the lifelines, talk, play cards, exercise, and the hours pile into days and the days into weeks.
Twenty-seven days of sailing to cross from Cape Town to Barbados. It’s not just the width of the Atlantic but the vast majority of its height as well. One fifth of my journey around the globe was gobbled down in a mere month. Along the way, my boat was attacked by a shark that had to be around fifteen feet long. Its teeth marks stretch out on either side of my port bow. Two teeth were left behind in the fiberglass. It all happened without us aware, violence out of sight, the calm sea and soothing clouds all that we were aware of.
World events transpired in much the same way, with us at sea, cut off and unaware. Mass shootings in the United States. Terrorist attacks in France. And then more terrorism in the US. Talks of closing borders to Muslims. A run on gun stores. Angry debates, fear, hate, xenophobia, the sort of global tension and move toward populism, nationalism, and conservatism last seen following the first world war.
Muslim American women are now privately advising one another on whether it’s okay to take off their hijabs to avoid recrimination. They are more afraid to be seen in public than the days after 9/11. Many say that Islam is waging war on the rest of the world. The religion is seen as a menace. Something foreign, strange, dangerous, to be eradicated. And perhaps there is truth to this. Maybe the answer is more extremism. I truly believe this may be the case.
I was raised Christian. I was raised with guns. I believed in both. I no longer do. Instead, I believe in a different sort of extremism, one that is far crazier than most are willing to embrace. I believe in extreme pacifism. Extreme forgiveness. I believe if an enemy strikes you, you should turn the cheek and let them hit you again. Better to let them tire their limbs than stoop to their level. Any guesses where I learned this bit of radicalism?
When I speak out about this on Facebook, fans of my novel Wool wonder how I could write about the world ending and still be against guns. They miss the point of the book they love. The most highlighted line in the novel is one that bemoans the ease with which a pipe can be waved at another and end their life. They miss that the threat to humanity wasn’t governments but deadly tools in the hands of the general population. The next generation of privately owned arms is what brings humanity to the brink. Government action, perhaps, is all that saves us. And Juliette’s lesson in Wool is that revolution is not the answer; it only leads to extinction.
Such has been my transformation. I laid down my religion decades ago, my guns more recently. Both are instruments with multiple uses, but both have a long and ugly history. Both can too easily be used for violence. Christians point to the violent history of Islam while seemingly unaware of the far worse violence committed in Jesus’ name. The crusades and Inquisitions were horrific, and they happened not too long ago. In fact, the timeline of violence closely matches the ages of the two religions. Islam started later. It’s juvenile years today are very similar to what Christianity went through just a few hundred years ago. The similarities don’t end there.
Every person who fears that Muslims crave the extermination of heretics should ask themselves this: Have they ever said or wished for the Middle East to be “turned to glass?” This phrase has been uttered so often that it has become the Christian equivalent of jihad. How is it any different than what ISIS claims to strive for? I will admit that I have used this phrase, said it and truly meant it, before I laid down my religion and my guns. I thought the world would be better off if the Middle East was nuked. I now reject this thinking. I see it as equivalent and just as morally repugnant as any Muslim who wishes the extermination of all heretics. Here are two groups wish to see the other go extinct. Both are revolting. But it is not the other person we should be revolted by and wish to change. It is us. The only minds we can alter with certainty are own own minds. Any chance of altering the minds of others is greatly diminished with hatred and violence. The answer is to turn the cheek. And keep turning it.
Many will immediately reject this suggestion, calling it naive to follow the advice of the man they claim to worship on Sundays. But I don’t think it’s naive at all. Three days ago, I was mugged here on the island of St. Martin. Two men assaulted me and made off with my wallet. Today is the first day I’ve gotten my limp under control. My jaw only now feels normal. The abrasions have turned to scabs and don’t sting as much. And while chasing one of the thieves around the equivalent of a large city block, I pleaded with him. Take the cash. Leave me the cards. They won’t be good to you anyway. Stop. Talk to me. It’s okay, man. I don’t want to hurt you. You can have the money. It’s okay.
Of course, he didn’t stop. Both men made off on a scooter. And I forgave them immediately.
For the last three days, I have felt a heightened sense of love for this island and its people. I have poured that love out, and that love has been returned with interest. The following day, I’m walking around the shipyard with a massive plate of watermelon, urging everyone to have seconds and thirds. The day after, with no cash for the paint supplies I need, those workers are scrounging for them out of their own stash. Three young men in a paint store let me use a credit card number without the card in my possession, a violation of store policy. On the streets, I chat with young men who are likely just as desperate for cash and just as prone to making regrettable decisions as those thieves. The same sorts of mistakes I made when I was their age. We bond. We laugh together. We climb and jump off cliffs together. There is nothing anyone on this island can do to me worse than what I can do to myself: Only I can fill myself with hate. Only I can devolve into a state of wishing the death of others. The worst they can do is kill me. My principles are mine, to do with as I please. Is that too extreme?
My boat is currently hauled out of the water so the shark attack can be repaired. The hotel I’m staying in is allowing me to stay an extra night, shuffling some reservations to make it happen. I straggled back here the other night missing a flip-flop, bruised and battered, with no wallet, my head ringing, and the lobby staff was amazing. I found out today that they aren’t billing me for the extra night. The cost of the night’s stay? It’s almost identical to the amount of cash I lost to the two young men. The cards will be replaced. The net loss has been nil. The gain has been an outpouring of love, sympathy, and empathy from the island of St. Martin, my friends, and my family.
There will be more terrorist attacks. There will be more mass shootings. And I will be mugged again. This was the third time in my life. All three times, my naivete played a role in getting beat up and robbed. One day, this naivete may get me killed. But it will have been worth it, to live the life I choose. A life where doors aren’t locked as frequently as perhaps they should. A life where the best is expected of others. A life of getting knocked down and simply getting up again. Because just about every time, more good than ill comes from these circumstances. So long as I cling to this radicalism, this extremism, that I learned about as a youth on Sundays.
69 replies to “The Answer is Extremism”
This is profound. It is what I’ve been hoping to hear people say. The hatred and fear is making me heartsore. The mugging sounds scary; glad you came away with your life and minimal injuries.
Keep spreading the love. Doing the same over here.
Radical love is what Christ taught. You are living it. Well done, brother.
My only wish for this world is that people will become aware, more aware of themselves. Self awareness and being educated about it, will lead to peace.
The irony is that if you had your gun(s), perhaps you wouldn’t have been mugged. Your thoughts and opinions, yes, but I disagree strongly with them.
I am not really trying to be argumentative here, but I feel moved to point out that if Hugh had had a gun that day, the situation could have easily escalated and ended up with his own death. And/or the death of one of his assailants, and who knows where that would lead. He might be sitting in a jail right now, or a hospital room, or a morgue.
Thank god it turned out to not be a truly tragic event, but instead an opportunity for him to explore his capacity for forgiveness and to recognize the overflowing love and generosity that surrounds even an experience of violence if we but stop to notice it.
I am glad that you are well, and I am glad that you put forth your voice to encourage peace.
Had Hugh shot and killed one or both of the attackers, he would have to live with that for the rest of his life. For what? A rap on the head that he’s already recovered from, the inconvenience of losing some credit cards, and some cash money he can more than afford. That’s a trade I would make any day. When you’re on your deathbed in 50 years knowing you took the the lives of a couple of foolish young men, the haunting will begin, and the mental anguish will be indescribable.
Thank you so much for saying that.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I don’t remember if it’s even legal to carry a gun on St. Martin. It’s been a long time since we visited that island and then only for a day. But please, Hugh, carry SOMETHING! We’d miss your books if you got killed.
I agree so very much with this. I am bone tired of all the hate and fear and the politicians who are now playing into it. I strongly believe that only through understanding, compassion and education can we change the tide. Playing into the hate, mistrust and fear just feeds it. I want to feed the other wolf. So sorry to hear you were hurt but so lovely to hear how well you were treated by everyone else.
You’re right–If Hugh had had a gun with him, he may not have been mugged, but someone could have been shot or killed. Maybe it would have been one or both of the thieves; maybe it would have been Hugh; maybe it would have been a child walking in the street with his mother. How would that have been better? Nobody deserves to be shot or killed over a wallet. Nobody.
Amen, said the atheist.
That should be “Ramen.”
You speak the words of my heart. How I wish more of us would embrace your—my—kind of extremism. I so enjoy your posts.
I love you, Hugh. Your huge heart and sense of place in the world are truly an inspiration. While my mind has been blown by the hate- and fear-filled responses I’ve seen everywhere to current events, I was doubly amazed to see the reactions of some of the folks invoking WOOL. It makes me sad that they just didn’t get it – any of it. Peace and love, my friend. <3
A wave of sadness ran over me as I read your piece.
“They miss that the threat to humanity wasn’t governments but deadly tools in the hands of the general population. The next generation of privately owned arms is what brings humanity to the brink. Government action, perhaps, is all that saves us.”
After reading those lines and imagining myself promoting this wisdom to brave souls in the past, I thought of what I might tell a young girl after she watched her glasses wearing parents shot in front of her, as she was led off to work the rice farms by the by the Khmer Rouge (the government).
Or visiting a Chinese peasant during his last minutes of existence, having fed any remaining scrap of food to his young children, hoping that they could survive, starved to death due the edicts of the noble Chairman Mao (the government).
Or to his Ukranian counterpart in Russia, starved to death by Stalin (the government).
Or to a young Chinese woman in Nanking just before she was stabbed through, after being raped by a Japanese soldier (sent forward by the government) her last glimpse being the frightened gaze of her petrified young daughter across the room, her last thought of what would be come of her.
I could go on and on and on and on endlessly. Government brutality compared to private brutality is the comparison of an ocean to the water collected in pot hole.
Naivete? Ignorance of the human condition? Thinking through the logical result of your “extremism” right now, I’ll call it a pitiless glorification of personal ego.
Another statement you made:
“Christians point to the violent history of Islam while seemingly unaware of the far worse violence committed in Jesus’ name. The crusades and Inquisitions were horrific, and they happened not too long ago.”
You need to actually read history on the Inquisition (the government again) and the crusades (war between 2 opposing government interests), and then some history on the
Islamic conquest of India, and the history of slavery in Africa (which continues to this day under Islamic rule). Your statement is really wildly out of step with historical reality.
Your ideas of disarming the private person are not new. It’s been done before and the bloody results are there in the history books, if you would only read them.
Chairman Mao hugs you warmly in return. Posthumously of course, he’s very pleased with your enlightened point of view. You should remain happy with yourself and read no further, we wouldn’t want reality to dim the glory glow that wafts over your head.
Mr. Castle, thank you for your perspective.
You know the “right” people to kill and when, a people located under a single term (in your case, “government,” apparently). Sadly, this bears striking resemblance to the modus operandi of the butchers you correctly identify. They too knew the “right” people to kill and when, often a people located under a single term. They too used weapons as a source of empowerment. They too professed this agenda in the name of security and freedom. They too held forth with a superior, world-weary tone. They too thought less of those who did not share their views.
With the preponderance of guns (more than one per capita) and gun advocates in this nation, atrocities should no longer be possible by your logic. And yet, folks who hold your views seem to be more fearful than ever.
I don’t hear fear in Hugh’s voice. His position is more challenging, and yet he radiates serenity.
Thank you D O’Brien, as well. You do presuppose quite a bit about my views. Your comments seem to reflect some debate you’ve had with someone else however.
I never said I know the “right” people to kill. I do believe the people have a right to defend themselves. The right to defense is not a right to kill.
Hugh made a specific statement that government was not a threat to humanity, that individuals were the threat. The facts tell me that government has been one of the greatest threats to humanity throughout history. I think he’s just dangerously wrong, and it was the origin of my sadness in reading his piece. One of the founding values of the United States was the right of the people to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. The founders established this with a firm understanding of human history and the human condition. All records of human history must be burned if you believe that governments will not be tyrannical.
I do believe Hugh handled his mugging very nobly, and I admire it. I do sense that Hugh radiates serenity as well, but I also sense he’s so pleased with himself that he’s built a bubble to keep out any facts or ideas that might disturb his wonderland.
Let me add that Chairman Mao was an avowed Atheist who expressed his Atheistic philosophy onto the world in horrific ways. Another Chairman Mao will emerge some time in the future.
Hugs in return.
Governments are made of people (in our case “We the People”). They do good by providing order and stability, infrastructure and justice every day; and many do. Look at it as a cost-benefit analysis. The truly evil turns are rare. Our founding fathers demanded that we not seek to oppose governments for light and transient causes. Instead, we are called upon to seek the general welfare through government to curb other, less beneficial, aspects of the human condition.
Yes, some governments go bad, and usually in the hands of a cult of personality — an individual or small number of them who seek to undercut the general good. A generalized anxiety about government (your litany above) is not a healthy mindset. That’s paranoia, and it would seem to play directly into anarchy and even treason, if pursued.
Our government is our promise to each other: it’s the social contract. It’s not an external force, unless fascism/militarism/empire takes hold. It’s us. And fearing that the system could suddenly go bad and so one must be armed against it . . . is tantamount to tilting at windmills. Processes are protected by working within them, not making your bunker outside of them. Since governments and coups and armies are formed by the people themselves, especially popular movements among people, I don’t see how you think armed individuals stand a chance.
Meanwhile, a maintained, democratic social contract of peace and justice serves all people.
You may choose to seek Maos around every corner. I prefer to serve a divided government with a separation of powers, which is very much in play (perhaps too much at the present time).
It is always ironic to me, when people talk about “the government” as if it is a nameless, faceless living monolith. Reality is, it is led by – and comprised of – individual people. Just like us.
I noticed that in the critique of “government,” my friend listed individuals who had coopted government, bypassed its rules, and abused as overlords. Mao, Hitler, Fidel, Stalin, Cromwell, Napoleon. Thieves, muggers, and criminals.
The political systems themselves are rarely the culprits. The Soviet’s misguided attempts to control an economy from a central office comes closest. Or the cyclic corruption of some sub-Saharan African countries. Power corrupts, and all that. But I still believe in the Leviathan. Just as I believe children need parents. Even better when we take it upon ourselves to be our own good influences. Alas, this is rare.
These are profound, well reasoned words. You personal embrace of love and pacifism is ideal. Unfortunately, the belief must spread and the threat it poses to the “real” world prevents that.
Personally, I can love and forgive, but when it comes to family, friends, and even countrymen, how do I not protect? Until all embrace the ideal, the question remains.
Thank you for sharing.
This moved me to tears. I’m proud to know you- if only more people shared your understanding and wisdom.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart for speaking the truth so eloquently.
“Have they ever said or wished for the Middle East to be “turned to glass?” This phrase has been uttered so often that it has become the Christian equivalent of jihad. How is it any different than what ISIS claims to strive for?”
How exactly does the uttering of a phrase equate to pulling a gun and killing people at a holiday party, or bombing a wedding, or executing journalists in a Paris magazine office? And are you sure you want to attribute the statement to Christians? Because you in your Christian persona carried this opinion doesn’t make it an across the board belief. I know many… some of them say things like that. Most don’t. I hear the same stuff from non-Christians. Why the generalization? Is it because Christians are the easy and fashionable target? Because speaking about Jews is anti-Semitic? Because speaking about Muslims will get you a fatwa?
And yes I read the rest of the post. I agree with you that you deserve a pat on the back for rising above the rest of us mere humans and our silly religions. Well done sir.
I hope that you can forgive me for questioning your genuineness. Your fans certainly won’t. Now let’s hear from your apologists. I’ve been to this site often and I know there are many. In the words of one of the most notably Christian/war-mongering presidents in your nation’s history, “Bring it on!”
*Love your books by the way mate, and most of your posts, especially the ones about writing from back in the day. Just not this one.
He never said that any religion was silly, only that he was through with religion personally. It seems that his atheism and pacifism are insulting to you but the post is not about you.
In my view the need for religion stems for a way to explain the unexplainable. The unwillingness to say “I don’t know”.
Personally I am ok with “I don’t know”.
Ethics and morals are something altogether separate. Again, in my view, they stem from the understanding that we are all here together on this small planet and each of us is important.
Yes! What you’ve written is brave. Pacifism has been my mantra for years. Being kind, and living a gun free life is my personal choice, not one dictated by any organized religion. Peace and hugs to you Hugh.
Thanks for this, Hugh. May we all (who wish it) find the same kind of courage within ourselves, to repay hate (or fear, or desperation) with love.
This is the crux of it:
“But it is not the other person we should be revolted by and wish to change. It is us. The only minds we can alter with certainty are own own minds. Any chance of altering the minds of others is greatly diminished with hatred and violence.”
I’m in complete agreement. Many have walked away from organized religion only to become enlightened by the beauty of the human heart.
Thank you for your compassion. Keep hugging.
So let’s just suppose the Hugh Howey is a god.
Ya know,.. Turn the other cheek, lay down your weapons, don’t believe in false idols – type of stuff.
Let’s say he was put on this earth to save mankind. To communicate through his novels and writings.
To cast off former beliefs and turn to minimalism.
Not to preach, but to observe and gather insights. To communicate those insights through modern media, but with an interactive bent which, in turn, … generates rabid believers and amplifies cult like fandom.
Definately intriguing to this observer.
This is how rumors get started.
Thanks for this post Hugh. It is a bit of a soothing balm on the rawness of the current discourse in our country. Together we need to speak up about what is real, what is right, that we are all in this boat together and that compassion and kindness is the only true “religion” taught by all the wise ones throughout time —Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, or otherwise. May you be deeply at ease and well in all ways.
Keep your amazing heart open wide, Hugh! I’m sorry you were mugged, but glad you are safe. Hang in there and thank you again for sharing your adventure. I truly appreciate it.
Please tell me you haven’t forgiven the shark. Because that was just mean.
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“I believe if an enemy strikes you, you should turn the cheek and let them hit you again. Better to let them tire their limbs than stoop to their level.”
Would you say the same thing if it were your child, or your wife, that was at the receiving end of beatings, waiting for their assailants arms to grow tired?
I like to think so. I’ve only been tested so much. And yeah, I fail a lot.
At least you’re trying to follow through with your beliefs. It’s one thing to say that you will stand by and let others have their way with you, but to allow harm come to those that we should be guardians for, that just seems wrong. I do carry a gun, but not so I can stop any criminal I see, or to even stop someone from robbing me. I carry so that, if something awful happened, I could defend those who are suffering at the hands of lunatics.
I just don’t see how you can love your family if you are willing to let them be beaten, raped, or murdered. I do follow Jesus and will show love to my enemies, but my love for my family is stronger. Would I forgive someone who was violent to my family? I pray that I would. But would I stand by and watch it happen without stepping in? No way in hell.
Hugh, I do not agree with most of your reasoning, but I will defend to death for your right to express them. “Defend” being the operative word.
Strong words matched with a gentle spirit.
Your sentiment is eminently noble. However, even Christ knew when to apply force. The money-changers learned this lesson.
We inhabit a world of hard realities. I am a Christian by belief, testimony, and deed. I am also a soldier, currently deployed. There is tremendous evil being done in the Middle East, by Muslim actors. The primary victims are almost all Muslim of one description or another. In fact, more Muslims die at Muslim hands — every year — than by any other violence visited by any other people.
If Islam is at war, then it is at war with itself, above all else. The rest of us are getting sucked in as collateral components.
I am on record opposing the singling out of Muslims for scrutiny, persecution, or embargo, precisely because I also belong to a specific type of Christianity which has itself been the focus of scrutiny, persecution, and embargo, going back almost 200 years. Any time we’ve gone down this road (in American history, at least) it’s always been an error.
But this doesn’t mean ignoring real threats is the answer. Sometimes, the world desperately needs good men to take up arms. America’s Christians died by the tens of thousands, in Europe, so that no more Jews would be sent to the gas chambers. America’s Christians also died on the beaches of the Pacific, so that Imperial Japan would no longer be able to conduct Nanking-style occupation. There is both reason and nobility, in fighting for life and liberty. Be it ours, or theirs.
I am reminded of the wisdom of my old Karate-do instructor. The man was a born-and-bred Okinawan who’d seen blood sport in Southeast Asia. And I don’t mean UFC. I mean matches where men died. He always emphasized that martial training, without the attendant philosophy and discipline, was mere violence. In his own way, he was very much a pacifist — but he knew (as Christ knew) when to throw a punch for the sake of righteous defense.
Jesus attacked the money changers because they were denying outsiders access to the temple. It wasn’t to harm them, but to express his anger at holier-than-thou men acting as gatekeepers to God.
Jesus told his disciples to buy swords, in order to meet the prophesied criteria, but he chastised Peter when one was used.
I’m not an extreme pacifist. Violence may be needed to protect the helpless or downtrodden. But to commit violence because of our fear is against everything Jesus stood for.
Brad R. Togersen says:
“But this doesn’t mean ignoring real threats is the answer. Sometimes, the world desperately needs good men to take up arms. America’s Christians died by the tens of thousands, in Europe, so that no more Jews would be sent to the gas chambers. America’s Christians also died on the beaches of the Pacific, so that Imperial Japan would no longer be able to conduct Nanking-style occupation. There is both reason and nobility, in fighting for life and liberty. Be it ours, or theirs.”
My answer is it would have been far more effective, then as now, to have nipped the whole thing in the bud long before it got to this stage of justifiable mass slaughter to stop unjustifiable mass slaughter.
So I ask myself what on earth was distracting so many good people long before that stage, and why we don’t find our moral lessons in much earlier stages, but instead become “endlessly” engrossed in the morals of current, future and historical battles (big and small).
Hugh Howey was asked:
“Would you say the same thing if it were your child, or your wife, that was at the receiving end of beatings, waiting for their assailants arms to grow tired?”.
So we now know that he’d like to think so but he too knows he might fail ~ and is no doubt, even so, likely to think about not letting it reach that stage, as is his questioner if they both have time to think a bit more about earlier prevention, than to think a bit more instead about later protection.
No doubt they are both likely to think at least a bit about what did happen, and what didn’t happen, before Hugh Howey was mugged and before the shark attacked.
So we might all protect our vulnerable people with prevention long before they EVER need a fighter to protect them, if we trace back from the battle (big or small, past or present or future) to before the battle, and track that back, instead of making “lessons” out of (both for and against) battles.
Its quite predictable, so either most of us are engrossed (over-wound) or else most of us are winding the rest of us up and thereto making most of this up as they go along.
Anyone who has fallen foul of officials or gangsters can quite understand anyone who is scared of their government or of gangsters or of both. Its not rocket science and its not paranoia, but its not protecting people to overlook any options for earlier prevention. Thats a big distraction given any such option.
Most of us have ancestors who were officially persecuted, so its no wonder our ancestral blood quakes when our own safe new world seems to getting as bad as it already is for others over there.
Especially in the USA so largely populated by ancestors either escaping persecution or wishing to be free to persecute (escaping reformation), or imported or replaced by imports, thereto.
We all want to be safe in our daily lives, even risk-takers and even rival gangs, and even rival governments, and even nasty people and even nice people.
Turf wars don’t kick off in the designated war-zone if not enough people will take sides in theory first. Thats because then the odds can’t be calculated, let alone mis-calculated, so the rivals wanting their genocidal turf-war can’t be conned into it.
SO then they come to terms, so give them time to reconsider.
Unless we’ve mostly all aligned with one side or another, taken sides in theory, and its about to kick off. Then its too late.
So, shiver me timbers, Daisy, do.
“If Islam is at war, then it is at war with itself, above all else. The rest of us are getting sucked in as collateral components.”
That was very well said, thank you!
I worry much more about the public than I do about the government. All eyes are on the government, but we ourselves get lost in the safety of numbers, free to abandon the responsibilities that come with being a voter and a citizen. That’s when hatred becomes equated with free speech, the latter seemingly endorsing the former for the sake of principle. But the measure of our civilization is not our adherence to the First Amendment. It’s when we choose to invoke it. When our society grows accustomed to equating free speech with the defense of malice, it fertilizes that malevolent side of itself that made such amendments necessary in the first place. The tyranny that follows comes not from the state, but from the citizens themselves who tolerate only expression distilled from their own national, ideological, or racial prejudice. And that’s when Wool becomes a reality, a much more realistic one than conspiratorial visions of black helicopters and police states.
One can imagine a script where the muggers are followed after the mugging. If they buy bread and milk to feed their children we may sympathize with them, and see the outcome as just, but if they buy drugs, or a weapon or the components for a bomb, we would vilify the perpetrators. The muggee has resources and can cope with the loss of his wallet, and in some ways this story can be viewed as a metaphor for the larger issues around the globe of the haves and have-nots; the rich and the poor. Christian, Muslim, atheist, the label does not matter, and in fact, the moral compass within us is more easily skewed off course when labels are applied, and we view them as enemies versus us, the righteous. Having said that, the label Christian, and what we believe are the teachings of the man for whom the religion was named, provides us with a shortcut of understanding to a moral compass that we wish all human beings shared. Turning the other cheek is only worthwhile, though, if it also teaches the assailant the lesson you want to share, otherwise, it can become an invitation to brutality and dictatorship. And it is that reality that most humans fear, and why they will always be unwilling to give up their guns.
I am a Christian, and I agree with much of what you said. You read through the bible and one of the most common themes is “strength through weakness”. Jacob over Esau, Joseph, Moses. Jesus. When people have power, well, that’s when they stray from the proper path (see Saul, Solomon & David).
It makes me sad that my fellow Christians don’t seem to see this. The amassing of guns, and seeking of political power, is a big sign of a lack of faith. Living by fear when the most repeated command is “do not fear.”
Not sure I see the “far worse violence” part, but eh, semantics. Bad stuff is bad stuff.
It always bothers me when people cite the crusades and such as the most egregious examples of war. If you look at the statistics, atheism caused exponentially more deaths in its name than has Christianity. Islam has definitely been more violent than Christianity, but still its death toll pales in comparison to that of the athiestic worldview. See here for more information:
As your heart and spirit become one with Creation and the Creator, you start seeing things in a different light. the close to your heart and spirit become the more differently you see that which is around you. Your friends and even family may seem to fall away as you choose to walk the different path. The things which seemed important at one time you begin to see are not so important. The way of life that is now for society is not your way. You feel the hurt and cries of all creation that is being mistreated so it is hard to look at something that once entertained you with the same eyes. You truly feel joy in being one with nature and the man-made environment around you begins to look ugly. You feel lonely at times but you are not alone. You feel the spirit of those that once lived and shared your beliefs walking with you. You feel the spirit of the Creator at your side. The animals are not afraid of you and come to greet you. Children you do not even know as you walk past them look at you with eyes as if they know you and smile or talk with you. As you walk this path you shed the things of man that once imprisoned you. It is a difficult and strenuous path to walk but the longer you walk it the easier the path becomes. And you find as you continue on it you’re no longer the person you once were.
I believe you are indeed finding the way and I am so glad you are sharing to inspire us to find ours.
This piece is so timely and helps remind me that I can work to support those people near me who still believe that sacrificing community for personal privilege and the perception of personal safety is ok.
I was heartened to read this post. My sentiments exactly. I’m a Canadian who is still shocked every time there is a mass shooting in the USA. I don’t understand the gun laws, the 2nd amendment (enacted at the time of muskets), all the unnecessary loss of lives, if only Congress and the NRA and the gun lobbyists and all those who are paranoid would wake up and see that Americans are killing Americans. I just read this morning that over 2000 persons on the FBI watch list and no fly list have been sold guns in the last decade.
How many more Americans have to die before those in power wake up and change the laws? Maybe when one of their children or grandchildren meet an early end. I don’t wish that on anyone, but Congress seems to be both blind and deaf to pleas for sanity.
When Americans went to fight in Iraq, I broke down and cried. Old men in Washington sending young men to fight battles about oil. Also, it was great for gun sales and other military equipment. A greater mess was created in the middle east as a result of this decision. War begets war. Turning the other cheek to begin with is not a bad idea. Especially when the one that’s been tried isn’t working.
As for religion, I’m on the same page. I was a devout Christian. I still practice following in Jesus’s footsteps, but no longer call myself a Christian. To believe in a religion that purports to be the one and only true faith is something that divides us rather than brings us together. I do believe that if each one could stop and look at this beautiful world and see that we are not that different in what we want for ourselves and our families. If we could support one another instead of fighting over differences, we’d be so much further ahead.
Peace and Good Will to All Men. Thanks Hugh.
Thank you for writing this,
I believe in the military and defense. I think when a very serious scenario happens, its good to just let yourself be human and go through “the tunnel” or all the emotions – anger, sadness, shock and so forth. For some life events, though, you can do what Hugh did. I have tried forgiving the person but what I found that works better is I think of the person in my imagination and thank him or her for teaching me something about myself. This releases the event and the person from your psyche, very well. I don’t believe that events happen for learning lessons, though. I think life happens and you can find the gem in the event, if you want to.
Sorry to hear about the mugging but glad things have improved since.
As a fellow atheist, and someone familiar with Eastern Philosophy and the kind of new age love and compassion mindset you seem to be espousing…
I think that it’s often easier to inhabit one end of the spectrum or the other, than it is to inhabit the gray in-between.
So you went from God and guns and believing the things you may have been taught that you now view as incorrect–to believing in the opposite; pacifism, love, turning the other cheek, etc.
You went from one end of the spectrum to its polar opposite.
I am someone who thinks the hard reality tends to exist somewhere in the gray, and that every circumstance requires you to evaluate it independently.
Falling back on trite and easy answers about morality, consciousness, God, or love–is just another way to have answers to questions that plague us, whether they be correct or not.
If you are an atheist, that means you should have some devotion to evidence, which means that most of our ways of describing the world and its reality will likely be partial, incomplete, and possibly even dead wrong.
That doesn’t mean we stop trying, but it seems to me that you feel you’ve landed on answers to fundamental questions without evidence, and that is always dangerous.
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I have for several years, since I first found and read Wool, followed your blogs and FB posts. I have also read many of your books. I had often wondered, how you could be so fortunate to have the success that you have had.
But now I think I do have a slightly better understanding. I think your success is at least in part, because of who you are. Your overwhelming willingness to be offer kindness over greed; to take the high road when there our other choices.
I have to admit, if I was mugged, I doubt I would have the ability to forgive the person who did this to me.
While I share most of your thoughts regarding what is happening in the world today, I could not, (as you can probably tell :-) ), put in words these thoughts as clearly as you have.
I hope that you continue to write. In both formal ways such as your novels, and in informal ways such as this blog post.
P.S. Never for a moment did I think that the Wool series was advocating guns. I read it as what happens when demagogues have so much power that they can destroy the lives of others. (This is why Trump, and many of of the other Republican candidates scare me so.)
Maybe the moral is to be found in this parable before (not after) the assault.
The author ends with:
“And I will be mugged again. This was the third time in my life. All three times, my naivete played a role in getting beat up and robbed. One day, this naivete may get me killed. But it will have been worth it, to live the life I choose.”
I say death gets closer every time a critical lesson is ignored. Next time its closer. I don’t agree that this “naivete” is an immutable basic of this Universe.
I think defensive action is pre-emptive long before a possible assault.
I don’t think turning the other cheek meant engaging with another assault. Nor need it always mean bordering upon another assault.
If you don’t want to assault another person, and you don’t want to risk a civil war, and you don’t want some private army, goverment, or couple or loner to assault you, then don’t waste time on massive scary issues to do with guns beyond your own daily life.
Work it out for yourself. Its a full-time job to do it properly in your own daily life with or without a gun.
One can spot the obscured origins of Christianity in the Far East. There is a schism there too.
One can spot the obscured but total schism between Mohammed’s own Mecca and Medina precepts (his later precepts demand to replace his earlier precepts).
One can spot a bull in a bullring, a Warsaw ghetto, Mao, Korea, rival gangs of gangsters, fake officials, and so on. Parables all round.
Everyone on every side is hearing alarms as if some “armed gang on the other side is about to invade your home tonight” if you don’t challenge some radical reform.
Its no reason not to sleep tonight. Sadly it has happened somewhere. Thats no reason to give up on pre-emption, and write off a whole population, to tool up for battle.
Something went very wrong with the founders’ Constitution. Nothing like Independence and Freedom was won by that mass slaughter.
So the hordes in the North and the West still argue about the hordes to the South and the East, and so we still have another chance to do it properly, next time.
Phew. And the mass slaughter continues to flare. Oof. And we have better things to do than argue a toss. How about this for a parable:
A quantity can be modeled by a vector if it could be described as having both magnitude and direction.
The speed of light is a magnitude without direction, so it can’t be modeled by a vector.
The angle at which sunbeams hit the ground is a direction without magnitude, so it can’t be modeled by a vector either.
The difference in score for two darts thrown at a dartboard is a single number, so it’s really just a magnitude without direction.
The point where a dart hits the dartboard can be modeled by a vector.
The magnitude of the vector is the distance from the center of the dartboard (the bullseye), and its direction is the direction from the center of the dartboard.
Only the point where a dart hits a dartboard relative to the center of the dartboard can be modeled by a vector.
Ps: we all see whats inbetween the armies (behind their lines) and the unaligned (inbetween and behind these lines).
We all see whats inbetween all-out war and all-out survival. Never alone for too long.
When peoples are on the move, we still enshrine our weapons in the name of what was never won nor stopped by battle. We enshrine our weapons whoever holds them. Then we move aside to uphold and pull down all our shrines. Hence our weapons.
No-one really believed that only battle would free the slaves in the South and only battle would free the subjects in the North. Until it was too late for prevention.
It wasn’t about protecton until it became too late for prevention. Its not now about protection until it becomes too late for prevention.
I don’t have 5 people handy who I’d want to be back-to-back with in battle when push comes to shove, because that needs 5 people who won’t on occasion see fit to bend or force me to fight against my will, as happens in armys, big and small.
Thats how an army will win or lose (however its always for lack of better strategy beforehand). Thats how the last 5 people I tried to share survival with lost my affection.
Sorry to say to the USA, inoffensively, your Constitution stinks of the blood which won it and still excites it, still distracts, and so it still lacks insight+foresight enough, as did / do masses of people still concerned, everywhere.
Its enshrined the seeds of war to date. Its entrained you to uphold it all your life with your life. Its a red flag to you, to everyone, and to their bull. Next time stop jumping the gun.
Hang on to it. It might come in useful. But not theoretically. You have my permission to practice shooting flies (outdoors).
When I saw your FB post re: the mugging, I didn’t realize it was St. Maarten. I love that place. Your remarks about the event and your personal history are beautiful. The damage done by hate is worse than even a fierce pounding, though hate is a seductive drug (see current political climate for evidence). I’m glad the island came through for you.
Thanks for the dose of hope in this season of light – whether we believe or not.
This is a retarded ideology, the most retarded I have ever heard of and probably horribly bad for you.
I urge you to swap it with another one ie. nazism.
Nice try at trolling.
“In fact, the timeline of violence closely matches the ages of the two religions. Islam started later. It’s juvenile years today are very similar to what Christianity went through just a few hundred years ago.”
Without getting into the problems of this generalized statement, I want to point out an important difference between Christianity and Islam. When Christianity needed reformation it had to return it to its roots. When Islam reforms itself it will have to involved repudiation of some of its roots. Therein lies the difference and the problem the world faces.
As a last point, you take on the core principle of Christianity, “Love one another as I have loved you” without connecting to the author of the principle, thereby limiting your ability to do what Jesus commanded. It can’t be done by human will alone. You can try nobly at it, but all your human efforts will come up short, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you though.
I admire your attitude, even though I don’t necessarily share every nuance. And in particular, this passage stood out for me:
“The only minds we can alter with certainty are own own minds. Any chance of altering the minds of others is greatly diminished with hatred and violence. ”
That is so very true, and something I have realized through practice, in discussing divisive issues like gun control with friends who disagree with my views. It’s not until I manage to understand and tone down the violence of my own emotional engagement in the issue that our conversation can move beyond shouting sound-bites at each other into actual discussion, sharing of perspectives, and eventually finding common ground (however narrow).
Amazing story, Hugh. This post is profound. Thank you.
Hugh, you give us more and more reasons to love you.
Spoken like someone that takes the MSM for gospel.