Summary: ‘Pacifism’ presented by John Bach

A summary of comments by John Bach, Quaker Chaplain at Harvard.

Bach focused his remarks around how we can survive in “the new normal” political climate, which he characterized as combining perpetual war, nuclear weapons and climate destruction – noting that “the new normal often is less encouraging than ‘the old normal'”. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s rather similar summary included “the monstrous triplet of racism, militarism and materialism”.

How does one respond to these challenges? Gandhi encouraged the pursuit of truth, self-sacrifice for the common good and improving the means of living. The “beneficial cycle” followed by Quakers includes: a deepening of worship, a strengthening of community, and an increasing witness in the world which focuses on the victims (Bach twice has been jailed for his protests). “Sometimes we have to take two steps back, in order to take three steps forward.” “Don’t equate pacifism with passivity!”  To illustrate this point, John Bach related a true story from the 1980’s: in the El Salvador civil war, opponents of the military regime were being rounded up and eliminated, however two honest farmers had learned the identity of the village informer, a fellow farmer who was becoming uncharacteristically wealthy. With troubled consciences they described to the local priest their desire to bear witness, asking what should they do? The cleric responded: ‘first, you need to ask forgiveness from God, then go and do what you know you must do'”.

Miscellaneous quotes… “You always have the power to make choices”  “We have the chance to bear witness” “We are all leaders” “No whining, no complaining, choose to be noble, ‘fake it ’til you make it'” “Kurt Vonnegut wrote ‘you are what you pretend to be'”  “If you are not happy, you have only yourself to blame” “Celebrate small joys – cling to your source of strength”  “The best fun always affirms life”  “What can we do that would make our ancestors proud?…and what legacy would we like to leave for our children?” …

– Don Kennedy for Grace Discussion Group