If I am a radical today, it is because my childhood heroes led me there unwittingly. As a boy I loved Mark Twain. It was a matter of time until I tripped across his radical writings condeming US imperialism in the Philippines. His “War Prayer” took my breath away. It forever removed my inability to see through the deadly nature of patriotic religion. In Twain’s masterpiece, a minister gives the typical patriotic prayer, only to have a stranger translate what it really means:
“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
As a child, I loved Helen Keller. The fact that she was able to live such an important life even though she could not see our hear made my obstacles seem small. I loved that she spoke with such great clarity and kindness. It was a matter of time until I realized her “kindness” was an expression of her socialism, and that I, myself, was trying to love others within an economic and political mindset that would make that love impossible.
And so it went. I loved the humility of St. Francis, but that lead me to his rejection of wealth and privilege. I loved the compassion of Schweitzer, but that lead to his writings de-mythologizing the New Testament. I loved Tolstoy’s mystical Christianity, but that lead to his anarchist writings. I loved the courage of Gandhi, but that meant if I was going to love as deeply as he, I would have to disobey unjust rules.
I was not born with a nose for trouble, but my heroes led me there unwittingly. Few of us would seek as children to be radical, but where else could love lead?