For millennia top-down hierarchy has been thought to be the natural or innate way in which humans organize society. Animal societies seem to indicate that social hierarchies are part of the innate structure of the animal world. To this day most human societies are organized around hierarchies (i.e., Government, Businesses, Religions, etc.). Yet, is the spiritual and intellectual evolution of the human animal beginning to call into question the innateness of hierarchical social organization? Why is that more and more people are calling for a flatter way to organize human society, a more equal way to facilitate community life? I am meeting many people who have had “aha” moments because they have come to realize how unjust hierarchies inherently can be.
Hierarchies, by their design, simply can’t work to build an equal and peaceful society. Hierarchies, no matter how well intentioned, quickly devolve into relationships of division, mistrust, and injustice. Hierarchies, to be just, will work only when those at to the top, who have most of the power and resources, voluntarily distribute an equalizing amount of power and resources down to those who have less. But this rarely happens, as can easily be seen from the great disparity of wealth and power throughout history and especially in our current times. Furthermore, inherent to hierarchy is the stratification of relationships, so that those who are on the bottom are often oppressed by those above; those on the bottom often feel left out, left behind, and left alone.
Yet, Jesus says to us today, as he did two thousand years ago, “It mustn’t be this way among you. Those who want to be at the top or who wish to organize life around hierarchies must forsake these ideas and become servants to all” (Mt 20:26). Jesus is saying that the cycle of oppression and injustice will not end by bringing those on the lower tiers of the hierarchies up a few rungs or even by empowering the strongest of those on the bottom to reach the top. The cycle only can end when those with power forsake their power and deconstruct the hierarchies so that equality and freedom can be achieved for all (Lk 12:33). Jesus’ prophetic call is the repudiation of oppressive hierarchical power (Mt 23:9-11).
There are some who believe that those on the top of hierarchies cannot be negotiated with, that only violence can be used to bring down corrupt hierarchical powers. Admittedly, many people with exorbitant amounts of money, power, and resources do not seem very eager to voluntarily divest themselves that the poor and the oppressed will be lifted up. But history shows us that when a violent revolution overthrows an unjust hierarchy, they are quickly replaced with a new unjust hierarchy. So, what can those who believe in a Gospel of nonviolence do? Thankfully, history also shows that nonviolent resistance and action can be used to topple unjust structures of hierarchy, often to more long lasting and positive effect. Though we could cite myriad examples from local nonviolent resistors, the more well-known examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Aung San Suu Kyi are proof that nonviolence is not only the right method but nonviolence also works.
A couple of months ago, while in morning prayer, I read in One Bread, One Body, a Roman Catholic devotional, that Jesus was a militant (June 13, 2016). I was surprised to read this coming from such a conventional Catholic publication. But it was Jesus’ militant nonviolent stance which the writer was alluding to. Jesus was militantly nonviolent; he called the world to peaceful conversion, not destruction. And we are called to follow Jesus, to love our enemies by being militantly nonviolent, to call all to conversion to become peacemakers— to wage peace, not war.
As peacemakers, we vigorously wage peace, where others wage violence; we grow love, where others sow hatred; we seek to build bridges, where others build walls; and, like Jesus we are called to confront the hierarchical powers and sacrifice all so that others may truly live.
To bring down the hierarchies of this world, to bring about a new flat earth society, means using nonviolent means to ensure that all are free and equal. This is the Gospel of nonviolence—the proclamation of a new way of living— the process of bringing the Commonweal of Love to earth as it is in heaven.
© Paul Dordal, 2016