There is a lot of talk today about “radical” politics. Depending on your political affiliation, the candidates on the other side often look “radical” and “extreme.” “Radical” comes from the Latin word radix, meaning “root.” For something to be “radical” it should cut to the root of our problems, which politics rarely does.
True religion is radical. It moves us beyond our “private I” and into full reality. Jesus seems to be saying in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) that our inner attitudes and states are the real sources of our problems. We need to root out the problems at that level. Jesus says not only that you must not kill, but that you must not even harbor hateful anger. He clearly begins with the necessity of a “pure heart” (Matthew 5:8) and knows that the outer behavior will follow. Too often we force the outer and the inner remains like a cancer.
If you walk around with hatred all day, morally you’re just as much a killer as the one who pulls out the gun. We can’t live that way and not be destroyed. Yet, for some reason, many Christians have thought they could think and feel hatred, negativity, and fear. The evil and genocide of World War II was the final result of decades of negative and paranoid thinking among good German Christians. The tragic fascism of Nazi Germany was fomenting in people’s hearts long before a political leader came to catalyze their hate and resentment.
Jesus tells us to not harbor hateful anger or call people names in our hearts like “fool” or “worthless person” (Matthew 5:22). If we’re walking around all day thinking, “What an idiot he is,” we’re living out of death, not life. If that’s what we think and feel, that’s what we will be — death energy instead of life force. Apparently we cannot afford even inner disconnection from love. How we live in our hearts is our real truth.
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus insists that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. For Jesus, prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love, returning to love, trusting that love is the unceasing stream of reality. Prayer isn’t primarily words; it’s a place, an attitude, a stance. That’s why Paul could say, “Pray unceasingly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If we think of prayer as requiring words, it is surely impossible to pray always. Once we recognize that whatever we do in conscious, loving union with Reality is prayer, we can better understand what Paul means.
Political movements or leaders today that promote fear, hate, and bigotry are only able to rise because all of these things were first in the hearts of people. If we mobilize to fight these sorts of political movements and fail to address the underlying matters of the heart, then we will only ever cut of one head of the Hydra to watch it grow many more.