Spiritual beliefs and qualities are valued, (Principles of nonviolence 9)

This is a part of series on principles of nonviolence. The ten principles are listed here.

Many advocates of nonviolence have been motivated by spiritual beliefs and value the spiritual aspects of people’s lives. Gandhi claimed that nonviolence came to him because he was “a passionate seeker after Truth, which is but another name for God” (Gandhi, 1958, p. 96). His experiments with Truth and nonviolence were part of his quest for “self-realisation, to see God face to face, to attain Moksha[enlightenment or freedom from the cycle of birth and death]” (Gandhi, 1940, pp. 4-5). According to Walz, Sharma and Birnbaum (1990, p.3) Gandhi believed that self-realisation was the ultimate end of human existence and that “self-realisation comes to an individual only through a lifetime of struggle against injustice and promotion of acts of fairness and social justice” (p. 10).

While Gandhi drew mainly upon Hindu, Jainist and Buddhist traditions (Ritchie, 2001), King was a Christian. Despite the Eastern religious base to Gandhi’s nonviolence, King believed that Gandhi was “probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale” (King, 1958, p. 97). “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, while Gandhi furnished the method” (p. 85). King (1963) argued that in order to cast out evil from “our individual and collective lives” (p. 134) people had to allow God to work through them. He also believed that nonviolence was “based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice” and that even those who do not believe in a personal God, believe “in the existence of some creative force that works for universal wholeness” (King, 1958, pp. 106-7).

The mission of Soulforce (M. White, 1999a) is to “help end the suffering of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered children” (para. 3) and uses religious or spiritual imagery in discussing its purpose. It encourages activists to see themselves as children of a “loving Creator,” daughters or sons of the “Soulforce at the center of the universe” (M. White, 1999b, para. 12) so that nonviolence “becomes the measure of our commitment to God’s way, the way of love” (M. White, 1999e, para. 53). Starhawk’s (1990) commitment to “the Goddess, to the protection, preservation, nurturing and fostering of the great powers of life as they emerge in every being” (p. 8) leads her to believe that “the heart of nonviolence is the recognition that every person embodies the sacred, that within each of us, even the torturer and the bomb maker, is a holy potential for change and growth” (p. 317). As Starhawk’s beliefs indicate, the spiritual basis of nonviolence is not limited to major religions. According to Beck (1991), the “power of nonviolence comes from the spiritual qualities of love, understanding, communication skill, courage, and persistent endurance” (para. 5). The Rocky Mountain Alliance (1999) suggests that choosing nonviolence as a way of life involves “embracing the spiritual belief of our heart in our own personal and reflective way.” Burrowes (1994, para. 4) found that to live a nonviolent life he needed to listen to his inner voice in all its facets.

It is not just my intuition: that part of me that guides me when the way forward is not otherwise clear. It is not just my unconscious: that part of me that contains my truest and deepest feelings, and that sometimes presents these feelings in the form of dreams. It is not just my conscience: that part of me that compels me to act, as best I can, truthfully, compassionately and with justice. My inner voice is a combination of all of these things, but it is much, much more. It is also that part of me that offers insights, primarily about myself, from the accumulated wisdom of the Universe, because the spiritual path that I have chosen enhances and enriches my sense of connection with the life-force that unites us all (Burrowes, 1995a, para. 4).

Adapted from
Stuart, G. (2003). Nonviolence and youth work practice in Australia. Unpublished PhD, University of Newcastle, Newcastle.

The reference list will be available after principle 10.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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