In the movie Don't Mess with the Zohan, a superhero Israeli soldier named the Zohan and a legendary Palestinian terrorist called the Phantom find their way to leave warfaring behind and make peace between themselves. In this comedic parody, the two protagonists find inner and outer peace through following their passions. For the Zohan, it is cutting hair. For the Phantom, it is selling shoes. They learn to respect each other for being strong enough to follow their deepest tilting-toward-the-feminine dreams. In doing so, they break away from the mythology of their societies and create new definitions of what it is to be a man.
The Zohan and the Phantom found a way to fulfill the prophet Isaiah's call, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation and they will no longer study war." Outside of a Hollywood movie, is Isaiah's prophecy realistic? The death of Osama bin Laden and the recent budget debates in Washington give us lenses into the tension between the support for war and movement toward fulfilling Isaiah's vision.
The attacks on 9/11 forced Americans to grapple with a horrific manifestation of evil. Mixed with a desire for retribution was an outpouring of generosity and caring. Over time, the energy of shared responsibility for each other faded. It was drowned out by the call for a Global War on Terror to be funded at any cost. If you didn't agree, your patriotism was questioned. Society became more polarized to the point where we are dangerously out of balance.
With the death of bin Laden, we have an opportunity to reflect on the road we have taken. Will we use it to rekindle the spirit of taking care of each other and cooperation, or use it as justification for continuing the enormous military budget while people at home suffer?
To date, we have leaned on the side of more war-making capability. Many are committed to dismantling programs designed to help those in need. What is sacrosanct and off limits to serious cuts is our military budget. It is hard to fathom how immense it is. Our more than $680 billion budget for war dwarfs the rest of the world (China comes in a distant second at over $114 billion). According to a recent Pew Research Center Poll, most Americans agree with the establishment; only 30 percent favor cutting military spending.
If people realized how much is spent on the military, would so many continue to support the stunning amount, in particular when so many are suffering?
There is nothing sacred about our military budget. It is very much in our hands and hearts to choose funding endless war at any cost or not. Rather than reducing spending on much needed social services to help fund our out-of-balance military expenditures, Leviticus 25:35 counsels the opposite, "If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you."
The issue is not whether or not we need a strong military. It is clear in reading the Bible that national security was important to God. Yet as the Divine spoke in Leviticus, it is not at the expense of a just and moral society. What did Isaiah have to say about finding the proper balance on the road to peace? First, he could not stand hypocrisy (something all too evident in all levels of our society). Second, he gave us a roadmap as to how we can fulfill his vision. Instead of insincere posturing in the name of God, he said, "Surely you should break your bread for the hungry, and bring the moaning poor to your home; when you see a naked person, clothe him; and do not hide yourself from your kin. Then your light will burst out like the dawn and your healing will speedily sprout."
We can move closer to a post-bin Laden world in line with Isaiah's prophecy. Positive and negative tendencies are part of our fundamental makeup. It is up to us to choose which of these tendencies we nurture. As we consider which way we want to go as individuals and as a country, perhaps it is time to take the verses cited above more seriously. Isaiah saw the light and knew what our potential was as individuals and as a world. When we open our hearts to his words as a representative of God and trust the wisdom they express, the way to increase the light while protecting ourselves is very clear.