Monday, February 1, 2016

Violence Is Stupid

Alana: Why, because you violated some personal pledge against hurting awful people?
Marko: My reluctance to use force isn't ideological, it's practical.
Violence is stupid. Even as a last resort, it only begets more of the same.
- Saga #5
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

 Revenge makes sense.  If someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back.  I want to inflict at least as much pain on them as they caused me.  At least.  Ideally, I will hurt them back even more so they will know better than to ever mess with me again.

This makes sense for securing my own personal protection.  This makes sense as a larger defense policy to protect a nation and its citizens.  This is why politicians so readily flout the rhetoric of violent retribution.

Like I said, it makes sense.  To insist on doing otherwise would be madness.  Jesus preached such madness, as Jack Caputo likes to call it.

Jesus calls for another approach when it comes to how we respond to violence.  Instead of responding with violence, he tells us to do the unimaginable and, you know, not.  In the sermon on the mount he (in)famously proclaimed, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."1  That sounds pretty counter-intuitive to our foreign policy.  That sounds pretty counter-intuitive to my own personal policies.

But Jesus knew something that we continue to have difficulties grasping.  Violence isn't defeated by more violence.  In the immediate sense, violent people tend to die violent deaths fairly quickly.  As Jesus told Peter, "Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."2  When you think about it, this spared his life.  Face it, Peter, you hit the jackpot.  If Peter continued to fight the soldiers that came to arrest Jesus, the Rock would have been slaughtered.  All that would have been gained would be further unnecessary bloodshed.

But what about on a larger scale?  In matters of war, violence must be met and subdued with violence.  Sure, it might be quelled for awhile, but the violent attitudes and hate remain harbored by all affected parties.  Even while dormant, that hate may grow and swell to become greater than it ever was before.

Jesus' mad idea is to overcome violence with love, a mad, ridiculous love that would be dangerous to enact.  Loving your enemy, especially an enemy who has hurt you, is perhaps the hardest task to ever attempt.  It goes against our very nature.  But for Jesus the goal isn't retributive justice, where you hurt me so I hurt you back, but restorative justice, where the relationship between us is actually mended without further harm.

The main objection is that this leaves the victim open to only further harm and violence.  Why wouldn't my enemy keep attacking me if all I do is love him back?  The thinking, the hope, the madness, is that eventually such love will be so seditious to be actually infectious, and my enemy will wear down and want to know, experience, and maybe even reciprocate such absurd love.

As mad as this all is, the world has seen its effective power.  Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. is revered and respected.  But during his public life he was seen as a menace and insurgent by many, including the local and federal governments.  Maybe his nonviolent approach didn't win over his direct persecutors, but it certainly helped influence the larger public opinion.  He wrote:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”3
Like Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr. died because of his ridiculous and mad love.  But isn't that what Jesus said would happen if we lived like him, acted like him, and loved like him?  And by doing those things, isn't that what it means to be a "Christian?"

1. Matthew 5:38-39 NIV
2. Matthew 26:52 NIV
3. Martin Luther King, Jr. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), p.67.

1 comment:

  1. The other day I helped a drunk woman who had collapsed close to a fast flowing river. As I helped her I was "jumped" by two equally inebriated friends of hers who roughed me up, punched me and stole my mobile phone. Why am I telling you this? Because I was attacked for being a "good Samaritan" of sorts - and I didn't have the inclination to fight these guys off (I was in a quiet state of mind, I'd been meditating on Thomas Merton's "The Sign of Jonas" immediately prior to the attack). Point is: none of this particularly makes sense, and in a sense I was a fool, I can't find "God" or some sort of meaning in the incident. What IS clear to me is that there need be no reward for a genuine act of kindness, even if it us met with violence. The act of kindness is - and must be - free of motive, a spontaneous gesture - what the Hungarian theologian Ladislaus Boros I think referred to as 'freedom from intention'. A witness to the attack said to me, "why would you bother to help anyone else in need after that?" - and logically she was right. But I was aware that logic has little to do with the inclinations of the heart, and I think I would do the same again.