To The Myth of Redemptive Violence
“Violence is the ethos of our times.
It is the spirituality of the modern world.
It has been accorded the status of a religion,
demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience to death.”
– Walter Wink
Inevitably humans end up at war with each other. It seems to be entrenched in our very beings at times. Over the course of history, peace seems to be a difficult place for humanity to find. We war over land, over political differences, over ruling parties, over race, over religious beliefs and over natural resources — just to name few.
Many early religious traditions would suggest that war and violence are inescapable, necessary and even good. They would have us believe peace, even life itself, entails traveling a path that runs through chaos and violence. It is a perspective which is still pervasive in our world. It says that it is unfortunate but true that war is sometimes needed to achieve peace. It is a myth – a myth of Redemptive Violence and it has many roots in religion.
“Nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all…”
Mohandas Gandhi, Harijan, September 5, 1936
I stand over and against the myth of redemptive violence. I’m a pacifist. I’m not the lay down and be stomped on like a doormat kind of pacifist, I’m the Jesus-wanna-be kind of pacifist. The kind that looks to the lives of people like Martin Luther King and Gahndi as models for non-violent resistance. Don’t try to re-categorize me either. I’m decidedly a pacifist. Shedding blood should not happen. Period. Jesus laid down his life, shedding the ultimate blood, to show us what love looked like. Showing us that love knows no bounds.
In Christianity the myth of redemptive violence hangs from a tree. It is the ultimate story of redemptive violence is it not? Through pain and blood, sacrifice and death, one man saves the world. Clearly violence is redemptive, no?
No. We miss a few things when we see it that way. It was love that hung on that tree, not violence. Jesus did not die for the sake of the War Machine, he died in resistance of the Powers That Be which are protected by the War Machine. Jesus suffered that we might not have to. Jesus suffered to show us how far love was willing to go. Jesus’ sacrifice shows us that if love is large enough, no one should ever have to suffer again.
We are to live into that kind of love. We no longer need to make sacrifices of blood. It has been done for us. What that kind of love lived out looks like is seen in the life of Jesus and mirrored in the lives of King and Gandhi.
Seeing the world through the lens of non-viloent resistance, makes a day like today (Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day) an eternal conflict for me. I grieve for the dead. Those who died in their country’s service and those who died in the crossfire, sometimes coldly refereed to collateral damage. I cry tears for their families, for their friends for their loved ones.
But every year my tears fall like so many drops into an ocean of violence that is supported by the myth that violence begets peace, that loving one thing (your country) more than you love the reflection of God carried in the ‘enemy’s’ eyes is somehow redeeming for humanity – growing us closer not only to God, but to the peaceable kingdom which we are to be ushering in. Every year I see an inordinate number of the poor sent to the front line, while the economically powerful fight their war from war rooms and well decorated offices. Every year the tears and the blood fall into the pools of the wars that preceded them…. and nothing changes.
So there is conflict and struggle in my heart, in my soul. The War Machine co-opts a day like today, wraps it in patriotism and manages the difficult task of both relegating the dead to being secondary to it’s own promotion of the myth of redemptive violence and (at the same time) suggesting that anyone who has problems with the day are dishonoring those who have served honorably.
So many drops of blood have been spilled. With each drop, I weep. With each drop, God weeps. Each drop falls into the ocean of violence that came before it.
Today, I honor those who have died because of war, but I do not honor the War Machine. I reject the myth of dominance and redemptive violence, and substitute God’s reality of love, peace and grace. With each drop of the blood of Christ, humanity was given a gift. We have yet to fully embrace that gift. Until we do, love continues to hang on a tree, suffering so that we might not have to.