Friday, June 05, 2009

Why Nonviolence? Part V

I started off this series with two versions of common objections to complete nonviolence from a Christian perspective. One asked how a Christian could sit by idly while someone attacked a loved one, and the other asked a similar question regarding Hitler and how any Christian could sit by and let him kill so many people without taking action.

These bring up the practicality of a nonviolent life. I want to preface this discussion with a very important reminder of God’s grace and human depravity. We are not in the ne w heavens and the new earth yet. We are not perfect beings either. We will fail. Even with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we may fail. But that doesn’t mean we can abandon the path of Jesus for an easier, comfier one. I know that where I am in my journey of faith is a place where I would hope to refrain from violence and anger, however I am not so sure I am capable of such things yet. If I were in the hypothetical “loved one scenario” I am not so sure I would be able to stop myself from opposing the assailant in a violent manner (despite my general wussitude). I am thankful that I have never been in that situation.

We are conditioned to think in terms of just wars and that the ends justify the means. I don’t see the bible as supporting either of these ways of thinking though. The first three centuries of Christianity were marked by martyrdom, and the turning of the cheek. Christians literally watched as their families were killed in front of them. This only shifted once Constantine turned things on their head by making Christianity the official religion of the state. Once Christians got a taste of power and special standing among others, the views of violence towards others began to gain some acceptance. Christians, after all, are still fallen as much as anyone else.

We then began to dig new and different cisterns which outlined our guidelines for acceptable violence. These were not God’s guidelines, but human ones, and as such I don’t think they reflected the image of God and his kingdom.

If I did find myself in a “loved one scenario,” I would certainly look for nonviolent alternatives to defend my loved one. It is true that these may not be enough, and I clearly would have much to work through with God following the incident. If I did use violent force, then whatever the outcome, I recognize that this would be something I would seek forgiveness for and repent. I know this sounds crazy to many people, but in my experience Jesus rarely makes sense as we think he should.

In the Hitler scenario I think there is actually a lot to be said for what could have been done from a nonviolent perspective. But again there are many things going on in situations like that. For one, you have believers and non believers working together, and I would no more expect a non believer to emulate Jesus than I have the right to judge him. But for believers we can ask all sorts of hypothetical questions ourselves. What if Christians had gone en masse to the battlefields and countries involved in the conflict and showed sacrificial love and solidarity with the Jews and others caught in the crossfire? Asking hypothetical quesitons is not very helpful for changing the past however. Instead we need to look towards asking the questions that will enable us to make the right choices in the future.

Another example that has really had an impact on me recently was the Pirate kidnapping of an American captain. On Easter Sunday of this year, Americans celebrated the fact that one man’s life was saved, while ignoring the fact that 3 Somalians died in order for him to live. This is not the Kingdom at work, this is the world. I believe that God wept over those three men just as much as he would have for the Captain had he lost his life. And this was the alternative to sending the money they requested. Of coure this was justified because if we gave them the money then they would just keep on doing what they do and exhorting us for money. We would rather kill than part with our precious money. Again, this was a decision by the state, and not the church, but many Christians were touting that as a victory for this country as well, not least of all, our President and his administration.

As this post is getting long, I will have one more follow up tomorrow on how I think this goes into the practical realm of my own life and beliefs.


Brad Foster said...

This post reminds me of the recent shooting in New York at the immigration center. I was driving in the car in New Orleans and started listening to Rush Limbaugh's radio show the day after it happened. A guy called in saying how it was proof that gun control laws were stupid. If the fourteen innocent people who died would have been gun owners they would have been able to defend themselves. I think this shows the main flaw in the argument against gun control. In this one instance, the fourteen innocent people whould have been able to fire back, but the nationwide proliferation of firearms actually would actually have spawned ten times the number of incidents. That day we would have heard about a New York shooting, and ten others in different states! Increased accessibility of firearms will proportionately increase the number of gun incidents. Lower availability will statistically result in less incidents. I think police departments all over the country have already figured this out, and do routine programs that give cash and other incentives for used guns, simply to decrease availability.