I sort of mentioned in my last post that I’ve been wrestling with Jesus’ call toward non-violence. Let me state from the get-go that my issues with it are thinky issues and not practical ones. As a rule, I don’t attack people, although my right arm has had moments of demon possession wherein it flings itself suicidally at B, usually when he makes one of his hilariously sexist “jokes.” My arm seems to hate those even more than the rest of me does. Not sure why. But other than that, and my penchant for hurling very large objects at very tiny spiders with murderous intent, I’m a fairly peaceful person. I mean, sometimes I like to imagine myself as some kind of karate queen, kicking butt and taking names, but seeing as how I can’t be bothered to reach for the remote most days (that’s how I end up watching so many infomercials) it’s just not gonna happen. B is a man of action; I am a woman of napping.
Yet, when I consider the ramifications of adopting a fully pacifist position, my inner Buffy comes out to play. I know pacifists argue that to eschew violence is not to do nothing. You can try to block the perpetrator or use your body as a human shield or hug him (yes, hug him!). Inner Buffy does not like any of those options because when you try and imagine yourself hugging a would-be rapist or standing in front of a gunman with arms spread trying to shield the world, you look really stupid. Not only is it frightfully unsexy (and this from someone who looks up to Liz Lemon as a paragon of sensuality), but it just doesn’t seem like it would be all that effective.
As I noted last time, I also have issues figuring out how society could function absent some sort of enforcement mechanism to lock up criminals and deter crime. I haven’t been able to figure out how pacifists get around this or even if they do. As a pacifist, if I saw someone beating up a skinny, defenseless IT guy (that’s for you, B) my religion would disallow me from calling the police. It makes no sense to call for someone else to come and utilize the violence that I believe is wrong. I guess I could go hug the attacker, but realistically that would only buy the IT guy a few seconds because I’m a bad hugger, and I can’t take a punch. At this point I’m left to wonder if this is the best way to show love to those who are at the greatest risk of being victimized and oppressed–women, children, furry animals, and muscle-challenged men. I wonder what Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan would have looked like if the three travelers had come across the Samaritan while he was in the process of being beat down rather than in the aftermath. Let’s say one of the passersby tries to convince the evildoers to desist using persuasive language, another throws his body into the fray and gets beat up along with the Samaritan, and the third pulls out an AK-47 and goes to town on the criminal element. Which one is showing Christlike love? Is violence ever justified?
Today I came across a video of Pastor Greg Boyd answering this very question. I’m fairly certain that Boyd is a hardcore pacifist, and while I’m still not, I found his take on the issue to be refreshing. He argues that, for the world, violence is often the first resort and that for Christians this shouldn’t be the case. It’s tempting to dehumanize our attackers because this makes it easier to blow their brains out sans remorse. They’re not people, they’re personifications of evil. But this is not an avenue left open to a community called to love their enemies.
This really resonated with me. I tend to think things out in broad strokes. I grab hold of one big, simple idea and ride it all the way home. That’s just how my brain works and also why philosophical inconsistencies give me hives. One of the fun little projects I like to undertake when I have a spare moment is to try and deduce the reasons why sins are sins. Why is premarital sex sinful? Why is it wrong to gossip? Why is viewing porn immoral? The conclusion I’ve come to is that part of what makes sin anathema to God is that it’s dehumanizing at its core. When we sin it’s often the case that we’re using people or stripping them in some way of their essential personhood. One of my favorite writers, Terry Pratchett–himself no lover of religion–wrote in one of his books that sin is treating people as things. While I don’t think that’s comprehensive, it’s certainly sufficient. This is why politics can be such a minefield for Christians. When the end is what matters, whether that end is equality or a moral society or whatever, then people become means. They’re tools or obstacles and not moral agents in their own right.
I’ve been really working on trying to overcome this tendency in myself. This is why my libertarianism has been an important but painful work in progress. As I consider the possibility of a society where the free will of all persons is respected, sometimes I still seize up: “But what if people decide to snort the cocaine? Or become clothing optional? Or they don’t give to charity and the streets are littered with the bodies of poor people? And, for the love of all that’s holy, who will build the roads?!” It’s hard to respect all people all the time because a lot of people are really dumb. That’s why democracy mostly sucks. But as I read the Bible, I see a God who by and large allows people to make the stupid, harmful decisions they inevitably make. And as this is the God that I’ve freely assented to make my king, I suppose I can do no less.
So does any of this mean that I’m morally disallowed from using violence to confront violent people? I’m not sure. Boyd would probably say yes, but I’m post-modern enough to be leery of such an absolute statement. We do agree, however, that at the least violence shouldn’t be the default setting for Christians. Boyd points out in the video that if your beloved son were the gunman and was threatening your family, you probably wouldn’t be so quick to discharge a weapon at him. You would search for alternatives–any way to end the threat peacefully. This should be how we treat all offenders, as though he is our son because we are called to that kind of love.
I don’t know if that takes violence as a last resort fully off the table. Maybe it does. I only have one kid, and when I think of Juliet threatening a double of herself, it paints an odd picture because she’s just a baby and also because it totally seems like something she would do. Often her inner Buffy is also an outer Buffy. Not sure who she gets that from. All that is to say, I don’t know if I could pull the trigger on my own child, even to save another son or daughter. It’s a tough call, and I think that’s kind of the point. There are a lot of things I’d do before going for the kill shot, and as someone who desires to follow Jesus, this struggle should probably be the norm rather than the exception.