The Myth of Redemptive Violence, Revisited

From Wood at The John Heron project in Wales, commenting on my post, The Question of Nonviolence

My mate Bob thinks nonviolence is a mug’s game.

Hmm. Dunno about that. Sometimes I agree with Bob, sometimes I don’t. Here, I think he’s right out (apropos to nothing, Bob’s about thirty years older than me. I keep feeling like a Young Fogey to his Old Turk).

Now, It seems to me that there’s this current in Western (OK, specifically American) culture, on both left and right, conservative and liberal axes, that believes that violence is an adequate and complete solution, that it fixes things, that it sorts things out. Walter Wink called it ‘the Myth of Redemptive Violence’, and it boils down to the idea that violence is the only real solution for a greater, less principled, chaotic violence that it opposes.

I don’t think violence is an “only” solution. What Ghandi and MLK did was inspirational and changed history. However when faced with serious nasty violence, pacifism offers no real answer that I can see. With Ghandi and MLK, the authorities weren’t opening fire with machine guns. In other times and other struggles, they did just that. In a national struggle or a liberation struggle, the people involved have the right to defend themselves in whatever way they deem necessary. Sometimes that may be by nonviolent means, sometimes that could be picking up a gun. But only the psychotic will take violence as their first (or second, third, or fourth) choice. There’s many other means and ways to achieve political ends besides the gun, which should be a last resort.

I’m a Christian. Call me a starry-eyed idealist (although increasingly I feel like the girl in that great Roger Sanchez video, one of those videos where the song plays second fiddle to the story and the dialogue) but I was under the impression that my faith had to mean something for the world, as it is, now.

We’re not living in the End Times any more than we were a thousand years ago. We have time, and time means that we have to address the consequences of our actions. Violence begets violence, suffering, pain and tyranny, and I’ve seen nothing to convince me otherwise. We’ve got a world to do something with now, and I’ll be damned if violence is any kind of way to do it, Christian or not.

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