Posted by: Dan | October 10, 2007

To be a Christian (is to be a terrorist?): Reflecting on Non/violence

For the last few months, the topic of violence, and the justification thereof, has been on my mind with increasing frequency. My thoughts have not come together with much clarity — and, by and large, they are stemming from my overwhelming sense of helplessness, anger, and sorrow, related not only to the injustices that I see around me on a day to day basis, but to the massive injustices that are sweeping across the world (on this note, I highly recommend Naomi Klein's latest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which may be the best book I have read this year). Here, then, are a few of my scattered thoughts (and I would be very interested to hear what others think about these things).

1. If violence can be justified, or if violence can ever be considered a Christian act (that is to say, if a Christian could ever accept 'just war' theory), then Christians today would be obligated to take up arms against both their governments and many national, and multinational corporations. Never, in the whole course of history, have so few done so much harm to so many. If violence can be justified from a Christian perspective, then it the duty of contemporary Christians to become 'terrorists'.

[Of this point, I am absolutely convinced.]

2. I say that Christians would be obligated to take up arms, because all other (peaceful) methods of enacting social transformation, of countering rapacious corporate and governmental interests, have been overpowered, subverted, or revealed as impotent.

[The objection to this point would be threefold: one could assert that (1) all avenues of peaceful resistance have not yet been exhausted; (2) even if all the avenues that we currently can think of have been exhausted, our 'Christian imagination' requires us to imagine new peaceful options; (3) even if there is nothing we can to to create change peacefully, we must continue to do what does not work because violence is not an option for us — and because we hope for the time when God will, once again, 'come down' and create the change for which we long.]

3. Indeed, not only have all peaceful avenues been exhausted, but, precisely because of this, the Powers that be (powers of government and corporate business) are satisfied when Christians embrace notions of nonviolence — for the language of nonviolence is easily employed to shatter any resistance to the pursuit of their (ironically, violent) agendas. Put another way, the language of nonviolence, although often considered 'counter-cultural', often simply ends up supporting the status quo. Thus, although the Powers are inherently violent, they are more than happy to allow their opposition to embrace nonviolence — for that embrace quite often ensures that the rich will continue to accumulate more wealth, and the poor will continue to lose the little that they have.

[It is this point, that must be engaged in detail by Christians who wish to remain nonviolent — and it is this point that I find increasingly frustrating in my own personal embrace of nonviolence.]

4. Some will say that violence only breeds more violence, and to respond to the Powers violently is to only further enmesh ourselves in the 'cycle of violence', but others will say that the deepening of violence is what is needed in order to spark an awakening, a conversion, and an uprising. That is to say, precisely because most of the violence in our world occurs in places where we do not see, hear, feel, or smell it, we do not care (in any meaningful way) about it. To bring violence home, is to open the eyes of those around us.

[Of course, the objection here is that we have drifted into the realm of 'playing God' when we begin to treat people (and their lives) as pawns in the service of a greater plan — indeed, as a one who is committed to nonviolence, I am inclined to believe that any time that we kill, we are 'playing God' and engaging in an activity that is denied to us, but this relates back to the first point I raised.]

5. Others, following Niebuhr's hypothesis, will argue that our contemporary situation is one that forces us to compromise our Christian beliefs in one way or another, and so we must choose the least of the evils. If this is the case, then surely it is better to be guilty of killing a few (for the sake of the many), rather then sitting quietly by while the many are killed (and thereby being guilty of the deaths of many).

[The objection here is raised by those who altogether reject Niebuhr's hypothesis and argue that we should not choose the least of the evils but can always, somehow, choose good. Of course, it remains for those who raise this objection to show how good can, then, be served in our contemporary situation.]

Such are my thoughts these days. At the end of the day, I am still fairly convinced that an abandonment of nonviolence is, in actuality, an abandonment of faith in God. Therefore, I continue to pursue justice with peace, although I suspect that almost everything that I do will amount to nothing (indeed, to use an analogy, I suspect I will spend most of my life throwing myself against a wall and, at the end of it all, it will be me, and not the wall, that breaks). So it goes when we find ourselves in a time and space of reciprocal abandonment — a time and space where the Church has abandoned God, and God has, consequently, forsaken us.

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