It was a disturbing week in these United States. After celebrating her birthday, America apparently went batpoo crazy. Thankfully, many people (sadly, not all) posted good statements that condemned all of the violence that destroyed lives in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, so I should just keep my mouth shut, but since I am obviously on a quest to lose all of my friends, here goes.
To begin, although this is admittedly judgmental, I don’t believe people in general and Americans specifically are intellectually honest when condemning violence. I think we are conditioned to celebrate and rely on violence albeit with sincere opinions on who-what-when-where-why and how much. Watch a movie (Free State of Jones) or television show (Game of Thrones) or sporting event (UFC) and tell me we don’t appreciate a good guy’s use of violence to take down a bad guy.
Further, the United States makes up 4% of the world’s population and yet shells out 39% of the world’s military expenditures, and of approximately two-hundred nations in the world, twenty-one use capital punishment–and the United States is one of the top five in actually using it. We hold a strong belief that there is a proper time-place-reason for violence. Theologian, Walter Wink, called this the myth of redemptive violence—“the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right . . .” It is what we turn to when all else fails.
So when I heard the tragic news about Mr. Sterling, Mr, Castile, and the five Dallas police officers last week, I was deeply saddened but not surprised. “When all else fails, turn to violence”—that thinking seemed to fuel a lot of the things we now lament happening in schools, nightclubs, police stops, and downtown Dallas, Texas. Let’s be honest. We are not outraged by violence per se. Our outrage concerns who-what-when-where-why and how much.¹
Walter Wink, on the other hand, argues that the very idea of redemptive violence is problematic and that we need a different way. He suggests creative, nonviolent resistance as the alternative. Buy his book because I’m not smart enough to explain it well. What I’ll simply say today is that such a way is based on love. If you love someone too much to kill them and too much to let them carry on their madness, then creative, nonviolent² resistance is a third alternative. That was the choice made by Gandhi and King—a true rejection of violence based on a true love of others.
And underneath all three of last week’s major news stories was an absence of love.
¹ I’m not writing any of this to shame anyone for believing that violence can be redemptive. But don’t be surprised when someone determines that they need to start shooting people because they see no better alternative—that is based on the belief that violence can be redemptive.
² For the obvious questions about police, military force, et cetera, I make an important decision between “force” (the minimum amount of physical strength needed to stop a behavior) and “violence” (anything above the minimum).