Friday, October 2, 2009

Violence and Christianity

The Bible is not opposed to violence. Christianity is not opposed to killing. Nowhere in the Scriptures will you find a place where all killing is considered immoral. Instead, Christianity is opposed to certain kinds of violence and killing. This is a vital distinction that our generation has conveniently forgotten. Our modern American moral stance on violence, which used to be based on Christian morality, has strayed vastly from the actual teachings of the Bible. Where the Bible is quite clear about what sorts of violence are reasonable and righteous and which sorts are wicked and cruel, modern squeamishness has taken those biblical moral rules and twisted them into something very different. Allow me to illuminate this point with some illustrations.

"Thou shalt not murder," taken directly from the 10 commandments is indeed a valid precept that serves as a pivotal part of Christian morality. When understood in context of the rest of the Judaic code, it's importance and applicability makes sense. However, when it is stripped from its original context, that simple phrase morphs into a new moral standard. Modern people have taken the mandate not to murder and altered it to the point that the modern commandment is: "Killing is inherently wrong." For this reason many Americans strongly oppose the death penalty.

In fact, we have gone far beyond that as we expanded and added our own contemporary interpretations to that law. As America has grown into an increasingly feminized nation, we have become increasingly opposed to violence of all sorts. Not only is killing wrong and immoral, but now even spanking your own child is considered child abuse and is punishable by incarceration and state-sanctioned removal of your parental rights. Yelling or giving your spouse an angry look is now considered domestic violence. There are increasingly strong supporters of weapon control laws, which reflects the modern sentiment of many that even carrying an instrument of violence is nearly immoral. This excessive opposition to violence is quite opposed to Christian morality.

Most generic opposition to violence reflects a very effeminate view of the world. Though women are born with a natural distaste for violence and a predisposition against it, men do not naturally have a distaste for violence. In the masculine view of the world, violence is either considered simply a fact of life, glorified as an exhibition of manly prowess, or even enjoyed for it's own sake. Men are born with a fighting instinct. Boys need almost no external impetus to play games and use their imaginations in various violent fashions. From the time they are 2 or 3 years old, boys are already picking up sticks and pretending that they are guns or swords. Nor it is just an adolescent phase that men eventually grow out of. At 22 years old, I quite enjoy violence, for it's own sake. It's enjoyable to watch, which is why all of my favorite movies have pivotal, climactic fights and battles. Men love movies like The Matrix, Equilibrium, Fight Club, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator and Braveheart. All of those movies would be quite dry and dull without the raw masculinity that they exhibit through the brutality of the fight scenes. Likewise, all of my favorite board games, card games and video games have copious amounts of violence. Given the choice between playing Pandemic, a board game where you must cure diseases that threaten the world's population, and Risk, a game of world domination where the only way to win is by exterminating the other players, nine times out of ten my brothers and I will choose to play Risk.

In fact, many of my close friends and male acquaintances have a similar disposition towards violence. My roommate loves excessive brutality. He has a collection of various medieval swords and typically carries around one or two dangerous pocket knives. Another friend of mine bought a .45-magnum handgun just a couple of months ago. An acquaintance of mine who lives in Seattle is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter who competes in public tournaments. Two guys I grew up with have served in the Marines for several years, one of whom just returned from active duty in Iraq two weeks ago. Yet another friend of mine has been taking jujitsu classes at a local community college. Two brothers I know from my church have a collection of guns and savage, improvised melee weapons. Men naturally accept violence.

If there is a masculine objection to violence it is generally either a moral objection to specific uses of violent force, or else simply an opposition to the harmful consequences of violence. In the latter case, it is not that men are opposed to violence itself, but only to the natural consequences and effects of such violence. Death or injury to oneself or a loved one is something quite undesirable. Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate army during the American Civil War said, “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.”

Contrarily, violence is seen as naturally repulsive from a feminine perspective. When I was growing up, my mother always told me, "Don't practice what you wouldn't do in real life." The context of this typically was in regards to some boyish play-violence that I was involved in. As I reached adolescence, frequently various computer games were banned from our house simply because they were violent in nature. Command & Conquer was banned because mom didn't like the screams of the dying soldiers. Descent, which didn't even have living creatures, was banned simply because the game involved weapons and destruction. Eventually, all first-person shooter video games were banned in our household until the age of 18. My dad never had a strong stance towards violence, and wasn't the primary rulemaker in the family. All of the anti-violence rules in our household were enacted and enforced by my mother.

Therefore, though it is reasonable for women to be opposed to all sorts of violence, it is not reasonable or natural for men to have a blanket opposition to violence, nor for a society to be completely opposed to all sorts of violence. As our nation has become increasingly feminized, and as men are systematically emasculated either through subversive cultural indoctrination or by forced subjection, America's opposition to violence increases. This is not a reasoned, rational, philosophical objection to violence, but instead is simply a gut-level reaction to violence that has no grounding in reality, and certainly no foundation in Christian morality. Those who suggest that violence itself is universally wrong or immoral are making a faulty appeal to emotion, rather than any sort of rational, logical claim.

Now that is it seen that the general modern American stance on violence is nothing more than a vague and baseless appeal to emotion, I would like to examine the Biblical stance on morality, so that we can reach a reasonable, rational stance on morality and come to a fuller understanding of the nature of God. In such a critical examination, I would first like to point out that the Christian moral stance on violence is not a simple and easy-to-understand one, but instead is highly nuanced. The same God who declares, "You shall not murder," (Ex. 20:13) also says, "The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death" (Num 35:19). God commands the Israelites not to murder, but He also commands them to put certain people to death. The biblical stance on violence is that some sorts of killing and violence are just and righteous, while other kinds of violence are unjust and wicked.

Not only does God command certain instances of violence while forbidding certain kinds of violence, but also, God Himself is a violent God. Throughout the pages of Scripture there are countless references to God directly killing people. Genesis 6:17 is quite a brutal passage where God says, "And behold, I myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die." Yet, never is the violence of God purposeless and random. His violence is very intentionally, very specifically based on one condition. In the above passage, why did God send floodwaters to kill 99.99% of the earth's population? Genesis 6:5 yields the answer, "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." God's violence is always done in response to the evil actions of a person or group of people.

Likewise, when God commands killing, it also follows the same criteria. Evildoers who violate God's clear moral code are to be put to death, so that the community will be purged of evil. For example, "That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God... You must purge the evil from among you." (Deut. 13:5) Concerning a rebellious son who will not obey but instead is living wickedly, "Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear." (Deut. 21:21) There are countless more lists of moral offenses for which the Jews were commanded to put violators to death. Similarly, when God commanded the Israelites to exterminate the inhabits of the promised land, He was quite clear that the Israelites were both not to emulate the deeds of the nations and also that all the false gods of the nations should be destroyed. Exodus 23:24 is a prime example of this mandate, "You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars." The inhabitants of Canaan were not just killed so that the Israelites could have their land--they were slaughtered because of their wickedness and idolatry. Those whom God kills and who God commands His people to kill are those who act wickedly and transgress against the God's clear moral decrees.

Similarly, non-lethal violence that the Bible advocates is always directed in response to evil behavior and is used for the sake of correction and instruction in righteousness. Proverbs 19:18 says, "Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction." Proverbs 20:30 says, "Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart." Hebrews 12:11 attests to the goal of chastening, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Jesus Himself, in one of my favorite scenes in the gospels, fashions a whip for Himself and violently drives merchants and lenders out of the temple, overthrowing the tables and pouring money all over the ground (John 2:13-17). Jesus' violence wasn't just a symptom of an anger control problem. He intentionally threw people out of the temple to remind them that God's house is holy and must be treated with reverence and to shame them for their disrepect.

Of course, this is not the whole story of Christianity's stance on violence. While the Bible is extremely pro-violence when it comes to violence used for justice, correction and slaying evildoers, it is also adamantly against many kinds of violence. At some point in the future, I will write another article considering nonviolence and Christianity and looking at what sorts of violence God opposes. As Ecclesiastes insightfully states, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven... a time to kill and a time to heal... a time of war and a time of peace." (Ecc. 3:1, 3:3, 3:8) While many people either strongly oppose or strongly support violence, Christian beautifully unites opposites by expressing strong support for some kinds of violence and strong opposition to other types of violence. For this reason there are numerous examples of both stoical nonviolence and fierce bloodshed in Christianity. Medieval monks and priests would never lift a finger to physically harm another soul, while the crusaders soaked the earth with the blood of the Saracens. As G.K. Chesteron memorably writes, "It is true that the church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it is true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues." Similarly, God Himself is both the glorious giver of life, and a fearsome, unrelenting bringer of death. Christianity has a stance on violence that is comprehensive and consistent, yet highly nuanced.

Sadly, in modern society's twisting of Christian morality and our wholesale rejection of masculinity we have become a nation that allows our consciences to be driven not by a godly desire for righteousness, but by the capricious whims of our emotions. Not only have we sought to label all violence as intrinsically evil, we have also rejected the fiercely masculine God of the Bible, simply because He doesn't line up with our distorted view of morality. Nor is the modern church exempt from this charge of distorted thinking. John Eldredge, in The Way of the Wild Heart, alludes to this fact, "I don't fully understand the modern church's amnesia-plus-aversion regarding one of the most central qualities of God understood for centuries before us... Our God is a warrior, mighty and terrible in battle, and He leads armies." Exodus 15:3 declares, "The Lord is a warrior." It is time to return to a proper understanding of the appropriate place and purpose for violence, rather than using emotion as a basis for a wholesale rejection of all violence.

In summary, we see that the God of the Bible is a fiercely violent God. His killing is not whimsical and random; it is always directed towards evildoers. God has no qualms about brutally exterminating those whose hearts and deeds are characterized by wickedness. Likewise, the violence that God commands is always directed towards the elimination of evil, for the sake of preserving and encouraging righteousness. Our modern moral indignation is quite misplaced, for we oppose violence more than we oppose evil. We take violence too seriously, while taking justice too lightly, evil too lightly and righteousness too lightly. We are a nation that has begun to believe that nothing is worth fighting for, that nothing is worth killing for. Christianity stands firmly opposed to those stance. John Eldredge attests on this fact, "Our God is a Warrior because there are certain things in life worth fighting for, must be fought for. He makes man a Warrior in his own image, because he intends for man to join him in that battle." In the same vein, British philosopher Edmund Burke says, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Christianity is a violent religion that adamantly believes that righteousness is worth fighting for and that evildoers are worthy of death. The God of the Bible is a fierce and vicious God--and there's nothing wrong with that!

1 comment:

  1. Operation Mafia has now added a custom feature that allows you to go on Missions. This was a time intensive fully customized feature that utilizes many existing OM features.