"We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than about living."
General Omar Bradley's prophetic comments remain true today as we continue to use "justifiable" violence to solve our international and personal issues. Justifying our preemptive war in Iraq, George Bush argued that we were facing a threat that could result in a mushroom cloud if we didn't act immediately. Justifying our need for personal protection Wayne LaPierre (NRA) has often stated: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Underlying this conventional wisdom is the conviction that real peace and justice can only be attained through redemptive violence. We are inundated daily with this story line through television dramas, movies and books which depict the good protagonists ultimately destroying the evil antagonists and restoring law and order. This same mindset is also reflected in numerous passages throughout the Bible where God uses violence to destroy Israel's enemies or will ultimately destroy all evil in a final battle (Bk of Revelation).
This image of God using redemptive violence to clean up this world is offset by the image of Jesus on the cross which reveals God's real power. Paul tells us that Jesus crucified is a "stumbling block" to our conventional wisdom because God chooses the way of weakness and vulnerability (1 Cor.1:18-31) as opposed to weapons, muscle and brilliance. Instead of responding to the jeers to come down from the cross, Jesus simply forgave his persecutors for not knowing what they were doing (Lk. 23:24). At the time of his arrest when one of his followers drew his sword, Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Mt. 26:52).
Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God's character and his message is clearly one of non-violence. In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) he goes beyond the law that forbids killing when he says: "whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment." He challenges the dehumanizing process of name-calling and reminds us that "love of our enemies" is a requirement of discipleship. He blesses those who are peacemakers and requires reconciliation before worship.
How did the non-violence of Jesus become the conventional wisdom of "justifiable" violence for most Christians throughout history? In our confrontation with evil (symbolized by Rome) why do we continue to choose the violent Barabbas over the non-violent Jesus? (Mk. 15:6-15). Why do we constantly turn the cross into a sword?
I believe we are more concerned with short term results than long term consequences. We have developed a win-lose, either-or mindset and do not grasp the larger evolutionary nature of the universe. To paraphrase Theilhard de Chardin, we are evolving toward the Omega point when we will experience the total connectedness of all reality. Our lives have a small role in a much bigger plan of life. Unfortunately our individualism and egos are so exaggerated, we are blind to what is truly real.
Fortunately, we have been blest with a number of modern day visionaries (Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu, Malala Yousafzai and others) who have understood that violence, no matter how justified, perpetuates the never-ending cycle of violence and lessens our humanity. They lived the message of Jesus and understood their lives in the context of the larger community.
The conventional wisdom will continue to rule the day, but as Christians we are challenged to accept our role and follow the footsteps of Jesus in our everyday encounters. The issue is not about overcoming the prevailing mindset but being faithful to our calling.
Peter J. Carli
Spread Eagle, Wis.