Redemptive Violence

It’s a strange concept.

It’s the idea that the greatest number of people on the North American Continent—including many who call themselves ‘Christians’—in fact support a religion that is not Christian at all, but actually originates from ancient Babylon. It’s the religion of ‘Redemptive Violence’: the belief that Order comes from Domination.

Ancient Babylonian legends trace the origins of the world from a god Marduk, who kills his mother Tiamat, and from her body creates the Cosmos. Order is created through violence. From this doctrine has come a succession of military world rulers, concepts of ‘manifest destiny’ to support empires, whether Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, German, British or American, and a pyramidal order of society in which the rich and powerful are at the top, and the weak, the alien, the poor, the old, women and children are fair targets for oppression at the bottom of the pile.

The Bible, in contrast, describes creation as the perfect self-expression of a loving God, spoiled only by the self-will of humankind, unwilling to obey God’s commands laid down for its own good. The difference? Do we believe that there is a Power at work in the universe that makes “all things work together for good,” so that salvation comes from God, not man (which is the New Testament teaching, supported, incidentally, by modern developments in chaos theory and theories on the origins of life)? Or is the world going to hell in a handbasket, only to be kept under control by violent enforcement by the “powers of this world”? Jesus says the first. Oliver North says the second.

The strange thing is, the twentieth century has seen some wonderful examples of an evil power structure being overcome by an effective campaign of non-violence. Think of the successes of Nelson Mandela, of Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. Equally, most attempts we have seen to extinguish evil by force, particularly in the anti-Communist crusades of the United States in the years since World War II, have been tragically ineffective. McCarthyism, Vietnam, Cuba, the Iran-Contra affair and the CIA support of subversion of governments throughout Latin America: the American prison system, the stalemate with Saddam Hussein in Iraq—it is a chronicle of disaster and unnecessary human suffering, all caused by a ‘cops and robbers’ mentality that seeks to eliminate evil by force. The myth is supported by a thousand movies, TV programs and comic strips—mostly originating in what Iranians call ‘the great Satan’, i.e. the U.S.A.—that teach our children this same unreality day by day.

Jesus said “that ye resist not evil.” A better translation is “Do not use force to combat evil.” That does not mean that we cease “manfully to fight under Christ’s banner against sin, the world and the devil.” It means that “the weapons of our warfare are spiritual.” Most of these are defensive—truth, righteousness, faith, the Gospel, Salvation, prayer. The one offensive weapon is “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” Christ’s cross may well be “an emblem of suffering and shame,” but it was also the supreme moral defeat of all the structures of this world that rely on violence for their effectiveness.

One could only wish that the Christian church could learn this lesson from its founder. Crusades, Anathemas, Inquisitions, Persecutions, religious wars, even insensitive missionary work. None of them pay attention to Christ’s command to “love your enemies,” or Paul’s, to “overcome evil with good.” None of them recognize that “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.”

No wonder that, with a history like this, many people recognize the goodness of Christ, but will have no truck with the organized church.

We have homework to do.

– Anglican Messenger, March 1999