Saturday, November 28, 2009

The question of "appropriate" violence

I recently finished Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution and I have to say I loved it. Claiborne writes exceptionally well on the "revolutionary" idea of the true Christian life as it pertains to economics, violence/peace, loving one's neighbor and how those differ from the Americanized Christianity so many of us practice today.

However, his discussion of violence got me thinking. Claiborne argues that God's love and power is stronger and can overcome any unwanted situation--which I wholeheartedly agree with. I think if we all were to love, rather than fight, our neighbors, we would find a world revolutionized. In his thinking, Claiborne suggests that no Christian should ever act or react violently to the evils of the world--which, again, I agreed with... but then I got to thinking... Are we naive to think that the absence of action will always solve an immediate impending conflict and prove to be the most loving/peaceful option?

I noticed in his book, Mr. Claiborne is absolutely silent on the issue of self defense; other than asserting that "an eye for an eye" was meant not revenge, but as a means to prevent the escalation of violence. (An eye for an eye, not an eye for a life.) But it got me thinking, what about self defense? If attacked by a stranger, should I, as a Christian, not defend myself? And what about defending others? If, in the future, a man were about to harm my child and it took a violent act to stop him, would Claiborne suggest I watch my child be harmed? What would Jesus do in this situation and what am I to do?

I agree that peace should be our goal and as Christians our world view should be focused on bringing heaven to earth, but I have to wonder how "loving" it is to watch your neighbor die at the hand of violence when we could have prevented it by standing up to their oppressor.

Case in point: World War II. Claiborne laments over the tragedy of war in Iraq (yes, I agree with him that all violence, especially war, is a tragedy and should be mourned) and he discusses the travesty of our government sending over our soldiers to "kill" the Iraqis. However, I have to wonder if he is equally as opposed to American soldiers killing Nazis in order to free the Jews from their death sentences. Was it wrong, in his mind, in that case, or was it a so called "necessary evil"? Yes, it could be argued that the purpose of the Iraq conflict and that of the Nazis are very different, but it can also be argued that they are the same: protecting a body of people. If I ever meet Mr. Claiborne, I would really like to ask him if he believes if there is ever a point where violence is an "appropriate" response to stopping violence in this fallen world--as a means of defense. As much as I agree with the belief that we resort, as a human race, to violence much too quickly, I'm not completely convinced that stepping into an immediate situation and responding with equal force to save an innocent life is exactly a sin.

There is no easy answer to all of this and I am not going to even pretend like I have an answer. Furthermore, I'm not defending violence or suggesting that it is ever "right." But what I am suggesting is there may be a bigger picture than just the picture of cyclical violence Claiborne paints and pointing out a possible difference between revenge and defense. Two wrongs do not make a right, but what about seemingly necessary evils?


Thoughts also worth mentioning in his book:
  • He mentions "gentle revolution" and Che Guevera in the same sentence in a positive manor. Che Guevera was a brutal murder and killed all who disagreed with his "love revolution." I felt this was either a gross oversight or very ignorant of Mr. Claiborne.
  • He briefly brushes on the issue of abortion and life lost there, but makes no major effort to discuss the violence against the unborn child and how love can make a difference there. I wonder if this was intentional meaning war is a bigger issue (although he suggests we do not pick issues, but people to focus on) in his mind or if his war/peace discussion was just easier to address/all he wanted to truly address? He discusses humanizing war and putting faces to those people, but I feel he failed to do so on the tragedy of abortion, despite his few pro-life comments.
  • I appreciated his objective look at humanity as it relates to politics. Unlike most authors, he strayed away from "the scary Republicans" or the "bleeding heart liberals" routine. Instead, he pointed out the human condition of depravity on both sides of the struggles.
  • Finally, I appreciated his apparent desire to begin and end all discussions on peace and love in Scripture.

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