A Pathological Mythology
Editors' Note: This article is part of a Public Square conversation on Religion and Violence. Read other perspectives here.
To begin with one word, "No!" Violence is never redemptive and can never be.
Here's why. Really. Imagine a Deity who has created the universe—and now scientists are becoming comfortable with the idea that there are likely an infinite number of universes—and who is willing to use violence to "redeem" society, people, or individual humans.
But why shouldn't people believe that "violence can be redemptive"? The whole of Christianity is constructed on such a "belief."
It's the week after Easter.
Here's the Christian story: When the Creator had finally had enough of income- disparity and the war on women, the life-bearers of the Creator's creation; the enslaving of human beings for every form of profiteering; the absolute corruption of democratic societies by the rich and powerful; human-sex trade-trafficking; the holy wars against lesbians, gay, and transgendered people; the villainizing of immigrant pilgrims; and the damning of people of diverse faith traditions, God [He] decided that someone must pay for the absolute destruction of [His] life plan and that a good, kind, pure, compassionate, self-sacrificing human being should be put to a heinous death as payment or "buy off" of [His] divine outrage.
Jesus! Isn't it just like a man? Isn't it just like a man to think he has the power and the right to make things right by crushing wrongdoers and eliminating evildoers? By the way, this is the theme of "redemptive violence" scenarios. Pay attention.
This is the theme of "redemptive violence" mythology.
Seriously, just for a minute, think about it. The Christian story that most people know because they have been told the story by people they thought they could trust, is the most revolting idea that human beings have devised.
Just for the record: if this is who "God" is, I want no part of it and will rail against it every time I have a chance.
Do you get it? The creator of the universe cannot be this way? Again, here's the basic idea behind this pathological thinking—we can ultimately preserve life by destroying human life. Just face it! This is what "redemptive violence" is actually about.
Is violence natural? Yeah, sure it is. It's us. It's our story. It's our evolutionary history. But, if we cannot find a way to jump across the cosmic "synapse," we'll know Carl Sagan was right. "We'll not know if we have neighbors across the heavens, because we'll blow ourselves up before we can use our technology to reach out to them."
Yes, there has been a time when humans thought we could someday "redeem" planet earth by just the right kind of redemptive violence. It has religious and historical precedence.
Check it out. Holy Scripture depicts a violent God and a non-violent God. So what do you think?
Is God—keep in mind, the creator of the universe—schizophrenic? Is the creator both a homicidal maniac one instant and a self-sacrificing, "emptying" deity the next?
As John Dominic Crossan says, "Both visions of God are there—they're present all the way through the Bible." So, what's it going to be?
If you think God's ultimate act of love for humanity is the "Jesus had to die" scenario, then go ahead and treat as ultimately sacred the theology that Anselm created in "Cur Deus Homo." [Dom Crossan showed this to me.]
But if you can find a way to view Jesus of Nazareth as a human being, who in the company of women and men found himself immersed in a world of the over-arching dominating equation of money plus power plus redemptive violence, decided to resist that power differential with every thought, every muscle, every sinew, every ounce of courage he could summon, you might be seeing over into the ultimate plan of God to bring life on earth into balance, justice, and peace.
Ask yourself. "Who wins when we all buy into the myth of redemptive violence?"
David Dykes is Executive Director of the D. L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation, producers of FaithAndReason® seminars, educational video curriculum for "progressives" and an interactive web site: www.faithandreason.org. David is retired United Methodist clergy and has a background in teaching, television production, and counseling. Today he focuses work on critical thinking about religion and its role in public life and issues of economic, gender, and political justice.