Violence continues to run rampant in the United States. This time it struck against Republican lawmakers playing some early morning baseball yesterday. We’ve learned that the attacker was an outspoken Bernie Sanders supporter, and a critic of Hillary Clinton, the GOP, and Donald Trump.
The shooter was 66-year-old James Hodgkinson. He shot into the baseball field, where more than a dozen Republican lawmakers and staff members were practicing for a charity event. Steve Scalise, a member of the House of Representatives, was shot and remains in critical condition at a local hospital. Others were wounded, but are in stable condition.
President Trump called the attack a “brutal assault.” Bernie Sanders also made a statement, “I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
The president is right. This was a brutal assault. Along with Bernie Sanders, I hope our nation is “sickened by this despicable act.” But being sickened isn’t enough. And I’d like to point out that Sanders’ following statement is patently false and unhelpful. If we are going to end these acts of violence, then we must face the truth about American culture.
Contrary to Sanders’ statement, violence is acceptable in our society. Paul Ryan called the attack “a senseless act of violence.” But tragically, the shooting makes perfect sense within American culture.
The Logic of Violence
Violence makes “sense.” In fact, violence has a logic of its own, and America is a nation that believes in the logic of violence. If you hit us, we have every right to hit you back. In fact, the American logic of violence doesn’t even have to wait for anyone to hit us. We believe preemptive war is an appropriate way to defend ourselves against a perceived attack that we believe is imminent.
In this way, violence makes sense. Violence is logical in that it sets out to defend ourselves from a threat. And there’s a peculiar thing about humans and violence. No matter which side we are on, we always think that our violence is “good” and “defensive,” and that our enemy’s violence is “bad” and “aggressive.” This logic of violence keeps us trapped inside its vicious cycle.
James Hodgkinson was a product of the logic of violence that is deeply ingrained in American society. He believed his violence was good. Why? Because he believed he was protecting Americans from the “evil” Republicans. Where did he get the idea that his violence was good? He got it from America’s resolute faith in violence as a means to solve our problems.In his book Battling to the End, René Girard claims that violence is escalating to extremes. In the face of modern violence, warfare, and nuclear weapons that could destroy the planet, Girard writes, “The worst thing one can now do is believe in violence.”
Belief in violence is the worst thing one can do because violence is supremely mimetic. In other words, belief in violence spreads like a contagious disease. Faith in violence as a means to defend ourselves, along with easy access to guns, means that we will continue to see these acts of terror. In fact, Hodgkinson mass shooting is just one of the 152 mass shooting so far in 2017.
The Alternative to Faith in Violence
Girard claimed that we already have the answer to violence. The Judeo-Christian tradition has within it the nonviolent alternative that is ultimately seen in Jesus Christ. The one who explicitly named the destructive logic of violence as, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” The alternative is to refuse to mimic the logic violence and instead follow in the footsteps of the nonviolent love of Christ.
Christ’s call to nonviolence sets us free from the reciprocal nature of violence. “Turn the other cheek” teaches us to stop the cycle of revenge. But it also teaches us to stand up for justice. Jesus didn’t advocate either fight or flight. Rather, he advocated nonviolent pursuit of justice.
One of Jesus’s most famous followers was a man named Paul. He claimed that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities – against injustice, greed, and oppression.
James Hodgkinson’s underlying complaint wasn’t against the GOP or Donald Trump. It was against the powers of injustice he thought were destroying our country. Under the logic of violence, he thought he was defending the United States. But violence only “works” to reinforce our faith in the power of violence.
We can stand up to those powers nonviolently, no matter our faith. We do so by lifting up the voices of the downtrodden while remembering those ensnared by the forces of oppression. By remembering their humanity and speaking the truth in love, we urge our lawmakers to remember the humanity of those they serve.
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