The Idolatry of Violence

The Idolatry of Violence June 26, 2015

note: this was originally published by the Raven Foundation on March 4, 2015

I cannot understand the fascination conservative Evangelicals have with the movie American Sniper: The Most Lethal Sniper In U.S. History. Recently, I have witnessed what seems like overt idol worship for the late Chris Kyle, whose killings are highlighted in the film. There is a particular affinity for him and the movie in which he is portrayed in the Bible study I attend. The members of this particular congregation, following the lead of their pastor, are quite eager to praise the sniper for his violence. Moreover, they seem insistent on declaring themselves as “sheepdogs”, rather than Christ’s “sheep”. If this is not idolization, I am not quite sure what is. Idolatry, while tantalizing, remains an enormous problem in American Christianity as a whole. Even further troubling is the idolatry of sacred violence, which is blatantly anti-Christ in nature.

Christians everywhere understand that we are to be analogized as Christ’s sheep. In Luke 15, Jesus talks about the parable of the lost sheep; while in John 10:27, He says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” However, it now seems that Evangelicals are no longer interested in merely being sheep who follows Jesus; but sheepdogs a la Chris Kyle. At this specific Bible study, sheep were referred to as “blind”, wandering here and there without cause or reason. They are, in essence, asleep. But sheepdogs, now they are something to behold. They are the protectors of the sleeping sheep; the ever-watchful members of the body of Christ. They are courageous, standing directly in front of the enemy–guns blazing–showing the world whose side God is really on. They are the true followers of Christ, according to this congregation’s assessment.

My intention in this essay is not to drag Chris Kyle’s name through the mud: far from it in fact. My aim, rather, is to point out the obvious hypocrisy of Christians who worship this movie and even use it as a tool to teach others within “the flock” about how they are to follow God. Ironically, in this church at least, even teachings from Matthew 5 were used to advocate the movie as a whole. According to them, being the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) is synonymous with praising the “greatest” killer in the history of the United States Armed Forces. Maybe I am mistaken, but I thought our role as the “salt of the earth” was to love our enemies and bless those cursing us? Is that not what the rest of the chapter in Matthew’s Gospel teaches? Is it not the merciful whom receive mercy (v. 7) and the peacemakers whom are called sons of God (v.9)? How can we speak out of both sides of our collective Christian mouths and worship both the “God of peace”[1], as Paul puts it, and a movie that glorifies the greatest killer in the most powerful empire’s armed forces? As I see it, reconciling the praise of this movie with the overall theme of the “beatitudes” requires one to engage in some amazing feats of theological trickery.

Mimetic theory states we all inevitably imitate someone so we must ask ourselves one question: “Will we imitate Christ and return evil with good; or Chris Kyle, and take joy in the death of our enemies?”[2] Based on this week’s study, this particular congregation has emphatically made up its collective mind. As for myself, I am going to try my damnedest to emulate Christ. Non-violence worked for Him so it will work for me. Emulating anyone other than Jesus will inevitably lead to rivalrous conflict; one that will spiral out of control as the cycle inevitably goes round and round. Do the Christians who support such violence not realize that their enemies; namely, the “terrorists”, view them/us precisely in the same manner in which we in the West view them?[3] Obviously they do not; otherwise they would realize that retribution, while being the temporary cure, is also the very mechanism that continues the cycle of seemingly endless violence. Like the Greek word phármakon, which can be translated as “drug,” and thus paradoxically is both “cure” and “poison”: so too is retribution. Only by premeditated forgiveness can we end this vicious cycle of violence that grips both the church and its enemies. So let us forget worshiping American Sniper and start worshiping the Savior of all people, especially of believers (I Tim. 4:10).

[1] See Philippians 4:9

[2] Chris Kyle, in his autobiography, acknowledges that killing people in Iraq was “fun” and that he wished that he “killed more”. See Kyle, Chris, and Scott McEwen. American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. New York: W. Morrow, 2012.

[3] After all, terrorism is not an objective term.

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