“Kill them all! Let God sort them out!” And other forms of violent indiscriminate bluster are the language of self-righteousness. The Crusaders asked, “what about the Christians in the city?” The response was “kill them all!” The Lord knows his own. January 6th is the latest fruit of violent self-righteousness. The attempts to justify the actions of those who took part continue the pattern. There is no repentance. I have yet to hear apologies from anyone. It is common to hear politicians sabre rattle against supposed enemies. It is just as common to hear similar calls for violent actions from media talking heads. But when the rhetoric of violent self-righteousness comes from pulpits and the ministers standing in them, the destruction will come.
American media continue to tell the public about “the big lie.” The claim that the 2020 election was stolen is false. It is used for grift. The lie is told to motivate gullible people. But this lie only works because of another lie that has been told for the last fifty years. It is the claim that abortion is murder and that the good guys are going to stop it.
The bigger lie is a miracle of obfuscation. Discuss the deaths of school children due to gun violence some time. What will the response be? “That is nothing” compared to the holocaust taking place “in the womb” in America. Make a point about refugee children being separated from their families by the government. “I won’t listen to the concerns about kids in cages from someone who allows children to be murdered in the womb.” You get the idea. Small wonder that violence is perpetuated against doctors and women’s clinics. “But it is nothing compared to…”
Self-Righteousness, self-justification, and destructiveness
Walking around University of Wisconsin campus last week I noticed the historical marker in the above image. It reads as follows.
University of Wisconsin students traditionally have been active in political and social causes, and that was never more apparent than during the turbulent 1960s. During that time, students frequently led rallies and demonstrations, many of which protested U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. Those activities succeeded in mobilizing thousands for and against the war. The tensions and divisions on campus eventually devolved into violence culminating with the bombing of Sterling Hall, which housed the Army Math Research Center. On August 24, 1970, the explosion killed a Physics researcher, putting a tragic conclusion on a period of protest. This historic marker is made possible by a grant from the UW foundation.
Veterans of the Vietnam war complain that strangers would sometimes call them “baby killers.” The parallel is clear. Righteousness requires violence because there is no persuading the other side. Someone, the marker does not give a name, took it upon themselves to put a stop to the “War Machine” by terrorism. What was the result? The protests ended. The war continued.
The High Priest claimed, “it is better for one man die to save the whole people.”(John 11:50) I wonder about people like the Physics researcher. Was that person’s life worth it? Is anyone saved? No.
Getting Attention 101
Violent means are a good way to get media attention. Terrorism gets coverage. Violent rhetoric is not as effective. Speakers use it to demonstrate “commitment” to their audiences. “Telling it like it is” draws a certain appreciation from some people. But we all know that is simply affirming the prejudices of the listener. As a friend described the used car salesman turned pastor at his parent’s church, “He knows his audience.” The real trick of the best pulpit hucksters is to warn the outsider.
The outsider does not have to be present. Insiders hear the warning. “I don’t know what we will do. But if something isn’t done soon, heads will roll.” The speaker is not telling anyone to do anything. Nor is the speaker claiming to make heads roll. The audience hears, “somebody somewhere is going to make it happen.” Many times the pulpit huckster claims God will act. The listeners, though, do not necessarily have an image of God acting. They could easily think of someone else acting on God’s behalf. The Book of Judges provides enough examples.
Violent Words And Violent Actions
James says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire…it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (3:5b-6) He continues in the same chapter, “For where there is envy and selfish ambition there will be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (3:16-18) Violent words eventually create frustration in the listeners. The listeners fall into the temptation of either doing violence or justifying the people who do.
I do not know where we go from here. The pulpit and television hucksters should lose their audience. They are poisoning the minds of people. The psychological and emotional manipulation leads to frustration. The rhetoric must then become more extreme. Someone acts. And someone dies. Is getting the attention of large angry audiences really worth that? How callous are the hearts that justify it?