The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world. The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience unto death. This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today….
The myth of redemptive violence is, in short, nationalism become absolute. This myth speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical judgment by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols, and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it embraces God in order to prevent change. Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a tribal god worshiped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but the fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but the crosshairs of a gun. Its offer is not forgiveness but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final elimination. Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy. It usurps the revelation of God’s purposes for humanity in Jesus. It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous. And it is immensely popular.
– Walter Wink, The Powers that Be
[I’ve been fascinated lately by reading Ivan Illich and finding a creative analysis of modern culture that critiques those who wield power on the right and the left]:
I believe that the Incarnation makes possible a surprising and entirely new flowering of love and knowledge. For Christians the Biblical God can now be loved in the flesh. Saint John says that he has sat at table with him, that he has put his head on his shoulder, heard him, touched him, smelled him. And he has said that whoever sees him sees the Father, and that whoever loves another loves him in the person of that other….
The opening of this new horizon is also accompanied by a second danger: institutionalization. There is a temptation to try to manage and, eventually, to legislate this new love, to create an institution that will guarantee it, insure it, and protect it by criminalizing its opposite. So along with this new ability to give freely of oneself has appeared the possibility of exercising an entirely new kind of power, the power of those who organize Christianity and use this vocation to claim their superiority as social institutions.
- Ivan Illich, The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich as told to David Cayley (2005)
[a quote from the ending of the new book written by David Moore, pastor in Santa Barbara and adjunct faculty at SSU]:
Away with graceless Christianity, so full of suspicion and devoid of mercy! Out with the old and in with the new hope of Jesus. Even with its persistent sorrows, ubiquitous disappointments and lingering aches of the soul, life is hopeful. This will be realized increasingly in the days to come as more of us discover how not alone we are. Faith is generous. Hope is strong. Love is limitless. There’s no need to be selfish and stingy because the supply only increases, and access to it, as we share.
[Wondering about the contemporary relevance of these words by Alan Paton, spoken in 1949 in the context of South African apartheid…]
But one must not imagine that this white settler is motivated solely by fear. He, too, is a human creature. He has not lived upon the earth without being influenced by the great human ideas, notably by the ideas of Christianity. Therefore, he too is a divided creature, torn between his fears for his own safety and his desire for his own survival on the one hand, and on the other, by those ideas of justice and love which are at the very heart of his religion. We are witnessing today a struggle in the hearts of men, white men, between the claims of justice and of survival, of conscience and of fear.
It is my own belief that the only power which can resist the power of fear is the power of love. It’s a weak thing and a tender thing; men despise and deride it. But I look for the day when in South Africa we shall realise that the only lasting and worthwhile solution of our grave and profound problems lies not in the use of power, but in that understanding and compassion without which human life is an intolerable bondage, condemning us all to an existence of violence, misery and fear.
- Alan Paton (from a speech quoted by Lewis Gannett in his introduction to Paton’s famous novel, Cry, the Beloved Country)
[After an amazing week in which SSU helped to host the inaugural Bonfire Festival in St. Stephen – with the help of many alumni and friends – we had some final songs from visiting artists to wrap up this morning at St. Croix Vineyard. In the middle of the service, when the vulnerability and presence of the Spirit were getting thick, Rosie Funk read this passage from Thomas Merton]:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
- Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude