The Renunciation of Violence

Homo sapiens are violent. Moreover, we seem to consider our violent nature as inevitable. Unavoidable. As if we had no choice in the matter. Even the vast majority of religious folk share this view. Yet not everyone agrees.

Despite the violence that permeates the history of Christianity, the man who believers profess to follow was clear in his views: Jesus renounced violence. He even went so far as to submit to violence rather than oppose it by violent means. He was non-violent to the core, both in speech and action. Nothing Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, Jr. can say will change that.

I realize many self-proclaiming Christians rationalize away Jesus’ teachings — not only those pertaining to violence but also those pertaining to wealth and relationships. Hence, patriotism, nationalism, materialism, and fear always trump nonviolence, even within the church. But it’s a fiction. Pure fiction. The reality is, Jesus renounced violence in no uncertain terms. And it wasn’t even an issue of debate among his earliest followers.

I get the opposing argument: that one has no choice but to oppose evil, even if it requires killing. But I’m pretty sure Jesus got the argument, too.

It’s a radical view this man had — or this god, depending on your opinion and beliefs. It’s a tough position to embrace. The risks notwithstanding, it’s easy to go along with the crowd on this one. It’s easier to pick up the weapon than to stand seemingly defenseless with nothing but your beliefs about the truth. With nothing but your hope.

I have to confess that I’ve waffled in recent years. My younger self stood on firmer ground, in full rhetorical alliance with the Nazarene — rhetorical because I never had to back up my words with actions — much less actions that entailed sacrifice. But age called into question many beliefs and eroded many ideals, including this fundamental tenet of Jesus’ teachings.

I’m done waffling, Vera. I’m done equivocating.

It doesn’t require me to embrace the divinity of anyone, much less the itinerant preacher of 2,000 years ago. It doesn’t require me to embrace any religion. It doesn’t require me to believe in the existence of any god or creator. All it requires is a belief in the banality of humans killing other humans. All it requires is confidence in the power of compassion — hope in the power of love and decency. And a willingness to sacrifice so that others may live.

The world’s movement toward indecency is pushing me in this direction. The constant barrage of indecency emanating from our own national capital is a stark reminder of the insidious, corrupting nature of the forces of violence and narcissism. It is a stark reminder of the ways the desire for power and dominance destroy.

I have no desire to linger in such a world. It’s an ugly place. I reject the argument that I have no choice but to participate in it. Or to submit.

The world described by Jesus is a glorious place, albeit hardly one without pain and suffering. Or risk. Perhaps his critics are right: perhaps it’s unobtainable. Perhaps his ideas merely placate the powerless and give them false hope. It’s not for me to decide. There is no way to be certain.

What is my decision to make, however, is the nature of my desires and pursuits.

Neither has room for violence.

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