Saturday, January 21, 2017

Turning Tables and Punching Arius: The Violence of the Peacemaker

One of my major concerns, ever since becoming a Christian, was over the ethics of violence. This is so on account of my own personal background. Before I was a confessing Christian, previously living in vain imaginings and the darkness of my own mind, I was slated to join the Marine Corps. I had all my papers signed, but a number of events deterred this. Over that time, during which I became a Christian, I became more uneasy with what being in the military meant. I struggled over questions of war, of peace, and what Scriptures said. I eventually found the two routes as incompatible.

Initially, I gravitated towards almost dogmatic pacifism and non-violence. I struggled with some of the implications, but I pushed ahead. I struggled to walk the line of the reality of violence in the Old Testament, at times bordering on Marcionite tendencies. But through growth, maturity, and wisdom, I've learned to think a number of these issues outside of the boxes people place over them.

One of these is the very definition and issue of violence. Usually the question is boxed in around absolutes: violence, yes or no? Of course, if one says no, which I was prone to do, it unleashes a torrent of questions, both fair and unfair. There's the problem over non-physical coercion and violence. Isn't shouting a kind of violence, a forcing of one's voice into another's consciousness? How violent is persuasion and argument? What about the crisis and demand of conversion? I find arguments about the violent non-violence of verbal, symbolic, and non-physical acts as casuistic. It encourages, under the surface, passive-aggression, manipulation, dissembling, and psychological warfare. I've seen this take place, in Christian and liberal groups, and it is truly horrible. Listening to way some people talk or gesture, I'd rather get punched

The question, more properly formulated is the nature, use, and authority of violence. In this light, there's nothing inherently wrong or sinful in violence in se. This, of course, opens the floodgates to evil teachers, but it must be done if we ever want to progress. Yes, I still argue voluntary professional military service is still sinful, especially in the current context of the United States. But I'm not going to get roped into impossible corners to try and box out of. Instead, it's a question to what extent people are given force for and how it is used.

The model of violence for the Christian is Christ turning over tables. We might nod our heads, but most of us are inherently uncomfortable with this act. It's a combination of liberal sensibility, whinging for civility, and our evil value over the sanctity of private property. Both of these Christ violates with ease and ferocity. His pure and purifying rage ought to model the purposes of violence. It is the tearing down, destruction, of evil accretions. It is the humiliation of the money changers. It is an attack upon an institution. This is a paradigm worthy of meditation.

Symbolic violence can bring about a feeling of liberty, a form of repentance and an attack upon the false gods that feed upon us. Violence in quelling our passions, or otherwise called the mortification of sin, is something all Christians are called to. Our vocation is a spiritual war against powers and principalities, but it is a spiritual war waged in the flesh. Of course, false gods command power over our hearts, but when it came to Greek Christians destroying Pagan temples or Dutch Reformers smashing stained glass windows, I can't argue with them methodologically. They might be wrong in practice, but not in principle. Physical actions may be goads to realize spiritual reality.

Thus, this leads us to the recent video where an Alt-Right White Nationalist was punched on TV. Against a liberal sentiment, Christians should not be appalled or offended by the action because it was violence. We ought to ask, what was the violence, and what was it for? It's similar to an episode where bishop Nicholas of Smyrna, apocryphally, punched Arius when he said that "There was a time when the Son was not". Whether this actually happened is irrelevant, the story communicates that even though Nicholas was jailed, an angel approached him and he was commended for his defense of Christ. This is not a question of whether someone should or should not get punched for denying the full divinity of Christ, it's a question of method.

There's something right and just about a foul, rebellious, and petulant child being slapped by his or her mother for speaking evil against her. Ideally, the violence is not to destroy the child, rather the exposure of humiliation, shock, and anger is to drive the child back onto the path of life. Again, not every act of child-discipline is good, many times it's destructive or vindictive, but it's a question of method and principle, not concrete practices. In other words, maybe a White Nationalist should be humiliated on national tv, maybe a Christ-denier ought to be physically challenged with the weight of his declaration in front of his peers. This is not the whole story, but it's worth meditating before blanket condemnation of force and violence. It's a correction of offensive boundary setting, a strong declaration of righteousness. Ultimately, the principle is repentance and liberation, even when people don't understand or want it.

This is something to thought through carefully, but thought through nonetheless. Again, if it's not clear, this does not validate the voluntary professional military, modern policing, the penal system of incarceration, or the modern state's death penalty. These are all things I see as demonically inspired, sin fueled, death-worshiping institutions, many times being driven along by pawns and peons who barely understand the chessboard they are standing on.

But being a peace-maker does not mean becoming doctrinaire pacifist or non-violent, in the purest sense of the term. Christ is the Prince of Peace, He did not revile His accusers even as they reviled Him, He taught us to turn the other cheek when slapped, and even restored the ear of His enemy which Peter had lopped off. Christ told us the Kingdom was seized by the violent, He turned the tables of the money-changers, He came as a sword, diving families, and the cause of the rising and falling of many in Israel. All of this is what it means to be a Peacemaker, perfectly revealed and formed in the life of Christ which we are to imitate. Let us attend to Wisdom. Amen.


  1. It's been frustrating to see that the alt-right has taken up the ideological and narrative weapons of the left to present whites as a marginalized group and for the most part the left has not seen this for what it is.

    Then again, blue voters can often see abortion as a social right while objecting to war; while red voters see war as justifiable for "defense" while objecting to abortion. Neither side seems to realize they are both part of a cult that venerates the use of pre-emptive lethal force to defend lifestyle options. The self-exonerating double standards of the red and blue civic religions have been a source of occasional frustration for me in the last few years. When people who claim to be pacifists support abortion I reject the claim that they are pacifists just because they abhor the pre-emptive use of lethal force to preserve the lifestyle choices of a society rather than an individual. They may just be re-appropriating and reinterpreting the Just War idiom to defend abortion rather than American imperialism at the state level, but the deployment of pre-emptive lethal force to preserve an American way of life looks more or less the same.

  2. Yeah, I do find arguments for abortion as usually extremely vicious and reaching towards this self-assurance over the life of another. Very rarely do I see a pro-choice even think twice if the fetus is actually a Human life. We just 'know' it's not, just as we 'know' when someone is dead. Do we? There's plenty of ambiguity in medical law, now that technologies exist which can maintain artificial breathing, feeding ,heart pumping, etc. A child is not a child until it leaves the womb? Why? Because children can live independent of the support of another? Really? It all relies upon the self-generated confidence about science and law that are verifiably ambiguous, especially in their foundational sense. Yeah, pro-abortion people have no ground to stand upon when arguing for non-violence.

    But of course, the problem is not non-violence (for me anyway). The problem is murder by technique, whether by drone or by doctor.

  3. "evil value over the sanctity of private property"

    Where else can I read your thoughts on economics?

    1. I haven't written much on economics. I am anti-Capitalism, but most people don't really get what that means. It doesn't mean one is against free-markets, trade or the concept of private property. But for the intentions of the part you linked, the inviolable sanctity of property has become a widespread dogma within Anglo-Protestantism. It's more important to most Americans over and above orthodox Christology. My challenge was that many Americans would be horribly offended at Jesus' utter contempt for the rights of the money-changers.

      There was a good exchange between Bill O'Reilly and Bernie Goldberg, where Goldberg, a secular Jew, basically sunk the Americana Christ. He said, in short, that he didn't like Jesus because Jesus was no friend of businessmen and venture Capitalism. This didn't sit well with O'Reilly, but he really had no response. Goldberg was basically pleading with O'Reilly, "I can't believe you think so much of this guy". It was funny to watch O'Reilly squirm, but it revealed the fact that many American Christians would be consistently embarrassed with Christ. But it's not just them, but even myself. We must constantly wrestle with the question, "Would I be embarrassed with Christ?" as a means to mortify our flesh. It's something I struggle with all the time.