The Myth of Redemptive Violence

Underlying our violent times is a myth that violence can somehow be redemptive. Author and peace activist Fr. John Dear, SJ pokes a hole in that illusion, offering Jesus’ Gospel of Non-violence or Gandhi’s ahimsa (non harming) as the only alternatives to the catastrophe around us. In Dear’s view:

God has intervened in human history as the child of impoverished, marginalized refugees (Mt 2:13-23). God has deliberately sided with the poor and oppressed of the world by embracing their vulnerability in the midst of a deadly empire. The birth of Jesus is marked not only by poverty, but by imperial violence. Herod the Great, the client of the imperial Rome, responds to the incarnation by trying to kill the child, the child of non-violence, the son of the God of non-violence…Jesus incarnates divine love and radiates God’s grace and truth; in other words, God’s nonviolent response to human sinfulness.[1]

Dear interprets Jesus’ active nonviolent teachings, including turning the other cheek (so you aren’t slapped back-hand but hit like an equal), acts of civil disobedience such as overturning the carts of the money changers, and examples of servant leadership such as washing the feet of his disciples. Perhaps this sums up best my opinion of the book: if there is any one book in the realm of theology that I could ask a family member to read, after the actual Gospels, this would be it.

Too many other apologias from lesser minds skip over steps and, in my own case, I just can’t go with them across the distances. Others build their cases so shakily I won’t trust their logic enough to make the unsteady climb with them. Still others scream out that we’re all living in hellfire and damnation and talk about atonement and don’t make me want to climb a ladder at all, but rather sit and meditate my way to nirvana beneath it. But Fr. John reaches my heart and says “Let’s climb.”


[1] John Dear, The God of Peace: Toward a Theology of Nonviolence (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 19.  Quoted with permission from Fr. John Dear, SJ


Categories Stormy Issues | Tags: , | Posted on October 19, 2010

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