Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christians and Violence, Part II

Jacques Ellul's argument concerning violence is built around "the conclusion that violence is natural and normal to man and society." As he writes, those who "that what is natural is good and what is necessary is legitimate" make a "great mistake of thinking." This seems paradoxical at first, but as Ellul points out, "What Christ does for us is above all to make us free." He argues, "to have true freedom is to escape necessity or, rather, to be free to struggle against necessity."

Ellul then explains further, arguing that through the fall, "necessity becomes part of the order of nature--not of nature as God wished it to be, but of nature henceforth made for death." It is worth quoting Ellul further here. He writes:

"Necessary is definable as what man does because he cannot do otherwise. But when God reveals himself, necessity ceases to be destiny or even inevitability. In the Old Testament, man shatters the necessity of eating by fasting, the necessity of toil by keeping the Sabbath; and when he fasts or keeps the Sabbath he recovers his real freedom, because he has been found again by the God who re-established communion with him. The institution of the order of Levites likewise shatters the normal institutional order of worship, duty, provision for the future, etc. And this freedom is fully accomplished by and through Jesus Christ. For Christ, even death ceases to be a necessity: 'I give my life for my sheep; it is not taken from me, I give it.'"

"And so far as we understand that the whole of Christ's work is a work of liberation--of our liberation from sin, death, concupiscence, fatality (and from ourselves)--we shall see that violence is not simply an ethical option for us to take or leave. Either we accept the order of necessity, acquiesce in and obey it--and this has nothing at all to do with the work of God or obedience to God, however serious and compelling the reasons that move us--or else we accept the order of Christ; but then we must reject violence root and branch.

For the role of the Christian in society, in the midst of men, is to shatter fatalities and necessities. And he cannot fulfill this role by using violent means, simply because violence is of the order of necessity. To use violence is to be of the world. Every time the disciples wanted to use any kind of violence they came up against Christ's veto (the episode of the fire pouring from heaven on the cities that rejected Christ, the parable of the tares and the wheat, Peter's sword, etc.). This way of posing the problem is more radical than that implicit in the usual juxtaposition of violence and love.

But now it must be evident why we had to begin by declaring the reality of violence, explaining that it is totally of the world, and showing in what ways it is a necessity. For the Christian, if he is to oppose violence, must recognize its full dimensions and its great importance. The better we understand that violence is necessary, indispensable, inevitable, the better shall we be able to reject and oppose it. If we are free in Jesus Christ, we shall reject violence precisely because violence is necessary! We must say No to violence not inasmuch as it it is a necessity and not only because it is violence. And, mind, this means all kinds of violence: psychological manipulation, doctrinal terrorism, economic imperialism, the venomous warfare of free competition, as well as torture, guerrilla movements, police action." (pages 129-130)

I apologize for the lengthy quote, but this is the crux of Ellul's argument and is necessary for a proper understand his position regarding violence. Ellul clearly does not see violence as redemptive or serving any purpose beyond evil. Though Ellul argues there is only one kind of violence, he does make a distinction of the violence already described and "the violence of love" or "spiritual violence" as he calls it. We'll look at that next.

Christians and Violence, Part I

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