Violence is like a disease with us...

Back in 1972, one of America's young political radicals wrote a book that touched my heart, soul and mind: The Love of Possession Is Like a Disease with Them. It was a brash, honest and not so nuanced analysis of US foreign policy during the Vietnam War as filtered through the historic lens of our genocide against the indigenous peoples of this land. In the tradition of Staughton Lynd, Eric Foner, James Weinstien and William Appleman Williams, Hayden challenged the status quo to awaken both a passion for justice and an understanding of how it might be different.

This book came back to me this morning upon reading of the execution of Dr. George Tiller by so-called Christian "pro-life" activist Scott Roeder. Dr. Tiller was entering his own church for worship on Pentecost when he was murdered. The NY Times reported:

On Sunday morning, moments after services had begun at Reformation Lutheran Church, Dr. Tiller, who was acting as an usher, was shot once with a handgun, the authorities said. The gunman pointed the weapon at two people who tried to stop him, the police said, then drove off in a powder-blue Taurus. Dr. Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, a member of the church choir, was inside the sanctuary at the time of the shooting.

"There is Christian scripture that would support this act" said David Leach, an anti-abortion activist who edits the Prayer and Action News of Des Moines, Iowa. While Roeder's own brother acknowledged that the murderer had a history of mental illness - an obvious fact as well as a calculating bid for public mercy - the so-called Christian death squads who oppose a woman's right to choose appeal to Scripture. Lord, have mercy! "The love of violence is like a disease... with us" I found myself gasping - and then thinking back to Hayden.

The Christian Century recently reported that only 25% of Americans believe torture is never justified: (

A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 49 percent of Americans think torture can often or sometimes be justified. Only 25 percent said it is never justified.

Even more disturbing, the Pew Forum found that religious people are more prone to defending torture than is the average American. Among those who attend religious services at least once a week, 54 percent think torture can often or sometimes be justified. White evangelicals are the most likely to justify torture (62 percent); people without any religious affiliation are the most likely to reject it. Among white mainline Protestants, 46 percent think torture is often or sometimes justified; 31 percent say it never is.

Speculating on why so many religious people countenance torture is a dispiriting task. Are they more quick to accept patriotic appeals to national security? Are they more likely to divide the world into good guys and bad guys—and think the bad guys deserve whatever they get? Are they more likely to be influenced by TV dramas about terrorism?

These are essential questions for us to wrestle with - not only as Americans trying to redress the sins of the past political regime - but as people of faith committed to cooperating with others in the world community. Niebuhr, of course, is right that whenever we hold ourselves too high above the judgment of self-interest, we often become our worst selves for the best reasons. That is, we tend to fail to see the often tragic irony of our ugly actions because we have dressed them up in such grand and lofty ideals.

But that is not what the Christian death squads are doing and the time has come for people of faith to be clear that torture - and murder - in Christ's name is never justified by our faith. There are NOT scritpures in the name of Christ that warrant, sanction or even suggest that murder is a part of our spirituality. Ours is the way of the cross, for God's sake, not the sword - or the hand gun - or the water board and until we are clear about this the love of violence will be like a disease with us. Joni Mitchell sings my prayer today...


Adamgv said…
Check out this new Christian band that just released their first album.

From what I heard on the samples site, they sound really good.

Introducing the new Christian National Anthem: Guns & Jesus.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for sharing this. I was blogging about violence, too, just a few weeks ago...seems to be in the air. I find the statistic that only 25% think torture is never justified just beyond my comprehension. How does "turn the other cheek" resonate in our psyches next to our insistence of trying to justify violence against others? I struggle with this side of humanity that I just cannot understand.
Black Pete said…
To be human is to be religious in some form or other. Unfortunately, to be human, often, is to co-opt one's religion into supporting one's beliefs and prejudices.

An excellent example is the apparent correlation between conservative Christianity and "free market" capitalism, in spite of the Hebrew Bible's repeated passages about seeing to the needs of the vulnerable, and Jesus' pointed references to same.

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