Monday, December 19, 2011

Thoughts on Violence Pt. 1: Pacifism or Non-Violence?

I've been telling people for a while now that I'm a pacifist because I believe that violence does not solve problems. Unfortunately, I think there is a lot more connotations and stigma to the concept of pacifism than I first knew when I adopted the term for my self-description. For the most part, I have heard pacifism used to mean non-violence, which is perfect. Now, as topics of conversation with people (mostly my roommate) shift from one thing or another, it usually comes up in relation to me that I would nothing in a situation that some believe requires violence. For them, pacifism doesn't just mean non-violence, it means inactive observance.

That's problematic for me since I believe that simply observing or knowing that violence is occurring when the individual has the immediate means to act and does nothing is violence. Therefore, action must be taken when violence is observed, but it's essential not to react with violence. The difficulty, for some, I think comes from how we define violence. Violence is really a nebulous, all-encompassing term that can describe anything from my five-year old self hitting my sister to the atrocities happening Darfur. There are a few common things about both ways in which the word is used; both involve an act perpetrated by one party against another, both are physical actions, both cause some level of harm to the receiving party, and I'm sure someone with boredom I had two hours ago would take great pains to extract them all. Still, I find myself no closer to answering whether I am a pacifist or non-violent activist. So now I turn to who I am trying to emulate... Jesus.

Jesus wasn't one to be sitting on the sidelines. Even before His ministry started, He was out doing stuff and getting done what needed doing. As a child He asked questions that astounded the temple leaders, he turned water into wine (yes, it was the alcoholic stuff... Nobody calls grape juice "the good stuff" at a wedding where alcohol is traditionally served), he wandered in solitary and resisted the temptations that were before Him demonstrating a delicate knowledge of the Scripture. One thing to note is that Jesus didn't get caught up in an argument with Satan over the fact that Satan had misquoted the Scripture. Instead, He redirected the issue and pointed out the folly of tempting the God. Jesus had no problem calling out corruption when He saw, and even fashioned a make-shift whip to chase out the money-changers from the temple. He stopped the religious men of the town from killing a woman even though her transgressions supposedly justified her execution, Jesus said to go and sin no more. When it came time for Jesus be brought before the religious elders, a follower brashly chopped of the ear of the guard moving to seize Jesus, but Jesus reprimanded the follower and said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. It's noteworthy that this is not the first time that the religious elite tried to kill Jesus, but things like Passover or Sabbath or the crowd's wrath prevented them from acting while other times Jesus anticipated their desire to kill Him and so withdrew. They couldn't kill Him by their own will, but only when Jesus allowed Himself to be taken.

From this I'd say that if I am to follow Christ, I cannot be a pacifist as the world understands it. Therefore, it is easier, more precise to describe myself as a follower of Christ committed to non-violent activism. Feel free to disagree and state why you disagree and at what points you disagree with me. I love feedback.


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