22: JESUS AND NON-VIOLENCE

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“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Mt 5:9)

“Welcome to Zingcreed, the unique Christian/Atheist blog where nothing is verboten ! In this personal polemic I think aloud about religion and the world. I hope you get something from it!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

“The greek word for peace (eirene) means an absence of hostile conflict, including, but not limited to, armed warfare. The word more likely used by Jesus is the hebrew shalom (or its aramaic equivalent), which means not only the absence of strife but also the well-being of persons within the community.  Wholeness, health, prosperity, security and spiritual well-being are all included. Those who establish well-being and harmony in society are the ones whose actions correspond closely enough to God’s actions that they can be called God’s children.”
Kaylor, R. David “Jesus the prophet” John Knox Press (1994) p.102

notowar

This is a tricky subject, possibly because Jesus himself didn’t use the terms “violence” and “non-violence”  and he possibly  never thought of his actions and words in those terms anyway. So I am tiptoeing cautiously around this topic, which interests me very much. I shall use bullet points to make a few contributions to the debate. Most will be quotes from people active in the Peace Movement far longer than me. This blog will grow slowly, like a scrap book. It is my hope that it may eventually help me sort my personal ideas out. If others find it useful that’s a bonus.

   Related  Zingcreed Posts:-
Martin Luther King quotes
Mahatma Gandhi quotes
Leo Tolstoy quotes

   Sources:
Gospel of Peace (Fellowship of Reconciliation)
Jesus and the subversion of violence (Yoder Neufeld)
New Light.  Twelve Quaker Voices
Put down your sword (John Dear)
The political aims of Jesus (Oakman)
Non-Violence (Kurlansky)
Peace News

jewarab

(1) A preliminary squint at the gospels suggests that J. was never militaristic or anti-militaristic, in fact he never addressed the issue of warfare. He was not a zealot and  even denounced the violent overthrow of Rome, yet he chose a zealot to be one of his disciples . It seems that most of the time he was talking about personal relationships rather than social or political applications. Hmmm…
time for a closer look….

(2) The Jesus Seminar  and other seekers after biblical authenticity, of whom I wholeheartedly approve, “prune”  the gospels of some passages long- loved by peacemakers, leaving them with fewer  quotes to support their case.

(3) What kind of violence, if any, did J. employ in clearing out the money-changers from the temple? Was it him alone against many traders or did his followers join in? What’s the difference between force and violence? Was J. violent on other occasions?

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(4) Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Testament (Old Testament), was very violent. (See the Post “OMG!“). And Jesus endorsed all his actions and his violent laws “Not one jot or tittle shall….”

(5) “Beat your swords into ploughshares” (Is.2:4: Mic.4:3) is all very well, and there’s an  inspiring sculpture of that name in United Nations Plaza in New York;  not to mention the Plowshares  group of christian peace activists who break into military bases and disable fighter planes with hammers and crowbars (one of which I have since used…. for totally peaceful purposes!)  But the bible also says the opposite: “Beat your ploughshares into swords.”! (Joel 3:10) Was he being ironic? (And before you dismiss Joel [‘who’s that?’] just note that St Peter [the first pope] preaching to the crowd at Pentecost told them that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit they had just seen was foretold by the prophet Joel, i.e. Joel was endorsed by Jesus’ leading disciple) (Acts….)

(6) Personally, I cannot take part in violent political activities because:-
(i) Surely the end doesn’t justify the means. A good outcome is soiled if violent means are used to attain it. (This was Peace News’s philosophy in the 1960’s and possibly still is.)
(ii) Being in a violent situation brings out aggressive feelings in me, and that’s not good.
(iii) As early as 1968 when in Paris for les événements de mai, I learned that I am scared by heavily armed riot police firing tear gas and lashing out with batons. One cannot think rationally when running for one’s life, and
(iv) In any confrontation like that in Paris, the police are going to win. Something more subtle is required to  weaken the grip of the 1%.

(7) Is non-violence a cop-out? Isn’t it what the rich and powerful urge onto the exploited classes?  – “Have some religion – it’ll make you docile . Follow our version of Jesus: ‘Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild’ .”

(8) Complicity. By acquiescing in the way society is ordered today you are saying Let civilians die in Iraq and Afghanistan; Let the poor and starving in the global south just die. They are poor because we are rich, we are rich at their expense. There’s “enough food for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.” So how can anyone with a conscience acquiesce?

 

(9) “The New Testament has some difficult passages: St Paul is happy to hand believers to Satan for the destruction of their bodies (1 Cor 5:5); Jesus promises worse than fire and brimstone from above (Mt 10:15). Meanwhile, in the Acts of the Apostles a financial vanity on the part of some new believers leads to their immediate execution directly by God (Acts 5:1-11). This is not the stuff of ‘Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild’.”
(Keith Hebden “Seeking Justice. The radical compassion of Jesus” Circle books (2013) p.43)

(10) Wilhelm Weitling, writing in the mid nineteenth century listed several places in the gospels where Jesus appears to approve of violence:
(a) John 18:36 “…if my government were secular my companions would fight…”
(b) Luke 22:36  “If you don’t have a sword, sell your coat and buy one.”
(c) Matthew 10:14-15 “…if any one does not welcome you, or listen to your words…I swear to you the land of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off at the judgement than that city.”
(d) Lk 12:49-51 “I came to set the world on fire…Do you suppose I came here to bring peace on earth?…on the contrary, conflict…” etc
(e) Mt 10:34 “…I did not come to bring peace but a sword…” etc
(“The Poor Sinner’s Gospel” Wetling)

Nicamuralnativity

(11) Rev. Dr Martin Luther King was well known for taking a non-violent stand in the US Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. He was assassinated. Malcolm Little, better known as ‘Malcolm X’ begged to differ. He too was assassinated. Here is his reasoning: (i)
“The white man can lynch and burn and bomb and beat Negroes – that’s all right: “Have patience”…”The customs are entrenched”… “Things are getting better.”
Well, I believe it’s a crime for anyone who is being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself. If that’s how ‘Christian’ philosophy is interpreted, if that’s what Gandhian philosophy teaches, well, then I will call them criminal philosophies.
I firmly believe that Negroes have the right to fight against these racists, by any means that are necessary.
I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man’s problem – just to avoid violence. I don’t go for non-violence if it also means a delayed solution. To me a delayed solution is a non-solution. If it must take violence to get the black man his human rights, in this country, I’m for violence exactly as you know the Irish, the Poles, or Jews would be if they were flagrantly discriminated against. I am just as they would be in that case, and they would be for violence – no matter what the consequences, no matter who was hurt by the violence.”

(12) As Reza Aslan, a moslem academic, points out in his cutting edge new book “Zealot, the life and times of Jesus and Nazareth” (ii)  Jesus at times is just plain contradictory. “…one day preaching a message of racial exclusion (‘I was sent solely to the lost sheep of Israel’ Matt. 15:24), the next, benevolent universalism (‘Go and make disciples of all nations’; Matt. 28:19); sometimes calling for unconditional peace (‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God’,  Matt. 5:9), sometimes promoting violence and conflict (‘if you do not have a sword, go sell your cloak and buy one’; Lk 22:36)”

(13) As I outline in my earlier Zingcreed Post ‘OMG!‘ (April 2013) the Jehovah of the Hebrews  commands extreme violence from his followers. In Aslan’s words (op. cit. p.223) “The act of utter annihilation (herem in hebrew), in which God commands the wholesale slaughter of ‘all that breathes’, is a recurrent theme in the Bible…It is ‘ethnic cleansing as a means of ensuring cultic purity’ to quote the great Bible scholar John Collins.(ref given)”

(14) (Aslan (ii) again [p. 122]) “For those who view Jesus as the literally  begotten son of God, Jesus’s Jewishness is immaterial. If Christ is divine, then he stands above any particular law or custom. but for those seeking the simple Jewish peasant and charismatic preacher who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago, there is nothing more important than this one undeniable truth: the same God whom the Bible calls “a man of war” (Ex. 15:3), the God who repeatedly commands the wholesale slaughter of every foreign man, woman, and child who occupies the land of the Jews, the “blood spattered God” of Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and Joshua (Isaiah 63:3), the God who “shatters the heads of his enemies”, bids his warriors to bathe their feet in their blood and leave their corpses to be eaten by dogs (Ps. 68:21-23) – that is the only God that Jesus knew and the sole God he worshipped.”

and more….

(15) ” “Jesus’ commands to “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” must be read as being directed exclusively at his fellow Jews and meant as a model of peaceful relations exclusively within rhe Jewish community. The commands have nothing to do with how to treat foreigners and outsiders, ‘They shall not live in your land’ (Ex. 23:31-33)”  (p.122)

“Jesus was not a fool. He understood that the Kingdom of God could not be established except through force. ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now the K. of G. has been coming violently, and the violent ones try to snatch it away.’ (Matt. 11:12)” As Jesus warned his 12 disciples, “If anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself  and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34) “The cross is not a symbol of self-abnegation but the punishment for sedition.” Their destination was clear: crucifixion.

It takes a non-Christian scholar such as Aslan to point all this out. Check out the Zingcreed Post “The Kingdom of God: a Kingdom of Nuisances and Nobodies” (October 2013) where Aslan is quoted at greater length.

(16) According to the American scholar Richard Horsley, (“Jesus and the Spiral of violence. Popular Jewish resistance in Roman Palestine.” Harper and Row [1987]) , “The standard picture of  Jesus the advocate of non-violence…is no longer historically credible.” (p. 149)
”Love and peace are not important in the gospels. There is no evidence that “love your enemies” was ever meant to apply to the Romans.” (p. 150)
“ ‘Love your enemies’ is the principal text seized upon in dealing with the issue of Jesus and non-violence, the conclusion drawn varying remarkably from non-violence to non-retaliation to non-resistance…All such ways of using Jesus’ sayings..take them utterly out of their original context. There is simply no evidence for any non-violent movement at the time of Jesus. Sayings such as ‘Turn the other cheek’, and ‘Love your enemies’ have often been understood as abstract universal ethical principles…but it is highly unlikely that Jesus was articulating  abstract truths.” (p.261)
When Jesus met “a man who had great wealth” (Mk 10:22), “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mk 10:21). On another occasion, Jesus dines with a rich Pharisee (Lk 7:36); so he was probably not an advocate of violent class warfare! (A few commentators have even suggested that Jesus himself was well off, using as evidence the relatively large size of fishermen’s houses in Capernaum where Jesus may have dwelt; plus there’s a reference to a tunic made out of a single piece of cloth, which would be relatively expensive. No references available yet).
A.F. McGovern in Gottwald, N.K. and Horsley, R. “The Bible and Liberation”, Orbis/SPCK (1993) p.79 comments that:
– Jesus never used nor condoned violence against people
– Liberation Theologians don’t often mention the subject either , in fact they shy away from it or refer to it in oblique terms
– Gutierrez, for example, speaks often of oppressive institutional violence in Latin America and of the necessity of class struggle to oppose it. He does not consider a recourse to revolutionary violence.
– Boff reckons love rules out all violence and oppression
– Segundo Galilea thinks Christianity means overcoming institutional and subversive violence with liberation
– Juan Luis Segundo says Jesus is portrayed as non-violent because of his historical context – it’s not a matter of faith at all. For instance at one point the Israelis were exterminating their enemies, and at that time that was seen as God’s will. Since it would be unrealistic to look centuries back to biblical siuations for answers, the best approach would be to ask “What would the Christ of the gospels say if he were encountering our problems today?”

Sources:
(i) “The autobiography of Malcolm X.” Penguin (1965) p.484
(ii) Aslan, R. “Zealots” Westbourne Press (2013) p. xxiv

More related Zingcreed Posts:
Spiral of violence
Red Christian documents #22: NZ Quaker peace testimony
Conscientious objection

[indexed & linked, t&c]

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One comment

  1. stephen · · Reply

    Not a big fan of Monty’s Python, but this fits:

    Posh man at back of crowd during Sermon on the Mount “What did he say?”
    Man 2 “I think he said ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’.”
    Posh woman “Why the cheesemakers?”
    Posh man as if speaking to a child “It’s not meant to be taken literally dear, it could refer to any manufacturer of dairy products.”
    from the film Life of Brian

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