1 C HRISTIANITY AND V IOLENCE Miroslav Volf Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology Yale University Divinity School Introduction: Resurgence of Religion In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center it was not unusual to hear that the attack cchanged everything. d cEverything d is certainly an exaggeration, but 9/ 11, as the terrorist attack is sometimes called, did change a good many things, including our relation to religion. For the attack, in which more than 3000 lives were lost and the economic life of the nation was disrupted in a major way, was in part motivated by religion.
Religion, we were led to conclude, is alive and well today, and is a force not only in private but also in the public lives of people around the globe. This is not what the mainstream sociologists of the 20 th century, who followed in the footsteps of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim, were predicting. Instead of slowly withering away or lodging itself quietly into the privacy of worshipers 9 hearts, religion has emerged as an important player on the national and international scenes.
It is too early to tell how permanent this resurgence of religion will ... more. less.
be. The processes of secularization may well continue, though likely not in the older sense of an overall decline of religious observance, but rather in the newer sense of the diminishing influence of religion in 2 contemporary societies [social structures?]. Nevertheless, religion is presently alive and well on the public scene, so much so that a collection of essays entitled Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft (which, when originally published in 1994, was seen as pushing the boundaries of its discipline) has become obligatory reading for diplomats in many countries, Western and non-Western.<br><br> 1 In many people 9s minds, the reassertion of religion as a political factor has not been for the good. It seems that the gods have mainly terror on their minds, as the title of Mark Juergensmeyer 9s book on the global rise of religious violence, published before 9/ 11, suggests. 2 Among the intellectual elite in the Western cultural milieu the contemporary coupling of religion and violence feeds most decisively on the memories of the wars that plagued Europe from the 1560s to the 1650s, in which religion was cthe burning motivation, the one that inspired fanatical devotion and the most vicious hatred. d 3 It was these wars that contributed a great deal to the emergence of secularizing modernity.<br><br> A secularizing impact of the wars of religion was felt even as far afield from everyday concerns as theories of knowledge are sometimes deemed to be. As Stephen Toulmin has argued in Cosmopolis , modernity did not emerge, as often claimed, simply as a result of its protagonists 9 endeavor to dispel the darkness of tradition and superstition with the light of philosophical and scientific reason. It was not accidental that Descartes cdiscovered d the one correct method to acquire knowledge in a time when cover much of the continent & people had a fair chance of having their throats cut and their houses burned down by strangers who 1 Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson , Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).<br><br> 2 Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God. The Global Rise of Religious V iolence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). 3 merely disliked their religion. d 4 A new way of establishing truth cthat was independent of, and neutral between, particular religious loyalties d seemed an attractive alternative to war fueled by dogmatic claims.<br><br> 5 As did key Enlightenment figures, many contemporaries see religion as a pernicious social ill that needs aggressive treatment rather than a medicine from which cure is expected. Did not the perpetrators of the 9/ 11 terrorist attack appeal to religion as the primary motivating force for their act? In the recent war in the Balkans, did not the Serbs fight for the land on which the holy sites of their religion stood?<br><br> Is not difference between Catholicism and Protestantism at the heart of the civil war in Northern Ireland? Is not religion a major factor in clashes in India? The contemporary resurgence of religion seems to go hand in hand with the resurgence of religiously legitimized violence 4at least in the public perception.<br><br> Hence, the argument goes, it is necessary to weaken, neutralize, or outright eliminate religion as a factor in public life. In this lecture I will contest the claim that the Christian faith, as one of the major world religions, predominantly fosters violence, and argue that it should be seen as a contributor to more peaceful social environments. This may seem a bold claim.<br><br> Lest I be misunderstood from the start, let me clarify my thesis. I will not argue that the Christian faith was not and does not continue to be employed to foster violence. Obviously, such an argument cannot be plausibly made.<br><br> Not only have Christians committed atrocities and engaged in less egregious forms of violence during the course of their long history, but they 3 Scott R. Appleby, The A mbivalence of the Sacred . Religion, V iolence, and Reconciliation (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1999), 2.<br><br> See Ronald Asch, The Thirty Y ears W ar . The Holy Roman E mpire and Europe, 1618-48 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997).<br><br> 4 Steven Toulmin, Cosmopolis. The Hidden A genda of Modernity (New York: Free Press, 1990), 17. 5 Toulmin, 70.<br><br> 4 have also drawn on religious convictions to justify them. 6 Moreover, there are elements in the Christian faith, which, when taken in isolation or when excessively foregrounded, can plausibly be used to legitimize violence. Second, I will not argue that Christianity has been historically less associated with violence than other major religions.<br><br> I am not sure whether this is or is not the case, and I am not sure how one would go about deciding the issue. I will leave these important but difficult questions unaddressed. What I will argue is that at least when it comes to Christianity the cure against religiously induced and legitimized violence is almost exactly the opposite of what an important intellectual current in the West since the Enlightenment has been suggesting.<br><br> The cure is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion. I don 9t mean, of course, that the cure against violence lies in increased religious zeal; blind religious zeal is at the heart of the problem. Instead, it lies in stronger and more intelligent commitment to the faith as faith.<br><br> In terms of how Christian faith is conceived, my thesis is this: The more we reduce Christian faith to vague religiosity which serves primarily to energize, heal, and give meaning to the business of life whose content is shaped by factors other than faith (such as national or economic interests), the worse off we will be. Inversely, the more the Christian faith matters to its adherents as faith and more they practice it as an ongoing tradition with strong ties to its origins and with clear cognitive and moral content, the better off we will be. cThin d but zealous practice of the Christian faith is likely to foster violence; cthick d and committed practice will help generate and sustain a culture of peace .<br><br> 7 This thesis amounts to the claim that approaching 6 For a survey see Gottfried Maron, cFrieden und Krieg. Ein Blick in die Theologie- und Kirchengeschichte, d in: Glaubenskriege in V ergangenheit und Gegenwart , ed. Peter Herrmann (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1996), 17-35.<br><br> See also Karlheinz Deschner, Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums , Vol. 6 (Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rohwolt), 1986ff and a response to his work H. R.<br><br> Seeliger (ed.), Kriminalisierung des Christentums? Karlheinz Deschners Kirchengeschichte auf dem Pruefstand (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1993). 7 The best way to explain more closely my use of cthick d and cthin d is to compare it with usage by others.<br><br> Clifford Geertz has is has made popular the use of the contrasting pair cthick d and cthin d ( Interpretation 5 the issue of religion and violence by looking at the quantity of religious commitment 4more religion, more violence, less religion, less violence 4is unsophisticated and mistaken. The most relevant factor is, rather, the quality of religious commitments within a given religious tradition. In the present lecture I will support the above thesis by countering some influential arguments about the violent character of Christianity.<br><br> This is only half of what I would need to do to make my thesis plausible, a negative half. The other, positive half would be to show that at Christianity 9s heart, and not just at its margins, lie important resources for creating and sustaining a culture of peace. 8 In the past, scholars have argued in a variety of ways that of Cultures [New York: Basic Books, 1974], 3-30).<br><br> He himself has taken it over from Gilbert Ryle. Both use the term in the syntagm cthick d or cthin d description of the same phenomenon. Typical case of cthin d description is crapidly contracting his right eyelids d and of the cthick d description cpracticing burlesque of a friend faking a wink to deceive an innocent into thinking a conspiracy is in motion. d In his book Thick and thin: moral argument at home and abroad (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), Michael Walzer has introduced an altered sense of cthick d and cthin d as he applied them to moral argument.<br><br> He writes, cit is not my claim to offer a thick description of moral argument, rather to point to a kind of argument that is itself cthick d 4richly referential, culturally resonant, locked into a locally established symbolic system or network of meaning. cThin d is simply a contrasting term d (xin1). (For a more recent and still different use of cthick d and cthin, d where these designations refer to cthe two types of human relations, d and where cthick relations are in general our relations to the near and dear d and cthin relations are in general our relations to the stranger and the remote d see Avishai Margalit, The E thics of M emory [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002], 7, 37f.).<br><br> My use is similar to Walzer 9s, in that, just as Walzer clams that it is the case in relation to morality, one arrives at the cthin d understanding and practice of the faith by abstraction from the cthick d understanding and practice. cThick d for me is, for instance, a worshiper expresses a conviction that God is triune and understands this conviction to be governed by the story of Jesus Christ and to imply an obligation to act in certain ways; cthin d is flashing of three fingers on the part of Serbian soldiers in what looks like a victory sign, but is in fact a sign of a Trinitarian faith reduced by that very act to no more than an empty marker of cultural difference. Or, to give an example from the USA, cthin d is when the words cunder God d on the Pledge of Allegiance are drained of specific religious content so that they become more a cultural tradition than a theological assertion; cthick d is when cGod d in the said phrase refers to the God of Jesus Christ or to Allah or to Jahwe, which would make the phrase unconstitutional under the cno establishment d clause (see the editorial cTaking on the pledge, d The Christian Century , July 17-30, 2002, 5).<br><br> Walzter 9s and mine concerns are, however, different. I am concerned to show how cthinning d of religious practice opens religious convictions to be misused to legitimize violence because it strips away precisely what in cthick d religious faith guards against such misuse, whereas Walzer is concern to show that morality is cthick d form the beginning and that the cthin d morality as universal always resides within the cthick d as particular (Walzer, 4). 8 See my Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996).<br><br> 6 the Christian faith fosters violence. I will engage four arguments which, in my estimation, go to the heart of the matter. 9 1.<br><br> Religion The first argument for the violent character of Christianity claims that religions are by nature violent, and that the Christian faith, being a religion, is therefore also by nature violent. Mark Juergensmeyer 9s Terror in the Mind of God rests on such a reading of religion. A central reason why violence has accompanied religion 9s renewed political presence, he argues, has to do with cthe nature of religious imagination, which always has had the propensity to absolutize and to project images of cosmic war. d 10 Cosmic war is waged not for its own sake but for the sake of peace, of course.<br><br> Precisely as a phenomenon at whose core lies cosmic war, religion has been corder restoring and life affirming. d 11 But if in its pursuit of peace religion is not to leave a trail of blood and tears, it cannot be left to its own devices. It needs cthe temper of rationality and fair play that Enlightenment values give to civil society. d 12 Religion qua religion is violent. To have a socially positive role, it needs to be redeemed by Enlightenment values.<br><br> 9 There are other arguments for the same thesis as well, some of which I will address indirectly. One is based on the combination of the claims about God 9s omnipotence, omniscience, and implacable justice, for instance. A belief in an all powerful God who sees everything and wills the punishment of every transgression is central to the Christian faith, the proponents of the argument claim, and is bound to lead to violence.<br><br> Another argument for the violent character of the Christian faith is based on the authoritarian character of every revealed religion. Adherents of a religion resting on the irrational authority of revelation will tend to adjudicate disputes not trough rational means and compromise but through assertion of irrational authority. Space does not allow me to address these and other arguments.<br><br> But my comments below go a significant way toward indirectly addressing them. 10 Juergensmeyer, Terror in the mind of God , 242. 11 Ibid., 159.<br><br> 12 Ibid., 243. 7 The argument that a religion which counts among its great teachers Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Luther (to name just a few great theological minds) would need to learn to be crational d from Enlightenment thinkers, betrays a rather narrow understanding of crationality. d But at least such an account of rationality is plausible. Implausible is, however, the claim that a religion which counts St.<br><br> Francis among its greatest saints does not have resources of its own to learn about fair play but must borrow them from Enlightenment thinkers. The pressure to make such implausible claims comes from cthinning d Christian convictions to general religious beliefs and then placing images of cosmic war at the heart of these. In the process, everything specific to the Christian faith has been lost.<br><br> Whereas Juergensmeyer asserts that religion is inherently violent by appealing to the images of the cosmic war, which lies allegedly at its heart, Maurice Bloch argues for the same assertion by offering a general theory of religion. In his book Prey into Hunter he argues that the cirreducible core of the ritual process d involves ca marked element of violence or ... of [a] conquest ...<br><br> of the here and now by the transcendental. d 13 He explains, In the first part of the ritual the here and now is simply left behind by the move towards the transcendental. This initial movement represents the transcendental as supremely desirable and the here and now as of no value. The return is different.<br><br> In the return the transcendental is not left behind but continues to be attached to those who made the initial move in its direction; its value is not negated. Secondly, the return to the here and now is really a conquest of the here and now by the transcendental. 14 13 Maurice Bloch , Prey into Hunter.<br><br> The Politics of Religious E xperience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1992), 4-5. 14 Ibid., 5. 8 This return from the transcendental sphere motivated by the goal of conquest, Bloch continues, explains cthe often-noted fact that religion so easily furnishes an idiom of expansionist violence to people in a whole range of societies, an idiom which, under certain circumstances, becomes a legitimation for actual violence. d 15 Let us assume that Bloch has analyzed the core of the ritual process correctly.<br><br> The question still remains whether one should look at the core of the ritual process, stripped of the texture as well as of the larger context that a concrete religion gives it, in order to understand the relation of religions to violence. Here is a thought experiment. Imagine that the first part of the ritual 4the leaving of the here and now by the move toward the transcendental 4were understood by a religion as the death of the self to her own self- centered desires and as her entry into a transcendental space of harmonious peace.<br><br> And suppose that the religion stipulates that the second part of the ritual 3 the conquest of the here and now by the transcendental 3 must be achieved in a peaceful way, consistent with the content of the transcendental. If the formal structure of ritual were filled in with this content, would such a religion serve as ca legitimation of actual violence d? Would not the cconquest, d if successful, be precisely the victory of the ctranscendental d peace over the violence of the here and now?<br><br> As you are certainly aware, such a religion need not be imagined as hypothetically existing. For what I have asked you to imagine is precisely how the Christian faith, at least in some of its important strands, understands itself and its initiation ritual, baptism. Bloch engages the Christian faith directly, and envisages a possibility of it not underwriting violence.<br><br> But in his account such a possibility is predicated on Christianity 9s crefusal of the 15 Ibid., 6. 9 second phase of rebounding violence, that is, a refusal of the conquest of external vitality which is therefore ultimately a refusal to continue with earthly life. d 16 The Apostle Paul 9s Christianity, he believes, is an example of such a refusal 4or rather, an example of a half- hearted refusal since, Paul also undertook cprudent organization of a well-organized church firmly embedded in the continuing practical and political world. d 17 Yet, a more careful study of the Apostle will show that he advocated neither a full- fledged nor a half-hearted refusal of the cconquest. d Explaining the significance of baptism for earthly life he writes, cTherefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we might walk in the newness of life d (Romans 6:4). Paul understands walking in cnewness of life d as imitatio Christi and therefore as crepetition d of the transcendental sphere in the here and now.<br><br> So he is after cconquest. d But equally significant as the conquest itself, is the character of the conquest, for conquering in the right way is the only way to conquer. Since Christ died in self-giving love for the godless, Paul must affirm a kind of non-violent conquest of the here and now. To paraphrase Paul 9s famous summary of Christian life in the world (Romans 12:21), to seek to conquer evil with evil is to be conquered by evil; evil can be overcome only with good.<br><br> Will Christianity understood as a peaceful conquest of a violent world by the God of peace foster violence? One could argue that any victory of the ctranscendental d over the here and now amounts to violence. But if non-coercive victory of peace over violence is itself implicated in violence, then one may well wonder whether the notion of violence has 16 Ibid., 90-91.<br><br> 17 Ibid., 94. 10 been hopelessly muddled. Put differently, one would need to show why cviolence d understood in such a way is not desirable rather than objectionable.<br><br> As applied to Christianity, the victory of the ctranscendental d over the here and now will be violent only if the notion of the ctranscendental d is stripped of its particular content and infused with the values of the chere and now d around which conflicts rage. This often happens when Christian faith is employed to legitimize violence. God is declared to be on our side and we see ourselves as soldiers of God, so that the earthly goals acquire a ctranscendent d aura and the struggle for them becomes a religious duty.<br><br> One may describe this as inverse projection 4not the projection of what humans deem supremely valuable onto a heavenly screen, which 19 th century critics of religion deplored, but the projection of heavenly values onto earthly goods. The second projection is more dangerous because the first generates religiously sanctioned passivity in the context of oppression and suffering whereas the second generates religiously sanctioned violence in the context of struggle for scarce goods. Such projection of transcendent values onto earthly goods can succeed, however, only if Christian faith is illegitimately stripped of its cthick d content so as to be able to support an engagement in a struggle that was already under way and carried out for other than religious reasons and by means other than sanctioned by the religion.<br><br> 2. Monotheism Other scholars, like Regina Schwartz in her book The Curse of Cain: The V iolent Legacy of Monotheism , try to argue for the Christian faith 9s complicity in violence by pointing not to the general features of the Christian faith as religion, but to one of its characteristic components. Along with Judaism and Islam, Christianity is a monotheistic religion, and 11 therefore, Schwartz argues, an exclusive and violent religion.<br><br> cWhether as singleness (this God against the others) or totality (this is all the God there is), monotheism abhors, reviles, rejects, and ejects whatever it defines as outside its compass. d 18 Given that the belief in one God cforges identity antithetically, d it issues in a mistaken notion of identity ( cwe are 8us 9 because we are not 8them 9 d) and contributes to violent practice ( cwe can remain 8us 9 only if we obliterate 8them 9 d). In addition, monotheism imports the category of universal ctruth d into the religious sphere. Jakov Jukic, a Croatian sociologist of religion, has noted that this fact lies at the heart of monotheism 9s exclusivity.<br><br> To believe that there is only one God means to believe in the only true God. Moreover, since such a claim to truth of the one God must be universal, it is inescapably public. Universal public claims cause strife when they encounter opposing claims, of either a particular or a universal sort.<br><br> For this reason, too, monotheism is bound to have a violent legacy, the argument goes. 19 cWe, d the faithful, have on our side the one true God, and stand in opposition to cthem, d the infidels and renegades. This argument should be taken seriously.<br><br> And yet it is not clear that an affirmation of divine oneness as such leads to violence. Does not monotheistic claim to universal truth work also against the tendency to divide people into cus d and cthem d? If one accepts the belief in one God, in an important sense everybody is cin, d and everybody is cin d precisely on the same terms.<br><br> True, cbeing in on the same terms d may feel like violence if you don 9t want to be cin d or you want to be cin d on different terms. But take monotheism away, and the division and violence between cus d and cthem d hardly disappears, and if cus d or cthem d are 18 Regina Schwartz, The Curse of Cain: The V iolent Legacy of Monotheism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997), 63. 19 Jakov Jukic, L ica i Maske Svetoga.<br><br> Ogledi iz dru a tvene religiologije [Faces and Masks of the Holy. Esaays in Social Religiology] (Zagreb: Krscanska sadasnjost, 1997), 242f. 12 religious, they each will appeal to their good to wage war.<br><br> This is in fact what happens whether religion is monotheistic or tribal. In a polytheistic context violence may reassert itself with even more force, because it will necessarily be justified by locally legitimized or on arbitrary preferences, against which, in the absence of a divinity which overarches the parties, there now can be no higher court of appeal. Even if monotheism is taken vaguely and abstractly as belief in one God without further qualification, it is not clear that it is likely to generate more violence than polytheism or atheism.<br><br> None of the monotheist religions espouses such vague and abstract monotheism. Specifically Christian monotheism contains a further important pressure against violence, especially violence caused by self-enclosed and exclusive identities of the type criticized by Schwartz. For Christian monotheism is of a Trinitarian kind.<br><br> 20 What difference does Trinitarianism make? 21 One of the socially most important aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity concerns notions of identity. To believe that the one God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is to believe that the identity of the Father, for instance, cannot be understood apart from the Son and the Holy Spirit.<br><br> The Father 9s identity is from the start defined by the Son and the Spirit, and therefore it is not undifferentiated and self-enclosed. One cannot say without qualification that the Father is not the Son or the Spirit because to be the Father means to have the Son and the Spirit present in one. The same holds true, of course, of the Son and the Spirit in relation to the Father and one another.<br><br> Moreover, the divine persons as non-self-enclosed identities are understood by the Christian tradition to form a perfect communion of love. The persons give themselves to 20 For a critique of Schwartz along these lines see Miroslav Volf, cJehovah on Trial, d Christianity Today (April 27, 1998), 32-35. 21 For the following see Miroslav Volf, c 8The Trinity is Our Social Program 9: The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Shape of Social Engagement, d Modern Theology 14:3 (July 1998): 403-23.<br><br> 13 each other and receive themselves from each other in love. None has to wrest anything from others, none has to impose anything on others, and none needs to secure himself from the incursions of others. Far from being a life of violence, the life of the divine being is characterized by mutually uncoerced and welcomed generosity.<br><br> It would be difficult to argue that such monotheism fosters violence. Instead, in Maurice Bloch 9s terminology, it grounds peace here and now in the ctranscendental d realm, in the love and peacefulness of the divine being. The argument for inherent violence of Christianity 9s monotheism works only if one illegitimately reduces the cthick d religious description of God to naked oneness and then postulates such abstract oneness to be of decisive social significance.<br><br> I do not dispute that such reduction in fact happens within the Christian community. I do contend, however, that this is a sign that the Christian faith has not been taken seriously enough because non-religious values have taken precedence, rather than that it is inherently violent. 3.<br><br> Creation So far I have argued that Christian faith may generate violence in its cthin d but not in its cthick d form 4when a cthick d character of divine being 9s differentiated and complex identity is reduced to an undifferentiated cOne d and when divine engagement with the world to make it a world of harmonious peace is rendered as generalized cconquest. d But what about the argument that some very cthick d and cconcrete d Christian convictions generate violence? Central here are the convictions about world 9s creation and redemption. It is a basic Christian claim that God created the world.<br><br> In her influential book Sexism and God-Talk Rosemary Redford Ruether starts with the observation that in the Hebrew 14 Bible, the creator is like an artisan working on material outside his own nature. God does so, she argues, by ca combination of male seminal and cultural power (word-act) that shapes it 8from above 9. d 22 In such an account, creation is a result of an imposition of form on formless matter from outside by an alien force. Hence creation is an act of violence.<br><br> So what is wrong with this account of creation? Everything 4almost. Even if we assume that creation is best described as cforming d pre-existing material, one would have to argue that this material is csomething, d and that it is a specific kind of something, which deserves respect.<br><br> But it is not clear at all that chaos, which according to this account of creation God formed, is a csomething. d And if the chaos were a csomething, d why would it not be something analogous to a boulder from which an artisan can fashion a sculpture? For all the sparks flying off his chisel, Michelangelo working on cDavid d can hardly be described as perpetrating violence. For the activity of cforming d to do violence, the entity that is formed must possess an integrity of its own that demands respect.<br><br> If someone were to smash Michelangelo 9s cDavid d into pieces of granite, this would be an act of violence. On the whole, however, the Christian tradition has not understood creation as cforming. d Instead, it has underscored that God the creator is not a demiurge working on pre-existing matter; God created ex nihilo , out of nothing. The consequences of this understanding of creation for its putative violent character are significant.<br><br> As Rowan Williams puts it in On Christian Theology , when we say that God creates we do not mean that God cimposes a definition d but that God ccreates an identity. d He continues, cPrior to God 9s word there is nothing to impose on. d 23 From this it follows that creation is not 22 Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-talk: toward a feminist theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983), 77. 23 Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 68. 15 exercise of an alien power, indeed that it is not exercise of power at all, understood in the usual sense.<br><br> Williams writes, Power is exercised by x over y; but creation is not power, because it is not exercised on anything. We might, of course, want to say that creation presupposes a divine potentiality, or resourcefulness, or abundance of active life; and 8power 9 can sometimes be used in those senses. But what creation emphatically isn 9t is any kind of imposition or manipulation: it is not God imposing on us divinely willed roles rather than the ones we 8naturally 9 might have, or defining us out of our own system into God 9s & And this implies that the Promethean myth of humanity struggling against God for its welfare and interests makes no sense: to be a creature cannot be to be a victim of an alien force.<br><br> 24 Creation, then, is not a violent act. Indeed, one may even argue that short of having a doctrine of creation, relationships between entities in the world, especially human beings, will be necessarily violent. 25 If identities are not created, then boundaries between identities must be emerging out of interchanges between these entities.<br><br> And these interchanges themselves must be described as violent, since boundaries, precisely because they are always contested, must be described arbitrary from a vantage point that transcends either of the contesting entities. Given scarce resources, boundaries will always be the products of power struggles, even if those power struggles take the form of negotiations. Moreover, no appeals for arbitration between the contending parties can be made to something, which ultimately stands outside the power struggle.<br><br> 24 Ibid., 68f. 25 See John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990). 16 4.<br><br> New Creation If creation is not a violent act, Christian convictions about creation do not generate violence 4provided, of course, that they are not stripped of their specific texture and reduced to the formula c x forms y which possesses integrity of its own, d so that they can be employed in ways contrary to their inner logic. But what about the eschatological new creation ? What about God 9s activity to redeem creation from consequences of sin?<br><br> Clearly, the new creation is not creatio ex nihilo (out of nothing), but creatio ex vetere (out of old creation), and that cold d and csinful d creation does possess an integrity of its own (even if it is an integrity in tension with its true character), and can and does assert its will over against God. In redeeming the world, God intervenes into the existing sinful world in order to transform it into a world of perfect love. Is this intervention not violent and does it therefore not generate violence on the part of human beings?<br><br> The most radical critique of redemptive divine engagement as violent and violence inducing comes from post-structuralist thinkers. For them, any determinacy of the goal to be achieved by divine transformation of this world and any specificity about the agent of transformation already breeds violence. On their account, for what needs to come , in contrast to what is , not to be violent, it must always remain completely other and cannot be expressed as conto-theological or teleo-eschatological program or design. d 26 As John Caputo, speaking in a voice of his teacher, Jacques Derrida, puts it, cif the Messiah ever actually showed up& that would ruin everything. d 27 Any and every Messiah is problematic because by necessity he 26 Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the W ork of Mourning, and the N ew International , trans.<br><br> Peggy Kamuf (Rutledge: New York, 1994), 75. 27 John Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 74. 17 would exclude something or someone.<br><br> Hence the only acceptable goal of desirable change is cabsolute hospitality, d a posture of welcoming the stranger without any preconditions, just as the only acceptable engagement to achieve it is cradical and interminable, infinite & critique. d 28 cAbsolute hospitality d seems generous and peaceful, until one remembers that unrepentant perpetrators and their unhealed victims would then have to sit around the same table and share a common home without adequate attention to the violation that has taken place. The idea ends up too close for comfort to the Nietzschean affirmation of life, in which a sacred cyes d is pronounced to all that is and cBut thus I willed it, d is said of all that was, with all the small and large horrors of history. 29 Absolute hospitality would in no way amount to absence of violence.<br><br> To the contrary, it would enthrone violence precisely under the guise of non-violence because it would leave the violators unchanged and the consequences of violence unremedied. Hospitality can be absolute only once the world has been made into a world of love in which each person would be hospitable to all. In the world of injustice, deception, and violence, hospitality can be only conditional 4even if the will to hospitality and the offer of hospitality remain unconditional.<br><br> Transformation of the world of violence into a world of love cannot take place by means of absolute hospitality. It takes radical change, and not just an act of indiscriminate acceptance, for the world to be made into a world of love. The Christian tradition has tied this change with the coming of the Messiah, the crucified and the resurrected One, whose appearance in glory is still awaited.<br><br> Is this messianic intervention violent? Does it sanction 28 Derrida, Spectres of Marx , 90. 29 See Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra , in The Portable N ietzsche , trans.<br><br> Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin Books, 1954), 139, 253. 18 human violence? The answer is easy when it comes to the Messiah 9s first coming.<br><br> Jesus Christ did not come into the world in order to conquer evildoers through an act of violence, but to die for them in self-giving love and thereby reconcile them to God. The outstretched arms of the suffering body on the cross define the whole of Christ 9s mission. He condemned the sin of humanity by taking it upon himself; and by bearing it, he freed humanity from its power and restored their communion with God.<br><br> Though suffering on the cross is not all Christ did, the cross represents the decisive criterion for how all his work is to be understood. Does the belief in the Crucified generate violence? Beginning at least with Constantine 9s conversion, the followers of the Crucified have perpetrated gruesome acts of violence under the sign of the cross.<br><br> Over the centuries, the seasons of Lent and Holy Week were for the Jews a time of fear and trepidation; Christians have perpetrated some of the worst pogroms as they remembered the crucifixion of Christ for which they blamed the Jews. Muslims too associate the cross with violence; crusaders 9 rampages were undertaken under the sign of the cross. However, an unbiased reading of the story of Jesus Christ gives no warrant for such perpetration of violence.<br><br> The account of his death in 1 Peter sums up the witness of the whole New Testament well: cFor to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.<br><br> He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness d (2:21-24). If there is a danger in the story of the cross in relation to violence, it is the danger that it might teach simply to acquiesce to being mistreated by others, not the 19 danger of inciting one to mistreat others. Whenever violence was perpetrated in the name of the cross, the cross was depleted of its cthick d meaning within the larger story of Jesus Christ and cthinned d down to a symbol of religious belonging and power 4and the blood of those who did not belong flowed as Christians transmuted themselves from would-be followers of the Crucified to imitators of those who crucified him.<br><br> Finally, what about the Messiah who is still to come in glory? He will come with grace for his followers. But does not the book of Revelation portray him as a Rider on a white horse whose ceyes are like a flame of fire, d whose robe was cdipped in blood, d from whose cmouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down nations d and who is coming to cthread in the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty d (19:11-16)?<br><br> Some New Testament scholars have attempted to re-interpret the Rider so as to make him fit the generally non-violent stance of the New Testament. What is right about such efforts is that in Revelation the martyrs are the true victors so that, paradoxically, the cBeast 9s d victory over them is their victory over the cBeast. d In this they mirror Jesus Christ, the slaughtered Lamb, who conquered his enemies precisely by his sacrificial death. 30 Yet, the Rider is not simply the Lamb; he is the Lamb in his function as the final judge.<br><br> But why is the final judgment necessary? Without it, we would have to presume that all human beings, no matter how deeply steeped in evil they are, will either eventually succumb to the lure of God 9s love or, if they don 9t, willingly embrace not only the evil they do but the destructive impact of evil upon their own lives. This belief is not much more than a modern superstition, borne out of inability to look without flinching into the cheart of darkness. d True, evil is self-contradictory and, if unchecked, is bound to self-destruct.<br><br> But 30 See Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 74, 90. 20 evildoers are so much cbetter d as evildoers, the better they are at knowing how to keep making themselves thrive while wrecking havoc on others). No doubt, goodness can and does overcome evil.<br><br> But the power of evil rests in great part in the fact that the more one does evil the thicker the shield becomes that protects the evil from being overcome by good. The book of Revelation rightly refuses to operate with the belief that all evil will either be overcome by good or self-destruct. It therefore counts with the possibility of divine violence against the persistent and unrepentant evildoer.<br><br> Those who refuse redemption from violence to love by the means of love will be, of necessity, excluded from the world of love. How should we understand this possible divine violence? In the context of the whole Christian faith, it is best described as symbolic portrayal of the final exclusion of everything that refuses to be redeemed by God 9s suffering love.<br><br> Will God finally exclude some human beings? Not necessarily. I called the divine cviolence d cpossible. d For it is predicated on human refusal to be made into a loving person and therefore to be admitted into the world of love.<br><br> Will some people refuse? I hope not 4and the Bible along with the best of the Christian tradition has never affirmed with certainty that some will refuse and therefore be excluded. 31 It is possible (though not necessary) that the coming about of the new creation will require divine violence of exclusion of what is contrary to the world of perfect love.<br><br> The crucial question for our purposes is whether this possible divine violence at the end of history sanctions actual human violence in the middle of it? The response that resounds throughout the New Testament, including the book of Revelation, is a loud and persistent cNo! d Though imitating God is the height of human holiness, there are things, which only 21 God may do. One of them is to deploy violence.<br><br> Christians are manifestly not to gather under the banner of the Rider on the white horse, but to take up their crosses and follow the Crucified. If they were to do otherwise, once again, they would be involved in cthinning d out a cthick d element of faith and making a mischievous use of it. They would be arrogating for themselves what God has reserved only for himself, to transpose the divine action from the end-time to a time in which God explicitly refrains from deploying violence in order to make repentance possible, and, finally, to transmute a possibility of violence into an actuality.<br><br> cThick d reading of Christian eschatological convictions will not sanction human violence; to the contrary, it will resist it. Conclusion Let me underscore one more time that my point in this lecture was not that the Christian faith has not been used to legitimize violence, or that there are no elements in the Christian faith on which such uses plausibly build. It was rather that neither the character of the Christian faith (its being a religion of a monotheist type) nor some of its most fundamental convictions (such as that God created the world and is engaged in redeeming it) are violence inducing.<br><br> The Christian faith is misused when it is employed to underwrite violence. How does such misuse happen and how should we prevent it? If we strip Christian convictions of their original and historic cognitive and moral content and reduce faith to a cultural resource endowed with a diffuse aura of the sacred, we are likely to get religiously 31 On the important distinction between hope for and belief in the universal salvation see Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope That A ll Men will be Saved?<br><br> , trans. David Kipp and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988). 22 legitimized and inspired violence in situations of conflict.<br><br> If we nurture people in historic Christian convictions that are rooted in its sacred texts, we will likely get militants for peace, if anything. This, I think, is a result not only of a careful examination of the inner logic of Christian convictions; it is also borne by a careful look at actual Christian practice. As R.<br><br> Scott Appleby has argued in his book The A mbivalence of the Sacred , on the basis of case studies, contrary to a widespread misconception, religious people play a positive role in the world of human conflicts and contribute to peace not when they cmoderate their religion or marginalize their deeply held, vividly symbolized, and often highly particular beliefs, d but rather cwhen they remain religious actors. d 32 In conclusion, let me briefly address the question as to why misconceptions about the violent character of Christian faith abound. I have already given part of the answer: Christians have used and continue to use their faith to legitimize violence they deem necessary to deploy. Misconceptions of the Christian faith mirror widespread misbehavior of Christians; and misbehavior of Christians rests on misconstruals of their own faith, on cthinning d of its cthick d and original elements.<br><br> 33 But there is more. For one can easily show that the majority of Christians 4and the majority of religious folks in general 4are non- violent citizens, peace-lovers, peace makers, some even peace activists, and are such precisely out of religious reasons. The purveyors of violence who seek religious legitimation are statistically a minority among Christians.<br><br> 32 Appleby, A mbivalence of the Sacred, 16. 33 Michael Sells 9 account of religion 9s relation to genocide in Bosnia ( The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996]) rests on an extremely cthin d account of the Christian faith; it functions more like a cultural resource with little connection to its origins than as a living faith committed to the sacred scriptures and the best of the tradition. The cthinning d was, of course, not undertaken by him, but by people he studied.<br><br> 23 So why is the contrary opinion widespread? Reasons are many. What Avishai Margalit writes about ethnic belonging applies equally well to religion.<br><br> cIt take one cockroach found in your food to turn the most otherwise delicious meal into a bad experience&It takes 30 to 40 ethnic groups who are fighting one another to make the 1,500 or more significant ethnic groups in the world who live more or less peacefully look bad. d 34 One may describe this as self-inflation of the negative , the tendency of the evil to loom larger than the comparatively much larger good. This general tendency is strengthened in the modern world whose information flows are so pervasively dominated by mass media. Consider the following contrast.<br><br> The Serbian paramilitary who rapes Muslim women with a cross around his neck has made it into the headlines and is immortalized in books on religions violence. Katarina Kruhonja, a medical doctor from Osijek, Croatia, and a recipient of the alternative Nobel prize for her peace initiatives, remains relatively unknown, not to mention the motivation for her work, which is thoroughly religious. As she writes, she became a peace activist when, during the Serbian shelling of Osijek, the re-centering of her own self on the crucified Christ cfreed [her] will d and cshe was able to resist the power of exclusion and the logic of war. d 35 We know little about people like Ms.<br><br> Kruhonja partly because the success of their work demands low visibility. But our unawareness of them has significantly to do with the character of mass- media communication in a market-driven world. Violence sells, so viewers get to see violence, without qualms about a disproportion between represented and actual violence.<br><br> The mass media create reality, but they do so by building on the proclivities of viewers. Why does the Serbian paramilitary rapist seem more cinteresting d than Ms. 34 Margalit, The E thics of Memory , 100.<br><br> 35 Personal communication. 24 Kruhonja? And why are we prone to conclude from the cross he is wearing around his neck that his religious faith is implicated in the acts, whereas it would never occur to us to conclude from the ring on his finger that the institution of marriage is to blame?<br><br> Religion is more associated with violence than with peace in the public imagination partly because the public is fascinated with violence. We, the peace-loving citizens of nations whose tranquility is secured by effective policing, are insatiable observers of violence. And as voyeurs, we show ourselves as vicarious participants in the very violence we outwardly abhor.<br><br> We are particularly drawn to religious violence because we have, understandably, a strong interest in exposing hypocrisy, especially of a religious kind. Put the two factors together 4inner deployment of violence and delight in exposure 4and it looks like we want to hear of religious people 9s engagement in violence partly because we ourselves are violent but expect them to act otherwise. If we were more self-critical about our own hidden violent proclivities and more suspicious about the presentation of violence in media, we might observe on the religious landscape not just eruptions of violence, but a widespread and steady flow of work that religious people do to make our world into a more peaceful place.<br><br> Our imagination would then not be captured, for instance, with religion as motivating force for a dozen or so not particularly religiously zealous terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers. Instead, we would be impressed with the degree to which religion served as a source of solace and orientation for majority of Americans in a time of crisis, with the motivation it gave to many of them to help the victims, to protect Muslim co-religionists from stereotyping, and to build bridges between religious cultures estranged on account of violence triggered largely by non-religious motives. It is these anonymous people who acted out of the true spirit of Christian faith.<br><br>