Archive for August 24th, 2009

24
Aug
09

Force of Arms, Force of Words

So, if you’re not one of those people who check the “Recent Comments” menu in the sidebar around here, you will have missed a recent and ongoing conversation between me and a poster named Wes regarding an old post from February. You can find the post and comments by clicking here. It’s a fairly modest-sized post and the comments haven’t gotten too extensive, so please read it all first before we continue here.

Wes brings up some valid points, and I will copy and paste certain of our comments from that other thread here, though not all of them.

Now, my basic point in the February 3rd post was that we must strive for peace, but that sometimes, violence will be necessary. I brought up a passage from Paul about living in peace as much as we are able, and Wes countered, logically enough, with Matthew 5:38-40…

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Fair enough. I responded, in part:

…there is a lot to be said for taking shit from someone and not retaliating. But this is a very individual statement by Jesus…What I think it that Jesus wants us to refrain from revenge most especially, and to refrain from responding to violence with violence.

Wes said a lot of things in response, and good ones, but I don’t want to paste the entire response here. But one thing he did was take exception with my “individual statement” comment since Jesus was speaking to a large group, and I clarified, in part:

My purpose for saying “very individual statement” is that it applies to the individual more than anything else. That is, I should be able to take routine abuses in life and not retaliate against them. But if someone lays hands on a member of my family, for example, I will defend them. Without hesitation and, I believe, with God’s support. Also, if someone comes up to me intending to physically harm me or kill me, I will defend myself. Jesus’ words are not meant to convey the idea that I should just take a beating and throw away my life because some crazed or violent human has come upon me.

Wes’ response, in part:

Everything you just said in your last reply was your own opinion, right? … i am extremely open, in fact i really desire, the truth from God, so if you have scripture that backs what you are saying, id love to know it, so i can change my own behaviors/attitudes and align them with the purposes of God as revealed thru his word.

OK, that is the critical stuff, I think. So, on I go…

Yes, much of this is my opinion. That is, my interpretation. And we should all know, as children of God, that the Bible requires intrepretation. Individually, collectively, through prayer, etc. The Bible is not a direct how-to guide. It doesn’t handle every situation and doesn’t anticipate every societal or technological change.

If we don’t apply logic and interpretation at times, we can easily turn the gospel into something oppressive at times. After all, couldn’t one take Paul’s comments about obedience of slaves and Jesus’ comment about turning the other cheek and argue that Blacks in the United States during slavery should have quietly endured their abuse and never tried to escape? Couldn’t we argue that people who helped slaves escape violated not only the gospel’s message but also the commandment against stealing (the slaves were, after all, property).

But that would ignore the fact that the “slaves” Paul referred to were more like indentured servants, and that some of those he referred to may not have been indentured at all technically, but low-level servants who owned nothing and had no place to live aside from their master’s property. Or the fact that he also meant “workers” (employees in our modern lingo). It would also ignore the fact that slavery in Jewish history and in Greek and Roman history was something that was often time-limited or that one could earn their way out of.

It would also ignore the fact that slavery as it was inflicted against Africans and American-born slaves Blacks in the United States was unjust on all levels imaginable. They were treated as chattel, and not humans.

But still, you could take Bible passages and argue that it should have been allowed to continue until the people perpetuating it came to their senses (which, given the fact that Jim Crow didn’t end all that long ago and still nominally exists in some parts of the United States means it might still be going on if people had sat by passively).

Yes, one can say that Jesus simply told us to suffer whatever comes our way and never lift a finger against it. But didn’t he also talk about his followers being able to pick up poisonous serpents and eat any harmful thing and not become sick or die? Taken to its finishing point, isn’t that the source of the madness among some that causes them to handle live rattlesnakes in church and sometimes die, or to deny medical care to their child because prayer should be enough?

Logic must come into play. Wes argues that God uses soldiers and law enforcement officers to just ends, suggesting that if they use violence, it’s more likely to be OK than if I do. Well, that may often be the case, though often such people are used by men for selfish institutional or personal ends. My point, though, is that a law enforcement officer isn’t always available.

Do we seriously think that if I see a man trying to knife a child on the street, that I am supposed to stand there and let it happen? Do we think that Jesus, who said it was better that a millstone be tied around a person’s neck and he be cast into the sea than to lead a child to sin is someone who really wants that? No, he would expect that I save that child. (And note, Jesus suggests that we honor children and don’t harm them, yet the Bible supports corporal punishment…which is right? Both, of course. One must balance one against the other with love and logic and prayer..again, logical interpretation must be in play).

What the Bible spends most of its time exhorting us against is violence against the innocent, against vengeance, against needless fights and arguments, against taking violent action as a convenient answer.

Let me put forth a few scenarios:

SCENE 1: Strange man comes up to the door of my house, and I answer it, and he says, “I’m taking all your stuff.”

What I will do is slam the door in that man’s face, not say, “Come on in and take it.” If he tries to block the door, I will push him out. If he forces his way in, I will assume that he means me harm and I will defend myself. Will I try to kill him or maim him? I hope not. Am I, as Wes suggests, putting my belonging ahead of God’s will? No. This is  man who may very well mean me harm. Someone who may return to do this again if I simply say, “OK, take all that I have.” Because you know, part of it is that what is in my home isn’t just mine. It is my family’s. They are things that I need for my family to be clothed, sheltered and fed. I’m not going to hand those things over just because some random guy bullies me. That’s taking the words of Jesus too literally and not the spirit of them. If the government seizes my stuff, I don’t have much to say about it, aside from legal redress later if possible. If a neighbor takes my lawn mower because I never gave back his power tools, I should just shut up and/or negotiate a peaceful exchange of property later. This is logic. Letting random psycho take my stuff is not an option.

SCENE 2: Man is preparing to rape my wife or daughter.

Please, Wes, don’t tell me you believe I should calmly call the police and then passively let it happens, or slink out of the house to wait for the cops. It might be wise to call the cops first. I certainly should refrain from killing the perpetrator. But I will pull him off my loved on and I will subdue him. Or die trying.

SCENE 3: Man demands I give him my coat or my car, or he will hurt or kill me.

OK, in all honesty, I should probably give it to him, and probably will. This is in stark contrast to someone who comes to my home and can come back if he finds me to be easy pickings. The coat or car are singular belongings. They are mere items, and killing the man or fighting him serves no purpose. However, let’s take a little twist. If said man is wearing a nice warm coat and accosts me in the middle of a snowstorm, and says, “Give me your coat and be on your way,” I am not going to allow him to expose me to harsh elements and possible death just because he’s a psycho jackass. I will keep my coat unless he forces it away from me. If he’s a homeless guy wearing rags saying, “I need that coat more than you do in this cold” I trust God and give it to him, even if he’s threatening, because he is in need. And desperate. A long cry from someone trying to do me harm for their own pleasure.

SCENE 4: Someone picks a fight with me in a public place.

I’ll try to avoid the fight. If the fight starts, I will attempt to end it as quickly as possible, with as little harm to the perpetrator as possible. That’s why I learned some basic self-defense and still remember how to do a sleeper hold. But I will not say, “Hit me.” Tell me, what godly purpose do I serve in that example? If I shout, “My Lord, forgive him what he is about to do,” and just stand there, I am stupid. Someone comes up and slaps me across the face and calls me a punk, no I shouldn’t get into a brawl with him. But that’s a blow that comes from nowhere, that I am not expecting, and I should be willing to take it and step away if possible. But not take a beating that could end my life or put me in the hospital. Jesus did not say, “Let yourself be crippled, or killed.” He said “turn the other cheek.” If Jesus wants me to be willing to die at the hands of any random homicidal bully, he would have said, “Resist no man with violence, even if it be unto your own death.” Jesus spoke in parables and examples. To think he wants us to lay down and bleed or die for every cruel person who might chance upon us is ridiculous.

Now, all that said, let me get to Wes’ other point, about my profane speech. Notice that for one thing, I don’t use those words very often anymore around here. And to be honest, I never just let loose an unending string of invective. I still use them, but I am more judicious in how I do so. I use them typically for specific reasons. Exhortations against speaking profane or obscene things doesn’t mean I can never use a cuss word. I have at times called people obscene things, and that is wrong. I have used such words in conjunction with God’s name, and that is wrong. But if I say, “That’s a motherfucking stupid thing to do,” I am making a point. An emphatic point.

Jesus talked about certain people’s mouths being like open sepulchres. If you don’t think that was some pretty provocative wording, every bit as bad as calling them “shit-talkers,” you need to think again. Words have power. Power can be misused and it can be effectively used. I have done both things with cussing.

As to Wes’ concerns that it may be a stumbling block to some people, so be it. Many of Paul’s writings were a stumbling block to folks two millennia ago, and they remain so for people today. Doesn’t make them wrong. I have addressed my swearing around here before, and have mention of it in the “about me” stuff for this blog. If the occasional f-bomb around here or scatalogical reference is going to blow someone’s mind, they can go somewhere else. (No, Wes, I’m not telling you to go away; what I mean is that people don’t have to stay if I make them uncomfortable, nor would I want them to put themselves through that).

One of the reasons “Shit” is right in the header title of my blog is so that people will know right away what they might be getting into. And the fact is that, by and large, I make more than 90% of my points without having to swear.




Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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