A good man with a gun
Just over a week ago a man rushed onto the state of the Chautauqua Institution and stabbed author Salman Rushdie several times seriously injuring him.
As of yet we do not know the specific motive, but it may be somewhat tied to the fact that some years earlier the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwah against Salman Rushdie claiming that Rushdie’s novel was so heretical to Islam and an offense so grievous that a fatwah was issued, meaning that anybody had the right to kill Rushdie, and even to claim a reward in the millions of dollars.
Many of us are appalled at the attack on Rushdie who is a proponent of free speech and thinks that religious beliefs and ideas have a right to be talked about and challenged.
Many of us are appalled that a faith community or a religion ordered his death.
There are some here today that would say that Jesus and Christianity are about peace and non-violence, but, I think if we are honest about the institution of Christianity and its history, looking at residential schools, looking at colonialism and imperialism, looking at the crusades, and looking at the great inquisition, looking at the burning or witches, looking at the execution of heretics by burning them at the stake, looking at the execution of gays and lesbians, looking at how many starve to death in this world, (to name just a few instances) we have to be honest about something.
Violence has been a major part of the Christian Institution.
And I want to say that I renounce violence in all its terms and forms. I want to say that I would never take up any weapon, or gun, or knife to hurt another human being. I want to say that we should do away with armies and weapons…maybe even with police forces carrying guns,
I want to say it, but I don’t know that I can, because I have been indoctrinated in one of the most pervasive myths of all time.
The late biblical scholar Walter Wink termed it the Myth of Redemptive Violence.
The NRA says it this way, although they don’t call it a myth: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.
In fact, Walter Wink says we have been subjugated to its message so much in this world, have been so indoctrinated into this message that the way to solve our worst problems is to give good people guns, that Walter Wink calls it the dominant religion of the world.
And it is a very appealing religion. I watched a television series on Amazon Prime recently based on one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books.
The books are very popular and have sold 100 million copies.
Jack Reacher is ex-military, is 6 foot 5 inches tall and can beat up 5 guys singlehandedly.
The premise of most of the books are pretty similar. Jack Reacher wanders into some town and finds out something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Usually, some powerful people doing some bad stuff.
And Reacher comes in and takes out the trash and cleans the town up.
He is very violent. He kills people, and doesn’t follow the laws, but to the reader it is all ok, because Jack Reacher is a good guy, and all the people he opposes are bad guys. Bad guys by definition deserve to go to jail, or be killed, or to go to hell.
And really good guys like Jack Reacher can do whatever they like because they are getting rid of bad guys.
And at the end of the story Good triumphs over Evil.
I love the stuff and so do millions of other people.
For one, I identify with Reacher, even if he a foot taller than me, because I know what it is like to mistreated, or bullied, or to have something happen that is unfair, or to be put down, or to be cheated…etc… etc..,
We know what it like when the system oppresses us, so here comes somebody to stick up for us, the little guy.
It feels so good.
And even though I don’t believe in violence, vicariously, you kind of relish the fact that the bad guys are getting it.
You feel that through Reacher, you are getting all the bad guys that ever got you, or got your loved one, or got innocent people.
Good triumphs over evil. It feels good. The stories are interesting. There is high drama. There is a good plot. It is high stakes life or death. It is great escapism literature.
But that is what it is…escapism literature. The problem is when we believe the fiction.
That we can circumnavigate law and take it into our own hands.
Or the fiction that violence saves the world.
The reality of violence is that it cycles into more violence.
And the reality of violence is that violence is used to keep the dominant powers in place in this world.
Violence is used by those who want to be the dominant powers in this world.
Jesus preached non-violence.
Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you;28 bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
35 Instead, love your enemies, and do good, and expect nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of God, for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as God is merciful.
The church taught and practiced non-violence for three hundred years after Jesus.
They said that we do not use the weapons of the domination system. Our weapons are love, peace, patience, kindness, forgiveness, prayer, community.
We use the story of Jesus to change the world.
And that story is that Jesus was an innocent victim who went to the cross and was killed, not by bad and evil men, but by the Law, by the government and by Jesus’ religion.
And in so doing the death of Jesus exposed the futility and stupidness of violence. In so doing the cross showed once and for all that God was not about violence, but was about love and forgiveness.
On the cross Jesus in effect proclaimed, “you can kill me but it won’t stop me from loving you. It won’t stop love from being the true reality, the true way to be, and the true nature of God.”
On the cross he in effect said: “You can kill love, but it will always rise again.”
René Girard the French philosopher said that the mechanism that humans have used for all time to build society, culture and religion is this: it is to find some kind of peace and harmony by scapegoating someone else and doing violence to them.
And Religion joins this mechanism.
Christianity joined this mechanism after Christianity became the state religion of Rome and now had power and money.
It stopped believing in Universalism that God loved everybody, and everybody would go ultimately to God and be reconciled, which was the dominant Christian belief for three hundred years after Jesus.
And after three hundred years Christianity stopped believing in non-violence and started using violence to execute heretics, and to colonize other lands and culture, subjugating people in the name of Christ.
Christianity stopped being a way of life, a community that shared equally and forgave sinners, a community marked by love for neighbour, stranger and enemy; and Christianity instead became a system of beliefs and creeds, which you’d better believe or else.
And Christianity stopped believing that the cross was proof that God is love, and started believing that the Jesus’ blood was some kind of payment to a blood thirsty God who really wanted to put us all into the permanent fires of hell.
The violence of eternal torture and the nine levels of hell was the Institutional church’s invention once the church was part of the Domination System. Hell was the threat that kept the institutional church in power.
Sinners and non-Christians became the scapegoats on whom it was okay to unleash our violence, because sinners and non-Christians weren’t really human. The residential school system is a product of that thinking that happened when Christianity instead of opposing the domination system, became part of it, and used violence.
But that was and is not the message of Jesus.
Girard maintained that it is the Christian gospels who expose this lie that it is okay to do violence to the bad people, and the cross is the ultimate act of scapegoating on an innocent. The cross is the ultimate act of violence to expose the stupidity of violence. The cross is the ultimate act of love to show us that God is love.
The cross says that there are not good people and bad people, but people… and that we all sin, and we all are children of God.
All the violence in the bible one sees in the Old Testament is that nation struggling to come to terms with a loving gracious God, in the midst of a world that believes that God is violent and out to get us.
And we have to see those depictions of a violent God in order to understand the cross which exposes the lie that God is violent and out to get us, or get revenge on the bad guys.
The violence of God in the Old Testament, is a projection of people’s violence on to God, but it is necessary for us to see it, to feel it, to understand it, so that Christ’s work on the cross becomes clear.
Jesus says the way to defeat the domination systems and the powers of this world that use violence, is not by violence, but by dying to their power.
He talks about the cross as a pathway for us to follow. We take up our crosses and die to violence, die to manipulation, die to lies, die to propaganda, die to deceit, die to control, die to subjugating others, die to taking from other, die to inequity…
We die to the domination systems and the powers of this world, especially the powers to hurt, and to control and judge others.
We die and are born again to love.
And the cross says that the only way to die to the powers and the domination system is though Jesus’ way of love.
Paul wrote. (my paraphrase)
My ego has been crucified with Christ and it is no longer my ego that lives, but it is Christ, my true self, who lives in me; and the life I know live, I live by trusting in Christ and his way of love. This is the Christ who loves me and proved what love was, by dying on the cross.
But how hard it is to take up one’s cross.
How hard it is to die to the myth of redemptive violence. We all want to be safe. I want you to be safe. I want my kids and children to be safe. I would do anything to protect them.
So how easy it is to get sucked into the idea that the more guns the good guys, and the police have, the safer we will be.
But just ask “Black Lives Matter.” Guns in the hands of the police have not made black people safer.
How do we move towards non-violence? We certainly have had two shining lights in the last hundred years who preached and practiced non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. who both make significant differences by practicing non-violence and getting followers to protest and sometimes resist but non-violently.
And it just goes to show that non-violence can be effective in making changes. But it is hard
Listen to a story by the Rev. Janet Wolf which I found in “A guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God” by Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuk:
Our Wednesday night Bible study group has become a rather odd community of sorts. There are usually six to ten of us—two or three people who are struggling with mental health problems, three men who are homeless, several dealing with time in prison, and others wrestling with emotional and physical scars. Folks come with a hunger for healing, wanting food for the body and soul and a place to be at home.
John, one of the men who is currently homeless and staying, as the others who are homeless do, at the downtown mission, started out one night: “Stayed down at the mission again last night—house of pain for real. Woke up this morning and my shoes were gone. Somebody stole my shoes. I didn’t even have to think about what to do—I pulled out my knife and I went looking. I was walking all up and down the dining hall, table by table, and I meant to get my shoes back. Kept thinking: in the old days wouldn’t anybody tried to touch my shoes—‘cause they’d know I’d get ‘em ‘fore they could ever put ‘em on. Oh, yeah. I was mean and folks knew it. Didn’t care. And that’s how it was this morning. It’s one thing to give up drinking and drugging. It’s another thing when they steal your shoes.
“And I’m hollering, threatening, and walking up and down with my knife out where everyone can see. I’m going to get my shoes. Then old Jim here (points to another homeless man in the group) starts hollering from the other side of the room: ‘Bible says if they take one cloak give them your other one; if they took your shoes, give ‘em your socks. Put that knife away and give ‘em your socks.’
“And I’m swearing and getting madder. Ain’t givin’ nobody nothin’! I want my shoes! And old Jim, he just keeps hollering: ‘Give ‘em your socks, John!’
“Folded up my knife. Took a long time doing it, too. Walked barefoot to the service center this morning—and got me some more shoes—but ain’t it hard to live this stuff out!”
No truer words ever been said. Ain’t it hard to live this stuff out. It is hard to live the way of Jesus. It is hard to live non-violence out.
I remember some thirty years ago I was going to be a reserve Chaplain in the armed forces. I didn’t get in because my BMI or body mass index didn’t fit in the guidelines. I weighed too much for someone of my height.
But during the interview I was asked that if I as a Chaplain were on the battlefield, and the enemy was coming and shooting the wounded, would I pick up a weapon to defend the wounded and myself, even though chaplains are not supposed to use weapons.
It was designed to be a kind of no-win question. If you picked up the weapon you were breaking the law as a chaplain, but if you didn’t defend the wounded then you were a jerk.
Everyone can present a scenario where it seems to make sense for the good guy to use a weapon…
…such as…to save your grandchild from a kidnapper.
…or the police to shoot an armed gunmen who is about to kill schoolchildren…
It is easy to find the exception, but my point is this: Shouldn’t we at least be trying to have violence as the exception and not the rule.
Shouldn’t we be trying to move towards less war, less crime, less gang violence, less abuse, ess violent police interventions, less guns, less weapons of mass destruction and less weapons period. Less violence period…
I think it is very hard. But I believe it is the direction God wants us to go. Away from violence. To do things in our communities and lives that means we won’t be in violent situations. To promote equality and justice and peace and reconciliation. To feed the hungry and house the homeless and alleviate poverty.
Let me close with a quote from the late President Eisenhower who was trying to come up with a speech after the death of Stalin, a speech not of indictment against the Soviet Regime, but a speech to offer a better way forward then the Cold War and an Arms Race. He termed it a chance for peace and delivered the speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953. I quote:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. End quote.
Violence is not a way of life at all, in any true sense.
Non-violence is. It is the way of Jesus. Amen.