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The Truth Written in Blood

March 25, 2012

An unarmed black youth gunned down by a neighborhood “protector.”  Soldiers kill civilians on two sides of the world; 17 dead in their own country, two others in this country, the mother and sister of the killer.  The media narrative focuses on the individuals –– each case is unique, all are aberrations –– avoiding the broader reality: our nation is steeped in blood.  But if we have eyes to see, these killings, and the countless others that have now become routine in our country, reveal the unpalatable truth: our society is defined by a culture of violence of which these killings are just the latest sign.

The soldiers’ killings point to our government’s relentless hunger for warfare, gruesome reminders that the price of war is not just its victims’ lives, but the humanity of those who wage it.  When ‘soldiers do nothing but meditate on blood,’ Shakespeare writes, ‘they grow like savages.’  Too often “the brutality of the battlefield,” Chris Hedges states, “is carried over into personal life.”  All boundaries between combatants and civilians, battlefield and home, protection and attack, are eroded; violence insinuates itself everywhere. 

The brutality infects the entire society.  Our government’s militarism feeds off the pervasive devotion to violence among our fellow citizens. Violence “simply appears to be the nature of things,” Walter Wink observes.  “It is what works.”  For far too many Americans it is good.  The craving for security and simple solutions leads many to exalt violence to the status of a god, a jealous god that demands human sacrifice.  It feeds not just on its victims, but on the most savage impulses in us.  In Shakespeare it is not just soldiers that “grow like savages” under the sway of “blood,” but everyone: “our houses and ourselves and our children.”

How to fight this insidious beast?  How can those of us whose faith is grounded in divine love heed the call to “come out” of the culture of violence ‘so that we do not take part in its sins and share its plagues’ (Revelations 18:4)?  For Wink the journey to a life lived in nonviolent resistance to war and injustice requires both individual and collective action.  He urges us to transform our own inner aggression into a source of strength to use against violence and the deprivations and injustices that oppress our neighbors –– racism, despotism, and economic injustice.  We also need to learn and tell the stories of personal and collective witness for peace and justice, from Jewish resistance to Pilate’s compulsory idolatry in 26 C.E to Poland’s Solidarity to the Occupy Movement and Arab Spring.  And we need to join with others who are doing this work.  Here are some organizations which are.

Until we smash the idol of violence in our own lives and in the life of our society, the killings –– at home and abroad –– will continue.

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One Comment
  1. Dawn permalink

    Strong message, Bob. … especially condemning the violence that is so common-place. I fear we may become numb to it. The question “How do we fight this insidious beast?” is valid. But I’m not sure the answer is clear. Perhaps you could bolster your message of nonviolent resistance with examples, even if that means citing great leaders like MLK and Ghandi. With folks so steeped in hatred and violence, I think we need to help them out of the pit with guidance on how to transform as you suggest. Thank you for including so many links to organizations.

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