Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth
Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
Part 120: Prophecy
Jesus said, “No prophet is acceptable in his own country” (Luke 4:24). Some theologians have explained that people have trouble taking seriously someone they remember as an immature youth. Gil Bailie, offering further insight, has argued that one becomes a prophet by virtue of being rejected. The victim of ostracism (and often violence) gains an understanding about the ways in which mobs gain unity through collective violence. This is prophetic knowledge, and it requires being an outsider. Such people could once have been insiders, as members of their communities, but enlightenment has allowed them to recognize their communities’ scapegoating. Their willingness to expose the falsehood about the victims’ guilt, which underlies all scapegoating, alienates prophets from their communities. Those who identify scapegoating as unjust quickly become outsiders, because much of what it means to be “one of us” is to agree with one’s community about who are “evil” and/or “inferior” (i.e., who get scapegoated). To remain a member of the community, one must participate in the community’s scapegoating, and one’s prophetic witness is therefore lost.
For example, if one’s community were racist, sexist, or anti-gay, then the prophet who denounced the scapegoating would become an outsider. Thankfully, most American communities have largely rejected racism, sexism, and many other forms of discrimination. However, scapegoating can still manifest itself, particularly in times of crisis, such as when the economy is weak, when crime is rising, or when people fear terrorism. Human communities are always capable of scapegoating, because it is always difficult for victimizers to recognize that they are scapegoating. Indeed, while nearly everyone abhors scapegoating in principle, many people continue to scapegoat a huge group of sentient individuals who remain the objects of scorn and abuse – animals. As discussed in chapter 1, animals have largely replaced people as contemporary scapegoats.
Those of us who are animal advocates, in identifying animals as victims, have a prophetic voice. One consequence is that we often find ourselves alienated from our communities, because, as with the ancient Hebrew prophets, people resist our message. Robert C. Tannehill has written, “The destiny of God’s prophets includes suffering and rejection, for they must speak God’s word to a blind and resistant world and must bear the brunt of this resistance . . .”5 The scapegoating process helps explain why the world is blind and resistant. Knowing this does not make prophecy any easier or more pleasant, but it may help us maintain equanimity in the face of seemingly insurmountable resistance to our message.
For those of us who are animal advocates, prophecy is our destiny. Many of us believe that our sensitivity to animals is a gift of the Holy Spirit that gives direction and meaning to our lives. It is also a burden in that we often suffer empathetically with the helpless animals abused by humans, and we often find that animal activism alienates us from family and friends. With opened eyes and ears, we recognize animals’ suffering and we reject the notion that victimizing them is righteous and just. In essence, we have heard the cock crow. I do not think one should be proud or ashamed of one’s prophetic calling – whether it seems a burden or a gift, it remains part of God’s plan for which we are mere instruments.
What are we animal advocates to do if we do not embrace our call to prophesy? The mob does not recognize their participation in scapegoating (though cynical leaders can, in order to maintain or increase power, consciously exploit the mob’s tendency to scapegoat). However, we have received a call to prophecy, which I think comes from the Holy Spirit. It is an opportunity to serve God that, while often involving challenges and difficulties, can provide great personal satisfaction. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29). If we rejected our prophetic destiny, we would be committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Will an angry and vengeful God punish us for our impertinence? I do not think so. Rather, if we rejected our destiny and denied the crowing of the cock, then we would live artificial lives devoid of integrity and, ultimately, meaning. Those who deny their prophetic calling are punished by their sins, not for them. By the same token, I think that prophets who abide by the Holy Spirit are rewarded by their faithfulness to God, not for it. The first challenge is to accept one’s prophetic destiny; the next is to communicate one’s prophetic witness to a resistant human community.
Go on to
Part 121: Prophecy and Creativity
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