Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
From All-Creatures
Christian Living

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.
http://www.christianveg.com

Part 121: Prophecy and Creativity

There seems to be an innate human desire to be creative. What makes one creative person’s work “great,” while most people’s writings, paintings, music, etc. are ignored or quickly forgotten? Great art speaks to important aspects of human experience. “Pop culture” often presents human experience in simple, black-and-white terms. This has certain appeal, because such art is readily accessible, requires little intellectual work, and generally reinforces the values and beliefs of its intended audience. Pop culture has little lasting power, however, because it generally does not meaningfully describe the people’s greatest inner conflicts or their deepest spiritual longings and needs.

The writings of the Hebrew prophets exemplify great literature. At first glance, one might expect the ancient Hebrews to have ignored or rejected the writings of the later prophets, who railed against the faithlessness and sinfulness of the Hebrews and denounced scapegoating violence. Yet, these prophets’ writings became part of the Hebrew Scriptures and, later, the Christian canon. Part of the reason, I think, is that the ancient Hebrews intuitively understood that “sacred” violence is wrong, and that God wants compassion and righteousness.

“Great” artists aim to speak prophetic truth through their various art media. Often, the public resists the messages of the most insightful prophets. Communities usually reject revelation of the lies that the community wants to keep hidden, for example the lies regarding the scapegoating victim’s innocence. However, Jesus said, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner” (Luke 20:17; see also Matthew 21:42 and Mark 12:10), and occasionally people eventually hear the prophet’s message, when (possibly aided by the Holy Spirit) they are ready.

Everyone has the potential to have a prophetic voice because life invariably involves episodes of physical suffering, social rejection, and psychological grief. Consequently, we have the potential to identify with victims. In addition, nearly everyone can empathize with victims of scapegoating because nearly everyone experiences scapegoating. Nearly all of us have been falsely accused at some point in our lives, and we often perceive that the accusation has a mimetic quality in that one person’s accusation encourages other people to join the chorus. Many people have experienced feeling impotent against a tidal wave of accusations.

Another common form of victimization, which one may regard as scapegoating, relates to one’s relationship to one’s parents. While parents generally mean well for their children, they often wound their children by trying to have their children be a vehicle for the parents’ self-esteem. For example, parents often hope that their children will counterbalance the parents’ own failings or shortcomings. Through subtle or explicit instructions, children gain an understanding that they should try to “make their parents proud.” This often victimizes children in at least two ways. The children naturally want their achievements to be their own. If they sense that their parent’s love is conditional upon their fulfilling their parents’ dreams, they will lose the sense of accomplishment that comes from defining their own goals and achieving them. Perhaps more poignantly, children can rarely live up to their parents’ high hopes and expectations. This can readily lead to a sense of shame and guilt, which often significantly damages self-esteem. With lower self-esteem, the children are inclined to do exactly as their parents had done – projecting their sense of shame and guilt onto their own children. The prophet, perhaps inspired by the Holy Spirit, neither internalizes the shame and guilt nor projects it onto others. The prophet recognizes the process of victimization and rejects it.

Nearly all of us have had experiences that have helped us appreciate the perspective of the victim, and this knowledge has helped prepare us to join with Christ in defending scapegoats. Nevertheless, the scapegoating process remains largely hidden. Consequently, even today, we often find it necessary to communicate the deepest truths about human existence and human community subtly and indirectly, such as fiction, poetry, painting, or music. By analogy, Jesus needed to use parables to communicate his radical ideas. I also think there is a place for prose, and I would include this book as an attempt at prophetic witness, but I think prose’s appeal is limited to those who are very ready for its message. While fiction and other art forms can enter the resistant mind more subtly, those unprepared for the prose-writer’s prophetic witness tend to close their minds to the message.

The medium of prophecy may influence how widely the prophetic voice is heard, but it has no bearing on the experience of prophetic witness. While we all have the opportunity for prophetic witness, many of us decline it, perhaps because we do not want to be rejected. However, our greatest joy may come from a sense of fulfillment when we answer our call to truth. This, I think, is one reason that “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).

Jesus did not seek immediate popularity. Rather, he envisioned his ministry like a mustard tree that grows slowly and eventually has branches for all the birds of the air (Matthew 13:31-32; Luke 13:19). Will our creative efforts bear fruit? Some will, and most will not. The Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3), but many resist our message. Indeed, we have little control over how people will receive our attempts at prophetic witness. However, whatever we do in service to God honors and glorifies God and gives our lives meaning, purpose, and direction. When we aim to glorify ourselves with riches, sensual pleasures, and status symbols, our lives may seem pleasant, but such self-aggrandizement fails to address the universal human psychological and spiritual needs for a sense of meaning in life. The result is typically misery and despair.

Go on to Part 122: Prayer
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Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence

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