Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 132. Peacemaking and Christian Community
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 132. Peacemaking and Christian Community

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Luke 9:51-55 relates a story that illustrates Jesus' commitment to nonviolence. Jesus and his disciples were not welcomed in a Samaritan  village "because his face was set toward Jerusalem." There were long-standing hostile feelings between Jews and Samaritans, and Jesus' disciples James and John asked Jesus, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?" Jesus "turned and rebuked them." Jesus' ministry involved reconciliation, not retributive violence.

The biblical accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection have reconfigured violence. Triumph does not entail vanquishing enemies. Rev. Nuechterlein has written, "God's cure for violence is completely different than ours. God submits to our sacred violence in the cross and reveals it as meaningless and powerless compared to God's power of life."1 Victory over violence and death involves participating in the reconciliation of Creation, which is life-affirming and love-affirming.

When asked, nearly everyone says they prefer peace. However, we know that people sometimes endorse violence, particularly when an authority (often for self-serving reasons) identifies marginal or foreign people as "enemies." The process involves mimetic behavior - people become enthused about meting out violence in the name of "justice," "security," "national honor," etc. as their neighbors become enthused.

Acquisitive mimetic desires also inspire scapegoating-based violence. According to mimetic theory, those people whose sense of self-worth derives from having what their neighbors desire will be headed toward violence, even if they regard themselves as peace-loving. They will find themselves in conflicts for scarce items, and these conflicts can easily escalate. Indeed, unless both sides are committed to nonviolence, violence is the final arbitrator of conflicts, if negotiation fails.

Religions, including Christianity, have sometimes incited violence. All religions, by virtue of their claims to reveal truth, can enhance members' self-esteem. Many religious people also get a boost in self-esteem by believing that they, and not other people, have the "one true faith." This is the kind of over-and-against posturing that generates mimetic rivalries and undermines any peaceful message that the religion offers. Those who feel "superior" are more inclined to feel entitled to impose beliefs and values onto other people (by force, if necessary), and to project their fears and anger onto other people whom they regard as "inferior" and "evil."

Since we are inherently mimetic creatures, our goal should not be to eradicate mimesis, nor is it possible to eliminate desire. Rather, we should align our desires with those of God. As Christians, we are taught to imitate Jesus, who derived his own desires not from fellow humans but from God. As the writer of Hebrews stated, "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning" (4:15).

While following Jesus helps Christians find peace in their hearts, peacemaking also has a communal element, because violence is a communal problem with communal origins. It is important, but insufficient, for an individual to resolve to be a peacemaker. People must work together to find ways to redirect their mimetic desires from acquisitive mimetic desires that generate rivalries and conflicts towards desires that engender peace. Consequently, I see involvement in community as a critical component to Christian witness.

Studies of comparative religion indicate that spiritual leaders other than Jesus have also reflected God's love. Though it has sometimes been tempting for Christians denigrate other religions, I do not see such an attitude as helpful in promoting peace. For Christians, it is more important to believe in Jesus' proclamation, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness" (John 8:12). Rather than using coercion, our loving Christian witness should be the means by which we spread the Gospel, because Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

1. Nuechterlein, Paul J. Easter 2A Sermon,

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