Nonviolence and Love, Part 2
Then Jesus said to him (Peter), “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
How is it that so many Christians – professed followers of Jesus the Christ – have become such staunch gun-toting, Second Amendment, Stand-Your-Ground-law advocates? Either there is something I am missing in the Gospels or they are twisting the life and teachings of Jesus to fit their own imperfect understanding of what it means to follow him. I suspect the latter. Is there another way to interpret sayings like “Turn the other cheek” or “Love your enemies” or “Those who take the sword will perish by the sword”? While I understand that some people feel the need to arm themselves against the threat of violence, I cannot understand how, in the same breath, they can claim such actions are consistent with the life Jesus modeled and taught. They should just admit they are arming themselves to assuage their own lack of faith in God’s care. Yes, this can be a dangerous world, as it was in Jesus’s day. Yes, too many innocent people are victimized by violence every day, as was also the case in Jesus’s day. Some believe that because violence is so prevalent in the Bible, God must approve of it. Just because horrific violence is recorded throughout the Bible, however, does not mean the biblical authors correctly understood what God was or was not blessing. If one believes that Jesus was God incarnate in a human body, as Christians claim, why would we not use the inarguably nonviolent life and teachings of Jesus as our standard instead of cherry-picking supposedly God-supported violence recorded elsewhere in the Bible that directly opposes what Jesus lived and taught?
Despite the nonviolent life and teachings of its namesake, Christianity has been attached by a violent element since its early beginnings. Last week I discussed its partnership with the Roman government in the 4th century, bringing a measure of safety at the cost of its independent voice. I also mentioned the Crusades, which stand as a bloody reminder of the violent consequences of religious organizations claiming to know, speak, and act within the will of God joining up with a well-armed, well-funded governing body.
This week I turn the focus to another event that, at least indirectly, served to fuel, support, and perpetuate the violent leanings of some members of the church. That event coincides with the rise of Protestantism, which occurred during the (so-called) Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. This period was an outgrowth of the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, which made books widely available for the first time. The availability of books encouraged increasing numbers of people to learn to read. One result of increasing literacy was a growing obsession with the written word, which was both a blessing and a curse to religion and spirituality. Intellectual analysis became the revered and preferred method of seeking, speaking, and “proving” truth. The fatal flaw residing within intellectualism, then as now, is that truth cannot be captured in or reduced to words without being balanced against other ways of knowing. One result for religious belief was in driving faith out of the hearts and bodies of individuals, where believers accepted there were non-logical aspects of life they had to accept on faith, and into their heads, where all that was needed was an acceptable source of written information. Learning about God replaced the focus on experiences of and with God.
Protestantism is a byproduct of the Age of Enlightenment and grounded its beliefs and practices on written words, largely rejecting the non-logical practices and traditions of the Catholic church that included mystical, intuitive, and bodily forms of worship. Instead of accepting the limitations of intellectualism and embracing the vastness of what cannot be reduced to words, many Protestants chose to limit their understanding of God’s nature to a literal reading of the Bible, as if it were written to be reliably factual and historically accurate. Which is to say that they declared the Bible inerrant. Because the Bible does not hold up well to intellectual scrutiny, particularly in the areas of historicity and internal consistency, fundamentalist proponents had to abandon elements of the intellectualism they once embraced and justify their conclusions with non-logical arguments like, “If the Bible says it, I believe it!” Faith and belief, however, are far more than intellectual concepts. It is not that words or intellectualism are evil or entirely wrong, but they are severely limited in their ability to present the larger truths about life which must strike a balance between what makes logical sense and what is in sync with the intelligences of intuition, emotion, and other non-intellectual ways of knowing.
The intellectualization of Christianity has supported and emboldened the violent elements with Christianity in ways completely contradictory to the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ. I will expand on this next week.
This is the 38th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of other individuals or organizations. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Matthew 26:52
 Matthew 5:39
 Matthew 5:44
 Matthew 26:52