Saturday, April 15, 2006

Between Good Friday and Easter

Part three of some Easter posts on religion.

What to make of the ancient Easter take?

Some of our ancestors thought God got up close and then said no to changing the world through well meaning violence.

According to the good book Jesus sacrificed himself willingly and absorbed violence rather than inflicting it on others. The old story says he accepted suffering without imposing it.

He was executed by the most civilized state of his day which was trying to violently introduce the most advanced political and economic ideas of that time into the cauldron of a backward and dangerous Middle East.

Any of that last paragraph sound familiar?

The quest to make the world a better place by offing others is always popular.

But during the first three centuries after the original Easter party pretty much all the Jesus People gave a no go to violence as a legitimate path to change.

They generally refused to serve in the military or participate in state sponsored violence and believed that non-violent self sacrifice was the only practical approach to making things a little bit better. And even when they didn't think that non-violence would necessarily make things better in the short run, they thought it was the faithful thing to do.

They read Jesus and Paul pretty differently than most Christians do today.

Their take?

1. Violence = more violence and unfairness that future generations will pay for.

2. Non-violent sacrificial service = real change of hearts and minds.

The early Christians had no problem with encouraging change. They thought change was positive and wholesome. They just weren't impressed with change at the edge of a sword.

Things have sure changed :^)

We're dishing out a lot of well meaning "missionary violence" right now in Iraq.

Our motives are mixed but I believe a lot of Americans--including some of our leaders--truly believe we're doing the Iraqis a favor by imposing 'freedom and democracy' on them at the point of a gun.

This isn't primarily a defensive use of violence. It's a pro-active effort to improve the world through warfare.

And we wouldn’t be there without the support of a big pile of enthusiastic American fundamentalists and evangelicals.

In fact, our military colleges are so stocked with evangelical Christians that the Air Force Academy had to issue orders to cadets and administrators to tone down the overtly Christian bias on campus.

I don’t remember much honest discussion before the war among Christians about the use of state sponsored violence in a pre-emptive strike in Iraq. The idea that people of faith should question missionizing violence hardly even came up.

Most people--including many well meaning American Christians—-believe in progress through violence.

But not everybody.

There are movements and churches and individuals who are representin’ for the greater spiritual authenticity and common sense practicality of non-violent, self-sacrificial efforts to bring change.

More on those life giving Easter folks next time.


Blogger Matthew Pascal said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Matthew Pascal said...

The Air Force Academy isn't the only one...

I received an appointment to The Naval Academy (partly because I had a certain lung capacity and was a certain height and weight at the time, but not anymore:-)) mostly because I had certain evangelical friends who were "close" to a certain evangelical politician from Tennessee who is curently the Republican majority leader in the senate, and in looking back on it I truly believe it had to do with "good intentions."

I truly do believe that a lot of the current administration are "fighting the good fight" out of what they believe are good intentions to bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East through what are extremely violent means.

I however can't disagree more.

Many people have labeled me a "radical pacifist" over the past few years, and have even begun to challenge my views as being unbiblical. Yes it is true that my political and theological beliefs have changed a lot. However, I don't necessarily believe these to be unbiblical in what seems to be becoming an increasingly dispensational theology believing church view in America.

Do I believe some parts of dispensationalism to be true - sure. Just as I believe some parts of covenant theology to be true, some parts of liberation theology to be true, etc. However, I can't accept the radically traditional dispensational views that are being manifested in our current evangelical and fundamentalist leaning church today.

Jesus preached non-violence to the core. His disciples followed this radically. State sponsored violence wasn't accepted at all during the first several centuries of Christianity.

I look forward to reading your posts on the "movements and churches and individuals who are representin’ for the greater spiritual authenticity and common sense practicality of non-violent, self-sacrificial efforts to bring change."


10:52 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

So was the destruction of NYC and the loss of life "state-sponsored" or done in the name of religion? In the end does it matter? Isn't that why we seperate church and state? If the middle east wants to teach/preach (your choice) hate for us so be it. It is their religion after all. If they blow up our freinds and neighbors on our soil it is our problem and we will deal with it as we see fit. And if we cant deal with it , well I want my tax money back. Seems as though Im paying for my security. As an American I wish to know that I can safely walk down my street to go to work to pay my taxes so the Air Force is up and running and keeping the skys clear of towel heads with an agenda that does not match mine. I dont give a rat about evangelical politicians from Tennessee and their appointments, if you have to be tapped by a politician accept it with grace and humility and get to work and quit whining for god sakes. Men pfft

9:21 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Good to have you back in the mix, MP. Happy first days of marriage :^)

Slim theologies spark stuff that doesn't normally jive with historical Christian social teaching. I'm tracking.

Somebody should write an American theology primer for secular Americans to decode the headlines.

9/11 shook me too, 3.

And I'm the poster boy for the seperation of church and state.

But I think there's more to this than striking back violently at crazy religious people in the Middle East.

We all want to safely walk down the street.

The question is how to get there.

10:06 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

How can you do anything when this is the thought process: " We as Islamic Jihad don’t believe that the step Hamas has taken to democracy and elections will take us to the end of the struggle. Our ideology, through the way we understand Islam, is that our struggle will only end with the end of the State of Israel. For us it is an existential struggle, it is either us or them.” >> My vote is for THEM. Now how to do that?

4:01 PM  
Blogger Matthew Pascal said...

Just a few thoughts regarding your comment 3wishes.

Thankfully the thought process and beliefs of Islamic Jihad are not widely accepted amongst Palestinians, or Arabs as a whole. For an American to take a quote from an Islamic Jihad leader and assume that it is widely accepted by the masses would be similar to an Arab believing that because some Americans who call themselves Christians go out and blow up abortion clinics, the majority of Americans agree with and suscribe to this ideology and behavior.

The vast majority of Arab Muslims simply want what we want - to provide for their families, to have educational opportunities for their children, job opportunities, health care, etc. The vast majority do not subscribe to or agree with the mindset of the terrorists. However, the few bad apples continue to make the headlines, and as unfair as it is, we see them on the news and assume they are speaking and acting for the masses.

In regards to Hamas, and their recent victory, I think that this can be said: Because Palestinians were so sick and tired of the corruption that was so evident when Arafat and his corrupt buddies were in power, and the simple fact that nothing was getting any better for Palestinians lives and their situation, they opted for the only alternative, and that was Hamas.

Hamas is gaining support right now throughout the Arab world, and I hope that they will renouce violence (not only in words but also in actions) as a means of seeking to bring about a Palestinian State. Only time will tell if this will truly happen.

However, I believe that certain world superpowers who are refusing to recognize Hamas or hold talks with them regarding the creation of a Palestinian State are not helping to encourage this at all. Whether we like it or not they were elected by the Palestinian people to govern them, and I believe we should at least give them a chance to do this.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

I agree 3.

Hard to know how to respond when you're facing hateful people committed to violent solutions. Especially when they're motivated by religion. Bad combo. The Bible has particular disdain for that group.

I've got respect for people who want to defend honorable values by means of the sword.

I'm just trying to question whether honest religious people--and in particular, Christians--should support that take as enthusiastically as they have been recently in the US.

Nice take on the Muslim world MP. That's my experience too. You've lived there for quite a while so I defer to your experience.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Matthew Pascal said...


You said:

"I've got respect for people who want to defend honorable values by means of the sword.

I'm just trying to question whether honest religious people--and in particular, Christians--should support that take as enthusiastically as they have been recently in the US."

It is probably quite obvious that I am strongly questioning the level of support from Christians in America towards the "means of the sword" in defending "honorable values." As I said earlier, I think this is in part due to the increasing dispensational view that many in the church are so strongly promoting. (Note - part of me wonders though if this has gone a lot further then true dispensationalists intended for it go to - I'm not sure about this as I admit to not understanding true dispensational theology well enough to really say.)

However, with that said, I am still struggling with how I would personally respond in certain circumstances.

I hate to keep bringing this up, but Bonhoeffer's decision to take part in the whole Hitler scenerio continues to challenge me. As much as I believe in "turning the other cheak," and non-violence, I also must admit that if I was given the chance to save the lives of people and defending a "just cause," by means of the sword, I might choose to go that path.

Having a strong sense of justice, and being a fairly black and white person has its challenges. Why can't the Bible just be as black and white as I wish it was...:-)

Where is the balance between loving our enemies and seeking non-violence while at the same time strongly defending justice?

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Sorry for coming to the discussion late - but I can't help but point out that I read the gospels as advocating nothing like anti-violence. If anything, Christianity's founding documents read like Jihadist manifestos if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. They may be anti traditional authority at times, but they glory in violence and bloodshed. Mark, for example, has nothing but violence and vitriol for those with whom he disagrees. Yes, the violence is put off to a later date when the son of man will return in glory, but still, it is hardly a pacifist vision of either the present or the future. If anything, current evangelicals and/or the Bush White House are reading the documents more like the early Christians than anyone else.

And I'm not buying the interpretation that the "purity" of Christian origins was somehow corrupted at a later date. Christians perhaps preached suffering sacrifice because they had to, because the movement was so weak and insignificant that no other ideology could make sense of what they were experiencing in contrast to the grandiosity of their claims. But they also had no problem assuming the mantle of legitimate authority and state sponsored violence when the time came, mainly because the ideological resources for such a "switch" were in the founding documents to begin with.

2:28 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

I never mentioned thinking that Islamic Jihad is accepted by the masses. With a chore as grand as winning over "evil-doers" :^, I think you should be aware of what ALL who are leading have to say.

If I believe in in Luke 10:25 then I must also believe in Lev 24:20

That being said, I will love all. I will love them but I will smile when they get what they deserve.

4:25 PM  
Blogger anhomily said...

hmmm... interesting thoughts - I didn't realize early Christians were so often pacifist - I thought there were quite a number in the roman army (several are mentioned in the Bible) and that this helped the gospel spread... I don't know much about the figures though and the overall zeitgeist of the early church concerning violence. I am always happy to find out that some of my thoughts agree with those of people closer to Jesus' teachings and time period.
I can't help of linking in my mind the image of the crucified Christ and that of the Abu Ghraib victim in the Purple cloak with his arms outstretched. People will say that was an isolated incident of abuse that unfortunately marred the noble mission of the war, but that was a part of the occupation of Iraq that can't be taken away. And no matter what that guy did, in the moment where he was mocked and scorned and tortured, Christ was alongside suffering with him, not inflicting torture on him.

4:27 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

I wouldnt go quite that far but it was shameful what they did at Abu. But in reality I think our Nam vets suffered more. I think taking pictures would have been a walk in the park to most other POWs. It made the military leadership look bad I will agree.But I would not stop the war, pull out the troops because of it. Im thankful for our troops, our Canadian troops in Afghanistan and our allies. Also glad to hear that the Pres of China had a great time in Seattle......there is always hope eh?

8:27 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Well, obviously some interest in this one :^)

Really honest and compelling take Alex. I don't agree but I understand why you say that. I think that same thing a lot.

Biblical literature is full of hatred and violence and blood. Probably part of the reason people like to read it so much.

But I think that kind of language in the New Testament is focused on God's judgment at the end of history. God has many faces. He's a warrior and a killer at the end of the day to those who aren't among the chosen.

But the NT is very clear that God alone plays those roles.

Christians in the NT are called to let God do the work of judgment and violence. Faith, in a NT perspective, requires believers to live non-violently and self-sacrificially as a way to demonstrate their faith in God. The Sermon on the Mount makes little sense without that kind of perspective. That's how I understand it anyway.

In that view of things, believers can sympathize with and even respect the courage and cleverness of those who must rely on their own strength and violence and vengeance but mustn’t follow that same path.

Some may think that's a harsh view of God and of the world. But I think any faith has to take account of the fact that reality is very harsh and that things we all think of as evil do exist. A religion that sugar coated all that wouldn’t be worthy of mature consideration.

From a Christian perspective as I understand it, the problem with self-righteous Christian warriors is that they've missed a basic moral distinction between God's role and the role of the believer.

But I’m guessing you already know all of that. I appreciate your honesty.

Welcome back anhomily. Hope you’re good wherever you are these days in North Africa :^)

Best book to read on that is Martin Hengel’s Victory Over Violence. It’s the classic take on early Christian views of violence.

Love your takes 3. Bring it on with both barrels :^)

11:32 PM  

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