Hope in the Face of Violence



In my previous post, Light in this Present Darkness, I described some of the factors that contribute to the violent social milieu in which we live, and which make mass killings more likely.  I also spoke about the need for us to awaken to what is at stake and to commit ourselves to doing what we can to help bring about a more compassionate world.

This post is an excerpt from Chapter 7, “The Infernal Whirlwind:  Violence, Terror, and War” from my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell.  It continues on with the above themes and spells out why our strategies for both personal and social change need to be grounded in nonviolence:

We know some of the factors that contribute to violence among human beings, and can seek to alleviate them, but we cannot fully comprehend the human capacity for cruelty and malevolence. We do not know what it is in the human heart or psyche that makes a Holocaust or Hiroshima or Rwanda [or Shady Hook] possible. As Os Guinness says, “In the face of such wickedness, explanations born of psychology, sociology, economics, or politics are pathetically inadequate.” Although faith can help us struggle with the meaning and implications of violence, nothing can “explain” it.  Evil is a dark mystery, interpreted theologically through concepts such as original sin or the Fall...

“Much of our history has been written in blood and unless things change, it looks like it will continue to be. Unless we change course, we create an increasingly violent society and an increasingly dangerous world…  At the back of our minds is a sense of unease, for we know that we are complicit, that somehow, without even wanting to, we give our consent to the present violent and unjust order.

That is why resistance to the dominance paradigm is so vital to faith, for the sake of our own spiritual well-being as well as for the sake of others and the well-being of the whole. A key to maintaining one’s humanity is to speak out against evil and to take a stand for truth, compassion, beauty, and love. And that is why resistance must be based in the principle of nonviolence—otherwise it simply perpetrates the vicious cycle of violence at work in our world today.

According to Ken Butigan, nonviolent resistance is “a form of embodied social change that actively and persistently challenges violent and unjust conditions, structures, or policies through non-injurious means.” He goes on to say: “Nonviolent resistance is a process for challenging violence, but even more deeply it is an embodied practice that helps to free us from our faith in violence. . . . Nonviolent resistance is a spiritual practice and a way of being at the service of conversion, the transformation of ourselves, our communities and our world.”

Our only hope as a species is for a deep transformation of worldview and values that extends to our institutions and systems—in short, a spiritual renewal that motivates people to join with others to work for peace and to seek justice for all creation. Is such change possible? No one knows, but we can choose to step out in faith.

In the words of Walter Wink: “The image of God, so near to extinction under the suffocating terrors of civilization, still holds out the possibility of change. We will never build a utopia on earth—but will we take that one gigantic, necessary step out of the system of power into a system of human values? The whole creation is on tiptoe, waiting.”

(An excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.)

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