In this excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell, from Chapter 7, “The Infernal Whirlwind: “Violence, Terror, and War,” author Sharon Delgado writes about “The Myth of Redemptive Violence,” a primary myth of today’s global culture. In later parts of this chapter she presents “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention,” “US Foreign Policy: The Violence of Empire, and “That One, Giant, Necessary Step” about how we can move into a peaceful and sustainable future.
You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed . . . —Hos. 10:13-14
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in a coffee shop near my home. Word spread quickly from table to table that the World Trade Center had been attacked. I left quickly, wanting to find out more. I drove to the home of our friends, Jazz and Abdul, a young Afghan American couple who moved here and became citizens ten years ago. Like millions of other people around the world, we sat in front of the television, stunned, watching again and again the twin towers collapsing as people rescued others and tried to escape amidst clouds of dust, smoke, and debris. Jazz and I put our arms around each other and cried.
A month later we were again sitting together in their living room, watching as the United States bombed Afghanistan. Again we wept. CNN didn’t interview survivors or show us injured Afghans, but Jazz and Abdul knew where their family members were in relation to the falling bombs. They were especially concerned about Abdul’s sister and her family in Kandahar. After the bombing, no one heard from them for over a month.
They also worried about the effects of all this on their sons, Ali and Arya. Arya’s kindergarten teacher was concerned as well. She told Jazz that he used to play with the other children, but now he was usually alone, building scenes with blocks and then “bombing” them. I had noticed the change in him as well. When I visited one day, Arya looked at me with his serious brown eyes. “They’re bombing my people,” he said.
In his work on the Powers, Walter Wink claims that the primary myth of our time is the “Myth of Redemptive Violence,”[i] which has its roots in the ancient Enuma Elish, a Babylonian creation story of the struggle between cosmic order and chaos. The theme of Wink’s article is that order can be brought out of chaos by force and that evil can only be conquered through domination and violence. This story has been played out around the world for generations, and continues to be played out today.
The pervasiveness of violence among human beings brings to mind the ancient biblical story of Cain’s murder of Abel and the subsequent multiplication of violence articulated by Cain’s descendent, Lamech: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold.” (Gen. 4:24) It is this very cycle of violence that Jesus seeks to remedy when he tells his followers that they must forgive even seventy-seven (or seventy times seven) times (Matt. 18:22). Sadly, Jesus’ rejection of violence and his embrace of nonviolence, so central to his life and message, have been ignored by many who claim to be Christian. And although it was the political, military, and economic Powers, supported by the religious establishment, that put Jesus to death, much of official Christianity throughout history has supported similar institutions and systems that are based on domination and violence. Walter Wink calls this changing but similarly interlocking network of worldly Powers “the Domination System.” Others call it “empire.”
Empires, too, function out of the myth of redemptive violence, under the illusion that domination and violence can bring order out of chaos and can conquer evil. Furthermore, empires seek to be ultimate and absolute, demanding people’s loyalty and service. Those who resist are seen as enemies and subversives, as Jesus was.
We will look more closely at the interlocking network of institutional Powers that make up the current global empire in the next section of this book. Let us look now at the violence that pervades every level of the Domination System of today…
[i]. Walter Wink, “The Myth of Redemptive Violence,” reprinted by UK Bible Society, http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/exploratory/articles/wink99.doc (accessed 3/5/07).