Mar 11 2009

The Left At Christian Universities, part 8: Violently Non-Violent

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 7:20 pm

This is a repost of an article done earlier in another context, but which seems to fit nicely into the series on The Left At Christian Universities.  The previous post in the series is here.

A few months ago, at a local Christian university, as I was entering a building to attend a conference on science and theology, I happened to notice a sign advertising the campus ROTC program, free tuition for going into the Army as an officer for a period of time following graduation.  (ROTC is Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.)  The ROTC sign was obviously at the entrance of the building, a major classroom building, so it would catch the eye of students who might be interested.

I saw a young man whom I assumed to be a student, who picked up the sign and laid it down behind a trash can, out of view.  I heard him say to a friend, as they entered, “That was non-violent, wasn’t it?”  At the time, I was disinclined to say anything, thinking it was just a couple of students engaged in a prank, and because I was a bit late and in a hurry, I decided to restore the sign to its original location when I left the conference.

When I got to the conference room, I saw that things hadn’t gotten started yet, and people were just chatting and waiting.  Then I saw the young man who had hidden the ROTC sign.  I admit to being slightly taken aback: one presumes that people who attend conferences on theology are people who seek to behave morally, and I could see no moral justification for moving the ROTC sign.

So, before the conference got started, I walked up to him and said, “Are you the person who hid the ROTC sign?”  He said he was, and repeated his “non-violent” line, and laughed, like he thought I would agree.  I think he thought I was about to praise him.

I said, “That’s actually a tacky thing to do.  The sign is not yours.  The property where it was displayed is not yours.  The people who put the sign there had permission from the university, or it would not be there.  So by hiding it, you essentially violated their rights, and the right of the university to make its own decisions, more or less a violent act, don’t you think?”  He seemed taken aback (whether from embarrassed agreement, or simply the desire to avoid further conflict, I don’t know), and said he’d go back and replace it, which he did.

As we left the conference, he said, “Peace, brother.”  I said, “I have never wanted anything else, my friend.  You, on the other hand, seem not to know the roots of the peace that you enjoy.”  He looked at me like he’d never seen a green monkey, and walked away.

I still thought the young man was a student, and a little later in the day I was describing the interchange to a colleague of mine.  The young man was still around, participating in the conference, and when I subtly gestured to point him out to my colleague, he said, “That’s our new professor of religion,” and told me about the young professor’s scholarly background, his particular areas of academic interest, and the fact that he came from “an anabaptist orientation”, which includes a large pacifist strain.  My friend named the exact denomination, but that is not the point here.  My friend was trying to explain why the young professor would behave in this way, by situating him in his tradition of “non-violence”.

I asked, “Why would he vandalize or steal another’s property, if he is claiming to be non-violent?”

My friend, who has some sympathy with the non-violence perspective, said, “He probably thinks of it as a protest.”

I said, “That’s fine.  Protest away.  But if you’re going to protest, you have to put a name and face on it.  You have to be willing to face the people against whom you’re protesting.  You have to say WHY you’re protesting, and connect your protest to a larger set of values that you think are superior to the ones you’re protesting against.”

My colleague just laughed, because I have a bit of a reputation for being, shall we say, less than perfectly temperate in expressing myself.  And yet.

Here is the problem: as a society we have a lot of people who benefit from the price paid by OTHER people for the stability and peace that we enjoy.  These people are too morally upright to soil their own hands, but lack the courage to really live in the way that a full commitment to their stated values would demand.  They benefit from police, and the existence of prisons.  They benefit from the enforcement of contracts (ANY government enforcement of ANY law carries the implicit threat of violence for non-compliance, at some point in the legal chain).  They live in a society where the FEAR of law enforcement causes some people to behave better than they might otherwise.  They live in a nation where the armed forces have repeatedly defended both our nation and the freedom of other nations, at various times and places, and again, they benefit from it.  They travel to Germany for academic conferences whose main focus is to criticize the USA, all the while ignoring the fact that Germany might still be a totalitarian regime if not for USA military power and determination.

In short, they benefit from that which they claim to hate, and do not refuse those benefits by going elsewhere, and living otherwise.  They do not refuse to accept the tainted government money that underwrites at least a part of their income, even in private institutions, in the form of student loans and other financial aid.

They remind me of non-slave owning southerners in 1850 buying cheap cotton picked by slaves, while feeling quite morally upright in their own personal lack of slaves.

With one significant difference, of course:  slavery was clearly a great wrong, but it is by no means clear that all violence is unjust or unnecessary or immoral.  However, for those who believe that it is, how can they reconcile receiving a benefit from the very violence (or potential violence) they decry?

The Amish came to a very moral solution to this, at least moral by their own lights.  They simply withdrew, and did their best NOT to benefit from what they perceived as the evil of the larger society.

But the modern “pacifist” academic Left, whether “Christian” or not, reserves the right to reap great benefit from the violence done by others in their name, all the while bitterly criticizing it (and sometimes in a cowardly fashion, as we have seen).  Interestingly, the modern academic non-violent sort usually also believes in high taxes imposed on the rich to pay for social welfare of all kinds.  And if the rich don’t want to pay, there are limits to non-violence, of course, as long as we don’t have to personally witness the US Marshall who arrests the income tax cheat (and God help him if he resists arrest).

My favorite bit is when the non-violence types physically and verbally disrupt speakers from the Right.  Sadly, most of these people voted for Obama, who may want to hurry up and lose in Iraq (which won’t help the Iraqi people live a less violent existence), but who also plans to invade Pakistan if Al Qaeda is hiding out there.  (Al Qaeda is probably hiding in plain sight in Chicago, too…  but that’s another story.)

The next post in this series is here.

7 Responses to “The Left At Christian Universities, part 8: Violently Non-Violent”

  1. Hello says:

    “With one significant difference, of course: slavery was clearly a great wrong, but it is by no means clear that all violence is unjust or unnecessary or immoral. However, for those who believe that it is, how can they reconcile receiving a benefit from the very violence (or potential violence) they decry?”
    To some it was not clearly a great wrong. Some felt passionately that it would in fact be EVIL to release the slaves from captivity. And they were both sincere and Biblical in their perspective. But of course, today we look back and say, “OBVIOUSLY, no Christian could support slavery.” Well, sincere Christians were slaveowners, as horrible as it is.

    In the same way, I would submit that some Christians believe (with great logic!) that violence is not only permissable for people to engage in but that it is sometimes BETTER for Christians to engage in violence than not.

  2. harmonicminer says:

    Hello Hello:

    Perhaps you’ll understand better if you study the differences between what the Bible refers to as “slavery” in Greco-Roman culture and what slavery actually was in the American South. The differences are HUGE, and those differences account for why Paul and others were not compaigning to end what was called “slavery” in the Bible, but rather encouraged Christians to respect persons, whether “slave” or “free”.

    It is not debatable that most pacifists benefit from the non-pacifistic behavior of society and individuals in society, and do not actually try to put an end to society’s non-pacifistic ways. When was the last time you saw a pacifist carrying a sign outside a prison saying, “Free the prisoners!”?

    The academic Left, both “Christian” and secular, benefits enormously from taxes collected under duress, with the threat of violence for non-compliance, and they usually want MORE taxes collected…. making them utter hypocrites in the truest sense, not because they have human failings and fail to live up to their own standards perfectly, but because they vote and speak as if they think violence done in the name of some causes is just fine (because they are for taxation), all the while claiming they are non-violent and that violence, or the threat of it, is categorically wrong.

  3. enharmonic says:

    I can guess which insstitution you were at where this occured and I can also guess which anabaptist tradition your cute little professor was from. This anabaptist group is on the verge of a split because of a drift from Biblical truth on the part of the denomination’s academia.

  4. Hello says:


    You seem to want to make sense of my comments only under the assumption that the country we live in is the most immanent and consequential entity at play within the space that it occupies. I hold that this is by no means the case, and that the Kingdom of God is a more immanent and consequential reality (for people who want to be a part of it) than any human-constructed country will ever be. Do you feel as though this is a fair characterization of our disagreement? This is the best I can come up with, because I actually usually find myself agreeing with what you say, given the premise that the country we live in is our most imminanent and consequential reality. I’m curios to hear your thoughts…

  5. harmonicminer says:

    Hello Hello,

    I don’t know what “immanent and consequential entity” means. It sounds like something designed to claim that while God exists, His creation does not. But God’s creation is GOOD, according to Him, and that includes the nature of human beings. Our tendency to organize into groups is not a result of the fall, it is in our nature. Denying the inevitable outcomes of that in human institutions (and the inference that God sees THEM as good, too, in principle, when they aren’t directly doing evil) is as silly as denying that God intended babies to arise from the sexual drive (even though that can be perverted, too).

    You can’t make the case for non-violence by referring to God, because He directly commanded quite a bit in the Bible, and was certainly happy to USE it on many more occasions to bring about His will. Again, unless you’re a dispensationalist, who literally believes that the very definition of moral/immoral, right and wrong, changed with the Incarnation, you’re pretty much stuck with the idea that the Son was cool with creaming the Amalekites…. just as an example.

    To be honest, I struggle with some of that material, myself. But I refuse to deny that it’s there, and I think dispensationalism is a dead letter.

  6. Hello says:

    So maybe the disagreement has to do with the nature of structures, then? Before I get ahead of myself, what I mean by ‘immanent’ is something like ‘readily available’ or ‘immediately present.’ By ‘consequential’ I mean something similar to ‘important’, ‘relevant’, and so on. By entity, what I am trying to get at is really a ‘ruling entity’ or maybe even ‘reality’. So, I could rephrase it like this: ‘immediately present and relevant reality.’ Hope that clears it up a little.

    I agree with you that our nature to organize is not a result of the fall. However, I would encourage you to go back to Genesis and find where the placement of God’s pronouncement of creation as ‘good’ is in relation to the ‘fall’ event. The message of the creation story is that the world was good, but that it has been corrupted through the introduction of sin (wrong, evil, etc.) into the world. That includes the created order (now we get sick and die, have pain in birth, etc) but also the nature of our establishments. If this were not true, then why would God choose a specific person/people to become uniquely HIS people, which was later extended to include everyone?

    Structural evil, it seems to me, is as real as the corruption that has occurred within each of us because of our fallen state. But there is good news! We have a savior who is capable of saving us, even from the corruptness of our institutions. This good news is, of course, that the kingdom of God has come to earth through Christ, and that this kingdom is now available to all people. Jesus made a way for us to be saved from our own corruptnes and sin, and that includes the structures that we put in place for ourselves. In fact, he invites us to be a part of a Kingdom that has not been tainted by our sinfulness and will in fact last for all eternity. So, engagement in human-ordered politics is all well and good, but we should never for a moment forget that the reality we ascribe to is God’s reality, and the kingdom we belong to is God’s Kingdom, first, last, and always.

    I am no dispensationalist, but I do think that there is a difference between the stories of the Hebrew Bible and those of the New Testament. The Israelites who wrote the Hebrew Bible understood the scope of God’s people to be them and their kinsmen, only. The New Testament assumes that everyone is (at least, potentially) a part of God’s people (even our enemies!). So, I think of killing anyone around me like killing one of God’s people, and I can by no means bring myself to do that.

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