Theology of Violence


theology-of-violence

As a martial arts instructor of several years now I am frequently asked how I reconcile my violent worldview with Christianity. My claim is that they do not need to be reconciled, and I’d like to elaborate my reasoning. Both for the edification of those reading as well as not having to write and rewrite it since it is asked so frequently. I will illustrate where violence is permitted in scripture, the church's teaching on violence, and where it should and should not be used today.

Scripture

Firstly, I would like to put forth that not all violence is equal (Proverbs 21:7), there is the wanton violence of the world whose purpose is to merely destroy. Then, there is the violence of God, whose intention is only to destroy evil so goodness may flourish. This thought is carried in the majority of Christian warrior tradition and teaching which I will get into later. First, let’s go ahead and lay out the scripture that is pro-violence:

  • Psalm 144:1 King David Praises God for his skill in combat
  • Psalms 18:39 Thanking God for strength in combat
  • Genesis 6:5-7 God declares war on humanity
  • Genesis 19 God wipes out an entire city with two angels.
  • Exodus 15 Israelites praise God calling him a warrior.
  • Ecclesiastes 3:8 says that there is a time or a season for war.
  • Deuteronomy 20:1 and 2 Samuel 10:12 are admonishings from religious authority to fight.
  • Luke 22:36 Jesus supported the notion of self defense
  • Ezekiel 33 equates not heeding watchmen as tantamount to suicide
  • Exodus 22:2-3 is literally the foundation for castle doctrine.

So who would argue that we should not be concerned with physical conflict? People who believe the Old Testament is null and void instead of fulfilled. Mostly Protestants with a poor grasp of theology and exegesis. I will note here that physical conflict is not something to be sought by Christians. Quite the contrary, Ephesians 6 states very plainly our battle is not with the powers of the world but the forces of evil. But that does not negate the need for self-defense and the defense of others. Scripture says those who murder must be killed in recompense (Exodus 21). The psalmist says not to trust in your weapons but in God (Psalm 44:6-7) 1 Samuel 17:47 says that the combat is the Lord’s and we are saved by His mercy not by the salvation of the weapon. And of course there are so many verses explicitly stating not to take personal vengeance I could fill another article with them (most notable among them though is Romans 12:19). I would like to close this portion by stating clearly: the Bible does not advocate violence, it merely give it rules by which it is to be applied and restrictions for when it is not to be applied. Violence, like every other created thing, is neutral until you add a particular intent to it.

Church Teaching

The Roman Catholic Church maintains this teaching in part three, section 2 chapter 2 article 5 of the catechism. Its intent is to affirm the value of human life and to minimize its loss.
It is forbidden to use excessive force when defending one’s self (2264).
It is a sin NOT to resist an unjust aggressor (2265)
Intentionally torturing or maiming unnecessarily (it even views kidnapping on the same level) (2297).
To even comfort those dying of mortal wounds (2299)
2309 lays out the strict guidelines by which just war may be waged
"In [God's] hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10). (2318)
Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God. (2319)
The prohibition of murder does not abrogate the right to render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. Legitimate defense is a grave duty for whoever is responsible for the lives of others or the common good. (2321)
In terms of how a warrior should temper themselves for this fight, I would recommend reading “In praise of the new Knighthood” by St. Bernard du Clairveux as he clearly outlines the ideal Godly warrior.

Violence today

Carrying of weapons

In light of the above evidences, let us now examine what role violence has in today’s society. It is right and proper to carry weapons. Even the apostles carried weapons and were expected to by Jesus. Some people give me grief for carrying a knife, a baton, a gun, and a "contoured paperweight", but you’ll notice how only half of them are strictly lethal. The idea is that the modern day knight should carry the proper tools, not just a gun, so as to allow non-lethal force to be used.

Use of force in self-defense and defense of others

It is clearly shown in the catechism and in scripture were we are allowed to use force against those who harm us. It is also shown that not saving someone else’s life is actually a sin in and of itself. If there is a violent gunman shooting into a crowd you must render him unable to do further harm by any means necessary. That is not “warrior code” that is catholic law. The man who denies his responsibility to help his neighbor is denying his faith in the Church.

The use of force against institutions/governments

I will not name anyone for legality sake as well as not inspiring idiots who want to justify their own bloodlust. But if there were an institution which, by its standard operation: Killed, maimed, enslaved, dismembered, amputated, mutilated, or sterilized for no lawful reason (by church standards, not the law of the land), then it would not be a sin to actively and physically combat these entities until they could no longer render harm (CCC 2265).

Conclusion

Get armed, get trained, and love thy neighbor.