[Christians] declare their readiness to participate in violence in order to attain socially just objectives. The ‘socially just objectives’ of course, were those determined by the Hitler party; and we must not forget that, for the conscientious German of 1933, they were in fact quite as clearly just as the objectives set up by the Communist party are for the communist (and even for a Christian of the extreme left), or as the objectives fixed by the American way of life are for the average American (and for the average Christian American). The acquiescence in violence of the ‘deutsche Christen’ was one of Hitler’s victories, the fruits of which we are still reaping. There can be no doubt that it was the Hitler movement that loosed the reign of violence in the world. Concentration camps, racism (and black racism is no more excusable than white racism), torture of enemies, extermination of whole populations – these are used by all regimes today, whether of the right or the left, whether capitalist or socialist. And this is the result of the upheaval that befell the world through Hitler. That violence is so generally condoned today shows that Hitler won his war after all: his enemies imitate him.
But let us keep in mind that if these heresies are rife – as they are – the fault lies with those who call themselves Christians but keep for their own the treasure the Lord has entrusted them.
Christians who participate in violence are generally of a distressingly simplistic cast of mind. Invariably, they judge socio-political problems on the basis of stereotyped formulas which take no account of reality.
The simplicism of these people reminds me of a Nazi’s statement: ‘When I come up against intellectuals who pose a problem, I kill the intellectuals; then there is no more problem.’
The Bible does frequently condemn violence, but it defends violence just as frequently – even in the New Testament.
(referring to the riots of the 1960s)
After two centuries of optimistic idealism, violence arose in the USA. That is to say, during those two centuries the nationrefused to face reality and piously threw a veil over the facts. I shall not point to Negro slavery, as most critics of America do. I refer rather to the slow, sanctimonious extermination of the Indians, the system of occupying the land (Faustrecht), the competitive methods of the leading capitalist groups, the annexation of California along with the retrieval of Texas – all this and much besides show that the United States has always been ridden by violence, though the truth was covered over by a legalistic ideology and a moralistic Christianity. Americans have it that the Civil War was an accidental interruption of what was practically an idyllic state of affairs; actually, that way simply tore the veil off reality for a moment. Tocqueville saw the facts clearly. He indicated all the factors showing that the United States was in a situation of violence which, he predicted, would worsen. As a matter of fact, a tradition of violence is discernible throughout the United States history – perhaps because it is a young nation, perhaps because it plunged into the industrial age without preparation. (This tradition, incidentally, explains the popularity of violence in the movies.) And it seems that the harsher and more violent the reality was, the more forcefully were moralism and idealism affirmed. Today, Americans are stunned when the world rewards their good will and their sense of responsibility with revilement. But that is because they have never looked reality in the face and have based their international policies on a superficial idealism. They are stunned at Negro violence, etc. The truth is that the United States is an explosive situation – a complex situation whose elements are racialism, poverty (as the Americans understand it), and urban growth involving the disintegration of communities(the phenomenon of the metropolis). But for decades, Americans have had the idea that every problem could be solved by law and good will. So in this case, too, idealism, refusing to recoginize the latent violence, paved the way for the violence that has now broken out.
In writing this I certainly do not mean to indict the United States. I merely want to point out that even so moralized and Christianized a society, a society that holds to an admirable ideology of law and justice, and conducts psychological research on adaptation, etc. – even such a society is basically violent, like very other.
Either we accept the order of necessity, acquiesce in and obey it – and this has nothing at all to do with the work of God or obedience to God, however serious and compelling the reasons that move us – or else we accept the order of Christ, but then we must reject violence root and branch. If we are free in Jesus Christ, we shall reject violence precisely because violence is necessary!
The only thing he can do is to admit that he is acting so out of his own fears and emotions (not to defend oneself in battle is difficult, more difficult than to accept a death sentence calmly); or else he can say that he is fighting for others, not to save his own life. To say that, however, is to recognize that violence is a necessity. In a revolution or a resistance movement, for instance, there are things that cannot be evaded, that have to be done; violence must be used – it is a necessity. But in such a situation the Christian must realize that he has fallen back into the realm of necessity; that is, he is no longer the free man God wills and redeemed at great cost. He is no longer a man conformed to God, no longer a witness to truth. To fight even the worst of men is still to fight a man, a potential image of God.
Thus violence can never be justified or acceptable before God. The Christian can only admit humbly that he could not do otherwise, that he took the easy way and yielded to necessity and the pressures of the world. That is why the Christian, even when he permits himself to use violence in what he considers the best of causes, cannot either feel or say that the is justified; he can only confess that he is a sinner, submit to God’s judgment, and hope for God’s grace and forgiveness.
So, if a Christian feels that he must participate in a violent movement (or in a war!) let him do so discerningly. He ought to be the one who, even as he acts with the others, proclaims the injustice and the unacceptability of what he and they are doing. He ought to be the mirror of truth in which his comrades perceive the horror of their action. He ought to be the conscience of ht emovement; the one who, in behalf of his unbelieving comrades, repents, bears humiliation, and prays to the Lord; the one who restrains from glorifying himself for the evil he does… Almost always, it is the conviction that ‘I am right’ or ‘my cause is the cause of justice’ that triggers violence…. For when a man is not quite sure of the reality of the virtue of his cause, he hesitates to kill.
‘Thou shalt not kill’ expresses the true being of man. All the demands implied in these words – faith in Jesus Christ, love of enemy, the overcoming of evil by love – must be affirmed, taught and lived with the most absolute intransigence. There can be no accommodation. The Christiantiy that accommodates itself ot the culture in the beliefe that it will thus make itself more acceptable and better understood, and more authentically in touch with humanity – this is not a half-Christianity; it is a total denial of Christianity. Once Christianity gives way to accommodation or humanistic interpretation, the revelation is gone. Christian faith is radical, decisive like the very word of God, or else it is nothing.
The Christian is necessarily on the side of the poor – not to incite them to revolution, hatred and violence, but to plead their cause before the powerful and the authorities.
So, instead of listening to the fomenters of violence, Christians ought to repent for having been too late. For if the time comes when despair sees violence as the only possible way, it is because Christians were not what they should have been. If violence is unleashed anywhere at all, the Christians are always to blame. This is the criterion, as it were, of our confession of sin. Always, it is because Christians have not been concerned for the poor, have not defended the cause of the poor before the powerful, have not unswervingly fought the fight for justice that violence breaks out. Once violence is there, it is too late. And then Christians cannot try to redeem themselves and soothe their conscience by participating in violence.
The Christian’s first act of nonviolence is that he refrain from asking others to live as if they were Christians. When violence is in question, it is not our business to lecture them and urge them to be nonviolent. Of course – as I have said again and again – we cannot participate in violence, an more than we can participate in oppression and injustice.
If the Christian cannot demand, cannot even suggest, that non-Christians should act as though they were inspired by the Christian faith, he must take the same attitude toward the revolutionaries and toward the state. To demand that a non-Christian state should refrain fromusing violence is hypocrisy of the worst sort; for the Christian’s position derives from the faith, and moreover he exercises no responsible political function. To ask a government not to use the police when revolutionary trouble is afoot, or not to use ht earmy when the international situation is dangerous, is to ask the state to commit harakari. A state responsible for maintaining order and defending the nation cannot accede to such a request.
On the other hand, if a statesman, the president of the republic, openly declares himself a Christian, then – on the basis of his own faith – the total demands of the Christian faith can be set before him… The important thing is to make him see that he has to draw the consequences of his faith; and perhaps he will verify the fact that it is impossible to be a Christian and at the same time to conduct a successful politics, which necessarily requires the use of some kind of violence.
But what would be the use of the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection, if Christians were meant to be and to act just like the others?
This is the spiritual battle that is to be fought alongside the human battle against material phenomena. We cannot evade it. We are in fact those men’s comrades in the struggle, though they do not know it. And Christian humility, patience, and nonviolence require us to bear with their derision and their accusations.
It is not by sequestering ourselves in our churches to say little prayers that we fight, but by changing human lives. And it is truly a FIGHT – not only against our own passions and interests and desires, but against a power that can be changed only by means which are the opposite of its own. Jesus overcame the powers – of the state, the authorities, the rulers, the law, etc. – not by being more powerful than they but by surrendering himself even unto death.
Choosing different means, seeking another kind of victory, renouncing the marks of victory – this is the only possible way of breaking the chain of violence, of rupturing the circle of fear nad hate. I would have all Christians take to heard this word of Gandhi’s: Do not fear. He who fears, hates; he who hates, kills. Break your sword and throw it away, and fear will not touch you. I have been delivered from desire and from fear so that I know the power of God. These words show that the way Christ appointed is open to all, that the victory of good over evil benefits not only Christians but non-Christians also. In other words, that if the Christian knows that the fight of faith promises this victory, it is not only his victory but others’ too.
Violence and revolution – let them continue! But without the presence and justification of Christians. This does not mean, however, that Christians are permitted to execrate or judge those who do take part in violence and revolution.