Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective by Jacques Ellul
Jacques Ellul was Professor of Law and Sociology and History of Institutions at the University of Bordeaux. He has published several hundred articles and over thirty books. Published by The Seabury Press, New York, 1969. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 2: Today’s Christians for Violence
If now we proceed to a more detailed consideration of positive, favorable attitudes toward violence, it is (as I said above) because violence seems to be the great temptation in the church and among Christians today. Thirty years ago it was nonviolence, conscientious objection, that constituted the "problem" in the church, and it was this prophetic position that needed to be clarified. Today it is Christians’ acceptance of violence, and the theologies thereby engendered, which appear to be the central problem.
Now it seems to me that, in spite of certain World Council of Churches pronouncements on "Church and Society," this problem has been neither clarified nor solved. We must therefore try to describe the situation accurately. Not that this can be expected to bring results, for, as I said above, those who accept violence are scarcely amenable to reason or to factual analysis or to theological arguments. Let us nevertheless proceed.
First a preliminary statement. Very often, it is only after others have brought it into the open that Christians become aware of a problem, and then they climb on the bandwagon of parties or doctrines. That happened in this case, too. Plunged into a situation of social injustice, exploitation, and alienation, Christians soon discovered movements led by others and enthusiastically joined them. The same thing happened a century ago, when Christians fought in wars for the defense of their country. If I wanted to be mischievous, I would say that a century ago nationalism was the ideological fashion, and Christians went along with it, adducing every imaginable Christian motif to justify their stand. Today social revolution, etc., are the fashion. To say so may seem wicked, for I am told, in scandalized accents, that this is not a question of fashion, that all the truth of Jesus is at stake in this social conflict. But I answer that the Christian nationalists of the nineteenth century also killed each other in the conviction that Jesus had established nations and that love of country was part of love of God. We find that stupid nowadays. But can we be sure that, fifty years hence, today’s prorevolutionary position will not also seem stupid?
What troubles me is not that the opinions of Christians change, nor that their opinions are shaped by the problems of the times; on the contrary, that is good. What troubles me is that Christians conform to the trend of the moment without introducing into it anything specifically Christian. Their convictions are determined by their social milieu, not by faith in the revelation; they lack the uniqueness which ought to be the expression of that faith. Thus theologies become mechanical exercises that justify the positions adopted, and justify them on grounds that are absolutely not Christian.
Incidentally, it is perhaps pertinent to recall that, in our times, it was in Hitler’s Germany that Christian enthusiasm for violence had its start. The deutsche Christen -- a large majority in the church, at least in the beginning -- accepted the chief values set up by the Hitler movement: nation, race, courage, pride, socialism --and violence. Precisely because Hitler accused Christianity of being a religion for the weak and effeminate, for slaves, introverts and cowards, the deutsche Christen took up the gauntlet and affirmed that Christianity, too, exalted courage and strength and did not shrink from violence. They declared 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 a 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, some may protest, everything depends on the objectives; if these are good, we must try to attain them, by whatever means. Here the age-old question of ends and means raises its head again. I shall deal with it later. Now I say only that the act of torturing a human being, though it be intended to advance the noblest of causes, cancels out utterly all intentions and objectives.
That aside. The fact remains that Christians today, far from being repelled by violence, or considering it a possible but shocking necessity, or trying to find a compromise -- far from all that -- many Christians today participate in "revolutionary" violence just as fervently as, half a century ago, other Christians participated in military violence. And, today the hierarchy no longer blesses the major belligerents and their cannon, it blesses the guerrillas. Let us see how that happens.
The Singling Out of the Poor
The singling out, or election of the poor -- this idea is our point of departure. Few themes are more authentically Christian than this one. We moderns have rediscovered that Jesus was the poor man par excellence, that he came for the poor, that it is to the poor that he promised the Kingdom, that the poor man on earth in fact represents Jesus Christ; and we remember that the parable in Matthew 25 (on the judgment of nations) is the central text of the revelation. Theologically, the election of the poor is just.( I have developed this theme at length in L’homme et l’argent (Neuchâtel and Paris: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1954). But unfortunately this theological rediscovery often gives rise to a sentimental attitude toward the poor and merely induces a bad conscience -- the sense of being different, of being privileged -- in the rich Christian. It is altogether human and normal to be moved by the reality of poverty. But more often than not the result of such emotional reaction is that the poor person is considered a sort of value an sich, a sort of embodiment of truth -- of truth that takes no account of Jesus Christ. Moreover, these notions are supported by what one might call a prejudice in favor of the collective fostered by socialism.
Here is the first problem for Christians. Is our understanding of the gospel in this regard truly based on faith, on a theologically just conception of the poor? Or is it rather shaped by the fact of our living in a world that for a century -- ever since the first socialists began the struggle to end poverty -- has been listening to socialist ideas? This is by no means merely a formal question, for the outcome of our examination of conscience will depend on where we start from. Now, I say that the rediscovery of the central place of the poor in the gospel was due in great measure to the development of the faith and theological thought. It is solely because they live in a society which views relief of the poor as one of its main concerns that Christians conform to its ideology. Which means that they draw not Christian but sociological consequences.
The first consequence is a generalization: the "poor man" is replaced by "poor people." Instead of being seen in terms of person-to-person relationship and the love of Christ, the problem is posed in global and sociological terms (which proves that the point of departure was humanist and social). The Christian theme of "the poor man" now serves the Christian as a supplementary justification for this collective approach. Thus the whole problem is reduced to one of conflict between the "haves" and the "have-nots," the disinherited peoples. And the conflict can be resolved, not in terms of the love of Christ and his promise (these, of course, are the opium of the people), but in terms of collectivity, economics, institutions. Scores of Christian writings defend this collective approach. Let me quote from one of them -- a letter issued by seventeen bishops in September 1967 ( a follow-up to the encyclical Populorum progressio):
Christians are duty-bound to exhibit true socialism, that is, Christianity integrally lived, with the just division of goods and basic equality. Let us joyfully adopt a form of social life that is better suited to our times and more conformed to the spirit of the gospel. Thus we shall prevent others from confusing God and religion with the oppressors of the poor and the workers. Feudalism, capitalism and imperialism are in fact the oppressors.
The church, with pride and joy, salutes a new humanity, where honor will no longer be accorded to the money accumulated by the few, but to the workers and peasants.
Money has for a long time been cunningly conducting a subversive war throughout the world, has been massacring whole peoples. It is time that the poor peoples, supported and guided by their legitimate governments, were effectively defending their right to life.
If we are to believe these bishops, socialism is the normal expression of Christianity; and it is that precisely because the gospel exalts the poor. For this line of Christian thought directly connects defense of the poor with socialism, and solution of the problem of poverty with socialist government. Once more, both the origin of this view and its socio-economic character are revealed.
But now I must ask American readers to pay strict attention. I absolutely do not say that capitalism is better than socialism. I firmly believe the contrary. I absolutely do not say that defense of the poor through socialist movements is wrong. I firmly believe the contrary. I want only to show what a mistake it is to confuse Christianity and socialism; they are not the same thing. A while ago, the monumental error of saying that democracy, liberalism, competitive capitalism were all expressions of Christianity. Today they make the same monumental error for the benefit of socialism.
But to assimilate poverty and socialism, and socialism and Christianity, is to introduce the theme of violence (as the pastoral letter quoted above shows clearly). For it is only by violence that the defense of the poor can really be assured -- there have been enough kind words, promises and so on. Only violence is effectual in the face of exploitation, coercion and oppression by the rich and their governments. As Karl Kautsky said, in criticism of Eduard Bernstein: "Why, in a world of violence, should only the proletariat not have the right to use violence?" A highly valid argument coming from a socialist; but today it is gospel truth for a great many Christians, indeed for the best and most serious Christians -- those who think of Christianity as something more than words and kind sentiments. I share their deep concern, their revolutionary will. But for that very reason I am the more distressed to see them mistake the way. To them it seems obvious that when the forces of imperialism and colonialism contend violently against the peoples who are now assimilated to the poor of the gospel, those forces can be countered only by violence; it is only through fighting that man will win freedom. Therefore, and quite understandably, they reject the familiar themes of Christianity. One writer states their case as follows:
The gospel’s sweetness, for example, is suspect; it looks too much like its caricatures: irresolution and readiness to compromise --often profitably -- with the established disorders; the kind of popularity that easily camouflages betrayal; a certain interior, narcissistic complacency -- the secret self-vindication of the ineffectual weakling. Such deviations are very real, and they are so frequently exemplified among Christians that the word "sweet" evokes these images.... Moreover, many nowadays are irritated by the supernatural character of the gospel’s sweetness. Man no longer thinks he needs grace in order to obtain what he considers natural. (Régamey, op. cit., pp. 172-174 (French edition).
To this I shall add that, in the eyes of many people, love of the poor seems better expressed and incarnated by socialists than by Christians.
But we must also take note of a painfully obvious limitation in this regard. Christian love is addressed to a man, to a neighbor or several neighbors; it is an interindividual matter. But what should, what can it do about the misery that results from an economic system, a form of social organization? In such a case Christianity seems ineffectual. It can deal with the consequences of injustice but cannot act against the bases of injustice; it is concerned for the misery of some individuals but does not see the multitude of the poor. It even plays the role of what Paul Nizan calls "watchdog"; that is, to the extent that it calms passions or preaches patience or permits the poor man to bear his poverty or holds up the light of hope, to that extent it becomes a party to injustice, inhibits revolt against it and supports evil. We certainly must take cognizance of this important fact.
Before the nineteenth century, poverty was generally thought of as a destiny, a fate, one of the great scourges of mankind, along with famine, wild beasts, epidemics, war, earthquakes. These were natural disasters. One could only accept them, be patient and live in hope; and mutual love was a great help and solace in times of trial (in La Peste, Camus shows that it still is). But for a century now people have realized that poverty is not a fate, not of the same nature as cyclones, but the result of forms of social and economic organization. Therefore, merely (merely!) changing that organization will end poverty. But anything that tends to perpetuate poverty or to divert forces that should be devoted to this collective struggle, is treason to the poor. And that is why Christians are trying to work out a "Christian social ethic"-- trying to show, for example, that love is addressed not to a neighbor but to collectivities, etc. These Christians want to "put Christianity back on course," and since, nowadays, championing the poor implies violence, they accept violence; because, they say, the love the gospel speaks of is utterly useless in this world of ours. Moreover, they insist that in a world divided between oppressed and oppressors, between poor and powerful, we must take sides. It is impossible to deny that this division exists, or to point out that there is also a third force at work, or to evade the issue in some other way; for, we are told (and on the whole rightly ), such evasion amounts to condoning oppression, therefore siding with the oppressor. This indeed seems indisputable. Every time I remain silent or passive in the face of evil, I reinforce evil. Therefore the Christian must side with the oppressed. And there is only one way of doing that; namely, violence, since it is by violence that they are oppressed. Nonviolence is sheer betrayal; it gives free rein to the violence visited upon others. Nonviolence is indeed "super-violence" (as it has been called), because the man who in effect acquiesces in the oppression of the poor by violence, is convinced that he is thus keeping his heart pure and his hands clean. So the proponent of nonviolence not only is good for nothing; he is contemptible. So goes the first line of argument that leads Christians to accept the idea of violence and to associate themselves with violent movements.
The Basic Presuppositions
But acceptance of violence rests also on certain presuppositions -- shared by both Christians and non-Christians -- which we must clarify, for they are the "key ideas" in our problem. These presuppositions are what might be called ready-made ideas, completely irrational ideas that linger in the unconscious like an ideology and are unquestioningly accepted as facts.
The first presupposition is that material want is the most important of all problems. Yet for centuries man has tried to show that there are other elements in human life that are more important than material poverty; that to demand comfort, material goods at any price is a serious error. It was with the Industrial Revolution, as society plunged ever more eagerly into the conquest of material riches and bent all its energies to the accumulation of goods, that material poverty became a major problem. Obviously, this meant abandonment or downgrading of spiritual values, virtue, etc. To share or not to share in the increase of the collective wealth -- this was the Number One question. It was the desire to acquire wealth that prompted the poor to start fighting. And the rich were hypocrites when they accused the poor (who were no longer interested in "spiritual values") of materialism. For the rich had given the example and set society on the acquisitive path. The great business of the whole society, and therefore of all its members, was to increase consumption of goods. But obviously, the moment this is the first objective, the ideal, lack of goods is the principal drama.
Historically, it is not true that man was obsessed from the beginning by the need of eating and being comfortable. These were of course important, but they were not the key to his behavior. The concern for material goods became paramount when "civilization"-- particularly our civilization -- had reached a certain level. The King of the Two Sicilies put the matter concretely when he said to the King of Piedmont (this was in the nineteenth century): "It is plain that the people of Turin have many more things than the people of Palermo.... But in my country the people are happy, in yours they are sad.’’ The passionate concern to consume the requisite number of calories and to possess goods in abundance is a modern phenomenon. Let no one say that it was perhaps because of their ignorance or apathy or stupidity that people did not conceive of life in those terms. Let no one say that it was because they had no other choice and that they compensated for their material poverty by "sublimations." No; they had a different conception, a different ideal of life. But again I warn the reader against drawing a false conclusion. "So the poor man is happier!" I never said that. It all depends on your idea of happiness. Dancing, fighting, experiencing religious ecstasy, working, eating a steak or owning an automobile -- whatever your idea, you will find happiness in realizing it. But -- for a thousand reasons I cannot go into here -- it is society that expresses, constructs and proposes conceptions of happiness; and the members of the society participate in them.
Thus in a society like ours it would never be suggested that the poor should be persuaded to seek happiness elsewhere than in the consumption of goods. Every inequality of consumption is felt to be a frightful injustice, because consumption is the Number One objective of the social body. Regrettable, perhaps, but we must take things as they are. And Christians, too, accept that objective. But when society puts the practice of virtue in second place and in fact downgrades spiritual values (even if it still proclaims them officially), when the ideal of man is no longer of a moral or religious type, the inevitable consequence of all these mistakes is another mistake: violence. There is a correlation here. To the ideal of high consumption and the downgrading of spiritual values corresponds a conception of injustice that centers exclusively on the problem of consumption; and equality in consumption cannot be achieved except by violence. That this is so seems the more evident in view of a belief widely held today, even among Christians; namely, that no man is worthy of that name unless he is fairly well off financially and enjoys a certain level of consumption. All of us to some degree share the conviction that spiritual life develops out of, and in step with, material life.( I cannot analyze this idea here. I have already done so at length in two books: Exégèse des nouveaux lieux communs (Paris, 1966) and Métamorphose du bourgeois (Paris, 1967). A Christian wrote several years ago: "Preaching the gospel to hungry people is useless. What we should send to Africa and India is not missionaries, but food and engineers." First, feed them, take care of their material needs, put an end to their misery; then we’ll see about preaching.
But this raises a question. It is a fact that in the time of the prophets and even in the time of Jesus, Israel was terribly poor. Its condition was very much like that described in the words, "Two-thirds of humanity is dying of hunger." Well, did the prophets and Jesus proclaim that they would not deliver the revelation until Israel’s economic problem was solved? However, let us not use that to excuse the rich who refuse to help the poor -- but are certainly ready to send them spiritual aid. Rather, let us say that if an earnest Christian can write what the one quoted above did, it is solely because he shares the common presupposition of our times: that poverty is the great calamity and therefore an obstacle to the spiritual life; that the real problem is how to induce the rich to aid the poor; and that otherwise preaching the gospel is hypocrisy. In other words, the sole serious problem is the unequal division of material goods.
Let me say one thing more in regard to this presupposition, this idea that everybody accepts. It might seem strange the people can simultaneously hold both ideas mentioned above; namely, that the poor man represents Jesus Christ on earth, and therefore all the right is on his side, and he is the only one who must be considered; but at the same time, that poverty is a scandal, and we must do our best to get rid of this scandal and to put the poor into a "normal" situation; that is, put an end to poverty. Contradictory as these two ideas seem, Christians usually entertain both together.
Moreover (as they have been from time to time in the past), Christians today are once more convinced that justice is the preeminent value, the value that transcends all others. But they conceive of justice in the sense of equality, in a social sense, as requiring more equitable division of consumers’ goods. And this makes violence necessary. But from another point of view this conception of justice is a reaction against the pangs of conscience that trouble most Christians. They are well aware that today’s church is made up of rich people and intellectuals and socially prominent personages, that it is a pillar of society. And this awareness quite naturally provokes a crisis of conscience in Christians; for the church is not what it ought to be, and the church supports an unjust society.
Then, too, Christians are convinced that the church can no longer play its traditional role in regard to the poor -- the role of assistance, partial response, individual aid, palliative measures -- because, as they see it, the problem is no longer that of the poor individual but of the system; and to ameliorate the situation of some poor people is in fact to reinforce the system, and to end injustice for one individual is to refrain from combating social injustice.
Now all these factors together lead to the conclusion that violence is necessary and that Christians should participate in it. Thus they are carried away by a whole complex of emotions and ideas; authentic spirituality, aspiration for a true church, suffering with the poorest of the poor; but also, sociological conformism, assent to commonplace notions, a bad social conscience (which relieves the individual of his responsibility), extremist and excessive simplification (for it must never be forgotten that recourse to violence is always and above all an act of inhuman simplification). Alexander cut the Gordian knot, yes. But he was totally a soldier.
The second presupposition on which Christian acceptance of violence is based can be summarized in the now commonplace formula, "Man has come of age" -- a formula expressing the Christian point of view of its author, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It means that up to now in his history, man was somehow kept in the bondage of childhood by the powers that be, the state, etc., and by the idea of a "father-God," so that he did not dare to affirm himself fully. Now, thanks to his technology, man has acquired power, has got rid of his guardians and of the idea of God’s fatherhood, and at the same time has acquired a new, a rational and scientific mentality. No longer does he credit all the old religious stories, no longer does he believe in the existence of a numinous something, etc. He can assert himself: "I count; nothing else does." Let me point out that this attitude -- contrary to those who consider it a great new thing in human history -- does not seem to be at all new. It is the very old attitude, described at length in the Bible, of human pride, which has always tried to break away from God; it is the "will to power." What is really new is that, instead of realizing that all this is the manifestation of an ancient evil (potestatis cupido, avitum malum!) and of the lost condition of man, who seeks a way out of his complex of "despairing power"-- what is really new is that Christians today find this prideful attitude excellent and consonant with the dignity of man. By breaking loose from God’s ancient tutelage, they believe, man has graduated into an authentic situation. As a matter of fact, there is a whole theological school which holds that man’s unaided self-realization is the ideal to be striven after.
There is only one explanation of this "conversion" of Christians to the spirit of power; namely, conformism to today’s technological society and awe at the advances of science. Obviously, such conformism entails a series of results. In the first place, it entails rejection of the ethical consequences of man’s condition as a sinner in need of forgiveness. Man-come-of-age does not need to practice humility and resignation; he can and must affirm his domination (and the Genesis texts commanding man to dominate the world are actually cited in support of this view). He must have no inhibitions about using the means of power that are at his disposal, must not let humility deter him from acting. Nor must he be resigned, since modern technology generally permits him to master his problems, and in any case no problem is irremediable. So the virtues of humility and resignation are rejected as despicable, and every effort is made to show that they have nothing to do with Christianity -- in spite of all the biblical passages to the contrary. Indeed (as usual) sociological arguments are advanced to counter these passages; it was the hypocritical bourgeois who, taking a cue from Machiavelli, preached humility and resignation (and also poverty), in order to persuade the exploited and alienated masses to accept their condition; therefore these "virtues" must be rejected. Strange reasoning! But you come across it again and again. It is, of course, quite true that the bourgeoisie and the rich have used (or misused) the gospel to assure their own dominance. Well, what then? Is the truth less the truth because the liar mouths it? When Satan set Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple and said: "Throw yourself down; for it is written, He will give his angels charge of you"-- did the word of God cease to be the word of God because Satan cited it? Should forgiven man cease being humble because the bourgeoisie has exploited humility? To accuse the rich of hypocrisy is certainly justified. But to tell the Christian, "Stop being humble, because you have come of age through technology," seems to me monstrous. And as to the comfort the gospel speaks of, it seems that Christianity ought no longer to be the comforter of the poor and the afflicted, because, forsooth, "if you comfort them you divert them from seeking material, concrete means for ending their misery; if they are comforted by faith, they will not set to work to solve the economic problems."
And Jesus’ saying about "the one thing necessary" -- that, of course, is also rejected as the product of a prescientific mentality. Here, too, the charge of hypocrisy is raised; to comfort a man by the gospel and the ideal of the kingdom is a maneuver intended to dissuade him from claiming the material goods that are his due. This notion begets a new idea of proper behavior. Many theologians think that it is unworthy of man to plead for the goods he needs, to pray, to take the posture of a suppliant or a beggar (though the Beatitudes bid us do just that ) . Man’s dignity demands that he be the proud master of things and seize what he needs by conquest.
Now, sadly enough, it is a fact that Christians have humiliated the poor. But again, does the wrongful attitude of the possessors affect the truth? It seems to me that in passage after passage the Bible condemns man’s pretentious notion that his own powers are sufficient to achieve justice and secure his rights. But this means little to our theologians. The politico-economic reality is the only one that counts, and it is clear that in this field man must be a conqueror. So paternalism is rejected in toto. The rich and powerful who try to find a valid solution for poverty and to improve the condition of the poor are either showing their contempt of the poor or fooling them. Who will admit that the colonizer prepares the colonized for independence, that the proprietor provides social services for his workers, or even that the teacher maintains a guardian authority over his students? Every such "guardianship" is viewed as a criminal attack on the dignity of the "inferiors." Nor does the church escape censure. Its role as mother of the faithful -- the mother who tends and supports and aids them -- is passé. Man-come-of-age no longer needs such "mothering"; he will do everything himself.
It is easy to see at what point these two propositions -- uncritically accepted as they are -- tend toward the development of a climate of violence. Humility, resignation, the gospel’s comfort, prayer are all useless. Violence will take care of everything. The protest against paternalism and against the church’s mother-role means that man does not want to receive anything from a superior; he wants to take it himself. The benefit given by a superior is worth much less than the same benefit wrested from a vanquished superior. That is why, in today’s political and social conflicts, the concessions made by a superior never avail; for people do not want concessions, they want to grab something from the superior. The moment he yields, his concession ceases to be of interest. It is exactly this kind of thing that many Christians defend nowadays. In their eyes it demands and justifies violence.
The Three Possible Orientations
Christians who approve of violence do so out of one of three very different conceptions of Christianity. For one group, Christianity is a revolutionary force; for a second group, there is a theology of revolution (man-made); for a third, Christianity has been fused into the revolution, which has become a value in itself. Let us examine these three conceptions.
As a matter of fact, the first does not really imply violence. It is based on the idea, central to Christianity, of the coming Kingdom of God and the second coming of Jesus Christ, and it involves an interpretation of what God requires of man. Time was when the will of God was understood as a point of departure; now, it is understood rather as a summons, a call. In the first instance, the Law, affirmed as the fixed and immutable expression of God’s eternal will, and spelled out in theological and ethical formulas, was the sole and sufficient guide for man’s conduct. The ideal of human conduct constructed on the basis of this concept of God’s will was necessarily moralistic and -- the important point for our purposes -- static; change was out of the question. The truth was given, and everything had to be "deduced" from Christian principles.
This interpretation has of course been widely criticized and largely abandoned. Today, living the Christian life is thought of as a being-at-work in history -- not past but future history; as a creative tension toward the future, the history that is still to be traversed. No longer is history the unrolling of an already painted curtain. And it is this eschatological tension that gives the Christian presence in the world its revolutionary vigor.( This is a summary of a number of long articles I wrote on this subject. I believe I was one of the first to maintain that Christianity is revolutionary. Cf. "Christianisme et révolution," Le semeur, 1936; "Le Christianisme puissance révolutionnaire," in Présence au monde moderne, 1948, English edition, The Presence of the Kingdom ( New York: Seabury, 1967; paperback). Several factors account for this vigor. On the one hand there is the coming kingdom; but because he is coming, the Lord is already among us here and now, and we must act here and now, in this society, because God’s kingdom, God’s new creation, is near. Therefore we cannot be content with this society. We must examine everything, question everything, in the light of the kingdom. We may never stop and say, "Now justice is established, now we have set up a valid society in which we can peaceably await the coming of the Lord." Every advance realized in church and society must immediately be analyzed, criticized, measured by the kingdom yardstick. The kingdom demands nothing less than radical change. Mind, in all this, we certainly must not get the idea that we are "preparing" the kingdom, that it is brought nearer by every progressive step we take socially, economically, politically, etc., and that in the end we build it; as if we with our ideas could build the kingdom! The kingdom is a revolutionary magnitude that cannot be measured by our measuring sticks; and, being immeasurable, it reveals the vanity of what is. Such is the first source of Christianity’s revolutionary vigor.
But, on the other hand, the coming kingdom of God is also the kingdom of heaven that is already present, hidden in the world (the treasure, the yeast, the seed), working in the world and changing it mysteriously. This gives rise to a second orientation; the Christian should be on the lookout, vigilant to discern signs of that working, ready to become himself a sign of that hidden life. This is not the attitude of a man who, on his own responsibility, demands change because he expects the kingdom to break in. It is an attitude of submission, patience, openness, in the confidence that God is at work in the present; an attitude that determines how the Christian should act with reference both to the future (which is given by God) and to the hidden present (where God reveals himself ). That is why, in relation to future and present, the Christian is qualified to be ambassador, sentinel or sacrificer. And indeed he sometimes plays these roles when he intervenes in the affairs of the world. However, the Christian’s action must be specifically Christian. Christians must never identify themselves with this or that political or economic movement. Rather, they must bring to social movements what they alone can provide. Only so can they signalize the kingdom. So far as they act like the others -- even to forward social justice, equality, etc.-- I say that there is no sense and nothing specifically Christian in acting like the others.( Of course, there will be objections: "But we want to be people like and with the others in our society. We don’t want Christianity to separate us from our fellow men." I know this story, and I should like things to be that way. But then I ask you to be serious -- to stop talking about Christianity and pretending to be a Christian when you act like that. Then let go of everything that differentiates you from the others -- particularly the faith and the name of Jesus Christ. But mind, if you do that you will be separating yourself from those who refuse to conform, those who still confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.) In fact, the political and revolutionary attitude proper to the Christian is radically different from the attitude of others; it is specifically Christian, or else it is nothing.
But here let me emphasize that, while it may bear upon other (i.e., not specifically Christian) objects, have other parameters, use other methods, this Christian revolutionary attitude does not necessarily correspond ( though it may do so) to what is called revolution in society. And let me emphasize especially that this Christian attitude by no means implies violence. Indeed the revolution that the Christian is called to carry always in his heart and to weave into the fabric of daily life and of the life of society, must not take the form of violence. I ask only this: Let us apply the two commandments absolutely; let us apply them without sophistical attempts to weaken their binding power, without taking account of the established values, orders, salaries, classes -- and then we shall see the whole society fall to pieces, without violence. (I shall return to this matter later on.)
The main thing is that we entertain no delusions as to our capacity to accomplish this. Let us acknowledge that if Christian action must be specifically Christian, it can be so only if it represents radical application of the word of God; otherwise, Christianity is not revolutionary, and then the door is opened to all the violent and revolutionizing heresies we shall presently discuss. 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 to them.
We come now to the theologians of revolution. Their approach is something like this: Since there are revolutions in the world, and since, from a human point of view, they may seem to be legitimate, is it not possible to develop a theology of these revolutions and to discover a relation between them and Christianity? For Christianity must not remain forever linked with the established powers. This reasoning takes no account of the fact that the Christian revolutionary spirit is specific. Rather (and I say this a bit maliciously) its proponents are concerned to get Christianity "out of customs"-- to persuade secular revolutionists that Christianity has rid itself of its old conformisms and its rapport with the state, capitalism, colonialism, etc. It seems to me useful to emphasize that this concern finds support in the work of exegetes who try to make out that Jesus was an advocate of violence, a revolutionary in the current sense. A number of studies have been published which identify Jesus with the Zealots and explain the crucifixion as a political act. Mr. Cullmann has disposed of these in a thoroughly convincing manner.( Oscar Cullmann, Dieu et César (Neuchâtel and Paris: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1956). (Nevertheless, these ideas have been taken up again of late from a non-Christian point of view.) Mr. Carmichael (Joel Carmichael, "L’Êpeé de Jesus," Nouvelle revue française, 1966. The same ideas are advanced in the U.S.A. Pastor Albert Cleage writes: "Jesus was the colored leader of a colored people carrying on a national struggle against a white people.... The activities of Jesus must be understood from this point of view: a man’s effort to lead his people from oppression to freedom" (i.e., political freedom). Le Monde, January, 1968.) declares that the important moment in the life of Jesus came with his "seizure and occupation of the temple in Jerusalem . . . the essential point is that Jesus drives out the priests, the merchants, and holds the Roman garrison [Roman indeed!] in check. And the central word of Jesus would be, ‘I come not to bring peace but a sword.’ Moreover, the gospel attests that his disciples were armed.... Jesus is the head of an organized movement against Rome and against those Jews who are traitors to their country." Carmichael attempts to show that the "true" meaning of Jesus’ life lies in his consecration of recourse to violent insurrection for the triumph of justice on earth and in the "beyond." But this study has hardly been referred to by the people who are in search of a theology of revolution, and indeed its exegesis is so feeble, so forced, that they cannot but view it askance and construct their system on the basis of other principles and theological arguments.
The quest of a theology of revolution is pursued in Catholic as well as Protestant circles. Among studies in this field made by Catholics, let me cite those of Father Peuchmaurd, who considers himself as in the lineage of classical theology.( Peuchmaurd: Parole et mission, 1967.) For example, he declares that St. Thomas’s assertion that the poor man was justified in stealing must now be more widely applied to classes and nations: "The proletarian nations have a claim on the goods of the rich nation next door." And he draws a parallel between passages in the encyclical Populorum progressio and some of Fidel Castro’s statements. The pope indicated that an insurrection cannot be condemned if the evils resulting from it are less grave than the evils it seeks to remedy (the same test as for a just war). Castro says the same thing: "Not the revolutionary struggle but the misery caused by exploitation costs the most lives." Therefore, Father Peuchmaurd says, "one cannot a priori exclude the participation of Christians in the revolution on the ground that it involves violence; we are called to restore prophetism -- not a verbal but a responsible prophetism" -- that is, a revolutionary prophetism. But what a misinterpretation of the term prophetism! Prophet of what and of whom? And just what biblical prophets substituted revolutionary activity for proclamation of the judgment of God? Enough on that score. Yet Father Peuchmaurd is not as bold as some Protestant theologians, for he points out that revolutionary violence is not a value in itself: "The Christian will carry the call for Reconciliation to the very heart of Revolution."
However, among French Catholics, Father Cardonnel is the most representative of the theologians of revolution.( Conference on the Gospel and Revolution, March 22, 1968.) He asserts emphatically: "The gospel (without in the least slighting any other of the things it preaches) must be interpreted as requiring abolition of the class system, an end of the American bombing of Vietnam and of the wasteful armaments competition, and the obliteration of anachronistic frontiers." In support of his views he naturally adduces the words of the prophets, who -- obviously, in his opinion -- preached "social justice." ( More careful analysis of these passages reveals that they call for something altogether different and lead in an altogether different direction!) Father Cardonnel adds: "God is not the dominator, but the awakener of guerrillas among oppressed peoples. Unless we participate in the struggle of the poor for their liberation, we can understand nothing about Jesus Christ.... How shall we observe Lent nowadays? By making, each of us, a revolutionary rupture with a society based on injustice, and by paralyzing the death mechanisms of the money system -- if necessary, by a well-planned general strike. Such is the Lent that pleases God, the Easter liturgy of today." Plainly, there are remarkable confusions in these proposals. To say that a strike is the liturgy God desires is a fine bit of oratory, but it does not really mean anything. And indeed I am bound to say that all these ideas imply an astonishing ignorance of political and sociological phenomena. As to prophetism, every visionary sect, from Montanism on, has pretended to be prophetic -- a case of confusing prophetism with verbal delirium!
Protestant studies on the theology of revolution are becoming very numerous.( As examples I cite Richard Shaull, "Revolutionary Change in Theological Perspective," and H. D. Wendlend, "The Theology of the Responsible Society," in Christian Social Ethics in a Changing World, John C. Bennett, ed. (New York: Association Press, and London: SCM Press, 1966); Arthur Rich, "La révolution, problème théologique," Borosov, "Rô1e de la théologie dans les révolutions sociales," and Richard Shaull, "Le défi révolutionnaire lancé a la théologie," in the journal Christianisme social ( Nos. 1 and 2; Paris, 1967) Let me summarize succinctly their general line of argument. In the first place, these theologians are on the whole convinced that God is at work in the revolutionary movement of modern times. (This is the inverse of the old position, which saw historical events as acts of God: gesta Dei per Francorum!) On the other hand, they admit that the world of power and injustice is the expression of sin; and indeed it is "in the heart of revolutionary negation of that sinful reality that God’s ‘No’ becomes audible in the social domain." Here, too, we have simply the inverse of the traditional position: that it was the government which was charged to put down the overflowing of sin, and that the order established by the state was the expression of God’s "No" to disorder, violence, etc. But again: "In a world that has become revolution-minded the believer is commissioned to live as a revolutionary and to do his part in assuring change." Once more, it is the world that dictates how the Christian shall act; since he lives in the midst of a society where revolutionary movements are rife, he must take his cue from that society. And he must bear witness that "the essence of revolution is indeed the irruption of God’s sovereignty in the world." This statement inverses what I said above in speaking of Christianity as a revolutionary power. But what is perhaps most characteristic of this whole attempt to formulate a theology of revolution is that its proponents seem unable to put their "theology" on a firm basis. So what they give us is a scattering of theses, none of which is profound or far-reaching. One of these theologians declares that the key is to be found in the word of Jesus (John 14:12):( Josef Smolik, Christianisme social, 1967.) "He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do . . ." -- these "greater works" being the struggle against hunger, misery, sickness, social injustice; that is, revolution. Another attempts to assimilate the Christian with the revolutionary vocabulary: "Revolution restores the relation of man to man; it is a transformation of life, a renewal, a regeneration, a new life" -- in other words, the equivalent of conversion. "The essential thing in the revolution is radical renewal, new life, liberty for the future" -- and these are also the work of faith. Again: "The Christian life begins in crisis and continues in a state of crisis" -- but what is this Krisis? Revolution, of course! Others of these theologians undertake to show that the events the Bible describes as concerning individuals and revealing God’s relation to man on the personal level -- that these events must be transcribed into sociological and collective terms: "Repentance -- this radical break with the former way of life, this engagement of one’s whole being in a new life, applies not only to the individual but to the whole of society, nation, class.... Repentance is a call to revolution!" The procedure is plain to see: translation of the personal into the collective, capped by an absolutization of terms; for example, "conversion," not to Jesus Christ but "in oneself"; "repentance," no longer repentance in the Nineveh sense of turning to the true God, but a social act, an act "in itself," having no relation to the word of God. So, by suppressing all reference to God and God’s word, Christian beliefs can easily be interpreted as consonant with revolution. Half a century ago, there was a similar development in regard to faith, which was then viewed as a value "in itself," a psychic, psychological value. Apparently no one perceived that in the gospel it was not faith that counted but He in whom one had faith. Today the same little surgical operation is performed in the name of revolution.
True, some of these theologians, speaking from another point of view, declare that "Christians must bring Christian social fervor to the social revolutions of our time." Another expression of the pervasive notion that the function of Christians is to supplement what other people do. The chief proponent of this line of thought, in addition to Arthur Rich, is Richard Shaull. The most important fact of our times Shaull asserts, is the revolutionary fact. The confrontation of groups, races, classes that is going on all over the world indicates that the social revolution is the principal problem; for, in Shaull’s opinion, our society is extremely malleable, and technology opens up possibilities of "justice and wellbeing" for all. The social structures are less and less stable because they are losing their sacred character; hence the eruption of messianic movements that propose to free man from all that enslaves and dehumanizes him. This being the situation, Shaull believes that "revolution is our fate," that therefore we must devise new political and social categories. Moreover, this revolutionary situation is "a challenge to the church." "If we want to preserve the most precious values of our cultural and religious heritage, we cannot stay out of the revolutionary struggle. There is no other responsible attitude, whatever the issue."
Let me point out first that, as a piece of sociological analysis, the above is sadly wanting. Rather than conveying to the reader a just conception of a technological society, it rouses his emotions, confuses him as to the difference between socialism and revolution, and betrays him into mere sentimentality about inequality and wealth. Well, it seems to me that basing an ethic and a new theological departure on factual errors is a serious matter. Even if it were to be granted that the Christian ethic must be adapted to a sociological context, the sociological analysis must still be sound; approximations and generalizations will not do. This is the more important because Shaull insists that the Christian must participate in the revolution (since in his eyes the revolution is the Fact), whatever the consequences -- a palpable non sequitur, it seems to me, for to say that the Christian must participate is to make revolution a value, even in a sense an absolute value! In any case, when Shaull resumes a theological point of view he rediscovers in a theology the theses mentioned above: Christianity is revolutionary, it deconsecrates, it orients us toward a future that is always to be created, messianism must not be forgotten on earth, and the kingdom of God is a dynamic reality which judges the social order. All this is true, and I shall not deal with it again.
But here, too, Shaull indicates that the revolutions going on in the world are the controlling factor. Instead of arriving at a specific revolutionary orientation on the basis of theological reflection, he confuses the revolutionary tension of messianism with the social revolutions, however extreme,( I am well aware that "extreme" is not altogether accurate, for Shaull would reject a Nazi revolution with horror. Yet this was a revolution as important, as profound, as radical, etc., as any of today’s movements -- and as revolutionary.) which break out for a thousand reasons.
To sum up Shaull’s position: since the Christian faith has a revolutionary content, the Christian should participate in all revolutions without reference to Christianity. Obviously, revolution is the overriding value, therefore the main argument; to be a revolutionary is more important than to be, or not to be, a Christian. Of course, Shaull will object vehemently to this summing up of his position and will protest that he never wrote anything of the sort; but in fact these propositions underlie his whole proposal. Moreover, looking again to his theological bases, he discovers there the idea of the humanization of society. He is convinced, on the one hand, that the work of God in Christ is a work of humanization; and, on the other, that the objective of revolutions is humanization. Thus revolution is inserted into the category of the humanizing activity of God. And, almost inevitably, the conclusion follows that it is God himself who is demolishing the old structures in order to create a more human existence. In other words, God is at the center of the struggle led by the revolutionaries; such is the essence of revolution!
Naturally, theologians like Shaull do not consider whether what they call the "humanizing" work of God is the same thing as what revolutions aim at. To be sure, there is Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem, but that does not seem to me a quite sufficient argument. Again, these theologians do not consider even for a second that forces other than God might be at work, that, very likely, the Prince of this world also has a finger in revolutions. Finally, they make no distinctions among revolutions; communist, nationalist, justificatory, tribal, Francoist revolutions -- they approve them all, though they accord Marxism a privileged position. But it must be recognized that Shaull does now and then make reservations as to the results of revolution. He realizes that the revolutionary is tempted to believe that he can, alone and unaided, solve all problems and create a new order, while the Christian knows (or ought to know) that political strife can bring only limited results. But these are insignificant reservations, and Shaull cancels them by declaring that "the new order established by the revolution is a gift."
So revolution must be accepted. But the Christian who accepts it finds himself paralyzed on two fronts. The most serious lacuna in Shaull’s thought is his failure to deal with the means of revolution. I have tried elsewhere to show that the question of means is central in the search for a presentday Christian ethic. Shaull does not say a word about means. And that is why, though he is the most important of the theologians of revolution, he is not important for our purposes. He does not seem to think that violence is the chief means of revolution -- though if this is indeed his view it raises problems for Christians. He only imagines, somewhat idealistically, that it might be possible to create a political guerrilla force through organizing small revolutionary cells. And he says that the church, if it is prepared to take its vocation seriously, "must constitute the frame in which men will be made available for that revolutionary encounter."
As to violence itself, Shaull rejects Wendlend’s dictum that Christians may participate only in nonviolent action. Instead, Shaull offers an admirable formula: "There can be situations in which the use of violence alone can set the process of transformation in motion. What is important is not to know whether violence is required, but to know whether the use of violence, when it is absolutely necessary, is oriented toward a strategy of continuing struggle for limited changes, or whether its objective is the total destruction of the social order." Certainly there is no better way of evading the problem of violent means. Yet in Shaull’s theological perspective, this problem would be basic; in fact he asks: "What are the specific elements of God’s humanizing activity in the world?" And he answers: forgiveness, freedom, justice, reconciliation. Revolutionary structures, he adds, cannot serve this design except by providing occasion for each social group to participate more fully in shaping the community’s economic and national life. Apparently it does not occur to him that the means of revolution are the exact opposite of forgiveness, justice, etc., and that revolutions generally propose the elimination of social groups by violence. Thus Shaull not only is silent on the problem of means; he has no clear idea of what a Christian ethic could contribute to a definition of ends. He takes refuge in a situational ethic -- an ethic that condones any objective society decides on. I can only say that this doctrine is idealistic, theologically negligible, and all but totally unrealistic.
Finally, the third orientation toward violence. This is exemplified by a small group of French Franciscans and their publication, Frères du Monde. ( I do not know whether there are similar groups in countries other than France, though I would not be surprised if there are.) These Franciscans are at the extreme limit of Christian revolutionary thought. In fact Father Maillard, the director of Frères du Monde, actually declared: "If I noticed that my faith [true, he did not add "Christian"] separated me by however little from other men and diminished my revolutionary violence, I would not hesitate to sacrifice my faith," A clear statement of the conviction latent in Shaull’s writings; namely, that revolution is more fundamental than the faith. But does Father Maillard really believe that one must choose between the Christian faith and revolutionary violence? I think not. I think rather that what he is saying is this: Revolutionary violence is to such a degree the only possible expression of the Christian faith that, if I suspect that my faith is leading me to become less violent, I am mistaken about the content of the faith and must abandon it; because, having decided for violence, I am sure that I am in the true Christian succession.
Let me point out here that Father Maillard shares the motivations common to all these "revolutionary" Christians; concern for the poor, solidarity with the Third World, dissatisfaction with capitalist injustice, etc. indeed he says that "to love the Third World is to love its revolution and to side with it, to be in it, in the hope of being able to remain there as a nonviolent participant, without judging those who, though they kill others, give their own life too." Here Father Maillard describes himself as nonviolent. Elsewhere, however, he writes: "Violence is imposed on us from outside: I must confront it. To refuse to take a gun is to stand by while injustice does its work and the poor die of hunger. It is always the violence of the oppressor that prompts the counterviolence of the oppressed; matters reach a pass where the poor can cope with the situation only by violence."
But he does not merely state the fact: he justifies it. And this leads him to astonishing conclusions. "We must free ourselves from a morality of purity." In other words, he poses the problem of means, but does not hesitate to condone the worst means: "We must respect every man who decides to participate." No longer is it the neighbor who is important, but participation. And as to solidarity with others, the main thing, certainly, is not the community of faith but revolutionary action. "The Christian as such does not interest me. I care only about the man who shows his concern for his brothers on a global level. If he truly wants to save mankind, we shall solve the problem of means together." What then is the meaning of the Communion of Saints? In Father Maillard’s theology, it is the revolutionaries -- not those who are sanctified in Jesus Christ -- who are the saints. That such is his view is proved by his statement that Che Guevara was an authentic martyr. As to love, his conception of it is very far from the love Paul speaks of in the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians. Writes Father Maillard: "We might be shocked at some of the methods of constraint [violent constraint!] applied to those who oppose the policy of the nation. (Once more we find here a justification of dictatorship (but which?) and identification of the revolutionary party with the "nation.") But we must not incontinently condemn the constrainers. They are wise. We must not impede the global revolution of our brothers by our scruples. We face a real choice. Love in the form of generosity must be rejected as too idyllic; authentic love comes through political, economic, sociological studies.( Unfortunately, I must say that the studies in various issues of Frères du Monde ( from which these quotations are taken) seem to me very weak from a political and sociological point of view.) We must love man on the level of his social betterment." I agree that Father Maillard rightly objects to certain elements in what Christians have called love -- affectation, niggardliness, mediocrity. Unhappily, fighting error with error and lies with lies is not a sound procedure. Moreover, unlike some of the other theologians who hold that violence is necessary, Father Maillard is not concerned to show either that violence is consonant with Christian love or that there is a relation between Christianity and revolution.
Here we come to the most interesting part of his thought. He considers it false to pretend that Christian premisses lead to the conclusion that there is a revolutionary tendency or force in the Christian message; he considers it equally false to say that obedience requires participation in revolution. What is required is simply that we support revolution, for revolution is a value in itself. Why does Father Maillard draw a line between Christianity and revolution when, as we have seen, all the other theologians of revolution try to show that the two are connected and that Christianity motivates revolution? Father Maillard says he thinks this attitude is in fact an expression of the wish on the part of Christians to "recapture" the revolution. Others started it and carried it on; then Christians try to appropriate it into their system, in order to give it value; and this is dishonest. Revolution is the act of men, and men must be granted the credit for their acts. Christians have nothing to contribute to revolution. What they are after -- whether by deducing a revolutionary idea from the gospel or by creating a theology of revolution -- is to capture the revolution for their own benefit, to adorn themselves with the name and acts of others. And so, Father Maillard continues, they put revolution on the wrong track and change its meaning. Indeed some elements of the gospel -- e.g., love will necessarily weaken, devitalize revolution. Therefore, as he sees it, all the Christian need do is just keep quiet about his Christianity and join in revolution simply as a man, on the human level, without dragging in Christian motivations. This extreme position has at least the merit of honesty; and Father Maillard does not share the mania of many Christians to "justify" what happens in the world (a matter we shall take up farther on).
But why, then, participate in revolution? Father Maillard answers -- not in so many words but implicitly -- that after all, revolution is a value in itself. True men participate in revolution, and revolution begets the hope of a liberated humanity. So revolution is the only way a man, as a man, can take. Revolution has all the marks of an absolute value, it needs no motivations.
Moreover, if the Christian aligns himself with revolution, he will always find a basic response. Let me underline the reversal that occurs here: it is not because he is a Christian that a man must participate in revolution, but if he aligns himself with it, he will, as a Christian, find a great reward; namely, authentic encounter with the other. For there is no true encounter except through total involvement, without reservation. Thus it is only if, disregarding the reservations his faith might dictate, a Christian surrenders himself to revolution -- an absolute that makes total demands on all who work in it and therefore involves total encounter among them -- it is only then that the Christian encounters the other, and also encounters God. For Father Maillard’s position (like Father Cardonnel’s) is necessarily close to that of the death-of-God theologians. God cannot be perceived except in the encounter with the neighbor. I shall deal with this matter later, along with other theological consequences of this revolutionary doctrine. Here I merely indicate that a theory of revolution necessarily comes out of the death-of-God theology.
The Character of Christian Participation in Violence
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. Indeed, the appeal to violence indicates incapacity to grasp the actual problems and incapacity to act. This is a far cry from the thought of Georges Sorel, who, in his Reflections on Violence, made a genuine analysis of the world of 1910 and examined in depth the meaning of violence. Instead, today’s Christian theologians and intellectuals are sadly "primarist."Suddenly, they see participation in violence as the universal solution. They do not even stop to consider that when the violence is over, few if any problems will have been resolved and the real problems will arise. ( Remember what happened to Pancho Villa after he attained power.) 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." It is quite understandable that a man in the throes of anger or discouragement should think there is nothing left except a violent explosion. Thus a nervous father gives his son a box on the ear and, having released his nervous tension, imagines he has settled the question the boy asked. Examples of this simplicism abound -- for instance, the views of Canon Gonzalez Ruiz.( Gonzalez Ruiz: "Les chrétiens et la révolution" (in Spanish), Boletín de la H.O.A.C., February, 1967 (Fraternité ouvrière de l’action catholique). He thinks not only that the Christian faith stimulates the development of socialism (an arguable idea), but also that revolution, which is to say violence, can solve all of society’s problems. But he does not analyze those problems with any thoroughness.
Simplicism is also well represented in the United States. I cite a few examples at random. "Sense and Psychedelics," an editorial report appearing in the November 15, 1967, issue of The Christian Century, shows how widespread the temptation to violence is in Christian circles. Kyle Haselden, the late editor of the journal, explains that at a conference on Church and Society, convened by the National Council of Churches, one of the so-called "work groups" declared that American society is guilty of overt violence against the poor and maintains an unacceptable order of injustice, and that the church supports this exploitation by its own "systemic" violence. This is partially true, but simplistic. But the group drew remarkable conclusions from it. Haselden quotes from the group’s statement:
When violence aimed at systemic violence occurs it ought to be defended, supported and interpreted in such a manner as will aid, hasten its end, and serve to establish a greater measure of justice. . . . In any conflict between the government and the oppressed or between the privileged classes and the oppressed, the church, for good or ill, must stand with the oppressed.... Systemic violence [that of the church and other organizations] may be violently confronted by its main victims as well as by others on their behalf. Those who adopt such tactics should seek a clear understanding of the requirements for making it effective.... Detailed mobilization of church resources must be developed to respond to confrontation between the police-military arm of the state and subjugated, robbed and excluded populations.
Haselden comments on this statement as follows:
The members of the group that issued these statements are neither as harmless as doves nor as wise as serpents. To suggest to the churches, which, Negro as well as white, are already deeply involved in covert violence in this country and overt violence abroad, that they should violently take up arms against violence --that is, against themselves -- is the height of political naïveté. And to say as these doubleminded absolutists did that as Christians we must oppose violence in Vietnam but use violence in the United States, that Christians must support the oppressed in any conflict with the government, that violence can be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, that nothing will save our society short of total revolution, is to indulge in loose and irresponsible talk that is not only unchristian but politically stupid. More violence is undoubtedly on the way in this country. The church and the state are by default of duty guaranteeing that calamity. But when Christians preach the saving power of violence they, too, contribute to the terror and the evil of our time.( Kyle Haselden, in The Christian Century, November 15, 1967. Copyright © 1967 by The Christian Century Foundation. Used with permission.)
This seems a very balanced judgment. I want to emphasize, however, that in another issue (January 17, 1968) The Christian Century published a very favorable review of two books that exalt violence -- the one by Regis Debray, the other by Frantz Fanon. (Both books were originally published in France. ) The reviewer not only demands that his readers think seriously about violence; he clearly approves of Fanon’s proclamations, not realizing how terribly superficial and incantatory they are.
However, few in the United States go as far as Thomas Q. Melville, the Roman Catholic priest who, it seems, wants to assume the mantle of Camilo Torres. I think it important to quote from a report on Father Melville that appeared in Le Monde (February 21, 1968):
In a letter he sent to the Mexican daily La Prensa, the American Catholic priest Thomas Q. Melville, a member of the Maryknoll Society who had been expelled from Guatemala the preceding December because, it was charged, he had aided the guerrillas, bases his approval of the guerrillas’ action on the encyclical Populorum progressio and on a pastoral letter issued the previous year by the conference of Guatemala’s bishops.
The situation existing in Guatemala, Father Melville writes, is exactly the kind of situation which, the encyclical admits, is the exception that justifies recourse to violence: a situation "of obvious and prolonged tyranny which gravely violates the basic human rights of the human person."
The American priest also bases his defense of the guerrillas’ right to revolt on the episcopal letter which analyzes the situation obtaining in Guatemala. He cites passages from this letter:
"No one can deny that our social and economic reality is terribly unjust and unbalanced, that change in our vitiated structures is mandatory, and that it is necessary first of all to change the mentality of our fellow citizens."
"The inequitable distribution of the national revenue; the disparity in the scale of salaries ( some dispose of emoluments which are an insult to the poverty of the country, while the immense majority receives a miserable pittance); the fact that a bare two per cent of the active population owns seventy per cent of the arable land; the system of recruiting our agricultural laborers, who do not even enjoy legal status; the fact that hundreds of thousands of school-age children lack basic education; the disintegration of the family; the growing immorality everywhere -- all this demands bold and definitive change."
"Is not this," asks Father Melville, "a case of obvious and prolonged tyranny? If the situation described by the Guatemalan bishops (who indeed are not fully aware of all the evils rife in the country) is not a tyranny, then I say that St. Peter has spoken in vain and that the situation he describes does not exist anywhere."
Finally, the Maryknoll religious says, while the church perhaps did not approve the Crusades, the two world wars, the Korean war, or today’s Vietnam war, the fact that it did not condemn them "shows that it accepts the idea that there can be a just war, and that men might sometimes be right in taking up arms to defend themselves." "The United States," Father Melville continues, "supports the Guatemalan army in order to maintain the status quo. If that support ceased, perhaps armed conflict would not even be needed to end the present state of affairs.... The present situation is in no sense an accident of history; it is a deliberate perversion of the natural order by a minority, supported, with the blessing of the Catholic hierarchy, by the national army which in turn is supported by the American government."
Father Melville then tells how he and two other members of his society, a nun and a priest, were accused of aiding Guatemala’s guerrillas. "We never aided them," he writes; "we simply attended a meeting in the course of which they explained their point of view to us.... When we wanted to help the miserable masses we came up against indifference and even opposition on the part of the government." And he concludes: "When we were expelled we decided in favor of the guerrillas."
These examples suffice to show that we are dealing with the same simplification of the problem of the Christian’s presence in the world and of the politico-social questions of our time -- though the above descriptions of the situation obtaining in Guatemala seems indeed to be accurate.
Christians who favor revolution say that they must do so because a new situation has arisen, owing to the existence of capitalism and imperialism. As they see it, their attitude represents an innovation in Christianity, an acknowledgment of the duty, imposed by faith, to be in the midst of men, and a response to the opening given Christianity for witness in the modern world. The first part of their analysis is radically inaccurate. I am now referring to the doctrinaires and the theologians. I wrote about them above and showed that the tendency toward violence has always existed in Christianity. Here I am speaking of Christians who actually participate in violence. Well, this, too, has always existed. I shall not mention Munzer again. But, for example, in Spain, in the time of Napoleon I, the popular war against the imperial armies was led largely by village pastors, who headed the partisans and the guerrillas.
Again, Fouché, in his Mémoires, reports that the clergy led the resistance to Napoleon in Italy ( 1811). Priests sounded the call to violence. And in the Viterbo campaigns, Pastor Battaglia, putting himself at the head of a rebel band, fought the "imperialists" and spread terror among those who collaborated with the French. In other words, in the course of history priests have often adopted an attitude that many nowadays think is new and quite naturally stood with their flock. Thus recourse to violence is no invention of present-day Christians, no innovation. Nor is it a phenomenon linked with the development of capitalism and imperialism.In fact, in every epoch the Christians who went along with violent movements did it (certainly not because they were Christians) because they shared the dominant ideology of their society. Fifty years ago, it would never have occurred to Christians to favor such movements. But today, it is fair to say, the dominating ideology everywhere is a socializing, anti-colonialist ideology, and "advanced" Christians fall in line and march along on the road of violence. They adopt the nationalist ideology -- exactly as in 1810-1815.
This bit of history prompts both a question and the answer to it. The Christians who supported those guerrilla movements back in 1810-1815 -- were they giving a Christian witness, were they serving either Christianity or man? And those pastors in Spain and Italy -- did they bring their people closer to Christianity, did they witness to Jesus Christ, did they serve man? Alas, considering what were the ultimate consequences of their nationalist ideology, it cannot be said that it benefited man. This is a point that is extremely important. It shows how vain are enterprises like that of Camilo Torres and indeed of all who are tempted by violence. They pay a very high price -- their life -- for nothing; and they carry others along on the road of bitterness and hatred -- passions that certainly do not exemplify Christian truth. I must say once more that these Christians shared the dominant ideology of their time.
Today, Christians justify their involvement in violence by declaring that they are motivated by love of the poor. Now love of the poor undoubtedly represents a truly Christian attitude and is indeed an important element in the orientation analyzed above. Unfortunately, the writings of these Christian proponents of violence raise suspicion as to their professions about the poor. The fact is that they are not concerned for the poor -- not for all the poor! Theirs is a selective attitude: there are the poor who are worthy of being loved -- and then there are the others. Of course, these Christians do not say anything that cynical. They declare their love of the poor, explain the necessity of using violence in behalf of the poor, and then cite only one category of the poor. There are the "interesting" poor: the Negroes in the United States and in South Africa, the North Vietnamese, the Vietcong, the Palestinian Arabs, the poor of Latin America. And then there are the "uninteresting" poor, people who obviously are not worth troubling about: the Biafrans, massacred by the federal troops of Nigeria; the monarchist Yemenites, burned by napalm and bombed into obliteration by the Egyptian air force from 1964 to 1967; the South Sudanese, destroyed en masse by the North Sudanese; the Tibetans, oppressed and deported by China; the Khurds, perhaps 500,000 of whom were massacred in Irak and Iran between 1955 and today. These and many more in similar case do not attract the interest of our violent Christians. (The frightful news of the genocide of the Patochos Indians in Brazil by that country’s Bureau of Indian Affairs scarcely roused interest among our revolutionary Christians.) Are they less poor than the others? They are much poorer, because no one is concerned for them. Why then are they ignored? Alas, the reason is very simple. The interesting poor are those whose defense is in reality an attack against Europe, against capitalism, against the U.S.A. The uninteresting poor represent forces that are considered passé. Their struggle concerns themselves only. They are fighting not to destroy a capitalist or colonialist regime, but simply to survive as individuals, as a culture, a people. And that, of course is not all interesting, is it? But the choice violent Christians make has nothing to do with love of the poor. They choose to support this or that group or movement because it is socialist, anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, etc.
Now I have no objection whatever to socialism and so on, and I certainly grant that every person -- and that means every Christian, too -- has a right to support these causes. What I do object to is the hypocrisy of those who profess that their support is based on Christian principles. For a Christian to say that it is love of justice or love of the poor that prompts him to participate in such movements, is hypocrisy. The first rule for a Christian is truthfulness. If he freely admits that his participation is based not on Christian but on purely humane considerations, then I am content and have no more to say. He has accepted a secular ideology and, like Father Maillard, honestly admits as much. However, if he still holds to his faith in Jesus Christ, he will, sooner or later, necessarily encounter contradictions between that faith and that ideology.
But mind, I am not saying that the Christian should not feel concern for the poor man who is his neighbor and whose neighbor he is. On the contrary. It is obvious that for the Christian American the black American is "the poor"; and it is equally obvious that the Christian American must struggle with and for his black brothers. My criticism is directed at the universalizing and overly theoretical position of the intellectuals, theologians and politicians who proclaim that they are responsible for all the world’s poor but in fact -- perhaps without knowing it -- are partisans and politicians.
Let me emphasize that recourse to violence is a sign of incapacity: incapacity to solve the fundamental questions of our time (perhaps even just to see them) and incapacity to discern the specific form Christian action ought to take. I repeat once more that I fully understand the insurrection of the oppressed who see no way out, who fight desperately against the violence done them and will break loose from their chains the moment they can. I fully understand the revolts of slaves, the violent workers’ strikes of the nineteenth century, the rebellion of colonized peoples who want to avenge a century of humiliation, privation and injustice at one blow. I understand these explosions and, what is more, I approve of them. The oppressed have no other way of protesting their human right to live; and they think, too, that by rebelling they can change their situation for the better, if only to some small degree. But what cannot be condoned is that Christians associate themselves with this avengement, and, worse, that Christians affirm that violence will secure fundamental change. Christians do not have the reasons for believing this that the oppressed have. Christians ought above all to play the role of society’s sentinel (Ezekiel), to interpret for society the meaning of acts and events. But, of course, that is much more difficult and much less exciting than to plunge thoughtlessly into revolutionary action.( M. G. MacGrath, Bishop of Panama, put it precisely (April, 1968): "The idealism and impatience of some of our best Christian leaders lay them open to the emotional appeal of the guerrilla heroes. But few are equipped with the tools for analyzing the ethical or even the tactical problems that violence involves.") To be on the side of the oppressed and at the same time have to tell them that their explosions of violence are futile and will bring no real change -- this is the most thankless position anyone can take. It was the position of Martin Luther King, and we know how vulnerable it is. It was also the position of Jesus in relation to the Pharisees (who wanted to organize resistance to the Romans ) and the Zealots.
Our prophets of violence indulge in revolutionary verbalism instead of trying seriously to determine what specifically Christian action is required. That indeed is very difficult to determine in a society as complex as ours. How express on the level of collective life the specific nature of the Christian life? What form must obedience take in our day and age? How show our contemporaries that the action of Christ makes us new men, that is, different men? So far, all attempts to answer these questions have been a total loss. Social Christianity (which on the whole is simple socialism), the Bekenntnis Kirche (which, once Hitlerism was defeated, merely aligned itself with anti-Hitlerism, thus with what might be called socio-communism), the ideas of Reinhold Niebuhr (which, while solidly thought out, affected neither church nor society) -- all have failed. And the worst failure is that of the World Council of Churches which regularly bypasses the fundamental problems of our time and devotes its energies to the most superficia1 ones. The ethical consequences of the faith have not been examined with any theological depth, and the stupendous newness of our society -- a newness that renders all older conceptions antiquated -- has not been adequately analyzed. Christians reject all such analysis as useless. Burning to do something, to make themselves felt, to bear witness in the midst of men, they rush headlong into action. No matter what action, provided only it be action, thus visible. That, they think, is where men are, and that is enough. And then -- since they will not stop to consider how they might make a specifically Christian contribution -- they align themselves with the political, economic and social positions of these other movements. They forget that what men really need is not a few more adherents for their movements, but something that Christ alone offers: the specificity of the Christian message. The Christian who accepts violence, like the Christian who thinks he can ignore violence, has abdicated from Christianity as a way of life. He has given up the attempt to express his faith in the difficult situation of today. Impatient with theologians and ratiocinating intellectuals, he will give his heart’s allegiance to no matter what, and abandon himself to the currents of the world.
The Theological Consequences
This attitude undoubtedly has a bearing on theology. I shall risk stating a hypothesis. Normally, it seems, knowledge and understanding of the Bible provide the basis for a_ theological view, which then provides the basis for right solution of all human problems and becomes an effective expression of the faith. Now, as we have seen, Christians who favor the use of violence do so "as a last resort"; that is, without thinking through the matter in theological terms, for they are convinced beforehand that there is no specifically Christian response to the world’s problems. However, Christians cannot support violence if they feel that such support renders them liable to theological censure, if they feel that they are not doing the right thing. Thus acceptance of violence necessarily involves theological views; but these are formulated "after the fact," after the decision for violence has been taken. Then, however, the formulations themselves become justifications of the stance for violence. In the end, we fashion the theology we must have if we are to live with ourselves when we act as we do. We have rushed into violence because the current of society runs that way, because, good-hearted people that we are, we side with the oppressed. Now we must explain our stance in theological terms.
It seems to me that two aspects of the new theology bear out that statement. First, the tendency to reject reconciliation. I say this on the basis of close observation, for the partisans of violence insist that they are sincerely devoted to reconciliation. Many of them say that the world is reconciled to God right now. They ignore the negative judgments on the world to be found abundantly in the Gospels and Epistles and take their stand on the text "God so loved the world...." They go so far as to suggest that the church is not really important. It is the world that is important, the world that is saved; and it is in the world that God’s love is disclosed. The church is only an accident, and it ought not to absorb Christians’ strength and money. If the church exists, it exists only for the world or for others (the church’s functions of praise and worship are forgotten). The church is meant for the world, because the world is the place where God acts. If pressed, these partisans will admit that the church is God’s instrument in the world; but that is as far as they will go.
So reconciliation seems to occupy a prominent place in this line of thought. In fact, however, reconciliation is stressed only in order to justify the Christian’s intervention in politics: since the world is reconciled (and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ ), all its undertakings -- political, technological, scientific, economic -- are legitimate and claim everyone’s participation. So runs the apologia of the proponents of violence. And up to this point they all agree. But when concrete action must be decided on, they disagree. For at this point -- tacitly and perhaps unconsciously --the question of reconciliation comes up again. On the one hand, the world is reconciled to God; but on the other hand, not everything and everyone in the world shares in that reconciliation: there are still the wicked. And the wicked are identified: they are the capitalists, the racists, the colonialists, the fascists, the anti-communists; or else they are the Communists, Negroes, workers, liberals, anti-racists (for it must not be forgotten that if the socialist mood is dominant among Christian intellectuals in Europe, the opposite is the case in the United States; and both sides have been infected by violence). There can be no reconciliation with the wicked of either group. The Bible speaks of the reconciliation of the wicked to God, and of loving your enemies ( that is, people you consider wicked) but precisely that aspect of God’s work is excluded here. So "reconciliation of the world" is interpreted: "The world" means "the things I like in the world -- science, technology, etc.," and that "world" is reconciled. And "reconciliation of men" means of the men whose political opinions I agree with." Thus Christian support of violence implies the monstrous theological sequel that revolution is prerequisite to reconciliation. Revolution will be the prelude to reconciliation, to the development of a new humanity. To preach reconciliation in the context of the old economic and political structures is hypocrisy. What is needed is new structures, and these cannot be created save by revolutionary means.
This view is just as emphatically advanced by right-wingers as by left-wingers. The Ku Klux Klan and the South African racialists cite the Bible in defense of their attitude. But in fact their attitude is the same as their opponents’. They deny that all men are reconciled in Jesus Christ; they deny that reconciliation, if it means anything, means reconciliation with the enemy and with everyone else.
Christian proponents of violence go so far as to say that the theology of reconciliation is a vestige of the past, an effort to perpetuate things as they are and to forestall change. In the Bible, they insist, reconciliation does not obtain universally. Yahweh and the Baalim are totally opposed to each other; the prophets shouted out condemnations; the disciples did not preach reconciliation until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Strangely, the authors of these arguments apparently do not notice that the Bible says the opposite of what they say it does. According to the Bible, there is no reconciliation with false gods, with idols, with the powers that rule the world, with "the world" as it is; but there is reconciliation with all men. The crucifixion and the resurrection signalize the defeat of the powers(which nowadays wear the form of money, the state, productivity, science, technology, etc.), but not of men. But alas, the violence espoused by so many modern Christians is always directed against men. Negroes must be punished, capitalists must be expropriated, etc. How is it that they cannot see that to reject the theology of reconciliation in favor of the theology of revolution is in fact to reject the Incarnation?
In this connection let me repeat once again that it does not matter so much that "Christians" participate in violence, that they massacre blacks or whites. But it matters greatly that they profess to do it for "Christian" reasons and insist that they are only trying to clear the way for a new Christian social order. "To reconciliation through violent revolution" is the most hypocritical of slogans, and those who mouth it reveal their ignorance of the most elementary Christian truths.
The second theological consequence of the violent stance is even more radical -- nothing less than the theology of the death of God. I shall not here analyze the various branches of this theology, its points of view and its results. In these pages I limit myself to presenting a kind of sociology of theology. But it is perhaps useful to say at once that very often the theology of revolution and the death-of-God theology are generated in the same circles, among the same groups of Christians. Sometimes indeed the theologians of one or other of them declare that these two theologies go hand in hand. They are right. As we have seen, Father Maillard is of the opinion that there can be no encounter with God except through the person of the other; and he adds that the idea of a personal, transcendent God is untenable. The idea of transcendence, he says, belongs to the infancy of the human race and is on the same level with the bourgeois idea of a hierarchical society. On his part, Father Cardonnel is the great theorist of "horizontal relations." Any idea of "verticality"-- that is, relation with a God existing on a higher level than man -- must be rejected. "From now on," he says, "God exists only in downtrodden people; that is what God’s transcendence amounts to."( It is true that, commenting on his own famous formula, "God is dead in Jesus Christ," Father Cardonnel explains that the God who is dead is the autocratic, arbitrary, despotic God, the ruler of a world that automatically produces rich and poor people. "The Lord who took the character of a slave could not have had a despotic father." All of which seems to me to indicate a curious misunderstanding of the whole Bible.)
Let me point out also that there is a connection between the death-of-God theology and rejection of the theology of reconciliation; and this rejection, as we have said, is in fact denial of the Incarnation. The same problem is raised by the death-of-God theology. If there is no such God as the Old Testament reveals, then there is no incarnation; for if there is no God, then who or what could be incarnate in the person of Jesus? All that remains is the person of Jesus, in whom we see the only possible God (obviously, there is no reference here to that old theological formula of the "two natures," which is dismissed as a medieval relic). But this Jesus is only a human being, and ( as Pastor Ennio Flores has well put it) if he is God it is only because he is the poorest of men. Thus every encounter with a poor person is also an encounter with Jesus Christ and God. But "God" is a meaningless term. However, it is clear that the revolutionary stance and its various theological consequences are of a piece.
Now let me go further and show that the theology of violence both implies and derives from the theology of the death of God. A theology of violence calls for discrimination for or against certain men or groups of men, therefore it must deny the Father who loves all men equally. The argument -- a fallacious one, to be sure -- is that man "come of age" has no need of God, or that psychoanalytic doctrines have rendered God obsolete. But the real motivation for getting rid of God is to be found deep in the unconscious. The Christian, eager to participate in public life, chooses to side for or against some group, his choice depending on his own class feelings and political and racial passions; and having taken sides he accepts the propaganda that stigmatizes every opponent as subhuman and an embodiment of evil. But this is an intolerable idea -- unless we are no longer the children of one Father, unless the creation story is a mere myth, unless the "vertical relationship" (at once unique, personal and universal ) no longer exists. When we all thought of each other as children of the same Father, we knew that war is a terrible evil. Now that God is dead, we can exploit creation to the utmost and defend mankind by killing all the people whose views of what man ought to be differ from ours. Of course, the death-of-God theologians contend with all their strength for an end of the Algerian war or the Vietnam war, but the only atrocities they can see are those committed by the party they condemn, the French or the Americans. Thus suppression of God permits love to be selective, partisan, capricious; for the only kind of relation left is the horizontal one.
Let us consider another aspect of this theology. The Bible tells us that it is God alone who establishes justice and God alone who will institute the kingdom at the end of time. It is true that some Christians have made this teaching an excuse for doing nothing; for since God is the guarantor and the founder of justice, the establishment of social justice can be left to him. But they knew that this was a wretched excuse, a shabby evasion. With the death of God, however, we can expect nothing from any source but ourselves. We ourselves must undertake to establish social justice. A position that is certainly courageous and, humanly speaking, valid. But who is to decide what justice is? How are we to discern justice? Many Christians refused to imitate the generations of theologians who have agonized over these questions. On the basis of the one biblical text they clung to (Matthew 25), they concluded that justice obviously consisted in feeding the poor, etc. Now this, too, is good theoretically. But we have seen that different groups of the poor are dealt with differently. Moreover, this conception of justice leads to assimilating the cause of the poor with socialism. So European Christians rush into the socialist camp in the belief that socialism assures justice. And then they accept the means socialism uses to establish justice -- namely, the violent tactics described above. The theology of the death of God is meaningless save as it throws open the door for man to act without restraint and at the same time assures him that he is right in acting so; for it declares that the sole duty of human beings is to act -- obviously, in human fashion -- among their fellows on earth.
That is why I think it is no accident that this death-of-God theology grew out of two anterior developments: the discovery that Christians must participate in politics and in public affairs, and the justification of violence. But ( and I choose my words carefully) if that is so, then this theology is not really a theology but an ideology. In spite of the impression some death-of-God writers may give, this line of thought is based not on the Revelation but altogether on philosophical considerations.
Here I shall merely enumerate the three characteristics that, in my opinion, mark an ideology as such. First, its premisses concerning society and modern man are pseudoscientific: for example, the affirmation that man has become adult, that he no longer needs a Father, that the Father-God was invented when the human race was in its infancy, etc.; the affirmation that man has become rational and thinks scientifically, and that therefore he must get rid of the religious and mythological notions that were appropriate when his thought processes were primitive; the affirmation that the modern world has been secularized, laicized, and can no longer countenance religious people, but if they still want to preach the kerygma they must do it in laicized terms; the affirmation that the Bible is of value only as a cultural document, not as the channel of Revelation, etc. ( I say "affirmation" because these are indeed simply affirmations, unrelated either to fact or to any scientific knowledge about modern man or present-day society. ) These various affirmations are matters of belief, based on misinterpretation of facts, misunderstanding of psychological and sociological discoveries, and, finally, on popular, commonly held notions. Now it is certainly one of the characteristics of an ideology that it presents as scientific truth what in reality is simply irrational belief.
The second characteristic of an ideology is that its real aims are quite different from those it announces. Some subject, a theological idea, is elucidated in the most serious way, not by any means in order to start a theological debate, but in order to confirm the feeling that a Christian must be active in the world. So this is no attempt to interpret the revealed truth more clearly (anyway, if God does not exist, whose would the revelation be?), but an ideological construct intended to promote an action that people feel the need of performing. This perversion of truly intellectual procedures is also an earmark of ideologies.
The third characteristic of an ideology is its justificatory purpose. The ultimate purpose of the whole death-of-God system is to justify a certain kind of behavior on the part of Christians in relation to society -- a kind of behavior that is dictated by conformism to the modern world. So a justificatory formula is manufactured; and alas, it often turns out that theology merely amounts to a justification of the behavior of pretend-Christians. The theology of the death of God reinforces this evil tendency. It justifies a sociological impulsion. That is the kind of theology it really is, unconsciously. Nor do the marvelous intellectual operations its proponents perform with every appearance of seriousness make it less profoundly false.
Such are the theological consequences of Christians’ defense of violence. They are grave consequences.
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