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 4: The Fight of Faith
Necessity and Legitimacy
As we have just seen, Christian realism leads to the conclusion that violence is natural and normal to man and society, that violence is a kind of necessity imposed on governors and governed, on rich and poor. If this realism scandalize Christians, it is because they make the great mistake of thinking what is natural is good and what is necessary is legitimate.
I am aware that the reader will answer at once: "You have shown that violence is inevitable and necessary in undertakings of any kind; therefore violence is legitimate, it must be used." This is anti-Christian reasoning par excellence. What Christ does for us is above all to make us free. Man becomes free through the Spirit of God, through conversion to and communion with the Lord. This is the one way to true freedom. But to have true freedom is to escape necessity or, rather, to be free to struggle against necessity. Therefore I say that only one line of action is open to the Christian who is free in Christ. He must struggle against violence precisely because, apart from Christ, violence is the form that human relations normally and necessarily take. In other words, the more completely violence seems to be of the order of necessity, the greater is the obligation of believers in Christ’s Lordship to overcome it by challenging necessity.
This is the fixed, the immutable, and the radical basis of the Christian option in relation to violence. For the order of necessity is the order of separation from God. Adam, created by God and in communion with God, is free; he is not subject to any kind of necessity. God lays on him only one commandment, a commandment that is a word of God and therefore also both a gospel and an element in dialogue between persons. This commandment is not a law limiting his freedom from without. Adam knows nothing of necessity, obligation, inevitability. If he obeys the word, he does so freely. It is not at all necessary for him to labor, to produce, to defend the Garden against anyone. Necessity appears when Adam breaks his relation with God. Then he becomes subject to an order of obligation, the order of toil, hunger, passions, struggle against nature, etc., from which there is no appeal. At that moment necessity becomes part of the order of nature -- not of nature as God wished it to be, but of nature henceforth made for death. And death is then the most total of all necessities. Necessity is definable as what man does because he cannot do otherwise. But when God reveals himself, necessity ceases to be destiny or even inevitability. In the Old Testament, man shatters the necessity of eating by fasting, the necessity of toil by keeping the Sabbath; and when he fasts or keeps the Sabbath he recovers his real freedom, because he has been found again by the God who has re-established communion with him. The institution of the order of Levites likewise shatters the normal institutional order of ownership, duty, provision for the future, etc. And this freedom is fully accomplished by and through Jesus Christ. For Christ, even death ceases to be a necessity: "I give my life for my sheep; it is not taken from me, I give it." And the constant stress on the importance of giving signifies a breaking away from the necessity of money.
Here then -- all too briefly described -- are the considerations basic to understanding the problem of violence. The temptation is always to yield to fatality, as Father Maillard does when he takes the extreme positions referred to above. "All life is a struggle," he says. "Life itself is violent. And it is in struggling that we realize ourselves. Every action is necessarily imperfect and impure.... We are caught in a terrible machine which can thrust us into situations of violence in spite of ourselves. Let us distrust the temptation to purity." (Cahiers de la réconciliation, Paris, 1967). But Father Maillard confuses the situation he perceives so realistically with the will of God.
Violence is inevitable, but so far as concerns society it has the same character as the universally prevailing law of gravitation, which is not in any way an expression of God’s love in Christ or of Christian vocation. When I stumble over an obstacle and fall, I am obeying the law of gravitation, which has nothing to do with Christian faith or the Christian life. We must realize that violence belongs to the same order of things. And so far as we understand that the whole of Christ’s work is a work of liberation -- of our liberation from sin, death, concupiscence, fatality (and from ourselves) -- we shall see that violence is not simply an ethical option for us to take or leave. Either we accept the order of necessity, acquiesce in and obey it -- and this has nothing at all to do with the work of God or obedience to God, however serious and compelling the reasons that move us -- or else we accept the order of Christ; but then we must reject violence root and branch.
For the role of the Christian in society, in the midst of men, is to shatter fatalities and necessities. And he cannot fulfill this role by using violent means, simply because violence is of the order of necessity. To use violence is to be of the world. Every time the disciples wanted to use any kind of violence they came up against Christ’s veto (the episode of the fire pouring from heaven on the cities that rejected Christ, the parable of the tares and the wheat, Peter’s sword, etc.). This way of posing the problem is more radical than that implicit in the usual juxtaposition of violence and love. For as we shall see, there is a "violence of love," and there is necessarily a quarrel between "handless" love and effectual love. Naturally, there are those who will protest: "But can anyone say that he loves the exploited poor of South America when he does nothing for them; and can anything be done without violence?" On the contrary, there is no escaping the absolute opposition between the order of necessity and the order of Christ.
But now it must be evident why we had to begin by declaring the reality of violence, explaining that it is totally of the world, and showing in what ways it is a necessity. For the Christian, if he is to oppose violence, must recognize its full dimensions and its great importance. The better we understand that violence is necessary, (Hitler said: "I cannot see why man should not be just as cruel as nature.") indispensable, inevitable, the better shall we be able to reject and oppose it. If we are free in Jesus Christ, we shall reject violence precisely because violence is necessary! We must say No to violence not inasmuch as it is a necessity and not only because it is violence. And, mind, this means all kinds and ways of violence: psychological manipulation, doctrinal terrorism, economic imperialism, the venomous warfare of free competition, is well as torture, guerrilla movements, police action .The capitalist who, operating from his headquarters, exploits the mass of workers or colonial peoples is just as violent as the guerrilla; he must absolutely not assume the mantle of Christianity. What he does is of the order of necessity, of estrangement from God; and even if he is a faithful churchgoer and a highly educated man, there is no freedom in him.
But if this is true, the opposite is also true. Christians must freely admit and accept the fact that non-Christians use violence. This is no reason for being scandalized. Just look at the situation man is caught in -- a hopeless situation from which there is no escape. That is exactly what the order of necessity is. The man who does not know freedom in Christ cannot understand the word of freedom Paul spoke in the midst of necessity: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (II Corinthians 4:8-9). Such a man thinks that in this situation Paul should have used other means -- violence in particular. We must accept and try to understand this man who does not know Christ’s freedom. But let us distinguish clearly between him and the man who has known Christ and calls himself a Christian. The latter cannot be excused if he uses violence for his own ends. (Nowadays, almost everyone agrees that the use of any kind of violence to protect "Christian values" or even Christians is unacceptable. Nevertheless, the tendency to use violence for these purposes recurs again and again. To cite a present-day example: Many people were not at all surprised at the report (in January, 1968; whether the report was correct I do not know) that so noted a theologian as Helmut Thielicke had called on a number of officer-candidates to prevent leftist students from disrupting the worship service at a Hamburg church by their demonstrations. Again, in Berlin, the faithful expelled R. Dutschke, who had wanted to discuss Vietnam during the service. Christians must look upon such provocation as in the nature of persecution and must accept it calmly. They have no right to cope with it by violence.) So, too, the capitalist or the colonialist who exploits and oppresses his fellow men, and the government leader who uses police or military violence, are to be radically condemned. Toward them, the church can only take the attitude that St. Ambrose took toward Theodore. On the other hand, the non-Christian -- the one who, living under a tyrannous regime or in a society where, it seems, social injustice will never end, wants to kill the tyrant or destroy the society; the one who, exploited or degraded by a colonialist regime, wants to kill the oppressor; the man who, victimized by a racist society, wants to avenge by violence the indignities heaped upon him -- all these, along with their violence, their hatred, their folly, must be accepted by those of us who are Christians. We know that they will only unleash violence, that they will solve no problems and will not bring in a better world; that such elements will appear, again and again, in a world of slavery and fear. But we cannot condemn these people. We must understand that when a man considers violence the only resort left him, when he sees it, not as a remedy and the harbinger of a new day, but as at least an indictment of the old, unjust order, when he thinks of violence as a way of affirming his outraged human dignity (his pride!) -- in all these cases he is yielding to a normal urge, he is being natural, he is, though he is outside the law, at least being truthful.
For after all, there is no need to deny that violence has its virtues. It can bring about the disorder that is necessary when the established order is only a sanctimonious injustice, therefore condemnable and condemned. Within the system or necessities, violence may be a valid means. When the social order has turned into a moralistic, conformist system, a hypocritical humanism, then it is (socially) good that violence should crush the lie. Here Sorel is right. When the humanistic camouflage conceals terrorism (e.g., in the system of human and public relations, Training Within Industry, etc.), then violence is beneficial as a means of revealing what the true situation is. When the good will the superior so easily exhibits toward employees, students, children, etc., is only self-interest, a cover for his egoism and cowardice, then violence is normal. Violence is undoubtedly the only means for exploding façades, for exposing hypocrisy and hidden oppression for what they are, only violence reveals reality. It forces the "good boss" or the humanist politician to show himself in his true colors -- as a savage exploiter or as an oppressor who does not hesitate to use violence when he meets resistance. It reveals that the superior is affable, kind, humane, understanding only so far as the inferior is servile, obedient, afraid, hard-working; otherwise, the superior turns ferocious.
Thus Christian realism and Christian radicalism must refuse to accept false solutions and appeasing compromises. Indeed the Christian must be watchful lest the oppressed party be deceived. For example, the Christian cannot accept the United States program of aid (including a state-guaranteed minimum income) for the blacks as a solution of the racial problem. In the long run a politics of aid -- though it certainly relieves material want --degrades its beneficiaries morally, psychologically, and spiritually. The Christian must be on guard against that sort of thing. Thus -- speaking as a Christian -- I say that while I cannot call violence good, legitimate, and just, I find its use condonable (1) when a man is in despair and sees no other way out, or (2) when a hypocritically just and peaceful situation must be exposed for what it is in order to end it. But I must emphasize that in these cases, too, violence is of the "order of necessity," therefore contradictory to the Christian life, whose root is freedom. Moreover, I must emphasize that this understandable, acceptable, condonable violence may change quickly. Opposing an unjust order, creating a state of disorder out of which (depending on how fluid the situation is) renewal may issue -- this is acceptable, provided that the users of violence do not pretend that they are creating order; what they are creating is one more injustice. The Christian simply cannot believe declarations that this violence will bring in a new order, a free society. There is just as much deceit here as in the order this violence is supposed to expose and oust. The hypocrisy of violence we spoke of rears its head again.
Moreover, violence cannot be accepted when it is made a factor in a strategy. We must sympathize with the man whose suffering explodes in violence, but we must refuse to countenance the one who considers violence a tool, a strategical tactic he is free to use at will. My objection to Che Guevara or Stokely Carmichael is that incitement to violence is (or was) a factor in their strategy --which is to say that they betray the people whose suffering drives them into anger and brutality. Thus human suffering and anger are turned into strings to operate marionettes, and these leaders reveal a hatred of humanity as deep as that of the leaders they oppose. It seems to me that a Christian cannot but sympathize with spontaneous violence but calculated violence, violence incited as part of a strategy, is in no respect different from the violence of the general who orders his solders to their death and in the same breath praises them for their patriotism, etc. This is the lesson that Lenin taught us.
Now a problem arises as regards the violence the Christian finds understandable and acceptable: what should his relation to it be? Let me repeat what I said above -- that the Christian cannot participate in a movement that makes violence and men’s anger a factor in its strategy; nor can he credit an ideology that promises to establish a new order through violence. This said, the problem remains. It is true that where man is exploited, crushed, degraded by man, the Christian can neither avoid involvement by escape into the realm of spiritual values, nor side by default with the dominating party (as he has done so often in the course of history). Necessarily, in virtue of the calling to which Christ has called him, in virtue of the Lord’s example, in virtue of the order of love, he is on the side of the little people, the poor. His place in the world is there -- the only place the way of love leads to. Even if he does not deliberately choose this place, he is there, because his communion with Jesus Christ is communion with the Poor One who knew total poverty, total injustice, total violence. But when the Christian consciously keeps faith with his Lord, he is led to the least of these, the brethren of the Lord, and to the Lord himself (Matthew 25:40 ff.). However, can he therefore join those brethren in all their actions and demonstrations? Can he take the way of violence -- which is the way of hatred -- with them and for them? Can he participate in violence when it is what I have described as "understandable" violence? This last is the step too many Christians have taken of late. And in this connection I have three things to say.
If the Christian, because of his solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, joins their movement of redress, stands with them in their revolt, he may never use violence himself nor even unreservedly condone their violence. The Christian may not commit murder or arson even to defend the poor. Moreover he must be on guard against creating the impression that his presence in the movement gives it a kind of moral guarantee. "The Christians are on our side" is interpreted as "God is on our side." It seems to me that, though there is some confusion about it, the case of Camilo Torres is in point here. Torres, readers will remember, was the Colombian priest who, seeing the terrible misery of his country’s peasants and workers, became convinced that there was only one remedy for it, namely, the guerrilla movement. So he joined the guerrillas. But he could not participate in their violence; he could only meet death at their side. (I know that there are conflicting views about Torres. Some consider him a saint, who never bore arms and died without defending himself. Others insist that he left the priesthood, became a regular guerrilla, and died with his gun in his hand. These conflicting judgments show how confusing and ambiguous Christian witness of that kind is, even when it is given with a pure conscience.) Giving his life was his way of witnessing to Christ’s presence among the poor and the afflicted. Undoubtedly, his was a noble and profound attitude. But I cannot say that it exemplifies Christian truth, for violence was directly involved here. Moreover, in such a case the Christian becomes a propaganda factor and the "good conscience" of men who have no hope in Jesus Christ. (I am well aware that I shall be told that to do nothing is to condone the violence of the oppressors!) The only lesson to be drawn here is that Christians who share the suffering of men must bear witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the worst and most dangerous situations. It is good and necessary that testimony to Jesus Christ be given among the guerrillas; but this is the only justification for a Christian’s presence in such company, even if his presence is an act of heroism.
It may, however, happen that the Christian himself uses violence. He has indeed often done so in the course of history. Oddly enough, all today’s preachers of violence seem unable to grasp the fact that they are comformists. They are like the preachers of the Crusades, except that the crusade they promote with their sermons on revolutionary violence is the inverse of the old Crusades. Centuries ago, it was usually (not always) the leaders who initiated violent movements in the name of the faith; today the violent movement attacks the leaders. Centuries ago, the purpose of the Crusade was to gain possession of the holy places -- a matter of piety; today, the purpose is social. Save for these two differences (which are not as important as they might seem), the old and new movements are exactly the same, and so is the atti- tude of Christians with respect to them.
Be that as it may, his being a revolutionary (and, as I have said, I believe that Christianity is profoundly revolutionary), his participation in the suffering of men, may lead a Christian to use violence. He would do so during a revolution, just as millions of Christians did so during the world wars. The point here is not that this is unacceptable, condemnable. The important thing is that, when he uses violence, the Christian knows very well that he is doing wrong, is sinning against the God of Love, and (even it only in appearance) is increasing the world’s disorder. He cannot conscientiously use violence in defense of the revolution of the poor, cannot believe that the violence he commits is in conformity with the divine will and the divine order. The only thing he can do is to admit that he is acting so out of his own fears and emotions (not to defend oneself in battle is difficult, more difficult than to accept a death sentence calmly); or else he can say that he is fighting for others, not to save his own life. To say that, however, is to recognize that violence is a necessity. In a revolution or a resistance movement, for instance, there are things that cannot be evaded, that have to be done; violence must be used -- it is a necessity. But in such a situation the Christian must realize that he has fallen back into the realm of necessity; that is, he is no longer the free man God wills and redeemed at great cost. He is no longer a man conformed to God, no longer a witness to truth. Of course, he can say that he is only a man among men -- but that is not at all the calling to which God has called him. He is once more traveling the rutted roads of this godless world. To be sure, the Bible tells of a great many men who "made history," but these were not the men God wished them to be. To fight even the worst of men is still to fight a man, a potential image of God.
Thus violence can never be justified or acceptable before God. The Christian can only admit humbly that he could not do otherwise, that he took the easy way and yielded to necessity and the pressures of the world. That is why the Christian, even when he permits himself to use violence in what he considers the best of causes, cannot either feel or say that he is justified: he can only confess that he is a sinner, submit to God’s judgment, and hope for God’s grace and forgiveness.
If I seem to be overstressing a point that is obvious and banal, it is because I know some "violent Christians" who do not at all take the attitude described above. Indeed, they are so convinced of the justice of their cause that they are quite pleased with themselves for being on the "right side." Whereas, in face of the tragic problem of violence, the first truth to be discerned is that, whatever side he takes, the Christian can never have an easy conscience and never feel that he is pursuing the way of truth.
Now let me offer a criterion. If the Christian joins a violent movement to defend the oppressed (not to defend some political aim) he is like a foreign body in the midst of those partisans (whether they be partisans of order or of revolution). For them, he is a kind of permanent bad conscience, a reminder of something else, a witness to the Wholly Other. His presence implies that their (and his) undertaking is of a relative character. Moreover, he might change camps.
I say that the Christian must change camps once his friends have won; that is, when in the aftermath of its victory the revolutionary party assumes power; for the party will immediately begin to oppress the former oppressors. This is the way things regularly go. I saw it in the case of the French resistance to the Nazis. Therefore, if a Christian’s participation in a violent movement was truly prompted by his concern for the poor, the oppressed, and the disinherited, he must now change camps. He must move to the side of the erstwhile "enemies" -- the capitalists, the bourgeoisie, the collaborators, the Nazis, etc. -- because they are now the victims, they are now the poor and the humiliated. Taking their part shows that his earlier involvement was authentic, that the reasons he gave for his participation in the violent movement were the true reasons. But if he stays on the side of the victors, he admits in effect that he was not really concerned for the poor and the oppressed in the first place. His insistence that he wanted to demonstrate his Christianity by serving men was a lie; his protest that he joined the violent movement in self-defense, because no other way was open to him, was also a lie. All his protests and declarations were a lie, a deceit, a hypocrisy. It is painful for me to pronounce this judgment on the multitude of Christians who sided with the National Liberation Front during the Algerian war. But after the war they were utterly indifferent to the fate of the harkis, the pieds noirs, and the Algerians oppressed by the new government. Therefore, their partisanship for the National Liberation Front was prompted by political views, by doctrinal or intellectual considerations, or -- in most cases -- simply by propaganda. Nothing in all this was, strictly speaking, Christian. And to cite Christian motivations in order to justify oneself in one’s own eyes and the world’s is to augment the evil. I must confess that considerable experience has taught me to be highly suspicious of Christian proponents of violence who appeal to such motivations.
I have tried to show that, while violence is inevitable and belongs to the order of necessity, this fact does not legitimize it in the sight of God; that indeed violence is contrary to the life in Christ to which we are called. Therefore, as Christians, we must firmly refuse to accept whatever justifications of violence are advanced; and in particular we must reject all attempts to justify violence on Christian grounds. Let me say once more that this applies to the violence of the powerful, of the capitalist, the colonialist and the state, as well as to the violence of the oppressed. I even say that this is not so much violence itself as a justification of violence that is unacceptable to Christian faith. Violence as such, on the animal level, is the direct expression of our nature as animals; it certainly shows that we live in a state of sin -- but that is nothing new. But any attempt to justify violence (by emotional considerations, by a doctrine, a theology, etc.) is a supplementary perversion of fallen nature at the hands of man. Remember Jesus’ accusations against the Pharisees. He did not reprove them for doing the works of the law -- on the contrary. What he attacked was their belief that their doing these works proved them just, their complacent conviction that their self-justifications were true.
Thus we as Christians are obliged on the one hand to attack all justifications for the use of violence, and on the other to refuse to provide Christian justifications. This second point ought to be, but is no longer, self-evident. Hence we are led to conclude that today’s theologians of violence are pharisees, terrible distorters of Christian truth. And hence we are led to conclude that these theologians, despite all their kind sentiments, are helping to imprison man in the infernal circle of violence, which he can break out of only when he fully understands that doing violence is evil in the sight of God. Father Maillard says that "God has taken sides, therefore we are involved; we cannot express our faith except through imperfect temporal means, our love must be embodied in terms of economics and politics"; and on the basis of these generalities he concludes that violence is the proper mode of Christian action today. But to say this is to justify, in a most fearful way, all that is worst in man’s fallen condition. This is in fact a resurgence in other terms and with other objectives in view -- of the error always committed by Christians who intervene in the sphere of human actions to justify them and to testify that in the end man has good reason for doing what he does. This is what theology did for centuries, for the benefit of state and king. And it is rightly criticized today. But justifying the violence of the other party amounts to the same thing.
In their radical refusal to justify violence, Christians must not leave the smallest breach. In particular, the must not draw up generalized formulas that, though they are likely to be rather empty, authorize every kind of deviation. I have in mind a host of declarations by popes, by the World Council of Churches, by our synods. An example: "One of the most important goods of human societies is that their defense against unjust aggression is fully justified." (Christmas Message of Pope Pius XII, 1948. I cite this passage in order to show that the encyclical Populorum progressio is not so very novel!) Such a statement would justify all Hitler’s and Stalin’s enterprises from a Christian point of view. Formulas of this sort are dangerous because they have no concrete meaning. Moreover, they open a breach for the benefit of proponents of violence.
So, if a Christian feels that he must participate in a violent movement (or in a war!) let him do so discerningly. He ought to be the one who, even as he acts with the others proclaims the injustice and the unacceptability of what he and they are doing. He ought to be the mirror of truth in which his comrades perceive the horror of their action. He ought to be the conscience of the movement; the one who, in behalf of his unbelieving comrades, repents, bears humiliation, and prays to the Lord; the one who restrains man from glorifying himself for the evil he does.
And, mind, this is the only way open to the Christian. For him to condemn the violence of the "enemy" is useless, senseless, wide of the mark. For a Christian "of the left" to condemn the violence of the capitalists and the fascists, or for a Christian capitalist to condemn the violence of the workers or the guerrillas, is irrelevant. What is important is that the leftist Christian, for all his solidarity and sense of community with his comrades, should bring into his and their movement a critique of the violence they are using. Likewise as to the Christian capitalist. Let him say: "Yes, we exploit and oppress, we cannot do otherwise, but we are condemned by God for doing so, and we suffer."
Not only is this the one way a Christian caught in the toils of violence can witness to Jesus Christ; it entails concrete consequences of a very real kind. Let me mention two. First, as to physical violence: men are not directly and constantly prompted to use physical violence. To be sure, there are those who yield to "visceral" hatred and are ready to kill. But situations of raw violence are rare. Almost always, it is the conviction that "I am right" or "my cause is the cause of justice" that triggers violence. That is, the moment value or an ideal is introduced, the moment motivations for fighting are advanced -- in other words, the moment propaganda does its work -- violence is unleashed. And violence can be reduced by countering this propaganda. For when a man is not quite sure of the virtue of his cause he hesitates to kill. So exposing the reality of violence as an animal reaction, as a "necessity," is automatically to reduce the use of violence. That is why Christians who side with the oppressed and justify violence in their behalf cannot, for all their good will and their seeming charity, be counted among the meek, nor among the merciful, nor among the peacemakers, nor yet among those who hunger and thirst for justice.
But to look at the matter from another angle: who will deny that a refusal on the part of the exploiters and the established powers and authorities to justify violence would be of unimaginable importance? Practically speaking, propaganda’s only and invariable aim is to furnish justifications. To take away a government’s (or a capitalist’s) good conscience is to take away its power to use violence, because it is to take away its legitimacy. To induce a government (or a capitalist) to see its action as simple brute violence is to induce it to hesitate to use violence. But here again this cannot happen unless the question comes from within -- unless the government official will not allow himself to evade it by saying, "Of course, he says that because he is a communist." The question must come from the very heart of the political and economic system. The Christian who, having accepted the communist regime in the U.S.S.R., protests the violence of that regime, should be "all things to all men"-- not to show that a Christian will acquiesce in anything whatever, but to lead some of his compatriots to Christ; that is, in this connection, lead them to renounce violence. And if the man of power, the capitalist, and the colonialist go on using violence, their violence will be seen for what it is.
There was a great difference between the assassination of Malcolm X and that of Martin Luther King. Malcolm X preached only violence and hate, and hate and violence made answer -- to no one’s surprise. This assassination confirmed the argument that our society is based on the correspondence between hate and violence. But the death of Martin Luther King stunned the world. It was, after all, not normal for violence to be done him. In his assassination, hate showed its true face. King’s murderers only succeeded in strengthening opinion against racism and apartheid. Thereafter, greater efforts were made to remedy the plight of the blacks. (This is why I cannot accept the statement of Julia Hervé (the daughter of Richard Wright) that King was defeated. He was "defeated" only from a non-Christian, nonspiritual, tactical point of view that makes efficiency its standard of judgment.)
Two important facts must be taken into account here: a government’s need to have a good conscience, and the influence of public opinion. It is not astonishing that, in a society like ours, governments do not employ all the means at their disposal unless they can do so conscientiously. The means are so overwhelming and destructive that those who use them must be sure that they are doing right. The Christian must attack an unjust regime on the score of its legitimacy, its psychological and moral validity. He must attack the conscience of the regime’s supporters. To be sure, this may take much time and may cost Christians dear. There will be no lightning-swift advances, no spectacular progress to bring glory on the Christians. Yet this is truly the only way open to them. When through their implacable meekness and their steady witness they succeed in demolishing the justifications a regime puts forward, the regime is forced to revise its policies. In the United States, it was thanks to Martin Luther King, not to Malcolm X, that the position of the blacks was greatly improved. Likewise in Spain, once the Spanish Christians began to challenge the Francoist regime, that regime was forced to modify and moderate its methods. I am certainly not saying that "nonviolent action" in itself is effectual. I am saying that by demolishing a regime’s moral justifications, Christian witness deals it a much severer blow than criminal or guerrilla action can deliver.
Moreover, in our society, public opinion carries great weight. While this book is not concerned with politics, I cite two important examples of how politics is affected by public opinion. In Algeria, the French army practically liquidated the NLF and all but won militarily. But, on the one hand, French opinion had gradually turned against the Algerian war and no longer accepted the government’s arguments. And, on the other hand, world opinion, led by the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. (for once cooperating), was hostile to France. Therefore, in spite of its military victory, France had to accept defeat. The same kind of thing seems to be happening in regard to the Vietnam war. Militarily, America has probably already won. But world opinion is against her, and in the United States itself there is strong opposition (though American opinion on Vietnam is not as violent as French opinion on Algeria was in 1960). So the United States will have to yield. Events of this kind both prompt and confirm my contention that the refusal of Christians to condone an unjust regime will, in time, work powerfully.
Necessarily, however, the effectualness of this approach depends on what I shall call Christian radicalism. (To obviate all misunderstanding, I must explain that I am using this term in the sense frequently given it by Anglo-Saxon theologians, who see "radicalism" as rooted in the tradition (Bishop Robinson, the death-of-God theologians). Here I mean by it that Christianity must be accepted in its revealed totality --accepted absolutely, intransigently, without cultural or philosophical or any other kind of accommodation or adaptation.) That is, if the Christian is to contend against violence (whatever its source), he will have to be absolutely intransigent, he will have to refuse to be conciliated. The Christian faith implies rejection and condemnation of both revolutionary violence and the violence of the established powers. "Thou shalt not kill" (as Jesus explained it) is to be considered not a law but a guiding principle in accomplishing the supreme task of man. It is when he is guided by those four words that man is man. In our materialistic times, man is identified as homo faber -- which means that it is his use of tools, his utilization of wood and stone, that differentiates him from the animals; that it is his practical reason, his doing, that marks him as man. I say that these are not at all the distinguishing characteristics. To some degree, animals know how to make use of things, and sometimes even employ artificial means (the monkey and the stick). What differentiates man radically from all other animals is this "Thou shalt not kill " For to say that is to flout the natural course of events. The animal kills what it needs to; killing is no problem for it at all. Nature is the power to kill. Slaughter is the basis for the development of life. But when he says "Thou shalt not kill," man affirms that he is different from animals, that he has embarked on a new course -- in short, that he has found himself as man. "Thou shalt not kill" expresses the true being of man. All the demands implied in these words -- faith in Jesus Christ, love of enemy, the overcoming of evil by love -- must be affirmed, taught and lived with the most absolute intransigence. There can be no accommodation. The Christianity that accommodates itself to the culture in the belief that it will thus make itself more acceptable and better understood, and more authentically in touch with humanity -- this is not a half-Christianity; it is a total denial of Christianity. Once Christianity gives way to accommodation or humanistic interpretation, the revelation is gone. Christian faith is radical, decisive like the very word of God, or else it is nothing.
Now, it is precisely a lack or a toning down of radicalism that characterizes the modern theological orientation (as it has so often characterized other theologies in the course of church history). Paul Tillich’s theology of culture, Rudolf Bultmann’s demythologization, today’s death-of-God theology are all adaptations of Christianity to what is conceived of as the nature of man and modern society. It is very important for us to understand that every such effort, however intelligent, radically attacks the Lordship of Jesus Christ by removing its content and its power. This is not a matter of interpreting reality in a new way, giving it a new content, etc. Such accommodation robs the gospel of its radicalism and consequently renders the Christian powerless in the struggle against violence. To seek conciliation with the world is to cut off the gospel’s roots. This, of course, assured Catholicism’s worldly success -- at the cost of its authenticity. Thus Catholicism was the great justifier first of feudal society, then of monarchy; and today, in exactly the same fashion, it justifies revolution. To seek a "balanced" conception of violence -- to attempt to reconcile "effective love for the enemy" with "defense of rights," or to decide under what conditions armed insurrection is legitimate (for example, when the damage resulting from violence will be no worse than the damage being done by or through the current system -- but as we have seen, this position is untenable), or to carry on any other such casuistry -- this is to break with Christianity. Christians ought to understand clearly that Christianity has nothing to say in regard to this sort of thing.
But I know infallibly that at this point I shall be asked: This intransigent Christian radicalism of yours, doesn’t it really mean withdrawal from the world? That, of course, is the great objection violent Christians always raise. They advance two arguments. The first is based on Charles Peguy’s statement: "People who insist on keeping their hands clean are likely to find themselves without hands." Involvement in the world means getting dirty hands -- that is, adjusting to the world. The intransigently Christian life can be lived only apart from the world. Christian radicalism is an abstraction that inhibits people from being involved with life because life is unclean. Though it looks like ascetic abstinence, this refusal to become involved is a flight from reality.
The second argument: Radical Christianity applies to the individual, and the individual is insignificant and ineffectual. Would the conversion of this rich man or that head of state bring any change whatever in the conditions man lives under today? Would it solve the problem of the oppressed? According to Father Maillard, there is no connection between authentic brotherly love and the hypothetical conversion of theca rich man who oppresses his fellow human beings.
Let me deal briefly with these arguments. As to the first of them: To reject radical Christianity in order to plunge into action may be the thing for people who have a passion for action, but it is to reject Christianity itself. I have nothing against the person who prefers to take the way of politics, big business, science, revolution technology, etc. Only, let him not pretend that he is thus witnessing to Christian truth. That much honesty can be demanded of him. Moreover, the idea that Christian radicalism inhibits action is utterly false. It calls for action -- but of another kind. Certainly it inhibits the action of the capitalist bent on conquering new markets, the action of the guerrillas, etc. But it does require action. However, because Christianity is the revelation of the Wholly Other, that action must be different, specific, singular, incommensurable with political or corporate methods of action. Those who think that technological or political action is the only kind there is are, of course, free to go on thinking so. The worse for them. In any case, it is not by aligning Christianity with those sociological forms that the specific form Christian action should take today will be discovered.
The second argument must be taken very seriously, for (as so often happens nowadays) it casts doubt on certain Christian beliefs, namely, that we must preach the gospel so that men may be converted; that the purpose of preaching the gospel is neither to reform society nor to increase justice, but simply to convert men to their Lord Jesus Christ. In spite of all the current talk about "social Christianity," etc. an unbiased and unprejudiced reading of the Bible shows that converting men to their Lord is the work Christians are called to do. I do not have room here to develop the argument against "Christian-collective" systems (especially those whose proponents point to the primacy of the kingdom of God and interpret the kingdom in collective, social terms). I have only two things to say.
First, according to Father Maillard (referred to above), the rich man is not our brother, he is our enemy; eliminating him is the only thing that matters. In spite of all its sentimentality about the "little people" who are our brothers, a declaration like this is --from the Christian point of view -- radically lacking in truth.
Second, this diminishment of the Wholly Other who has been revealed to us, this recourse to violence and to political and economic methods to express Christianity, is an admission that faith in the possibility of God’s radical intervention, faith in the Holy Spirit, has been lost. Obviously, God intervenes radically only in response to a radical attitude on the part of the believer --radical not in regard to political means but in regard to faith; and the believer who is radical in his faith has rejected all means other than those of faith. The appeal to and use of violence in Christian action increase in exact proportion to the decrease in faith. (Mind, I am saying neither that all human means of action are to be condemned nor that we should sit idly and await God’s action. But the use of violence implies total confidence on the part of the user that it is justified -- and this confidence is a crime against God. For example, I am taken aback by the following statement by Don Helder Camara, who otherwise is so worthy of regard: "We shall win [the revolutionary struggle] by creating widespread good will for our cause; or we shall lose all, and then nothing can be saved." How can a Christian say that? Is there any other salvation than salvation in Christ? Does defeat on the socio-political level imperil that salvation?) We are told that the Christian cannot take refuge in contemplation or pious prayers, that praying does not mean waiting passively for God to act on our behalf; that, on the contrary, praying means that we too must act. All of which is perfectly true. But then some people go to the other extreme and insist that we must do everything ourselves --"Help yourself (and, possibly, heaven will help you) !" Thus to stress human means -- usually including violence -- is in effect to stake everything on those means. If I think that I cannot reach others except by participating in their revolt, their anger and hatred; if I think that Christ’s consolation is a deluding lie and reconciliation a hypocrisy, then I no longer believe that the coming kingdom is truly present (but it is a kingdom of heaven, not of earth), and I no longer believe in the Resurrection. And because in the depth of my heart I no longer believe these things -- believe them confidently and unquestioningly, like the little child Jesus bade us imitate -- I substitute for the Resurrection my mythological picture of it, and I decide that I shall have to build the kingdom on earth with my own hands. Because I do not believe these things, I think others cannot believe them either. Because I am not reconciled with my enemies (the rich, the powerful), I think I need not preach reconciliation. And because I believe that everything takes place on this earth (the rest being illusory), I think I can no longer proclaim the hope of Christ’s Return. This unbelief (whose root, alas, is sociological, embedded in our culture) is the true root of Christian championship of violence. All the rest is illusion. Thus we face a decisive choice.
But, while Christian radicalism forbids participation in violence of any kind, it cannot counsel the poor and the oppressed to be submissive and accepting. I believe that, too often in history, Christians betrayed their faith by preaching resignation to the poor without at the same time constraining the rich to serve the poor. The Bible says that the Christian in an inferior position must not seek revenge, make demands, revolt; but in return the superior must become the servant of the inferior. Generally in preaching submission the church has forgotten the other side and thus has stood with the oppressors; it lent its moral authority to armed violence or to wealth and power. Naturally and justifiably, under such conditions the poor will reject the church. Today the church is biased in the other direction. It condones the struggle against the powerful and forgets that it should not exalt the pride of the poor.
But the main duty of the Christian nowadays is to urge the cause of the oppressed pacifically, to witness to their misery and to call for justice. The Christian should serve as intermediary or mediator between the powerful and the oppressed. He is the spokesman appointed by God for the oppressed. Those who are imprisoned need an advocate. Those who have been dismissed from the world’s memory, who (in the terrible words of an Egyptian author) are "forgotten by God," need an intercessor. Was not that exactly the role Abraham played in behalf of Sodom? The Christian is necessarily on the side of the poor -- not to incite them to revolution, hatred, and violence, but to plead their cause before the powerful and the authorities. If need be, he must break down the doors of the powerful and declare the claims of love and justice. This role is much more difficult and thankless than that of a guerrilla chieftain or a corporate head, and there is no glory in it. To gain entrance to a corporation head and insist on discussing his workers’ plight with him is much more difficult than to march in a picket line, for it requires much more in the way of intelligence, ability, precise information, and strength of soul. But we must demand entrance to the powerful because, in virtue of representing the poor, we are ambassadors of Christ. I hold that in every situation of injustice and oppression, the Christian -- who cannot deal with it by violence -- must make himself completely a part of it as representative of the victims. The Christian has spiritual weapons. He must state the case, make it his own, compel the other to see it. He must -- we said above -- create a climate of doubt, insecurity, and bad conscience. He lends his intelligence, his influence, his hands, and his face to the faceless mass that has no hands and no influence.
But all this implies that the Christian must meet two conditions. The first is, of course, that he accept Christian radicalism. He cannot represent the victims before the authorities unless he wears the armor of absolute intransigence. On the one hand, he must know how to "distance" himself from the poor who demand redress, in order to keep them from abandoning themselves to violence. It is not easy to resist the friends to whom you are close. The Christian must be solidly anchored lest he be swept along by the sociological current. On the other hand, he must remember that contact with the powerful always involves the danger of corruption. This corporation head, or that minister of state, is so "understanding," so "ready to talk," so full of "good will" that it is hard to be blunt about the needs and claims of the poor. Socialist and trade-union leaders know all about this kind of thing. As they carry on "dialogue" with the enemy, they find themselves being less and less violent and uncompromising. If the Christian acts as mediator or advocate, as representative of the poor, it is not to get little concessions or to conciliate points of view or to harmonize opposing interests; no, it is to plead the cause of absolute misery before absolute power (power is always absolute!), and to do this in a spirit of imperturbably calm and loving intransigence, without animosity or violence. He must not compromise even on the smallest point (as Moses could not compromise with Pharaoh), for he does not represent himself but is sent by God. And his faith should render him proof against threats, corruption, amiability, the proffer of honors. But it is only Christian radicalism that can make him such a mediator. Lest he allow himself to incline toward one side or the other, he must first and last represent the total claim of Christ. And because it means faith in this Lord, that radicalism leads the Christian to comprehend all situations fully (including the situation of the corporation head or the statesman -- "I am become all things to all men"), and also to love his adversaries as he loves his friends. That radicalism guarantees that he will see all sides -- and this makes it possible for him to take the role of mediator. But, some will say, this is utopian! No. It is an expression of the faith. And if we do not believe that the Lord in whom we trust can open the mouth of the dumb and move mountains, we have simply abandoned Christianity completely.
The second condition: The Christian must be the spokesman for those who are really poor and forgotten. I must say (and I want readers to be absolutely clear about this) that all the political and social movements which Christian friends of mine have joined precisely because they wanted to help the poor -- that these movements very rarely show a concern to seek out, to find, to help the really poor. Many Christians participate in such movements only after others have called attention to this or that terrible situation, or after the struggle is three-quarters won. Christians specialize in joining struggles that are virtually over and in championing those of the poor who already have millions of champions. Which is to say that Christians are very susceptible to propaganda. In the great majority of cases, indeed in all the cases I know (Martin Luther King is the one exception), Christians step into line in response to vast propaganda campaigns, launched by others, for this or that group of the "poor" -- for example, the Algerians of the National Liberation Front, the North Vietnamese, the proletariat.
Here two questions arise. First, when a group is defended by world opinion, by a powerful organization, by the world’s strongest nations (the U.S.S.R, China), can it then be said even if they still suffer terribly -- that these people are truly abandoned and forgotten? Second, since in such cases Christians merely add their voices to a chorus that is already fully staffed, since they bring to it nothing new (that is, nothing Christian) and simply string along on the path cut by others (chiefly, the path of violence) -- can it then be said that their participation has any value? I say it does not. I say that, alerted by vast propaganda campaigns, they have leaped to the defense of people who are not really the "poor", Matthew 25 speaks about. In an earlier chapter, I mentioned the Biafrans, the Sudanese, the Khurds, the Tibetans. I have heard no Christian voice raised in their behalf. (As of this writing, late spring, 1968.) That is because there has been no great propaganda in their favor. For every victim of the Vietnam war, ten Biafrans, Tibetans, etc., have been slaughtered or atrociously tortured. But Christians are not interested. Most often, Christians who plunge into "peace campaigns" do so for political reasons, not for reasons of faith. And politically speaking the Khurds, the Biafrans, etc., are not interesting. A Christian who is authentically concerned for the poor must withdraw at once from a movement that counts its adherents in millions.
The same kind of thing happens as regards individuals. The "Debray case" was widely publicized all over the world; so Christians along with millions of others rushed to Debray’s defense. But in 1963 a young woman named Melle Cleziou, an agricultural engineer in Algeria, took part in a maquis movement against Ben Bella and was arrested. Some of her colleagues reported her case, but nobody was interested. She disappeared and is probably dead. Again, no Christian was interested. Or let me cite an example from the U.S.A. The problem of the Negroes is undoubtedly very important there, but today the world supports their cause. I should like to see Christians concern themselves for the Puerto Ricans in New York and the "wetbacks", in the Southwest, rather than for the blacks. The Puerto Ricans and the wetbacks are truly oppressed, lost, forgotten. Of course I shall be told, "But we don’t know anything about them." Exactly! If it is truly the task of Christians to play the role of spokesman for the oppressed, witness for the forgotten, then they must be so concerned about human misery that they take pains to discover the really lost before its too late. "Too late" because they are dead, as in the case of Melle Cleziou (and this will perhaps soon be the case of the Sudanese and the Biafrans, who are in danger of vanishing altogether); or because they are so unjustly and hatefully oppressed that their own hatred breaks out in revolt (as in the case of the American blacks). If Christians have a prophetic vocation, they will fulfill it today by speaking out in behalf of those whom nobody knows but whom Christians can learn to know because the Holy Spirit guides them. It is true that the Spirit should have given us up long ago, so invariably do we fall for propaganda!
One thing, however, is sure: unless Christians fulfill their prophetic role, unless they become the advocates and defenders of the truly poor, witness to their misery, then, infallibly, violence will suddenly break out. In one way or other "their blood cries to heaven," and violence will seem the only way out. It will be too late to try to calm them and create harmony. Martin Luther King probably came ten years too late for the black Americans; the roots of violence had already gone deep. So, instead of listening to the fomenters of violence, Christians ought to repent for having been too late. For if the time comes when despair sees violence as the only possible way, it is because Christians were not what they should have been. If violence is unleashed anywhere at all, the Christians are always to blame. This is the criterion, as it were, of the confession of sin. Always, it is because Christians have not been concerned for the poor, have not defended the cause of the poor before the powerful, have not unswervingly fought the fight for justice, that violence breaks out. Once violence is there, it is too late. And then Christians cannot try to redeem themselves and soothe their conscience by participating in violence.
I have tried to show clearly in what respect the action of the Christian must be specific, unique. This entails important consequences. Christians must not require others to act as if they were Christians, as if they held a Christian ethic. I cannot develop this theme here. Readers will find fuller treatment of it in other of my books. (Le vouloir et le faire; Introduction à l’éthique Geneva: Labor & Fides, 64) If an ethic is Christian, it is a product of the faith, acceptable and possible only to faith. Therefore it is literally impossible to require others to obey that ethic -- to demand that they live as if they were Christians, even though they do not possess the faith. To demand that would be to set up for them objectives they can neither understand nor attain. On the other hand, an ethic that would be equally valid for Christians and for nonChristians -- in virtue of its not being specifically Chr- istian -- would necessarily be a non-Christian ethic (such as John A. T. Robinson presents in his rather mediocre Christian Morals Today). But this would be to say that there is no such thing as specifically Christian action, therefore that there is no possible way of incarnating the faith. (Except (according to Robinson) "love." But "love", means nothing concrete, it is empty, muddled. It reminds one of Christianity’s worst days of sentimental love. In so far as I firmly believe that faith in Jesus Christ requires action of a specific, unique, singular kind, I must admit that the counsels on violence issuing from the faith are addressed to faith, therefore can have no meaning for those who do not believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. For example, we cannot expect non-Christians to bear oppression and injustice as we ought to bear them. So we cannot do as the church has so often done: remind the world’s oppressed (very few of whom are Christians) of their "Christian duty" to submit and practice resignation.
To us, this "Christian duty" is native. We Christians must submit and bear unjust suffering "for if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval" (I Peter 2:20). But we cannot make this a law for all men. We must accept injustice ourselves, but we can neither require others to bear patiently nor serve as example for them, nor yet bear their suffering for them. That is to say, we cannot tolerate the injustice done to others. The Christian’s first act of nonviolence is that he refrain from asking others to live as if they were Christians. When violence is in question, it is not our business to lecture them and urge them to be nonviolent. Of course -- as I have said again and again -- we cannot participate in violence, any more than we can participate in oppression and injustice. But if (as I said above) we must try to solve a bad situation before it becomes worse and reaches the stage where violence is on hand, it will do no good to urge non-Christians not to use violence. In whose name, or why? In any undertaking, nonChristians necessarily act out of their human motives. They pursue their own interests at any cost, or they try to dominate others; or they may tend to be cruel and so they create inhumane situations; or they are obsessed with power and pride; etc. if we believe that Jesus Christ alone is Lord and Savior, then we should not be astonished or scandalized when such things happen. Rather, we should marvel when such things do not happen, when through human means a kind of order and peace and justice reigns; for this is the miracle, and we should thank and praise God for it, and also this or that man.
Thus if we are serious we must accept the fact that men plunge into violence, and we must try to limit the effects and remedy the causes of that violence. But we shall not be able to deter men from violence. While Christians can never participate in violence for any reason whatever, it is not up to them to condemn those who use it. From this point of view, the attitude of Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael is completely honest. They had been Christians, but they chose violence and therefore rejected Christianity. " My people, my fellow blacks, are my religion. I am not a Christian. Even if Christ were black, Christianity is still something Western. Every time blacks are killed a priest is on hand with his cross. We don’t need priests and crosses. We need to answer killing with killing.... Many of us believed in God. But two years ago we were told that God was dead. Then we began to believe in ourselves. We have learned to kill by believing in ourselves, not by believing in God or Christianity." Thus Brown. (Nouvel observateur, September 1l, 1967.) And Carmichael: ``We’ve had more than enough of missionaries. We are no longer Christians. When the missionaries came to Africa, we had the land and they had the Bible. Now they have the land and we have the Bible." (Conference at Havana, August 2, 1967.)
I find statements like these infinitely more serious and to my liking than the statements of Christians who try to justify the violence they preach. At least Brown and Carmichael are men who made a real choice, who did not even attempt a shabby reconciliation, and who saw clearly that violence is radically incompatible with faith in Jesus Christ. They chose violence; that was their privilege. All that a Christian could do would be truly to convert them to Jesus Christ. But certainly the Christian cannot hypocritically counsel them to renounce what they believe is the right way for them; nor can the Christian justify them with a theological benediction that they have been honest enough to refuse. Where they are concerned, we know at least where we are.
But now let me give a warning. If the Christian cannot demand, cannot even suggest, that nonChristians should act as though they were inspired by the Christian faith, he must take the same attitude toward the revolutionaries and toward the state. To demand that a non-Christian state should refrain from using violence is hypocrisy of the worst sort; for the Christian’s position derives from the faith, and moreover he exercises no responsible political function. To ask a government not to use the police when revolutionary trouble is afoot, or not to use the army when the int-ernational situation is dangerous, is to ask the state to commit hara-kari. A state responsible for maintaining order and defending the nation cannot accede to such a request. The intellectuals can play the game on their own terms; they hold no political office, they are outsiders; so it is easy for them with their high principles to decide what should be done. Christian honesty and Christian humility would prompt the question: "If I really were in that official’s position, what would I risk doing?" And it is a well-known fact that the very intellectuals who criticize power so violently do no better than others once they themselves have arrived in places of power.
In the face of a non-Christian state, all the Christian can do is -- not read it a moral lecture, not rail at it and demand the impossible; not these things. All the Christian can do is to remind the state that, though it be secularized and its officials be atheists, it and they are nevertheless servants of the Lord. Whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not, they are servants of the Lord -- for the good. And they will have to render account to the Lord for the way they did their service. Obviously the Christian’s task is not a very pleasant one. He is ridiculed, he is isolated from other political movements; he cannot howl with the wolves!
On the other hand, if a statesman, the president of the republic, openly declares himself a Christian, then -- on the basis of his own faith -- the total demands of the Christian faith can be set before him. It ought to be possible to tell President de Gaulle that his faith forbids the machiavellianism, the cynicism, the contemptuousness, the political realism that inspire all his decisions. It ought to be possible to tell a President Johnson that his faith forbids any use of violence and that the Crusades were never truly an expression of the Christian faith. With and only with these men, and only on the basis of their affirmation of faith, could Christians and the church hold dialogue on matters of this kind. But here, too, Christians must refrain from participating in mass movements. They must not join others in passionate condemnation (or support), in the name of fifty humanist motifs put forward by non-Christians, of such a politics conducted by a statesman who calls himself Christian. The important thing is to make him see that he has to draw the consequences of his faith; and perhaps he will verify the fact that it is impossible to be a Christian and at the same time to conduct a successful politics, which necessarily requires the use of some kind of violence.
The Violence of Love
After all, to say that Christianity forbids all violence is not entirely correct. The Old Testament tells of a great many violences, though the greatest care must be used in interpreting those passages.(I give three brief examples.  The Hérem [i.e., The Ban; see Deuteronomy 2 and 7, Joshua 6, I Samuel 15]. Obviously these passages are not to be taken as mandatory laws but as descriptions of an institution connected with a certain culture, whose significance alone concerns us. This is intended to mark the strict separation between the chosen people of God, who is holy, and the peoples who worship false gods. The atrocious Hérem is intended to keep the people from idolatry.)
( The prophets speak against the rich, but they never incite the poor to take justice into their own hands, to use violence. The prophets always pronounce God’s judgment on the rich, they speak the word against the rich, but at the same time they declare that justice is the Lord’s and that trust must be placed in him.)
( Elijah slaughters the prophets of Baal. Three points must be emphasized here. It was not as a political or military leader, but as a prophet, and only after a miracle had been performed [thus in a limited situation], that Elijah did his violent deed. He was struggling against the powers, the idols, the false gods, not contending for political justice or some human good. He stood alone, not only against the state but against the people also. He was working against the current. Only later did God reveal to him that some of Israel’s people had remained faithful.) In any case, there is such a thing as spiritual violence, and we must try to understand it. Jesus is the sign of contradiction. "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.... I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! . . . The kingdom of heaven is for the violent who seize it by force.... It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.... It is not against flesh and blood that you must contend." Many other passages speak of strife, contention, violence. But we must be clear that this is not contention against flesh and blood, but against the powers. It will not do to take this text (as many take it) as referring exclusively to the individual with his tendencies, his body, his sins. It has a collective reference also; it applies to the whole group. It is not against flesh and blood that we must contend; that is, not against whatever material, visible, concrete forces anyone can discern. How many moral and political systems have done so on the moral and political levels; and in our day the contest is carried on by socialism. All the others are fighting this battle. Humanly speaking, they have the wisdom and the capacity to create better (relatively better) institutions. But what would be the use of the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection, if Christians were meant to be and to act just like the others?
You are set aside for a more difficult and more profound struggle -- less visible, less exalting; and it will bring you no glory. People will not understand what you are doing and will not thank you for it. Indeed they will often think that you are traitors. But the truth is that you stand at the center of the battle, and that without your action the rest of it would mean little. It was thus that Moses fought against Amalek. While the people, led by Joshua, fought, killed and were killed, Moses went to the top of the hill and held up his hand. And the battle’s issue depended on that hand, lifted in blessing or lowered in bane -- though the people did not directly perceive the relation between Moses’ hand and the fortunes of the battle (Exodus 17:8-13). It is because nonviolence and the violence of love are rooted in the life of Christ that rational judgments of the work of Martin Luther King are absolutely useless. To say, as did Malcolm X and Julia Hervé, that "nonviolence is historically passé," is to utter nonsense. For their judgment arises from a basic inability to understand, hence to cooperate with, those who use the tactic of nonviolence as others use the tactic of violence.
To contend against the powers: I am quite familiar with the traditional and present-day critics of the Bible who interpret this as a kind of magical talk, who say, for instance, that Paul’s exousiai inhabit a mythical world and that little importance attaches to them. I shall say simply that this is the position of the cultural and demythologizing schools of interpretation, which I consider altogether superficial. I remain convinced by Barth’s and Cullmann’s exegeses of the powers (which certainly are not to be assimilated to "angels," as these are popularly and simplistically conceived of; but this is exactly the error many biblical critics make!). In one of my books(L’homme et l’argent (Neuchâtel and Paris: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1954). I have tried to show that the Mammon Jesus speaks of in connection with money is one of these powers; and in another book (Le fondement théologique du droit, 1948. English edition, The Theological Foundation of Law (New York: Doubleday, 1960; paperback, Seabury, 1969) that even when one approaches phenomena like the state, money, sexuality, law from another angle, one arrives at the idea that behind these phenomena there is something that cannot be reduced to rational terms, something that suggests a deeper existence and is not altogether explicable on the human level. Well then, if we contend against the state or social injustice only on the human level, we shall, of course, bring about some apparent changes, but the basis will remain untouched and nothing decisive for humanity will be gained. The battle against injustice, etc., will not avail unless another battle is fought with and outside it, namely, the spiritual battle against what constitutes the "soul" of these material phenomena. Nevertheless we should not therefore scorn or disregard the material battle. For example, in the racial conflict, how idle it is to talk about "integration of hearts" so long as millions of blacks are not integrated into economic life. Thus Christians must reject psychological integration and insist on the importance of economic integration; but their specific task is to carry on the spiritual battle against the demonism of racism.
For the powers are incarnated in very concrete forms, and their power is expressed in institutions or organizations. We cannot think of the battle as only a spiritual one. The exousia of the state is incarnated in a government, in the police force, the army, and it is not enough to partake of the Lord’s victory. The battle against these material powers certainly must be fought. We must neither forget it nor ignore it. But I might say that there is a kind of division of labor here. People generally join the material struggle out of their own volition, spontaneously. They are able to conduct these political or economic wars, and if need by they will do it by violent means. But the other war can be waged only by Christians, for they have received the revelation not only of God’s love but also of the creation’s profound reality. Only Christians can contend against the powers that are at the root of the problem. The state would be powerless and unimportant were it not for the something-more-than-itself that resides within it. And to contend against institutions or against the men who serve the institutions (the police, for instance) is useless. It is the heart of the problem that must be attacked. And Christians alone can do that -- because the others know nothing about all this, and because only the Christians receive the power of the Holy Spirit and are required by God to do these things. I know the temptations! People will say: "The Christians keep the good part for themselves. They evade the hard, dangerous battle and stay calmly in their room and pray." Well, people who do not know what it is all about will talk like that. They will say: "The Christians are full of kind words. They insist that they are participating in our struggle, but they are careful not to get their hands dirty, and so they can keep a good conscience." Anyone who has never fought spiritually will agree.
But, as Rimbaud told us, "spiritual warfare is just as brutal as human warfare." We know what price Jesus paid for waging his battle spiritually. But this spiritual contest is concerned only with the incarnated powers. We are not called to fight against an abstract Satan lurking among the celestial spheres. The spiritual battle proclaimed by some mysticism or gnosis is a false one. The spiritual warfare we are summoned to is concerned with human realities -- with injustice, oppression, authoritarianism, the domination of the state by money, the exaltation of sex or science, etc. This is the spiritual battle that is to be fought alongside the human battle against material phenomena. We cannot evade it. We are in fact those men’s comrades in the struggle, though they do not know it. And Christian humility, patience, and nonviolence require us to bear with their derision and their accusations.
We are to wage the warfare of faith, our only weapons those Paul speaks of: prayer, the Word of God, the justice of God, the zeal with which the gospel of peace endows us, (I consider "zeal" most particularly important; the term means military courage, such as characterized the Zealots. Paul expressly associates "zeal" with the Good News of Peace: we are to be zealous -- that is, courageous like soldiers -- for the peace which Jesus brought for all men, but which must be established on earth.) the sword of the Spirit.... And if we think this is easy, it is because we know nothing about the life of Christ, because we are so sunk in our materialistic culture that we have quite forgotten the meaning of God’s work in us, quite forgotten what we are called to in the world. For to wield Paul’s weapons is certainly not to live a smug, eventless life. The fight of faith demands sacrificing one’s life, success, money, time, desires. In the United States, for instance, the fight of faith demands that the blacks be accepted totally, that they be granted full equality, and also -- because they have been oppressed and insulted -- that their arrogance, their insults, and their hatred be borne. The fight of faith is perfectly peaceable, for it is fought by applying the Lord’s commandments. Humanly speaking, to fight thus is to fight nakedly and weakly, but it is precisely by fighting so that we strip bare and destroy the powers we are called to contend against. It is not by sequestering ourselves in our churches to say little prayers that we fight, but by changing human lives. And it is truly a fight -- not only against our own passions and interests and desires, but against a power that can be changed only by means which are the opposite of its own. Jesus overcame the powers -- of the state, the authorities, the rulers, the law, etc.-- not by being more powerful than they but by surrendering himself even unto death.
Let me give a very simple example. How overcome the spiritual "power" of money? Not by accumulating more money, not by using money for good purposes, not by being just and fair in our dealings. The law of money is the law of accumulation, of buying and selling. That is the only way to overcome the spiritual "power" of money is to give our money away, thus desacralizing it and freeing ourselves from its control. And these benefits accrue not only to us but to all men. To give away money is to win a victory over the spiritual power that oppresses us. There is an example of what the fight of faith means. It requires us to give ourselves and to use specific weapons that only Christians know of and are able to use.
But, as Rimbaud says, this fight involves violence -- spiritual violence, the violence of love. For there is such a thing as the violence of love. It is not the violence of terror or coercion, but the violence that makes us intransigent toward ourselves and insistent in our demand that the other live -- I might say, "that the other live in a manner worthy of God’s image." For to live like that does not come naturally; indeed it is the result of a sort of anti-nature. But the other cannot be compelled to be fully man except in and through absolute love. If we believe in the truth of Christ’s love, if that love accomplished all in order that we might live, we must go Christ’s way. But we cannot cast the other aside, into nothingness, hatred, or death. And we cannot fall in with some sociological trend or conform to popular opinion. Compelling the other to live as man certainly does not mean having rights over him in any way, being his boss, his tutor, his guide, his counselor; it means urging him forward with the violence of a love that never seeks its own advantage, never seeks to possess or to dominate.
For we must not forget that there are two kinds of love: Eros, which seeks to possess and dominate, and Agape, which gives -- gives itself, too. Contrary to a modern idea, Eros is not one of the legs of Agape. The Christians who preach violence in the name of love of the poor are disciples of Eros and no longer know the Agape of Christ. Only in the light of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of himself can man be compelled to live as man. In following the path appointed by Christ we show the other to himself. Camus understood this; he showed that there is a link between the victim and the executioner, showed how the victim can compel the executioner to become a man by recognizing his victim. Seeing the crucified Christ the Roman centurion said, "Certainly this man was innocent." Seeing Joan of Arc burned at the stake the English captain said, "We have burned a saint." At that moment they became men.
We must note when we speak of the violence of love that this love -- affirmed, proclaimed, lived, attested by gentle signs -- is a force that can cause great perturbation. I said above that the struggle against the powers is a secret and sometimes an invisible struggle; well, love is its visible form. Just apply the love Paul revealed to us, just try to obey the simple commandment "Thou shalt not kill," and you will create such confusion and trouble in the social body that this love becomes unacceptable. That is why theology has been trying for two thousand years to regulate things. Bishop Robinson recently explained that we naturally cannot apply the counsels of the Sermon on the Mount. These are only symbols, parables of love. Jesus was never interested in the conflicting demands inherent in every life situation. Very convenient, isn’t it? But the truth is that willingness to apply these counsels of love strictly (not of course as if they were a law, a code, a set of rules) will turn human relations upside down and provoke harsh reactions in the body social. Let me remind readers of the extraordinary experience of Toyohiko Kagawa, who was undoubtedly an upsetter of people.
This violence of love is an expression of spiritual violence Spiritual violence, however, is neither acceptable nor possible except on three conditions. First, it must reject all human means of winning a victory or registering effects. I should like to broadcast the innumerable Old Testament passages which tell how God opposed his people’s use of "normal" means of settling conflicts -- weapons, chariots, horsemen, alliances, diplomatic maneuvers, revolution (Jehu) -- and bade them put their trust in the Lord’s word and his faithfulness. This is radical spiritual violence. And God lets us choose. Paul also lets us choose. He tells us that he did not come "proclaiming the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom," lest rhetoric and philosophy hide the power of the Spirit. I do not say that we are forbidden to employ human means. I say that when we do employ them (and we are not condemned for doing so!) we take away from the Word that has been entrusted to us all its force, its efficacy, its violence. We turn the Word into a sage dissertation, an explication, a morality of moderation. When we use political or revolutionary means, when we declare that violence will change the social system we are thus fighting in defense of the disinherited, our violence demolishes the spiritual power of prayer and bars the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because this is the logic of the whole revelation of God’s action -- in Abraham the disinherited wanderer, in Moses the stutterer, in David the weakling, in Jesus the Poor Man. Provided we reject human means, our spiritual intervention may become effectual spiritual violence. Of course, this involves risk. But if we do not take the risk, we can only take the middle way, and even if we plunge into armed, violent, extremist revolution, we are still among the lukewarm. I need hardly say that this is no brief for the traditional sanctimonious patter of the churches that have retreated into their piety, or for the mediocre, musty, introverted, and highly moral lives of many Christians, who are impervious to the violence of love and the power of the Spirit. It is only at a certain level of intensity, urgency, spiritual earnestness that the problem of this choice arises. And, as I said, the choice one makes is decisive, for only if it is the right one is spiritual action possible and spiritual violence legitimate.
Hence a second condition, consequent to the first. Spiritual violence and the violence of love totally exclude physical or psychological violence. Here the violence is that of the intervention of the spirit of God. The Spirit will not intervene, will not rush in with explosive power, unless man leaves room -- that is, unless man himself intervenes. It is precisely because in this fight the Christian has to play a role that no one else can fill --it is precisely for this reason that the Christian can accept no other role. He makes himself ridiculous when he tries to be a politician, a revolutionary, a guerrilla, a policeman, a general. Spiritual violence radically excludes both the physical violence and the participation in violent action that go with such roles. It is not authentic spiritual violence unless it is only spiritual violence. It plays its role of violence with, before and against God (the struggle of Abraham and Jacob) only when it refrains from any other violence. And this exclusion is required not only by the decision of God as recorded in the Scriptures, but also and to a greater degree, by the fact that the Christian can never consider violence the ultima ratio. We have seen all along that this is the argument regularly trotted out to justify violence. Violence, we are told, is legitimate when the situation is such that there is absolutely no other way out of it. The Christian can never entertain this idea of "last resort." He understands that for the others it may be so, because they place all their hopes in this world and the meaning of this world. But for the Christian, violence can be at most a second-last resort. Therefore it can never be justified in a Christian life, because it would be justified only by being really a last resort. The Christian knows only one last resort, and that is prayer, resort to God.
Please, let no one bring up again the inevitable and useless argument: "We must do what we pray for, we cannot ask for daily bread for ourselves without giving daily bread to others." I accept that as expressing a pastoral point of view and a serious attitude toward prayer. But that is not at all what prayer means. To say "Our Father" is to put oneself into God’s hands, to submit to his decisions, to trust in his mercy -- and to appeal the unjust judgments of men to the just judgment of God. No, the idea of violence as ultima ratio is intolerable, and for that reason (among other reasons) the Christian cannot take any part of it. It is precisely in the midst of violence that he must witness to another resort and another hope, just as serious, as efficacious, as dependable as activism. To be sure, if he does this where violence and revolution are rife, he will be laughed at or treated like a coward or an opium dealer. In our society, it is much more difficult to stand up for the truth than to go to Colombia and fight for justice or to join the Ku Klux Klan to quell the black uprising. But if the Christian does not bear witness to truth, he is just as hypocritical as his forefathers were when they used Christianity to justify commercial ventures or to support their social order. When some kind of sociopolitical activity is the important thing, faith in Christ is only a means. Nowadays, for a Christian to say that violence (any kind of violence, whatever its origin and its aim) is the ultima ratio is to signalize his infidelity -- and the primary meaning of that word is "absence of faith."
So we come to the third condition in relation to spiritual violence. If it is true spiritual violence, it is based on earnest faith -- faith in the possibility of a miracle, in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, in the coming of the Kingdom through God’s action, not ours; faith in all the promise (for the promise must not be taken apart into bits and pieces, in the manner of theologians of revolution). This is a faith that concerns not only the salvation of the believer; it concerns the others, the unbelievers; it carries them and takes responsibility for them; it is convinced that for these others, too, there is a truth, a hope greater than revolutionary action, even if this hope does not attach to the material side of life. All of which is to say that there is a real choice to be made here (and making it will surely be the heaviest burden placed upon the Christian who tries to live his faith). We cannot, by taking neither, play on both sides. But if we witness to spiritual violence before the others, we cannot go on living in material violence, living for ourselves, protecting our own interests or our society. The choice is between violence and
the Resurrection. Faith in the Resurrection -- which is the supreme, spiritual violence because it is victory over the necessity of death -- excludes the use of every other violence. And it is true that, the Resurrection being accomplished, we can and must proclaim consolation and reconciliation. For men today have much greater need of true consolation than of economic growth, of reconciliation than of appeals to hate and, violence.
I know that by saying that I am prompting the accusation: "This kind of discourse is an attempt to divert the poor from revolution; this is the talk of a watchdog of capitalism and the bourgeois order." I know. I have two things to say in answer. First, no one can hold "this kind of discourse" unless (as we have seen) he is also and simultaneously acting as spokesman for the oppressed and attacking the unjust order with every nonviolent weapon. Second, even if such discourse were uttered by a liar using it to defend other interests (and I doubt that such a liar would use it), it would still be true. (The easy answer is that Marxist discourse can no longer be taken seriously because Stalin used it, and that no one can be a Marxist because Marxist discourse produced the worst of dictatorships.) Nevertheless, we Christians must always bear this accusation in mind, lest we speak such words lightly. We should accept it as an alert (sounded by the perspicacious non-Christian) that bids us be aware before God of what we can proclaim in truth to the poor in our midst. But we must also be thoroughly aware that when we, as Christians, hold a discourse on violence, it is our lack of faith that speaks.
The whole meaning of the violence of love is contained in Paul’s word that evil is to be overcome with good (Romans 12:17-21) This is a generalization of the sermon on the Mount. (I think Father Régamey [op. cit., pp. 108 ff.] is mistaken when [following the Catholic tradition that distinguishes between precepts and counsels] he says: "Love of enemies can degenerate into abdication and treason when it is understood as an absolute command . . . and this leads to disowning the order of love. The ‘rigorists,’ that is, those who hold that the Sermon on the Mount must be taken with radical seriousness -- render obedience to God’s command impossible." Then, Father Régamey says, the Christian turns away from it and, because he tried to make it absolute, annuls it. It must be recognized, he continues, that the way the Sermon on the Mount calls to is extraordinary [that is, not prescribed for all]. He gives an example. The command against killing, he says, is based on the sacred character of human life [?], and "love your enemies" does not mean that the Lord forbids us "to yield to the inevitabilities to which human nature [?] is subject. In the various cases, we must as best we can strike a balance between effective love toward the assailant and defense of the right." In my opinion, this is a mistake. It is precisely the kind of toning down that is the source of all Christianity’s weaknesses.) And it is important for us to understand that this sermon shows what the violence of love is. Paul says, "Do not let yourself be overcome by evil." This then is a fight -- and not only spiritual, for Paul and the whole Bible are very realistic and see that evil is constantly incarnated. But to be overcome by evil does not mean that he who is overcome is weaker, inferior, beaten, eliminated; no, it means that he is led to play evil’s game -- to respond by using evil’s means, to do evil. That is what it means to be overcome by evil, to respond to violence by violence. Paul bids us overcome evil with good, and this, too, is the imagery of contest. We are not to bend or yield before evil, nor to act like cowards or impotent weaklings: we are to overcome, to surmount evil, to go beyond it, to stand on a terrain that evil cannot reach, use weapons that evil cannot turn back on us, seek a victory that evil can never attain!
Choosing different means, seeking another kind of victory, renouncing the marks of victory -- this is the only possible way of breaking the chain of violence, of rupturing the circle of fear and hate. I would have all Christians take to heart this word of Gandhi’s: "Do not fear. He who fears, hates; he who hates, kills. Break your sword and throw it away, and fear will not touch you. I have been delivered from desire and from fear so that I know the power of God." (Camille Drevet, Pour connaître la pensée de Gandhi (Paris, 1954), p.129.) These words show that the way Christ appointed is open to all, that the victory of good over evil benefits not only Christians but non-Christians also. In other words, that if the Christian knows that the fight of faith promises this victory, it is not only his victory but others’ too. If he sees that the others are obsessed by violence and can find no other way, he has to play another card with them and for them. How is it that, in the midst of the racial struggle going on in the United States today, so many white Christians leave to black Christians the appanage of nonviolence? Why do they not take the way of repentance and conciliation in the face of black violence -- repentance for the violences the whites committed in the past? Why, in the face of the black violence they provoked, do they not now seek peace at any price? It is only by love that is total, without defense, without reservation, love that does not calculate or bargain, that the white Christian will overcome the evil of revolution, arson, and looting. I make bold to say this even though I am not in the United States; I have lived through similar situations elsewhere.
Neither exaltation of power nor the search for vengeance will ever solve any human situation. In accepting death, Jesus Christ showed us the only possible way. We may refuse to take it. But we must realize that when we refuse we are left with one alternative -- increasing the sum of evil in the world. And we ought to be honest and renounce all pretensions to the Christian faith. Surely we shall not use the suffering of the others whose side we take as an excuse for evading the only way that is open for faith. And if vengeance must be exacted, if a judgment, a condemnation must be pronounced, they are the Lord’s alone. This holds on the social as well as on the individual level. To pretend to end exploitation by force is to eliminate the exploiter by violence, to exercise the judgment that is God’s to exercise. For as we have seen throughout this investigation, there can be no use of violence without hate, without judgment, without abomination. Violence and revolution -- let them continue! But without the presence and justification of Christians. This does not mean, however, that Christians are permitted to execrate or judge those who do take part in violence and revolution.
Will it be said then that the Christians are absent from the world? Curious that "presence in the world" should mean accepting the world’s ways, means, objectives; should mean helping hate and evil to proliferate! Christians will be sufficiently and completely present in the world if they suffer with those sufferers the one way of salvation, if they bear witness before Gods and man to the consequences of injustice and the proclamation of love.
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