Some years ago Pam and I were invited to a brunch on Easter Sunday morning. A happy crowd of families gathered, fresh from the morning’s buoyant celebration of the resurrection. When it was time to eat, I was deputized to go find the kids. I went downstairs and found them huddled around a computer. I rang the dinner bell; they did not even blink. I went over to persuade them and saw it: a video game pulsing on the screen. Mercenaries on a jeep were careening through an urban landscape, assault rifles blazing, killing scores of men who fled before them. Bodies were torn and blood spattered the asphalt. The irony of the moment was momentarily paralyzing, but I finally managed to say, “Come, children, to the Easter feast.”
We live in a culture enamored of violence and killing. All our heroes are violent, they’re just the “good guys” who use violence to save the day. Our national religion is the Myth of Redemptive Violence, the fervent belief that a righteous man (it’s almost always a man) must carry out violence in order to dispatch the “evil” aggressor and so restore peace and tranquility. Until the next episode, when the blood must flow all over again. Any who question or protest this myth are ridiculed as hopelessly naïve. They just don’t get it. “Evil, when we are in its power,” Simone Weil said, “is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.”
After one more mass shooting in this country, we don’t even care anymore. No one screams or cries except the people on the scene. The rest of us either send best wishes and prayers, or decide that we’ve been kidding ourselves: time to get a Glock.
I am sure that some people need to debate gun laws and negotiate over bump stocks. But that is mostly an argument inside the padded room of the asylum. Followers of Jesus—that would be us—need simply to remind each other that our Lord and Master rejected violence. When Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus banishes the sword and says, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51). For the next three hundred years the church took Jesus’ nonviolence literally. Then we came to political power with Constantine and the rest you know.
Maybe now we’ve reached the tipping point. Maybe now we are ready inside the Body of Christ to find our souls again on this matter. We don’t have to find total uniformity. Some of us will be like Amish Christians and embrace pacifism, and others will anguish over the limited use of violence. But at least we will be struggling with that dominical injunction: “No more of this!”