The Myth Of Redemptive Violence

By Gale Park



“...The belief that violence saves; that war brings peace, that might makes right” is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the history of the world, according to The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium by Walter Wink. In a section called “The Myth of Redemptive Violence,” Wink posits that redemptive violence is the real world religion.

This theology struck me particularly hard, since I’ve long wondered why the heroes of TV shows, movies, comic books and video games are glorified for seeking revenge or waging some kind of shooting war against injustice--and why our society continues to act out this scenario in our relationships with the rest of the world. I believe courage is a virtue, but harming is not.

The United States, which is touted as a “Christian” nation, accepts violence--even glorifies it. As a nation, we subscribe to the belief that violence is necessary and curative, but the New Testament tells that Jesus wouldn’t even let his disciples defend him when the soldiers came for him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He didn’t raise an army, he sacrificed himself. He would rather die than kill. This is not the act of a God who would want other countries invaded in his name.

Wink says, “The myth of redemptive violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational and primitive depiction of evil the world has ever known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which all modern children (boys especially) are socialized in the process of maturation. Children select this mythic structure because they have already been led, by culturally reinforced cues and role models, to resonate with its simplistic view of reality.”

Children indoctrinated into this view tend to locate evil/error outside themselves and see in others, especially people unlike themselves, enemies who must be vanquished. This, to me, is a perversion of the need to vanquish our own inner “demons.” Instead of clearing the mote from our own eye, we project evil/error on someone else. That is indeed easier than searching our own hearts and uprooting the harmful impulses that lie there.

Wink goes on to discuss how this scenario plays out in nation-states, where the survival and welfare of the nation is seen as the highest good. The domination system or nation-state cannot allow God/Gods to supersede it, so it sanctions a religion that perpetuates its own survival, or twists an existing one beyond all recognition. Then a certain religious viewpoint becomes patriotic and the old faiths lose their power: they become mere cultural traditions.

Why do people allow this? The promise of earthly salvation—personal security and self-validation through identification with a strong and protective power. The nation-state replaces God for them. It speaks for God. It does not allow God to speak.

We have to change this paradigm. We, as a nation and as individuals, should be world leaders in the best sense—by being a shining example of good—not by encouraging violence, greed and self-interest.


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