The paradox of non-violence

OK, so here we go. Life in solo blogging land. It’s a bit strange, because I haven’t got the boundaries that are required by a mainstream newspaper website like The Age anymore, so I can get a bit more personal.

So here’s something that I’ve been pondering lately.

The other day I watched a film clip that has often excited me. Most people won’t get it, but it raises some interesting issues.

The song in question is Duality by the macabre masked men in Slipknot.

For some reason I find the inferred tension and latent violence in the song and film clip thrilling, but something about it also connects with me. It’s probably more intense than violent, but for some reason I can’t help feeling like it expresses a truth that isn’t getting expressed in other contexts.

To watch the video go here.

But here’s where the internal paradox kicks in. I’m a big believer in non-violence and non-violent transformation of societies and communities. Two of my biggest heroes are Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I’ve had low-level training in

non-violent intervention and community peacekeeping and do my best to live out the principles where possible.

So the question that keeps rolling around my head is this: Why do I passionately enjoy music that often has such an inferred anger, angst or violent edge? And even stranger still, why did I get into it more after I decided I wanted to commit to a path of Christian faith?

Before I made a serious commitment of faith, I was into mainstream easy-listening (some would say bland, insipid and unchallenging) Christian music like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Post-commitment, I found myself drawn to bands like Metallica, Pantera, Sepultura, Fear Factory and so on.

My MP3 is also loaded with plenty of other stuff: blues, jazz, folk, a little hip-hop (but not too much) and faith-based music like Sons Of Korah.

But maybe the last band is a bit of an insight. Sons of Korah specialise in putting the words of the psalms to music. I think that at one level heavy music expresses an aspect of human life that a lot of the psalmists also touch on – anger, frustration and despair that something’s not right with the world.

As I mentioned, metal is not the only stuff I listen to, and if it were then I think it would be a problem.

But I listen to heavy music in the context of my faith that also gives me hope that things can change – but also believing that there’s a need to name what’s broken before you can start to fix it.

I don’t see it as celebrating the darkness – just naming it. There’s something liberating about naming a problem.

But it brings me to consider another point.

Me and many of my friends are passionate about non-violence, yet will happily watch movies that involve redemptive

violence – or just violence – for entertainment, play violent video games or join the Fight Club group on Facebook.

So what’s going on with this? Is it hypocritical? Is non-violence merely aspirational but never fully achievable? Does our participation in violent forms of entertainment affirm and perpetuate a culture of violence?

These are all just thoughts and reflections quickly bashed out in the midst of trying to lock down a full-time job here in Edinburgh and I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts.

Please note: I haven’t got as much time to invest in the quality of these pieces at the moment, but I don’t want to leave it too long between entries either. The quality will improve over the coming weeks as I get more time.

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One response to “The paradox of non-violence

  1. Excuse the long comment, but this is a constant struggle for me, so I think it’s worth sharing some of the inklings I have gleaned. Bear in mind they’re just inklings, not definitive statements. Hope they’re useful.

    First, there’s nothing wrong with anger, especially at injustice. One of the most amazing nonviolent actions of Jesus was the turning of the tables, where anger was probably in full flight. Sometimes anger can be confused with violence, but it need not be. Eph 4:26 says, “Be angry but do not sin – don’t let the sun go down on your anger” – there’s clearly a distinction made there. The Sermon on the Mount points us in some helpful directions of how to respond well when angry so that we are led in creative, transformative ways (Mt 5:21-24).

    We’re formed in society in the way of violence, and that’s a habit that’s almost impossible to kick. You can only ever journey into nonviolence; no one (at least not in this generation) can be totally nonviolent. It’s hard enough to not be violent, let alone go the extra step to creative transformation. Of course that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work towards it.

    That’s why I reckon that the whole moral guilt thing that’s implied in the way you talk about it isn’t the best way to think about it. Those of us who have been formed in evangelical Christianity (or Catholic circles, or some other forms) often have this idea that we need to feel guilty about our sins, and change because we feel bad and want to feel better. That’s just a form of emotional coercion, and coercion is violence. I don’t think God is like this at all, I think God is entirely non-coercive (for me, another word for nonviolent). Not that sin isn’t destructive – it is – but God only ever _invites_ us to true, abundant life, and never forces us. Because to do so would be to do violence to us. As Thoreau said, “If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. But do not care to convince him. Men will believe what they see. Let them see.” To me, this is the role of the church: to be the alternative society of the Kindom of God and call (invite) people to that transformed life. Think about all the times when you’ve really experienced lasting change that wasn’t made begrudgingly. For me, it’s only ever been where I saw someone who inspired me to be better. When I was guilted into it, it rarely lasted because I didn’t really believe it was better. This is why nonviolence is so important – it gives your opponent the chance to choose the better option without forcing them to take it. It gives them enough credit to say that they are capable of choosing the good.

    And so as far as the second question goes (about watching movies, video games, etc), for me it’s become an issue of formation. I no longer watch violent movies or tv shows or play violent video games, not because I think to do so is wrong in every instance but because these things form me in the way of violence. If I ever hope to respond nonviolently in any kind of natural way I have to untrain myself and have it clear enough what nonviolence looks like. I’m many many years (at least) away from that because I’ve been formed in violence (and to a lesser extent, nonviolence) since I was born.

    So I don’t know whether it’s hypocritical to watch such movies, but it is probably counter-productive. If we’re to keep the means-end consistency Gandhi recognised (your means must be your ends in seed form) then it’s hard to see how continued formation in redemptive violence is going to help that on a practical level.

    Equally bad for formation though is the absence of positive alternatives. Unless you’re playing video games or watching movies or actively engaged in situations that give positive alternatives to violence, you’re just in denial. In that instance you’ll always fall to the default, and we all know the default is violence. There are nonviolent strategy games such as an adaptation of the book and film A Force More Powerful. Admittedly it may not indulge our destructive side, and therefore might seem less fun…but I think that just shows how far we’ve moved from real, abundant life that we’re not creative enough to find ways of enjoying life that aren’t based in destruction of ourselves, others or the world. We waste too much energy on destructive things to invest our time, effort and selves deeply in the fun of nonviolent activities!

    But again, I don’t think it’s fruitful to see it as a “this is a bad choice, and if you do it it’s wrong” kind of thing. Otherwise it’s just another legalism, and the law is the way of death. See it as an invitation to something better.

    (Incidentally, it may seem pedantic, but nonviolence is one, unhyphenated word. It’s deliberately so because it’s not not-violence, but a positive affirmation of a peaceful life, which is actually a very active, creative concept. It’s a messy, in many ways unhelpful word because it appears to be a mere negation, but until we come up with a better word and get it into widespread use, I’m sticking with the messy word nonviolence.)

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