Friday, November 02, 2012

Living As Peacemakers In A Culture That Glorifies Violence

Christopher Dryden, "across the pond" as they say, wrote something fascinating a few days ago that I wanted to point out and expand upon. His post, Is This My Story? The Role of Violence: A Thought is a look at the violence exalting culture so many of us live in. He closes with this question:

It leaves me with the conundrum, in a world that glorifies and legitimises violence through various media, how now should I proceed?

That is a great question, one that plagues me as an American who is deeply steeped in our culture of violence. Of course Christopher is writing from a British perspective. Now I don't think of the U.K. as an especially violent place, more a nation where disputes are settled by subtle sarcastic comments over tea. I guess Downton Abbey is not representative of the general British culture but all I know of the U.K. comes from DA, Benny Hill, Monty Python and Are You Being Served?.

I assume all cowboys wore velour
America? Now there is a land where violence is glorified and perhaps even worshipped. The idea that "God, guns and guts made America great" is deeply entrenched in our national identity. Ours is a nation born of violent rebellion, kept whole as one United States by a terribly bloody civil war and during the course of our relatively brief existence we have rarely not been at war, on the verge of war or standing down from war. We conquered the West by driving out the Indians and in doing so gave birth to the towering American icon of the rugged cowboy who rode the plains with his trusty six-shooter on his hip, ready to gun down Indian, cattle rustler or poker cheat alike with blazing speed and uncanny accuracy.

While gunfights in the streets are largely a thing of the past, America still is a land where violence is celebrated. We simply have more socially acceptable outlets. An obvious example are the progressively more graphic and violent video games that dominate male culture. Video games make easy pulpit fodder but the same Christians who rail against them see nothing wrong with settling in after church to watch an NFL game where steroid enhanced behemoths hit each other, often injuring the opposing player, for our entertainment. We love the big hits and don't really care about the long term damage. Football is nearly a religion in America, one that glorifies overcoming your enemy, conquest and violence. It is also rabidly followed by many Christians, glorifying the opposite of what we should be seeking to emulate.

Even as Christians who take seriously the words of Scripture we often find ourselves in the same conundrum that Christopher runs into. The Old Testament is a book full of blood, animal sacrifices and war and even murder. Our faith was birthed in blood, launched with the murder of our Lord. Yet we are commanded to love our enemies, do good in response to evil, to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and to be peacemakers. None of that seems to make sense in our culture so we just ignore it.

So how in the world are we supposed to live in a culture that lives, breathes and loves violence?

We need to recognize and act on the truth that what the world values is almost always the precise opposite of what Scripture tells us we should value. American values are not Scriptural values. God calls all of us to live distinct from the world to be a witness to the world while remaining in the world and that counts for Christians in America as much as it does for Christians in China or Africa. I am slowly trying to extricate myself from the American religious patriotic culture, from a culture that exalts and glorifies violence, power and wealth. Ours is not a culture that reflects Biblical values, not in any meaningful sense. Ours is a culture that needs to be transformed by the Gospel, a transformation that will lead to persecution and likely violence from the powers of the world that have for far too long hijacked the church and profaned the name of Christ. For that to happen we need leaders that see America as a mission field, not as a beacon of hope.

The world needs Jesus far more than it needs more of American culture and Christians need to lead that movement by leaving American values, American vices and even American virtues behind. The best place to start to is to reject the "might makes right" way of thinking that sees violence as an acceptable means of diplomacy and bloodshed as something to be honored. That way of thinking will not be popular but when has following a Man who was executed by the state ever easy?

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