Varieties of Violence

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Imposing one’s own position on others, against their will, seems incompatible with a Christian mode of life. It resembles a kind of violence, instigating which is difficult to reconcile with one’s discipleship of Christ. However, there do seem to be mitigating, even exonerating, situations. A parent, for example, must periodically impose his or her wish on a child, even when the young one proves obstinate and unwilling to do what the father or mother want. On such occasions, the question becomes one of degree or intensity: can a parent force a child to do what he or she refuses to do, and, if so, in what does that force consist? And we might be led to ask why is the child so obstinate? Might it be that the parent is in need of improved parenting skills?

Or, can the ruler of a nation, perhaps a committed Moslem, or Christian, help formulate rules and laws that violate the wishes or well-being of those not sharing the religious faith of these authorities? Can the Moslem law of sharia impose severe penalties on certain crimes, such as stealing a bar of soap, that entail the severance of a person’s hand or arm, exceeding humane standards, whether the perpetrator is Moslem or not? Or, can a Catholic employer refuse to pay taxes for insurance covering contraceptives for his/her employees, even should they be Protestants who have no moral problems about contraceptive usage, forcing the non-Catholic employee either to purchase his/her own insurance program that provides for this, or else to seek employment elsewhere? May the victims in these cases regard these intrusions into their belief systems as acts of violence? And, if so, what is their recourse?

Or Is it expected of Christians to submit to the violence imposed by others, against their will? Is the Christian to accept it at the price of undergoing forced emigration and loss of possessions, or imprisonment, or bodily injury? Is a Christian to accept these consequences meekly rather than opposing them? We know that Christians have a glorious history of martyrdom, resisting intrusions against their religious practices. Is martyrdom the expected mode of Christian resistance? Sometimes this suffering arises from government imposed intrusions, at other times to ethnic-inspired attacks. In nearly all instances, the Christian response has been non-violent and peaceful, but at the price of forced migrations, loss of property, legal discriminations, physical injury and even death. Is self-defense, violent if need be, justifiable on the part of the Christian community? Can a Christian ever employ violence to protect the beliefs and practices of one’s faith?

Author: CPP

We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.

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