Saved from Violence Part 4: The Logic of the NRA and the Logic of Christ
The logic of the NRA makes perfect sense – and Christians should refuse to accept that logic.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre held a news conference yesterday in response to last week’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. LaPierre did what we’re all trying to do: find answers. And like most of us, he blamed some “other.” Violent video games, movies, the media, even gun-free zones in schools. He challenged Congress to act in providing the resources to place an armed officer in every school in the US. During his speech, LaPierre put the logic of violence before us:
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Let me be clear: that is lie. The logic of the NRA is the logic of violence, and it is a lie. It is extremely pernicious lie precisely because it makes perfect sense. The lie claims that there is good violence and there is bad violence. Good people use good violence and bad people use bad violence. The logic of violence divides the world into “us” and “them.” We, of course, are always the good guy who uses good violence only in defense. They are always bad guys who are aggressively attacking our way of life.
The problem with the logic of violence is that everyone who believes in the lie thinks they are the good guy who is defending their right against a bad guy. And since we all believe we are the “good guys” defending ourselves from “bad guys”, we all believe our violence is good and justified. This belief leads to endless cycles of revenge, where each participant in violent reciprocity believes in their own “goodness” and their opponents “badness.”
Christians should be able to see right through the NRA’s logic of violence, and yet during the past week I’ve seen some pretty wacked up arguments put forth from biblical texts. Many Christians are referring to the famous scene in Matthew 26 where Jesus is about to be arrested. The Roman Empire and the religious authorities were both under the same spell of the logic of violence. The Pax Romana (Peace of Rome) was achieved through violence. Rome and the religious establishment saw Jesus as a threat. After all, Jesus didn’t preach the “Kingdom of Rome”; he preached the “Kingdom of God”. A crowd came to arrest Jesus and bring him to the high priest. When they arrested Jesus, one of his followers took out his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. The follower of Jesus responded with the logic of violence. He believed that he was one of the good guys, and so violence was justified against this violent threat. But Jesus didn’t believe in the lie. He responded, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Those I’ve heard interpret this scene from within the logic of violence emphasize the first clause and say something like this: “See! Jesus told him to put the sword back in its place. He didn’t tell him to destroy his sword or throw it away. That means that he will have his sword to use later against his enemies.”
There are two problems with this. Frist, the obvious problem is that it ignores the second half of the sentence. Jesus deconstructs the logic of violence by saying that violence only leads to more violence. “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” The point Jesus is making is to not use the sword! Even to defend ourselves. The logic of violence wants us to believe that violence will make us safer, but Jesus knew that violence only leads to a continued cycle of violent revenge. The second problem with this interpretation is less obvious, but incredibly important for discipleship. If Jesus had meant that his disciples could use the sword to defend themselves, but that this just wasn’t the right time, then his disciples were utter failures because they never used the sword! Peter, James, John. None of them ever used the sword to defend themselves against the religious authorities or against Rome. “Put your sword back in its place” didn’t mean “Oh. But you can use the sword later.” Why? Because none of them used the sword later! They never said anything like the ancient equivalent to LaPierre, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a sword is a good guy with a sword.”
The second biblical argument Christians often use in defense of “good” people using “good” violence is the CS Lewis argument. Lewis pointed out that when a Roman centurion (soldier) asked Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus said about the centurion, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8). Lewis’s argument went like this: Jesus never said to the centurion, “Okay, now that you have faith you can no longer be a soldier. So you must give that up.” In contrast to Matthew 26, Lewis assumed that the Centurion would be able to continue living by the sword. But here’s where the historical reality sinks in. As George Kalantzis points out in his important book Caesar and the Lamb: Early Christian Attitudes on War and Military Service, we know that Roman centurions had to pay allegiance to Rome by performing a sacrifice to the Roman gods on behalf of the emperor. This was to show loyalty to Rome. Kalantzis states, “As a ‘social transcript,’ personal and corporate sacrifice was at the heart of Romantas (Roman identity); it evoked a sentiment of loyalty, of belonging both to the Roman family and to the state” (21). As the head of the state, the Roman Emperor went by many titles, including, “Son of God” and “Savior.” Do you think the Roman centurion, with his great faith in Jesus, would be able to make those sacrifices on behalf of the Roman Emperor, the “Son of God” and the “Savior” of the world? Of course, this dilemma wasn’t just a matter of sacrifice to Roman gods. It was about loyalty. The Roman centurion had to make a choice, which is the same choice we are confronted with today. Which “Son of God” will we follow? Will we follow the “Son of God” who demands our allegiance to the logic of violence, insisting that the way to save the world is through killing our enemies? Or will we follow the “Son of God” who saves the world through an all-embracing love that includes even our enemies? Kalantzis asserts that the answer was clear to the early Christians, “the literary evidence confirms the very strong internal coherence of the Church’s non-violent stance for the first three centuries” (6). That nonviolent stance was based on the command to not kill (Exodus 20:13; Mark 10:19) and to love one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43-44).
The third argument being used comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 13. For a counter argument, read Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12, which ends, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Although Paul wrote that the state had some divine authority, we must remember that he was killed by the state because he resisted the logic of violence held by the state and the religious authorities. That’s how Paul lived his life – overcoming evil with good by moving away from the logic of violence and into the logic of Christ’s nonviolent love, a love that he showed even to those who persecuted him.
Here’s the point: Jesus confronts us with an alternative logic to violence. It is the logic that turns the other cheek. It is the logic that forgives. It is the logic that loves. It is the logic that has nothing to do with violence, but everything to do with nonviolent reconciliation; reconciliation even with those we call our enemies.
The logic of Christ is not easy. It is a long process and, trust me, there are times when I’d rather believe in the logic of violence. But the logic of violence is a lie and if we continue to believe in that lie we will all die by the sword. Or the gun. Or weapons of mass destruction.
Christians must refuse the NRA’s logic of violence. But we must also realize that the logic of violence is bigger than the NRA, video games, movies and ancient Rome. That logic infects almost every area of our lives, including our political, family, and religious lives. And if we continue to live by that logic, we will continue to sow the seeds of our own violent destruction. If we want something to blame for violent tragedies, don’t blame people, blame violence and its destructive logic. For our fight is not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual forces of violence and evil (Ephesians 6:12). It is time for Christians to live into a different logic, the logic of Christ, the logic of nonviolent love and forgiveness, because that logic is the hope for our world.
For more in this series see: