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Beyond violence (Aug. 24, 2004)

Beyond violence (Aug. 24, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Beyond violence

Aug. 24, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0148}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

Our need in the Western world to deal with the dangerous threat of terrorism is disclosing once more our bondage to the way of violence. We do not seem to be able to envision ways to counter terrorists other than by the massive use of violence. Whenever we are threatened in our personal or national life we seem to react first and foremost with a desire to resort to force.
Our reflexive resort to violence is the result of our worldview. In Western culture we have assumed that, at its deepest level, existence is a war between opposing forces. The ancient Ephesian philosopher Heraclitus expressed the quintessential Western point of view: "War is the father of all, the king of all…" and "All things happen by strife and necessity." It is no surprise that the foundation of Western literature is Homer's "The Iliad," surely one of the most violent stories every told.
The theologian John Milbank calls this worldview of Western culture an "ontology of violence" ("Theology and Social Theory:  Beyond Secular Reason," Blackwell, 1993). He defines an ontology of violence as "a reading of the world which assumes the priority of force and tells how force is best managed and confined by counterforce." Milbank says this worldview is the one that is characteristic of secular thinking. He says the Christian church has a worldview that is different from that of secular Western culture. The church possesses a vision of "ontological peace." This is a vision of the world as the good creation of a generous God of love. Even though there is violence in the world as a result of evil and sin, the world is not created upon the necessity of violence. As Milbank says, "violence is always a secondary willed intrusion" upon the peace given by God. 
The Christian worldview is based not only upon faith in the primordial peace of God's good creation, but also upon the salvation offered to the world distorted by evil and sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. David Hart, a student of Milbank, says the coming of Christ created an "optical inversion" in the way we who are Christians see the world ("The Beauty of Infinity," Eerdmans, 2003). Hart explains: "Christianity has from the beginning portrayed itself as a gospel of peace...offering the 'peace which passes understanding' to a world enmeshed in sin and violence. The earliest confession of Christian faith-Jesus is Lord-meant nothing less radical than that Christ's peace, having suffered upon the cross the decisive rejection of the powers of this world, had been raised up by God as the true form of human existence...It is only as...a real and available practice that the Christian evangel...has any meaning at all; only if the form of Christ can be lived out in the community of the church is the confession of the church true..."

Because the church looks at the world differently, it should not be deceived by secular voices into glorifying violence or conceding too much to it. Rather, the church needs to witness to God's act of creating the world upon the basis of an ontological peace manifested in history by Christ's death and resurrection.
What is disturbing is how easily we who call ourselves Christians give in to the secular philosophy and rhetoric of the politicians and commentators in our society and in Western culture. They extol violence as the way of the world and ask us to applaud the use of it. But we must say to them, "We are not deceived. God has opened our eyes by faith to see the goodness of creation and the peace of Christ. We are here to show you another way."


This commentary relates to Church and Society.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.