The saving efficacy of killing

Batman, Neo-Nazis and the Good News of Jesus

By , 08/08/2012  9:18 am


I am a conservative Christian. But I would be a fool to say that in public these days (though I suppose I have just made myself a fool), because that label has been so co-opted by those, so it seems to me, who are not what they say they are.

I shall say it plain: By “conservative Christian,” I mean that I ascribe to traditional Christian beliefs, such as the Lordship of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead and the authority of his teaching.

By “conservative Christian” I also mean that my conviction about these things cannot be corralled off into a “privatized” sphere. I refuse to believe “Jesus is Lord” is merely a “private” belief. Either Jesus is a public Lord, or no Lord at all.

All this makes many in the so-called “liberal” world quite nervous: primarily because, I would suggest, they have seen so many examples of the mindlessness with which many supposedly “conservative Christians” spew partisanship, pass the ammo and then bow for prayer.

But it seems to me that if our world ever needed “conservative” Christian teaching, now is the time.

Consider, for example, the most recent horrid shooting at the Sikh temple; or roughly two weeks prior, the horrid shooting at the theater for the premiere of Batman. These events inevitably ramp up the conversation around gun control policy. And there is plenty to be said about gun control.

But what those conversations fail to do — what supposedly conservative Christians fail to do — is question what hardly anyone questions: namely, the myth of redemptive violence.

This myth divides the world into the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” and then assumes the legitimacy of employing warring and violence against the “bad guys.” Violence is the mechanism by which the good guys believe that they will win. It is a deep faith — a killing faith — in the saving efficacy of killing.

This myth so deeply pervades our culture it has become the water in which we swim, the air that we breathe, the dirt in which we worm our way through hatred and animosity. It is a conviction so deep that it transcends left and right, liberal and conservative.

Neo-Nazi violence divides the world into the good guys and the bad guys — the whites and the people of color — and then employs violence against turban-wearing people of color who threaten “our way of life,” and murders women preparing their afternoon communal meal.

For President Obama, the Islamist villains (some of whom are American citizens) who threaten “our way of life” are now being killed without due process or indictments, like targets on a video game. (And the Pentagon famously refuses to keep public track of the women and children, the “collateral damage,” killed by its missiles and drones.)

Hollywood is thought to be “liberal” — that is, not “conservative.” But Hollywood certainly believes and touts the myth of redemptive violence as much as George W. Bush ever did. It sits on its self-righteous throne looking down at “conservatives” while never questioning its own profit-grasping and mindless purveying of the myth that makes warring such an attractive option in our culture.

Cowboys and Indians, Alien vs. Predator, Batman and Joker. It’s all the same myth.

What does “conservative” Christianity, traditional Christianity have to do with all this? Here is one important answer to that question:

The non-violent, suffering love of Jesus was a direct challenge to the myth of redemptive violence. One of the dirty secrets of the early church is the fact that for the first three centuries of Christian history, the leaders of the church insisted that Christians do not kill — including in so-called justifiable war.

This consistent and insistent teaching of the early church is so ignored by so-called conservative Christians as to be laughable, if it were not so tragic.

The murder of the Sikhs is being labeled “domestic terror” by some. But the way our society frames mass murder, the way we talk about it, merely deepens the frightening cycles of violence in our culture.

It has become a matter of faith, for left and right, that we can wage war on terror, somehow kill terror, somehow terrify terrorists into turning aside from terror. Terror cannot be defeated by war, for war makes terror. War operates in and out of terror. War destroys, imprisons, humiliates and kills. War delights in terror.

To embrace a “war on terror” is a rejection of the fundamental Christian conviction that the world has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved not through violence and warring, but through long-suffering, self-emptying love. We claim that the world has been saved not through over-weening militarism, not through more drone assassinations, not through bullets sprayed into a kitchen full of women preparing for an afternoon communal meal.

We claim that it is precisely through a man who was himself the victim of terror, the victim of the super-power of his day, who taught and lived and died loving his enemies, that the world has been saved.

Strangely, we call it Good News. It does seem, these days, that more of that sort of news would be good.

Lee C. Camp, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Lipscomb University, in Nashville, Tenn., is the host of, and the author of ‘Who Is My Enemy?’ or


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