Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The non-violent image

In his 'The Peaceable Kingdom' Hauerwas writes:
"... those who identify with a nonviolent stance are often challenged with 'But what would you do if...?' The dots are usually filled in with a description of a case where it seems absolutely essential, and certainly for the greatest good, to use rather than refrain from violence. Such cases are usually enough to convince others that nonviolence simply cannot be justified as an unqualified principle. It seems self-evident that violence at times is necessary. Of course everybody assumes that it is always better to avoid the use of force if possible, but it seems that something is decisively wrong with any ethic that rules out the legitimate or even tragic use of violence before the fact. Yet that seemingly self-evident presupposition ironically contains a deterministic view of our existence that I expect few of us would be willing to accept. For it is my contention that if we are genuinely nonviolent we can no more decide to use violence even if the situation seems to warrant it, than the courageous can decide under certain conditions, to be cowardly."
A part of Hauerwas' argument is precisely that we need to re-imagine what it means to act in the world, so that our own characters flow from a Christian narrative, not a narrative that has been predetermined by the (fallen) world. So the task of the Christian church is to shape people who are non-violent, who do not contribute to the cycle of violence that so defaces the image of God in our common humanity.

This I believe to be true.

It is a struggle that must, first and foremost, be won in our imaginations. For when a man entertains the conception of an evil which would seem to necessitate a violent response, that in itself is a corrupt use of the imagination. It is an imagination driven by fear; fear of pain and suffering for oneself or for another. It is also an imagination that is formed by worldly conceptions of what it is to be human - for example, that through the sharing of a genetic inheritance with violent chimpanzees, we too have a violent genetic inheritance.

This is my struggle. In particular, I need to strengthen my Christian imagination, so that I can bring a suitably Christian vision and hope to the expectations of imminent apocalypse.

Such an imagination is not a Christian imagination. To conquer violence without can only proceed from the conquering of violence within - and that means the conquering of the fear within. To achieve this, the imagination has to be taught and strengthened and fed through the contemplation of peace; and, principally, the prince of peace. For it is only through such contemplation and nourishment that the disposition to nonviolence is first formed and then established as a virtue within the faithful person. The imagination of the world must itself succumb to the imagination and the imaging of Christ.

What must be held before the heart of the faithful is the icon of death being conquered, so that the faithful no longer have any fear of death. Instead they have perfect love, which casts out fear.

A different way of saying this is to say that our image of God within must be awakened. For if our imaginations are formed by the world, then we will be formed as people in the image of the world - and that is the way of violence. If we allow our own divine image to emerge; if we feed the imagination with the image of the nonviolent God - then we shall become a nonviolent people.

Then we shall live out our vocation as Christians.

Which is my vocation too.

Lord, may we so know your peace in our hearts that we may ever trust in you to be our defence; our ever present shield in danger; through Christ our Lord, Amen.

(My thanks to Patrik, whose comment here has remained with me, and helped me greatly.)

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