Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.5
[Published as “Scapegoating No More: Christian Pacifism and New Testament Understandings of the Death of Jesus” in Willard M. Swartley, ed. Violence Renounced: René Girard, Biblical Studies, and Peacemaking (Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing House, 2000), 49-69.]
There is a paradox with the human religious experience. On the one hand, religion is a main (perhaps the main) dynamic in death-dealing violence in the world. On the other hand, religious faith also often provides the main basis for the fruitful rejection of death-dealing violence.
We certainly see religion as a main dynamic in death-dealing violence in generation after generation of “holy” wars—the Crusades, the Thirty Years War between Protestants and Catholics in the seventeenth century, the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in newly liberated India in the 1940s, conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and the ongoing hostilities in the Middle East among Muslims and Jews.
Most pre-meditated death-dealing violence requires some sort of fueling ideology which justifies humans taking other humans’ lives. Often this ideology has a clear religious element; what is claimed to be a divinely sanctioned rationale for coercion, even the taking of human life.
At the same time, religious faith is also one of the keys for people finding the way toward somehow breaking this spiral of violence. For many people religious faith affirms that that which is beautiful and worthwhile about the human project comes from God—the merciful and loving creator who desires human flourishing and wellbeing, and who grieves at the costly spiral of violence. The heart of many people’s religious faith moves them at their deepest being to care passionately about finding a way out of this spiral of violence.
For many people, Christianity claims that we have in Jesus a model of a human way of living that breaks free from the spiral of violence. Jesus models—in life and in teaching—a way toward genuine peace. Therefore, despite the bloody hands apparent throughout the history of Christianity, many people believe one of our main sources of hope remains the story of Jesus. Continue reading