Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Violence Is

Thanks be to God for the life, books, and ministry of Marcus Borg (1942-2015), rightly described  by The New York Times as “a leading evangelist of what is often called progressive Christianity.”

Posts on this blog that mention Marcus Borg:

Walking our dog, Hobbes, I am sometimes asked by children, “Does he bite?” I explain that any dog will bite if adequately provoked. Though she has a docile temperament, if rushed upon, startled, or aggressively cornered , she will growl, bare her teeth, and, on rare occasion, snap. It’s a dog’s only defense, I explain, if the child is still listening.

Humans are that way too. We ascribe violence to police officers, minority youth, religious extremists—whatever scapegoat we want. But the truth is, violence is an inherently human trait, as well as a creaturely and cosmic characteristic.

In my unpublished mystery novel set in a small Southern town, spiritual profiler John Boswell investigates the untimely death of one of its two Presbyterian pastors, Angus MacDonald. Among the townspeople he interviews is a rotund, Buddha-like former actor living in a houseboat on the river, recently returned from California after ending a relationship with an OCD partner trying to fix the world (who once followed him around the kitchen with a Dustbuster!).  He explains: 
“Finally what ended the relationship was a conversation we had about violence, though maybe I was just goading him because I was tired of his moralistic crusades. I told him that even though I think violence is the worst thing in the world, violence is a natural part of the world, of human nature, even God’s nature. I said, ‘You think God didn’t destroy something to create something new? Creation does violence to whatever was before. And what do you think death is? Death is violence. Violence is. Death is. So get over it.’” Matt paused, gesturing toward a snake that had been sunning itself on a nearby rock now slithering to shore, merely skimming the surface of calm water along the river’s edge.
“Then I added, ‘Dirt is. You’re dirt. I’m dirt. We’re all dirt. The world is dirt. So stop trying to vacuum the world!’”
French social anthropologist and philosopher René Girard has done intriguing work around violence. He posits that in cultures with ritualized violence—everything from the Eucharist (when understood as re-enacting the sacrifice of Christ) to the Super Bowl—one on one violence is diminished.

I used Gerard’s work, especially around sacrifice and “the scapegoat mechanism,” in my book Coming Out as Sacrament. In it, I questioned why so many Christians need to see the crucifixion as a sacrifice to God to be forgiven our sins. I prefer the twelfth century teacher Abelard’s idea that the cross enables at-one-ment because it awakens in us an attribute that unites us with God: compassion.

Studies have associated testosterone, the male hormone, with aggression and violence. This prompted friends in MCC San Francisco, a female comic duo called “Fifi and Fanny,” to initiate a wink-wink campaign to lessen violence by reducing male testosterone, encouraging men to give “One testicle for peace!”

I’m reminded of the opening scene in Gore Vidal’s novel, Washington D.C., in which a young man goes out into a stormy night, hormones raging, desperately wanting either to make love to somebody or to kill somebody. The military has always counted on such young men to fight our wars, so it should not be surprising that so many young men are being drawn to terrorism and ISIS. By the way, apparently most Muslim terrorists have as little Qur’anic literacy as gay-bashers have Biblical literacy, yet both often use their respective scriptures to justify their violence.

Human institutions—marriage, family, religion, government, organizations—may curb or channel our human tendency for violence toward upbuilding or destructive ends. A civil civilization may be why we are here. If so, the best reason and the most compassionate values must hold sway over mere instinct.

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Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers.

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  Fifi and Fanny material is copyrighted and used by permission.

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