Tag Archives: nonviolence

What to Do about Bad Guys

There’s been a lot of talk about gun control here in the States since the Sandy Hook massacre.  I know people on both sides of the debate and have seen some interesting points on both sides, but I have found one line of logic to be particularly troubling.  It’s best encapsulated in this little meme here:

Yes, I get it, thank you.  And I disagree.  But no, I’m not stupid.

The argument underlying this one is that the best solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  The problem at Sandy Hook, see, was that nobody there was armed except the bad guy: Adam Lamza.  If the principal or a teacher had had a gun, too, then the bad guy would have been stopped sooner.  So we should give the good guys the guns so that evil is vanquished.  Peace, through superior firepower.

Incidentally, you can see this kind of logic in all kinds of other places, too.  For example, with American foreign policy in Syria.  What do we do when the bad guy (the Syrian dictator) is killing innocent civilians?  The answer: give the good guys guns so that they can vanquish the bad guy.

Do you get it?  Or are you stupid or something?  Any idiot can understand this logic.

(Then again, maybe that’s the problem.)

The nice thing about this line of reasoning is that it makes the world so simple.  See, since the dawn of time, mankind has been caught in an epic battle between good and evil.  Every man and woman must take a side.  Will they be good guys or bad guys?  Bad guys will always try to perpetrate evil on innocent people.  So the good guys must always work to imprison or kill the bad guys.  That’s the way it has been since the beginning.

See, here’s what you do to achieve peace.  It’s real simple:

  1. Figure out who the bad guys are.
  2. Find them, and either
  3. Kill them (always preferable) or (if you must) put them in jail.

Seriously, how many movies have you seen where this is the exact plot?

The question that this is answering is one that’s provoked every time we see the innocent dead: How do we respond to evil?

What’s frustrating about Sandy Hook for people using the Kill the Bad Guy approach is that the answer doesn’t make itself apparent.  The Bad Guy already killed himself, so we can’t kill him.  But, by God, we will make sure that we can kill the next one—and we will put a gun in the hands of every teacher in order to do so.

Can I suggest one tiny thing?  Kill the Bad Guy is certainly one response to evil.  But it is not a Christian response: that is, it is not one that makes sense inside a Christian worldview.

Certainly, we can agree that this is not the way Jesus responded to evil?  A brief quote from the man himself:

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also [ . . . ]

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

If the world’s response to evil is “Kill the Bad Guy”, Jesus’ response seems to be, “Love the Bad Guy”.

This response, of course, seems like foolishness to the Greeks.  Is evil to just be allowed to run wild?  Surely if the good guys do nothing, then evil prevails.

There’s lots to say, more than a blog can contain.  But let me suggest that within a pagan worldview (yeah, I said it: pagan), the answer to violence is always more violence.  Escalation is inevitable, because the Enemy must be taught a lesson.  But it seems that Jesus says that the answer to the death-dealing power of violence is the life-giving power of love.

It seems that the primary battle Jesus saw in situations such as this one was not “Good Versus Evil” but “Hatred Versus Love”.  And when we look at things through that same lens, everything changes.  Meeting hatred with hatred seems ludicrous.  Meeting death with death looks insane.  For you can not defeat violence with violence any more than you can drive out darkness with darkness.

Bringing it home, then: what is the Christian response to Sandy Hook?

There’s lots to say, but I’ll start here:

  1. Think of someone in your life who is mentally ill: autistic, schizophrenic, manic depressive, take your pick.
  2. Go find that person.
  3. Love them like you do your best friend.
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If Given the Order, Would You Launch a Nuclear Bomb?

Answering no, in the United States Navy, may put you up for “psychological testing”.

A couple months back I linked to Slate’s interview with Justin Stieber (that’s Stieber, not Bieber), who applied for and was granted conscientious objector (CO) status during his tour in Iraq.  And yesterday, the NYT published this article about Michael Izbicki, who graduated at the top of his class in the Naval Academy, and was also recently granted CO status after a long, arduous process.   He now lives as part of a Quaker community in New London, Connecticut, where he spends his days—get this—gardening, praying, and studying Hebrew.

Money quote:

Mr. Izbicki said he also began exploring his commitment to Christianity. He studied the Gospels, read widely about the early history of the church, took up Hebrew so he could read the Old Testament in the original, and started to measure his faith according to the evangelical touchstone “What would Jesus do?”

It was in that light that he encountered the exam question about launching a nuclear missile in early 2009, shortly after he was assigned to submariner school at the Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, S.C. Seeing the question spelled out like that, he said, made it impossible to hide his emerging pacifism any longer.

“I realized that I could not be responsible for killing anyone,” he later explained.

His answer flagged him for psychological testing, and a consultation with a Navy chaplain, who was the first to suggest that Mr. Izbicki consider applying for discharge as a conscientious objector.

How revealing that saying, “No, I wouldn’t kill potentially millions of people with the push of a button,” causes the US Navy to question your psychological health.  Like he’s the crazy one.

Thank God we live in a country where obtaining CO status is even possible (if difficult!), but there’s something deeply wrong with any culture where anything but unquestioning obedience when it comes to something as devastating as launching a nuclear missile, and potentially, you know, ushering in the apocalypse, is seen as reason for psychological investigation.


Interview with a Conscientious Objector

Slate interviews Josh Stieber, who decided during his tour in Iraq that he “would rather go to prison than remain in the military.”  He got conscientious objector status instead, but the whole interview here is compelling.  Money quote:

I thought back to all the stuff I’d heard sitting next to this guy in church, and I asked him, “Well, even if he is guilty, what about the idea of loving our enemies and returning evil with good and turning the other cheek? How do you reconcile all those teachings?” My friend said, “I think that Jesus would have turned his cheek once or twice but he never would have let anyone punk him around.” Hearing him say it that way just made it sound so ridiculous. Here we supposedly had faith in this guy who very clearly was punked around, and ended up living and dying with sacrificial love. From then on, I really had to face the fact that I couldn’t have it both ways. Either I was going to try to find this inward reality where sacrificial love was possible for a higher goal, or I was going to let self-defense be my ultimate value.

Read the whole thing.

Two of my best friends in high school went straight into the military after graduation—one into the medical corps, the other into the infantry.  I never could have done it.  Back then, I wouldn’t have done it because I was 127 pounds (not that that’s changed much) and more interested in religion (surprise, surprise) than national security.  But now, I resonate with everything this guy is saying.

I am also continually amazed at Christian folks’ ability to circumnavigate the Sermon on the Mount.  Man.

(Hat tip: The Daily Dish)