Honest Faith: God of War
No, I’m not doing a series of video game blog posts. If I did, I’d probably pick a game series I enjoyed more than that one. I wanted to have a conversation about violence and our love affair with it. Last week I focused on our odd relationship with Pride, this week I want to focus on violence. This is something that I have a long history with, more thinking about rather than violence itself. The thoughts have popped up at random intervals in my life. Once after I wanted to show my wife the awesomeness that is the movie “Fight Club”, she became ill due to the violence depicted. I thought that’s odd I never really noticed it was that bad. Once when I was doing a project in college to survey, using the forum that youth specialties had on their main website (I wasn’t very liked there), what youth ministers thought about war. Finally, there is just recently, at church there was a discussion after service whether Islam was a violent religion or not. Since I have decided that during lent I’d find out more about Islam I figured it was a good discussion to dip my toe into. We had to leave early due to our schedule being tight, but Cathy (my wife) brought up a good point afterward. Asking the question is silly because the question itself is silly. Islam is only violent in so far as Christianity, Judaism, Buddism, Atheism, Sikhism, Hinduism, or whatever other -ism is violent. It isn’t the religion as a whole, it’s the people who follow it.
Back in college, I was a bit naive. Okay, okay it was more than a bit. I like to refer to it as my know-it-all jackassery time. So I got this bright idea that I would start a fight on a youth ministry forum for a project at school. I wanted to get people talking about war and why they justified it. This was early in the “W” years. I was a bigger idealist than I am now. I really believed that Christianity is meant to be a pacifist movement. I still do, but I’m not as militant about it (see what I did there?). Anyway, I just incited the incident by posting a question on the forum asking what people thought the Bible had to say about war and violence. I cited a few hypotheses and would push people to explain their answers. Needless to say, it got heated very quickly. I actually had back up too. My roommates made accounts on the forum to “Help” with moving the conversation along. I’m not super proud of this, but I was very interested in what happened. We discovered that Christians, especially youth ministers, aren’t very good at handling the opposing viewpoint with respect and kindness. Granted, some were antagonized and pushed by my roommates to explain further, but mostly I started to receive violent threats because I pursued the point of pacifism. I found it ironic, and it turned out to be a very good paper following. This started my pursuit into thinking about why it is we tend toward violence in solving our problems and in our images of justice. Oh and If you were one of those people we pushed way back when on those forums, I apologize. We shouldn’t have been as “troll-y” as we were. I’m also much more interested in having an actual conversation with you now, rather than an argument.
It was this project that really opened my eyes, though. I started to look at what the Bible and other texts that were important to our culture. I started to be more aware of the media I was consuming. What I viewed as entertainment, and what was just so much time wasted. I noticed a disturbing trend. We live in a culture saturated with violent images and sexual innuendo. Now I’m not a super pious person. If you know me personally you know I swear on occasion, like beautifully choreographed martial art sequences, I enjoy a well-crafted beer, and don’t care much for the puritanical outlook on modern morality. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange” we have resisted violence and sex so much as a culture that it has made them the pinnacle of our marketing potential. I could go on to talk about how this has reduced sex to meaningless pleasure and people as objects, but that’s a completely separate blog post for another time. We are talking specifically about violence. I began to notice that the majority of the metaphors in the Christian Bible are violent and war metaphors. Granted, this was a people that lived during a much more violent time than we do ( Research has been done ). This was something that people lived every day and for them, it was necessary to speak in terms everyone understood.
This informed a lot of what I began to think about for the coming years. It’s one of the reasons why I will never watch “Fight Club” in the same way again. It’s the same reason why I can’t make it through the first 10 minutes of the previously mentioned “A Clockwork Orange”. It’s the same reason that I don’t understand why people want to blame a religion or a text or video games or what have you for physical violence. The problem is not ethereal, the problem is us. We don’t talk about the stuff we are consuming. We don’t have proper conversations about our feelings. We don’t give emotional, spiritual, psychological, and cognitive tools to each other to help cope with our situations. We allow things to become explosive because on some level we do just want to watch the world burn. On some level, we find it entertaining.
I could cite the rise of reality television and our obsession with watching fail videos on youtube or elsewhere. But the thing is I think you already know that part of yourself exists. It’s that part of you that wants the hero to kill the villain at the end of the story to exact your idea of justice. Maybe you don’t want that. I admit I’m conflicted in those moments as well. I remember the days and months following 9/11 when all I wished for was vengeance upon those who hurt our country. I’m sure there are still those who feel that. I’m not saying it’s wrong to feel that way. What I am saying is that we need to open up to other people that part of ourselves. We need to talk about these things in open and healthy ways because otherwise, we are feeding the vengeful god of war waiting for things to become explosive.
I believe that the Divine is a loving god. I know that the vast majority of the descriptions throughout scriptures are contrary to that. But I like to believe what that one middle eastern Jewish man once told people about. A loving God that isn’t seeking sacrifice. A loving God that does not require anything from you, but to love what has been given to you. That may be a naive and idealistic image for me to espouse, but for me, it is a hopeful one. It is one that I think is gaining popularity. Despite the fact, fewer people are going to church, I think more people are embracing the image of a loving and peaceful God. It may not be a conscious embrace, it might even be to spite those they believe were wrong in the past. Maybe instead of holding on and bottling up our feelings about things we are meant as creatures to share them with each other. We are not meant to be strong on our own. We are meant to be strong together. As I’ve been saying for a few weeks now, we are putting God back together again when we come together. I believe that was the whole idea of church in the first place. I admit for me it is now really difficult to get up on a Sunday morning and attend services now that I don’t work for the church. It’s tough to get ready and get my family ready and leave the house. I would much rather sit around in my pajamas and eat pancakes on a Sunday morning. But I know that it is important for me to be connected to the larger whole. It is important for me to come to the table and commune with others. Maybe we should think about doing something different than Sunday mornings, but that’s a different conversation.
Maybe I’m wrong. It’s possible. But I fear that no matter where you are on the political spectrum. No matter where you are on the religious spectrum. No matter where you are on the morality spectrum. The more we give in to our darker selves and keep them bottled up the more we are in danger of exploding. I’m not saying it’s not okay to watch, play, or read violent things. I’m saying it’s not okay to do it without questioning the larger whole. It’s not okay to do it and not wonder why or not share your feelings about it with others (in a way that is productive and healthy). It’s not okay to feed the vengeful god of war unknowingly.