Richard Rohr on Evil & Violence


I’ve been working my way through Richard Rohr’s, Things Hidden. It’s been my first interaction with his writings and, for me, it has become like a cool glass of water on hot summer’s day.

In his chapter on “Evil’s Lies,” he shares some interesting thoughts about the reality of violence.

It’s hard for us religious people to hear, but the most persistent violence in human history has been sacred violence, or more accurately, “sacralized violence.” Human beings have found a most effective way to legitimate their instinct toward fear and hatred. They imagine that they are fearing and hating for something holy and noble, like God, religion, truth, morality, their children or love of country. It takes away all guilt, and one can even think of oneself as representing the moral high ground or being responsible and prudent, as a result. Good American “soccer moms,” along with many other “normal” Americans, seemingly bolstered the charge against terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks. It never occurs to most people that they can become what they fear and hate. It is a well-kept secret. Without wisdom, it all appears like a wonderful and moral thing, like “protecting my children.” (p135)

Violence is usually attributed to heinous acts, like the picture above portraying the blight upon Christian history known as, “The Crusades.” Or if we aren’t as aware of church history, we conjure up pictures of modern terrorist groups.

Those are the examples of violence.

Yet Rohr points out how violence is a part of normal, everyday folk. Even soccer moms.

We despise what we see in those heinous acts, but we fail to realize we “can become what [we] fear and hate.” We end up ourselves embracing the formula that retribution should meet retribution, violence should be repaid with violence. Perhaps we are not the arbiters of that retributive violence, but we stand on the sidelines championing those who do carry it out, all in the name of “something holy and noble.”

As we justify the varying acts and attitudes of sacred violence, we become the violent ones ourselves.

Rohr continues:

Scapegoating or sacralized violence is the best possible disguise for evil. We can concentrate on evil “over there” and avoid our own. Evil is never easily recognized as evil by those who do it; or as Paul so wisely says, “Satan disguises itself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). We all choose “apparent goods” inside of our own unrecognized frame of reference. Your violence is always bad and evil. Mine is always necessary and good. (p135)

Again, this so eloquently reminds us of how we are always put off by other’s violence, while at the same time justifying our own violence. “I simply want us to get those evil terrorists,” or, “I am not going to let them get a leg up on me at the office.”

If this is our cycle, we are doomed as a human race, violence will continue to beget violence.

This is why the Christian believes, or should believe, there is another way. We remember the crucified one, violently slaughtered on a cross. But he knew that violence, and all its related atrocities such as fear, anger, hate, and death, could only be defeated by a sacrificial display of love never yet seen. So Jesus willingly endured violence, through sacrifice, to do away with violence. It was through the sacrificial death of the one who was good, right, pure, merciful, and Love himself, that a disarming of the powers and authorities took place (Col 2:15).

That was how Love triumphed.

Sacred violence is all around us. Not just in Crusades, not merely in retaliatory methods aimed at terrorists. They happen in our homes, our work places, our grocery stores, our streets, and deep within our hearts.

Trust me, I know. It stings.

We will do well to remember that violence, whether deemed sacred or heinous, has nothing to do with the Son, who himself was the exact representation of the Father. We can meet violence with something far greater than we first thought or imagined.

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