A Third Way

Posted: August 26, 2009 in Justice, Lessons, Peace

After a little Facebook interaction on the torture issue, I was reminded that although I have written a lot on certain things over the years, many who may read my notes now weren’t around then.

Which makes it hard to know where to begin.

First of all, with great thanks to lots of authors out there (primarily Walter Wink & Stanley Hauerwas), I have come to believe in and advocate a “third way” of responding to violence. There are two natural responses to violence – “fight or flight” in psychological jargon, or “just war or pacifism” in theological discussions – but I believe that these dichotomies are insufficient. There is a third response.

To use the governmental use of force, for example, the normal options given are these: (1) use violence if necessary to achieve your goals, or (2) let people run over you. The classic argument against the latter is, What if we had just let Hitler do what he wanted?

Given these options, most people logically choose option number one.

It has dawned on me that this is why there is no substantial public outcry over the revelations of torture. The general public has chosen “violence if necessary.” They aren’t particularly proud of it, but in the end, it is considered the better option.

I believe in a third option. I like to call it creative non-violence, and it demands more explanation than I have time to give it today. But I’ll at least try to sketch it out.

First of all, there is an important distinction to be made between VIOLENCE and FORCE. Take the general practice of a police force for instance. We empower the police “force” in general to use force, not violence. Suspects can be seized, searched, detained, questioned, arrested, convicted, and imprisoned without resorting to what I’m calling violence – the unnecessary use of force.

I have personal problems with capital punishment (i.e. violence). I have personal problems with what you see in the occasional “Law & Order” episodes of cracking a suspect’s head against a wall to try to encourage an answer (i.e. violence). I have no problem with force.

Therefore, option number two – simply letting someone run over you – is insufficient in my book. But option number one – the use of violence – is out-of-bounds in my book as well.

Take parent-child relationships for example. I have no problem with parental use of force (taking away privileges, etc. – even theoretically, spanking, though I’m not a big fan). I have a big problem with child “abuse” – that is, violence.

Put this all together…
* Child abuse = violence / Discipline = force
* Torturing prisoners = violence / Imprisoning & removing freedom = force
* War (as generally understood) = violence / Military police action = force

To “war,” I like Wendell Berry’s question: What if there was an international law prohibiting any country from killing a child of another country? How then would war be waged?

So, that was all just the first point. Being anti-violence is not the same as being a pushover.

Second, here’s where the problems come in. What do you do when you encounter violence that is greater than the legitimate force (not violence) you have at your disposal? What then? I don’t advocate resorting to violence. Neither do I advocate letting the violent wreak havoc without any response. I advocate creative non-violence. If you want a primer on how to do this, I would suggest reading about the lives of people like Gandhi, Dr. King, and one whom both looked to for inspiration, Jesus.

Walter Wink wrote some great stuff on Jesus’s instructions to love enemies – on how to creatively rebel against violence by sometimes hilarious means. Wink argues that Jesus’s turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, and give your cloak as well instructions weren’t a primer on how to get run over.

Well, this is a lot for me to write on a day of law school. Maybe I’ll explain Wink’s interpretation tomorrow if anyone shows any interest.

Bottom line for today: When you choose violence over getting run over, where do you draw the line? The (lack of) Christian reaction to torture revelations leads me to believe that folks don’t have a really good answer – outside of Well, it’s better than getting run over.

I advocate a third way.

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