When violence is right

In a remote forest there was a tribe of apes that had grown large and burgeoning. It was mainly due to the overabundance of fruit in a mango grove along a certain fresh water river.

They had everything there that they needed to survive and thrive. This is also why a tribe of humans settled along the same strip of land.

They lived in harmony until the apes grew tired of the food their land freely offered them.

At first the attacks were few and spread out over several years. But eventually the apes assaulted the human’s village daily. Children were being taken away. The elderly were battered and the strong men could not overpower them. And young women were being taken by the male apes.

The apes seemed to crave their new food source obsessively and it was even reported several times that they were feeding the human meat to their young.

The humans said they could see their leather-wrapped eyes had changed. They were no longer co-inhabitants. The apes had tasted human blood.

The human village was not a violent village. Besides fishing and the reluctant slaughter of boars when they attacked, they lived off of the plants the jungle provided.

But there was a man different from all the rest- who seemed built to be a warrior, when all others were simply peaceful gatherers. But he was different in another way. The strongest and by far the tallest among the humans had also been a mute since birth. And he seemed to sense things about the jungle the other humans didn’t. He was a head taller than any other man, could clear a path with a machete twice as fast as any other man, and he seemed to be able to sense when the apes would attack. He was more capable and powerful than the other men but he was a loner. He had not married like the rest. He wandered into the jungle alone for days at a time and would come back when he sensed restlessness among the apes.

But whenever he came home, he did not tell stories with the other men around the campfire. He spent hours just playing with his 5-year old niece. Her giggling, unassuming playfulness seemed to be the only thing that could bring a smile to his face.

The attacks grew worse so the leaders convened. They realized that although apes had enough food to live they were still transgressing the humans. As if their history in the land and the providence of its bounty gave them permission to take new things. But the humans didn’t know what to do because although they wanted to live in peace, the apes seemed to have made an irreversible change. Even if they had not all attacked the humans, they had all tasted the human blood and even the young ones seemed to desire it. The humans could see no turning around.

One night as the leaders talked the mute warrior stood at the back of the room. They could come to no solutions as a leadership.

Nobody looked at the mute warrior because they knew he preferred to only observe, but every man in the room knew that only the mute warrior would know what to do when the time came. None of them felt confident they could fight off the apes, but maybe he did.

Fear gripped the entire village. Sleep was haunted by fear. Each warrior slept near the door of his hut with one eye open.

But a few days later, the mute warrior’s niece was taken away from the very next room. He woke the moment the walls shook and he got to her room just as he saw the corrugated metal roof slap back into place.

The warrior pursued them through the jungle. The ape fled with her, dragging her by the ankle. Her body went limp at the first fall and she quickly felt no more pain.

The whole town woke and many of the warriors set out after them with fishing spears to do their best to help. They knew the moment had come and the mute warrior had simply done what he knew needed to be done.

By the end of the week an estimated 230 apes had been slaughtered. The majority of them had been killed by the mute warrior. As far as people could tell, the entire tribe of the apes that had gained a taste for human blood had been tracked down and eliminated.

The story of this spread down-river to the closest town, and then to the nearest globalized city.

Within two months an animal rights organization arrived, investigated, and declared it a barbaric disaster. Sanctions were put on the tribe, and the land was reclaimed by the government so that apes could repopulate it. The human tribe was striped and stained with the colors of being hated, and seen as “inhumane, barbaric, and evil” by every peace-lover and every animal-lover across the civilized world. At least all of the ones on Instagram.

Many of the men who had helped to slaughter the apes were hit with monetary punitive measures larger than they could repay. (They had been convicted of a violation of some obscure nation-wide animal preservation law.) But the mute warrior was imprisoned and when his refusal to talk was seen as defiant he was put in solitary confinement and his public reputation was solidified.

But that was just as well to the mute warrior. All he had ever wanted for his people was to keep them safe and unafraid. And that had been accomplished. And he hadnt much cared for the company of anybody else, other than his little niece the apes took from him

***

I wonder if, just like with many things, we’ve labeled violence as intrinsically right or wrong, without considering the reason for which one is doing it.

We see violence in the Bible so sometimes we are tempted to discount those parts of it. but perhaps we don’t know god’s reasons for doing what he does.

Raw Spoon, 2-11-16

5 Responses to When violence is right

  1. Manny Glover says:

    Ross, you wrote a very nice story. I mean that. It was touching. I don’t know if it’s based on a historical incident, but regardless, of course I would side with the persecuted human tribe in the story. However, there are several problems with using this story to defend the ancient Israelite genocides of certain tribes in and around Palestine. A good way to articulate these is to start with the Amalekites, one of the most famous victims of Hebrew genocide. First, let’s consider Deuteronomy 25:17-19:
    —–
    17Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. 18When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. 19When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!
    —–
    In your story, you indicate that the apes are relentlessly belligerent towards the humans. This is obviously not the case here. “When the Lord your God gives you rest […]” This means that Israel should wait until they have peace so that they can fully recuperate before annihilating the Amalekites. How could they ever rest if the Amalekites were constantly attacking them? They were not constantly attacking them. The Israelites were traveling from Egypt to Palestine. They were not passing through empty land. There were various tribes inhabiting the lands that they were passing through. Animals in general are territorial. Humans are animals (primates, to be more precise). Therefore, it is not surprising that some of the tribes that were already inhabiting these areas considered the Israelite travelers to be a threat and/or a target. I do not mean to say that the Amalekites were not sinning. But the incident here noted does not indicate that they are in unusually bloodthirsty human tribe.

    We all know that we are animals. You and I both take it on faith that we are also gods (Psalm 86; John 10). If we are gods, what is expected of us? According to Jesus, some important requirements include forgiving one another and loving one’s enemies. The Deuteronomy passage states that Yahweh commanded the ancient Israelites to violate this requirement. Notice that the command to annihilate them is based on a past offense. There is no mention of further offenses nor any clemency allowed in the case of future peacefulness. The blood pact is final. In fact, it is so unending, this blood pact, that conservative Jews of the 20th century work complacent in the Ottoman genocide of Armenian Christians, because these Jews thought that Armenians were the descendants of Amalek (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amalek). Of course, what the Ottomans did was worse, but don’t you see what happens when we assume? What’s the saying? “You make an ass out of u and me.” This is much worse than making an ass out of someone. This is the shedding of innocent blood. What is the assumption? It is that when a canonized Jew wrote “God said,” then God said it. Hmmmmm… who else has claimed that “God said kill these people?” (Hint: a lot of people.)

    You love Jesus. You believe he was God. It would seem he thought that the Old Testament was of God. Therefore, you feel that you must swallow the whole Old Testament, hook, line, and sinker.

    But from what you know of Jesus, can you really imagine him, ruling from heaven in ~1500 B.C., commanding the commands that Yahweh made? Of course we know that the Old Testament God also made a good commands. Is this an example of a good command? Is this Christlike? No. They are different gods. Marcion, eat your heart out.

    You say “maybe God has a reason that we can’t see.” I consider this to be a cop out and an open ended invitation toward manipulation. You are trying to persuade hundreds of millions of people to suppress their consciences. Is this good? Christians who read these passages are disturbed. How often do you hear sermons where the pastor actually reads these verses? Christians ignore or are ignorant of these verses. Because it seems… “not edifying”??? It’s because passages like these defy the notions of the Unknown God that godly people seek to worship. It’s very hard to reconcile these passages with various sayings of Jesus, such as, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “forgive 7×70,” “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” “turn the other cheek.”

    If you were a radical Muslim, and one of your young disciples questioned the practice of suicide bombing, what would you say to him? These Americans are the Great Satan. They will never stop until all of your friends and relatives are subjugated. They hate God and God’s law. Their children will do the same as they do. God wants us to preserve his kingdom in the world. He has called us to a difficult but holy mission.

    Hmmmmm… I’m seeing a few parallels here…

    Another thing I would like to criticize is that your analogy dehumanizes the human tribes that were victims of ancient Israelite genocide. For better or for worse, you compared these human tribes to bloodthirsty apes. Whenever you dehumanize humans, it is easier to justify a Final Solution.

    Hmmmmm… who else were victims of a Final Solution? Jews under Nazi rulership. They were considered by the Nazis to be subhuman. They were also considered to be “bloodthirsty.” Any story of murder of a Gentile by a Jew was circulated and sensationalized. They were also considered to be “ruthless businessman,” partly because the historical Christian prohibition on usury did not apply to them, so they were considered to be “greedy leeches,” simply because they went into the business of money lending (which is a vital element to any modern economy). The average German Gentile of the time did not consider the Jews to be their brethren; else, how could they sleep at night? Is that how you Christians are able to sleep at night? By thinking of these ancient victims as animals?

    Do you know who else dehumanized another people group? The word “cockroaches” was often used to promote the genocide of the Hutus by the Tutsis (and/or vice a versa). Of course, who wouldn’t smash a cockroach?

    Of course, self-defense can look brutal. Of course there are times when you must kill. But is an eternal command to wipe out one people group an example of just war? Of course not. You Christians jump through many hoops to defend the indefensible. Shame on you.

    Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.

    • raw spoon says:

      Oh man Manny, this is such good reasoning here. I agree with all of it. Well done.
      At the same time I still think there is good reasoning on the other side. I don’t know which one is correct, so I must choose if I will trust there is one wiser than I, or will I choose that I am the wisest. And I have chosen to try and trust God, even when I don’t understand.
      You are right that I had to use an animal in order to convince my audience that genocide was okay. I’ve learned this lesson in alegory. Our culture is so sensitive to any violence, I had to take it one step further away in order to get at the point. The point was that the genocide was the only solution to a group who had chosen their taste for blood with no turning back. Perhaps that was the Amalakites’ choice not to fear God (see below).
      Deut 25:17-19 is definitely unsettling. I don’t like the way it looks, or makes God look on the surface. And I don’t know the answer. I’m glad I am not confronted with this command as a modern american. Here are some possible explanations beyond the first impressions of Americans or other biased groups that don’t know all the background and context that was behind the comment during that situation and that day.
      Going back to the hebrew, “blot out the memory” is usually translated in a way that infers destruction, but it also has connotations of washing. And ‘the memory of’ may or may not mean the existence of. The story you told me on the phone about war that continues to go on between some Jews and a race that some Jews surmise to be Amalakites is still going on in order to destroy them. But it appears ‘the memory’ of them has already been washed clean if it is still hazy enough to know if that people group really are Amalakites. Perhaps their punishment has already been exacted. No one remembers if in fact they are descendants, right? The attackers don’t even know if they are. And that is their bad. Maybe it is only remembered because it is in the Deut. Ironic there. This is what they are teaching us all the time in Seminary. We just don’t know the original context or the original language. And this gives us leniency to assume that maybe God wasn’t commanding destruction.
      My seminary would also say that Deuteronomy was redacted/written when King Josiah rediscovered the ancient scrolls while in exile. He pulled together all the rules into the book of Deut to unify the scattered nation under a list of sovereign rules. Unifying them by a religious way of life. My school would probably say that much of the rules that were written/redacted then, do not apply to now because we are not in the same socio-political atmosphere, do not need unification, and we don’t want to be swayed by a redactor with a 200-500BC exilic agenda. The voice of those verses certainly does sound like someone added them on as part of a political agenda. This may very well be the case and that would explain it in terms I think you are used to. There are Christians out there that read it this way. Smart and devout ones. I think you’re PCUSA and you don’t know it ;)
      Next, as I open up more possibilities in the reading, it could appear that their sin was not the picking off the stragglers, but instead was that ‘they did not fear God”. And maybe God knew that THAT was the sin most contagious and harmful. This was not a pointless revenge. Every cell within a body needs to work towards the unified direction in which the body is going; otherwise the divergent part would be considered cancer. And the doctor would be irresponsible for not cutting out a cancer for it’s potential for spread of its mission. If a people does not fear God and his instructions for them, that seems to be the reason God has punished many before. The flood, sodom and Gomorrah. It is for the health of the world/society as a whole. We hate violence, but perhaps the fact that he has not purified all of us who work against his will is a mercy.
      I’m just glad I am not being asked to do something as difficult as kill. I hope I never will be, but if God ever asks something so against what I’m comfortable with, I hope I will be able to hear clearly enough to know for certain what he was asking, and then to trust, like Abraham did with Isaac. I doubt I would ever be able to be this certain. I’ve never been that certain about anything God has asked of me. I think what we see with Abraham and Isaac is that our God is not one for senseless violence, but he is one who wants the eternal best for as many people as possible and requires hard obedience in order to set us toward that goal. Even if at first it looks like only violence. Even if it means bodily death in this world of ourselves or others that will take more people away from our eternal goal, and thus maybe it is worth it.
      Your argument about Muslims blindly being told to kill, and how is it any different, is a really good one. That one has haunted me for a long time. I think what we need to remember is that just because many blind faiths may be bad ones, we should not assume that all of them are. Is there not one which can be trusted? Do we shed all and shuck off all obedience we do not like? Can we assume that we will understand all of God’s ways? What if a higher life form came to earth and we had it within our capacity to kill them before we let them integrate, even though they seemed friendly. If God knew they would turn on us once we allowed them among us, perhaps he would have us kill them early on. And I think that is exactly what has happened. Angels have come among us, many of them angels choosing their own will over God’s and they tricked us into not trusting God either. We ‘ate’ and trusted our own knowledge of good and evil above the words from our God. The original sin has found its way so deeply into this world that now we must deal with divergent cancers everywhere in this world. Each one thinking it knows better how to grow and shape the body, than the creator of this great thriving, writhing being that is life on earth.
      I just can’t assume I know better than God. Otherwise I might be considered a cancer and need to be cut out. I must fear my creator and obey.
      I just hope he never asks me to kill a being. Thus the struggle of tortured heroes such as Bonhoeffer.
      Thanks for helping me iron out some of my thoughts.
      i agree with you on all your points. But I also agree that we do not know if those reasons or interpretations are the true ones. We just don’t ever know the reasons God/the Bible said things, because we just don’t know the context behind them. And because we do not know, we do our best to seek the heart of God, which I think is the most eternal health for the most amount of beings, and sometimes that may require excising the contagious other parts.
      So we are given to free will to choose- do we trust ourselves as the most wise, or do we trust another. And since matter begs the existence of a creator, I lean towards the latter.
      And the outcomes of your choice are less profitable than the outcomes of mine. We have been given the faculties of choice. Where will we put our cards.
      I cannot argue for how you have played yours. You have good reasons. You have made your choice. I can only say that for my eternal health and hope that this is how I will play mine.
      I kind of like the idea that in the end we’re both standing before God and he looks at both of us and we realize we’re on the exact same track :) Perhaps the dealer has dealt us our hands, and sees we are just doing our best to play the game with the deepest of our convictions. And he likes to see us working out our worship.
      One of my professors told a story: two rabbis were arguing out the meaning of a text. God peeks out of the clouds and tells them the true meaning of the text. The rabbis turn to God and say, “this is OUR job to interpret the text. Butt out of it!” Then God pulls back, sits back and smiles as he says, “My children finally understand my heart for them.”
      We’re working this thing out with our convictions brother. Bless you and me both.
      Love ya.

      • Manny Glover says:

        Hey Ross, I’m sorry that I never read this reply. It was very thoughtful, and I appreciate it. I don’t have time for a true response right now, but I just wanted to let you know that I have read it. I guess there was no notification in my email to let me know you had replied.

  2. Good thoughts, man! Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for everything… a time to kill and a time to heal.