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Another Christmas, Another Appeal to Violence

December 25, 2012

My wife and I have many customs at Christmastide.  Some are silly:  for example, on Christmas Day we always cook hotdog wraps (hotdogs in a shell of biscuit dough) for our main meal.  This started when the kids were really young:  after going to midnight mass, putting all the presents out, and then getting up at 6 AM when the kids did, we were too tired to cook the elaborate meal we had planned.  Hot dogs were quick, the kids loved them, and pretty soon it became a tradition.  Our oldest is 20 and to them this is what MUST be served on Christmas.

On a more serious note, my wife and I always listen to the following song by John McCutcheon:

This year, after the bloody massacre at Newtown, followed by the senseless killing of two firemen in upstate New York, it took on a special poignancy.   It calls to mind another time when violence was deemed necessary, when families and homes were threatened by “sociopaths” and “evil-doers”, when failing to respond with violence meant surrendering to the “enemy.”    And so the last war of European imperialism played out, leaving 16 million people dead and accomplishing little except to pave the way for the rise of Hitler and Stalin.

This drives home, for me, the point (being debated here) that our nation has placed a misguided trust in violence.  Is violence in self-defense sometimes necessary?   The Church teaches that it is, but has placed many strictures around it to make clear that it is the exception, not the rule.   As a culture, too many Americans look at these not as guidelines to turn them away from violence, but as legal obstacles to be overcome.   They are straining out gnats and swallowing camels, invoking Augustine and Aquinas and fine points of theology while turning a blind eye to the love and grace made present in the Incarnation.

In this Christmas season, we need to remember how Christ emptied himself for the sake of us sinners, so that the peace which is beyond all understanding is in our heads, in our hearts and on our lips.

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18 Comments
  1. Mark VA permalink
    December 26, 2012 8:24 am

    David Cruz-Uribe wrote:

    “This drives home, for me, the point (being debated here) that our nation has placed a misguided trust in violence.”

    David, allow me to propose another point of view: the United States of America have played an overwhelmingly beneficial role in the world – which is not to say that we, as patriots, must applaud every single thing we’ve done.

    In the context of this ballad, consider this: could the Second World War have been prevented, had President Wilson’s enlightened fourteen points (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteen_Points) not been rejected by the great European powers, in favor of the needlessly punitive and small Treaty of Versailles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Versailles) ?

    You also mentioned Stalin in you post. In this context, could we agree that the Truman Doctrine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truman_Doctrine) made complete sense, and offered a ray of hope to those enslaved by communism?

    How about the American Revolution itself, abolishing the aristocratic and increasingly degrading caste system, promoting the ideal of universal citizenship, subsidiarity, and a limited, benign, government?

    I think we tend to focus here almost exclusively on the negative and too often ignore the positive, to the point when even the mention of the positive is met with a cynical and jaded response. Let’s allow for at least a little bit of sunshine, optimism, and good humor, when we attempt to contemplate ourselves.

    Could the left and the right, at least on this blog, meet somewhere in the no man’s land?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      December 26, 2012 5:54 pm

      Perhaps. I don’t deny that the US has done good. I just think that it has done a lot less good than it is given credit for uncritically.

      To take your points in order: The 14 points may have done a lot of good, though it was too late for Russia. And that does not make up for the fact that we chose sides in a brutal war and contributed to the crushing of Germany.

      With regards to the Truman doctrine: this would need to be balanced by the brutal dictatorships we supported and the popular governments we overthrew in the name of anti-communism: Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam, El Salvador, Chile are a few that come to mind.

      The American revolution? Well, that did accomplish a lot of good. But it also allowed slavery to become entrenched, and it was the evil, aristocratic monarchy that we overthrew that made it its international mission to crush the Atlantic slave trade.

      Now, so that you do not accuse me of being completely negative, some things we did right:

      We rebuilt Germany and Japan after the second world war, turning both into enlightened industrial democracies. We slapped France and England down pretty hard in 1956, pretty much ending their imperial ambitions in the Middle East. Way back in 1865 we flexed our muscle and got the French to pull out of Mexico, allowing the legitimate Republican government of Benito Juarez to retake power. In many countries around the world, American foreign aid has actually done some good, both building infrastructure and helping people become more self-sufficient and prosperous. There are probably other examples, but those are the ones can come to mind right now.

      So the record is not all black. But that does not, in any way, make me back off from my original assertion that America is far to willing, both internally and externally, to put its trust in force and violence, to our detriment and to those we are directing our violence towards.

      • Ronald King permalink
        December 28, 2012 6:32 pm

        David, Excellent! We must also remember the Native Americans who were massacred and their cultures wiped out by European Christians.

  2. brian Martin permalink
    December 27, 2012 12:05 am

    Amen!

  3. Jordan permalink
    December 27, 2012 2:34 pm

    MarkVA [December 26, 2012 8:24 am]: How about the American Revolution itself, abolishing the aristocratic and increasingly degrading caste system, promoting the ideal of universal citizenship, subsidiarity, and a limited, benign, government?

    Perhaps the American experiment set forward under these lofty ideals. At the turn of the 21st century, the American republic has become a lethargic Leviathan looking upon the embers of empire. We are not unlike Britain at the close of the Second World War or France in the 1950s and 1960s. Americans are now watching our economic hegemony decline just as Britain reluctantly surrendered the subcontinent and the French lost first Indochina and then Algeria. America’s postcolonialism will not be the loss of geographical territory but a subservience to greater economic powers.

    At the height of Pax Americana the United States saved the world from manifest evil and totalitarianism. Now, Americans cannot save themselves from a systemic cultural dysfunction which includes senseless violence by the mad, dispossessed, and desperate. I am convinced that the current epidemic of mass violence merely gestures towards a country which can no longer sustain its people economically and imperially. We need not fear “tyranny”. We must fear the economic exploitation which breeds despair and the cyclical violence which derives in part from the anomie of increasing economic marginality. Personal arsenals cannot protect against layoffs and the erosion of union rights.

    • December 27, 2012 7:06 pm

      @ Jordan — Well said!

    • trellis smith permalink
      December 30, 2012 5:20 am

      Jordan, though you say we need not fear tyranny in the the very next sentence you define the tyranny we face and what we must combat.There is simply too much despair regarding the future of the American project and power in responding and adapting to the conditions it finds itself, from both the right and the left. In truth the rise of the right and left in reaction to the financial crisis while apparently diametrically opposed in their solutions they have each in their own way exposed the malfeasance or corruptions of the governmental, corporate even academic institutions that in retrospect will bode well for even more serious corrections and reform in government and be reflected in our society as a whole. This will not only counter the present distortions but increase our competence in dealing with truly existential threats to the nation and world at large In so far we have lost faith in these institutions is to the extent those institutions are unworthy of our support in their present state and will engender a demand for a renewed democracy. If this were to come at the cost of loss of empire many would argue that it would be the republic’s gain.

      • Jordan permalink
        December 30, 2012 4:24 pm

        Trellis, I placed “tyranny” in scare quotation marks for a reason. A number (though certainly not all) who advocate for no restrictions on gun ownership justify their ownership of high-powered weapons through a narrow definition of tyranny. Tyranny, in their view, is the possibility that the federal government could (and probably already has) seriously violated their civil rights. Personal arsenals are insurance for a time when “we the people” would rise up against exploitative government.

        Put another way, perhaps some in the gun-libertarian-Right, for lack of a better phrase, wish to be the mirror image of the Paris Commune. What escapes many gun-rightists is the reality that the American klepto-oligarchy will continue with or without their delusions. I entirely agree with you Trellis that the true tyranny which rules over the American people is economic exploitation. That some persons are entranced by the shadow-cave of conspiracy theories holds little relevance for those who certainly know the puppeteer.

  4. Agellius permalink
    December 27, 2012 4:21 pm

    Okay! Violence is bad! Sheesh! : )

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 28, 2012 1:14 pm

      As long as a message to the contrary is being proclaimed, implicitly and explicitly and in all corners of society, Christians must proclaim the truth of a better way. It’s called preaching the gospel.

  5. Agellius permalink
    December 28, 2012 2:27 pm

    Julia:

    I must have missed it. I have not heard a message being preached to the contrary of “violence is bad”. I have heard that violence is sometimes necessary, and is sometimes better than non-violence in a given situation. But those are perfectly in accord with Church teaching.

    I think this is something like the debate between big government and small government: It’s often presented as a conflict between those who believe government should help everyone, and those who believe it should help no one — the latter being condemned as against Church teaching. But in reality, neither of the major parties believes government should help no one. The disagreement between them is merely over where to draw the line, i.e. not whether government should provide help, but *how much* help government should provide, and to whom, and in what form, etc.

    I submit that it’s basically the same with guns and violence. No one’s advocating banning all guns, and no one’s advocating unlimited gun ownership. We’re just haggling over where to draw the line.

    And as to violence, I think all reasonable Catholics agree that it’s bad and to be avoided whenever possible, whether on the right or on the left. But we’re not pacifists either. Nor does anyone here believe that violence is wonderful and useful and should be used as a first resort. We’re just haggling over when and where, specifically, it should be used. In Iraq? In Afghanistan? Only when we’re actually in the process of being attacked, even if we have advance warning? To protect ourselves? To protect our property? To stop crazed lunatics from shooting children?

    • Mark VA permalink
      December 29, 2012 8:16 am

      Agellius:

      I agree with what you wrote. The question that suggests itself to me is, what is the nature of this “help”, and how did it come to be that we need such “help”?

      Consider this:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-wave_feminism

      And one salient quote from the above link:

      “The second wave of feminism in North America came as a delayed reaction against the renewed domesticity of women after World War II … “

      One wonders what does the reaction against “domesticity of women” produce for its subjects in terms of their marriage rates? Can we discern the links in this chain that lead to large numbers of undomesticated women and their children, and the down the road consequences (one addressed by this post) that follow? I believe that some of the contemporary violence is yet another derivative of the same original equation – the “reaction against the renewed domesticity of women after World War II”.

      Please don’t misunderstand my point here. I believe that much what the Second wave feminism has achieved for women is a net positive, especially in the areas of education, as in the sciences, and in the scope of employment opportunities. Yet, these benefits (for some) also came with a very heavy price for many – the undomestication of a large number of women and their (if any) children, and the direct consequences of it – much of it violent.

      What the Third wave feminism will produce for our society (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_wave_feminism) remains to be seen.

  6. Mark VA permalink
    December 28, 2012 7:08 pm

    Agellius:

    I think you said it well. At what point does offered help change into a subtle, yet unyielding, chain of dependency?

    There has been grown, indeed, cultivated in our culture, a large number of people, especially young women, who will not know the security and happiness of married life. This took several decades, and a steady exposure to propaganda. This propaganda was at times crude and explicit, and at other times subtle and sugar coated. Yet above all, it was effective. Statistically, the path for this group is set in stone, and I suspect some among them know it.

    You are right, we must discern what true Christian help is, and where the boundaries are.

    • Jordan permalink
      December 29, 2012 11:24 am

      Mark VA [December 29, 2012 8:16 am]: Yet, these benefits (for some) also came with a very heavy price for many – the undomestication of a large number of women and their (if any) children, and the direct consequences of it – much of it violent.

      I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at here, Mark. My first question would be, “what is domestication?” Domestication can be defined in terms of husbandry: e.g. “The Inca people have domesticated alpacas for their fur.” What are the specific activities, duties, or responsibilities which distinguish a domesticated woman from an undomesticated woman? Is the domestication of women similar to animal husbandry?

      Also, I am not at all certain about the link between marriage, women, and public violence. Let’s say for the moment that a domesticated woman rejects a career in favor of raising children full-time. Are women who stay at home to raise children necessarily raise children who are less prone to commit acts of violence? Is the opposite true, e.g. are women who elect to hold a job instead of minding their children full-time necessarily more likely to raise violent children? These themes require more development especially in light of your yet-unanswered definition of the domestication of women.

  7. Julia Smucker permalink*
    December 28, 2012 9:15 pm

    Agellius, I agree with you on the “size of government” debate, but I don’t believe the analogy holds. I may have to do some more thinking about where the distinction is between matters of principle and prudential applications thereof, but that distinction is significant enough that it may have to be determined before we try to debate where other lines are drawn, if we are to avoid simply talking past each other.

    If you can ever say that violence is “better” than nonviolence, you have not understood what nonviolence means. And if you have not heard the anti-gospel that violence is a positive good, you have not been paying attention. Granted, it can be ironically easy to miss when it’s so much a part of the very air we breathe, as my colleagues Brett and Matt have pointed out. But make no mistake, it is pervasively present.

    It is present, for instance, in the NRA’s latest mantra that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” – as if the world were so neatly divisible into “good guys” and “bad guys” that the power to kill, if only kept in the right hands, could be guaranteed not to be abused.

    It is present in the button I saw just the other day on a stranger’s backpack, bearing the slogan, “my body, my choice” – as if choice were so absolute as to trump responsibility, even when another body is entirely dependent on one’s own.

    It is present in the mind-numbing array of video game jackets inviting consumers to enact increasingly graphic and gratuitous violence for personal entertainment as the threshold of shock value pushes impossibly high and yet higher with every passing year.

    It is present in a cultural and political atmosphere in which all of the above, and much more besides, is passionately defended in the name of personal freedom. And as long as this message is present, it must be denounced for the (physically and spiritually) deadly lie that it is.

  8. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    December 29, 2012 10:48 am

    Agellius, look again at my post, and then look again at the history of the propaganda that sold WW I to the Americans as a “struggle for democracy.” Then review the propaganda about the “War on Terror” and I think that you will see (I hope) that violence was not regarded as a regrettable necessity but rather as something virtuous and “holy” in some warped understanding of that word.

  9. Mark VA permalink
    December 29, 2012 1:40 pm

    Jordan:

    The concept of “domesticity of women” is not mine, but comes from the movement called “Second-wave feminism”. Thus, from the Wikipedia’s description of this movement
    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-wave_feminism ):

    “The second wave of feminism in North America came as a delayed reaction against the renewed domesticity of women after World War II: the late 1940s post-war boom, which was an era characterized by an unprecedented economic growth, a baby boom, a move to family-oriented suburbs, and the ideal of companionate marriages. This life was clearly illustrated by the media of the time; for example television shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver idealized domesticity.[10]”

    As far as the link between “marriage, women, and public violence”, I’m proposing the observation that ideas have consequences:

    If a statistically large number of women will never marry (i.e. their un-domestication is a life long fact), or become divorced, then it follows that their children, if any, will most likely be fatherless for all or most of their growing years.

    We can believe that fatherless children grow up just fine, or we may choose to study this condition, and perhaps come to different conclusions. As far as I know, most feminists choose not to address this question, for whatever reasons. We, as Catholics, however, cannot ignore it.

    Also, this un-domestication has profound effects on the women themselves, but that is a separate subject.

    • Jordan permalink
      December 29, 2012 5:02 pm

      Mark VA [December 29, 2012 1:40 pm]: The concept of “domesticity of women” is not mine, but comes from the movement called “Second-wave feminism”.

      Okay, I see what you mean now. This is a commonly accepted definition of “domesticity” and the backlash against postwar expectations of women.

      Mark: We can believe that fatherless children grow up just fine, or we may choose to study this condition, and perhaps come to different conclusions. As far as I know, most feminists choose not to address this question, for whatever reasons. We, as Catholics, however, cannot ignore it.

      I agree that the sharp rise in the number of “fatherless households”, or put another way, “single-mom households”, contains a number of perils. Is this phenomenon directly indicative of violent and public incidences by (mostly) young men? I do not know for sure. However, I am inclined to think that the presence of a stable, sane, and involved father can moderate impulses in young men who display the warning signs which might eventually culminate in public mass violence.

      The rise in single parent households is not related to the rise of young professional women who choose not to wed or have children. It’s important to draw this distinction. One should note, however, that many women who postpone marriage and pregnancy past their early to mid 30′s, and even beyond, often regret not having wed and raised children earlier. I have seen this phenomenon not infrequently among my colleagues.

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