A Hard Teaching: Promoting our Culture of Violence

It’s easy for modern Christians to think that Jesus was popular. After all, four men chose to record his life in detail. His followers today number in the millions. Many people have chosen martyrdom rather than deny him. But the scriptures indicate that Jesus was a bit more controversial than we like to admit. Certain groups of people were constantly looking to ensnare and kill him. And some of his teachings sent his followers fleeing in the opposite direction.

Take his position on divorce, for example. Before Jesus arrived on the scene, men could divorce their wives for any reason: loss of youth, infertility, sub par cooking skills, and even boredom. As a test, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Jesus responded:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. […] Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:4-5, 8-9)

The disciples are so taken aback by this statement that they conclude “it is better not to marry” (verse 10). Jesus then acknowledges that not everyone will be able to accept this teaching.

A similar situation arises when Jesus testifies to his status as the Messiah:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:44-45, 47-51, 53)

Talk about jaws on the floor! Eat his flesh? Drink his blood? And this is the only way to God?! Who did Jesus think he was?

Of course, Jesus was employing a bit of metaphor here. He didn’t intend to turn his followers into cannibals. But at this point, many disciples abandon Jesus (verse 60). They said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Jesus had several hard teachings for his followers: Pray for your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Ask a thief if he’d also like to have your coat when he demands your cloak. The last shall be first. Do not worry about food or clothes. Take up your cross and follow. Enter by the narrow gate. Give your possessions to the poor. The greatest among you will be a servant. Everything Jesus taught flew in the face of the established culture of the time. And it still does.

Right now, there’s a debate going on in America concerning the shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Some people think that in order to prevent such tragedies, we should put a gun in the hands of every teacher–give them the means to defend themselves. But there’s much about this argument that truly disturbs me. Perhaps it’s turning our teachers into soldiers or our schools into battlegrounds. Perhaps it’s exposing increasing numbers of children to the weapons of violence. Perhaps it’s running the risk that a child will witness his teacher kill another human being. Perhaps it’s the notion that criminals are exempt from Jesus’ command for us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Perhaps it’s the idea that the only way to discourage violence is with the threat of more violence.

Yesterday, I posted my opinion on Facebook that guns shouldn’t be allowed in our schools, period. A Christian friend of mine responded with the following:

I truly wish we lived in a world that was free from violence but we don’t. I believe that the only way to protect yourself and others against criminals and crazies with guns is with equal or greater firepower. A well trained sane law-abiding person legally carrying a gun is no threat to anyone.

I took a day to think out my response to him. As I thought, I asked myself, “How are we, as a society, so comfortable with this idea? Why is this something we would even seriously consider or think was rational?” As if in answer, the Holy Spirit began to open up my eyes to America’s culture of violence. And I began to feel deeply convicted, because I have directly contributed to this culture.

Violence is everywhere. It’s in our movies, video games and advertisements. It’s on the nightly news, on the radio, and in our music. I started thinking about all the violent influences that exist just within my own home. I soon felt sick. I went over to my shelf of video games and took stock. I own approximately 30. All but about 5 promote some kind of violence, either with guns or swords. Hitman: Blood Money. Call of Duty. Halo. Elder Scrolls. Fable. L. A. Noire. Even my Lego Indiana Jones game, rated for ages 10 and up, contains gun violence. And my nearly 3-year-old son routinely watches me play it.

Nearly all of the movies and TV shows I’ve watched in the past year have been violent. Last night, my husband and I watched Thirteen Assassins on Netflix. We went to see the new James Bond and Batman movies when they came out in theaters. We watched Seven Psychos and several others. And as I thought about the portrayal of violence in these films, I began to realize something: The evil henchmen don’t have names. They don’t have identifiable personality traits. They’re just cannon fodder for the hero to mow down in the name of justice. Henchmen aren’t people needing drug rehab or counseling or a kind word, like maybe Adam Lanza needed. They’re just mindless dogs who need to be put down as quickly as possible before they hurt real people. I wonder if that’s the mentality driving the ‘guns as protection’ argument.

I also wonder if the self-defense advocates see any correlation between the lessons our kids learn from violent media and school shootings in general. It’s easy to say, “Hey, it’s just entertainment. My kids know not to act like that.” But if all the heroes of our tales solve the world’s problems through violence, then how can we expect little Johnny (or little Adam, or little Dylan or little Eric) to solve their problems through peaceful means first?

We as people ask ourselves what we can do to protect ourselves and our children. But how many of us are asking, “What would Jesus do?” Would Jesus put guns into the hands of teachers? Would he approve of us defending our property or our lives with violence? Is there some other solution he would have us try? Are we even bothering to ask him?

When I was growing up, my parents put restrictions on what I could watch and listen to. Since the Bible teaches that witchcraft is a sin, anything involving magic was banned. Anything that included foul language or premarital sex or disrespect toward parents was also out. At school, I was taught to recite Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Over the years, I’ve watched my fellow Christians boycott Disney products due to the company’s support of homosexuality. I’ve listened to them rail against Harry Potter books because of their inclusion of witchcraft and spell-casting. But how many of those same people are allowing their children to play games, read books, watch movies or listen to songs that glorify violence against other human beings? How many of those parents can be found in the movie theaters at the opening of the latest slasher flick? Can we honestly say that we’re thinking of pure, lovely and admirable things while we watch a guy take a bullet to the face or get decapitated by a sword?

This isn’t an argument about gun control; this is an argument about our faith. Do we cling to our guns more than we cling to the teachings of Christ? Do we love our Second Amendment rights more than we love the messed-up kids who use violence to solve their problems? Do we bend more to the desire to preserve our lives than we bend to the conviction of the Holy Spirit? I wonder.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

I, for one, have been cut to the core on this issue. I love my video games, movies and anime. But they’re filling my mind (and my child’s mind) with senseless, unholy violence. And every time I buy one of these forms of entertainment, I’m sending a message to filmmakers and game designers that I want more–more violence in my mind, my home, my life and my child’s life. I have to make a decision about that. It won’t be easy. But if it can change this culture of violence and keep guns out of our schools, it will be worth it.

I encourage everyone to please pray about this issue. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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3 responses to “A Hard Teaching: Promoting our Culture of Violence

  1. Listen, you know that I love you and respect your beliefs even though I don’t agree with them, but seriously?? Let’s keep this in perspective. Your freedom as an American was built on a gun, on violence. We had an oppressive government beating down upon us and we revolted. First we tried pen and paper and nice flowery words but in the end the crisis was solved with a gun. Was that wrong? Was the founding fathers that we be-love so much wrong? Should America have never been? You say that we encourage violence but was is without violence? Life is struggle and strife. Its also beautiful and joyful. Do you think this violence is unnecessary? Can you think of one bedtime story that doesn’t have a hero and a villain? Can you think of one great tale of time that doesn’t contain some form of violence? You cant watch the Lion King, Shriek, or any Disney movie because they contain violence…where does it end? Plain and simple, you can justify that Jesus/God doesn’t want violence but he cracked open the earth and swallowed thousands, killed the first born Egyptians, struck people dead, hell, Jesus went through the temple with a nine-tailed whip, sounds violent to me. Most every war in history was fought over religion. The crusades were fought in his name and thousands died. You love to go shooting at the shooting range, are guns bad now because one person used them improperly? Are you not going to shoot anymore because guns are violent? Your husband is in the military who can be called to war at anytime to fight. This pays for your bills and your livelihood. Your money comes from the most powerfully military in the world who shoots and kills people daily. Are you going to disown Calvin because he works for such a violent and evil structure? Do you think that Gun Control is right because you can justify it via religion? Do you think that criminals are going to start following gun control laws because they’re stricter? You say violence is bad but what if your government in all its power takes away your guns and then starts marching troops down your street and turns the ones who defends your freedom into the ones who take it away? Do you lay down and take it? Do nothing? Roll over and die? Or do you fight back? Not all violence is right and exposing too much to our children is wrong but some is justified. You cant make blanket statements saying something is wrong when EVERYTHING that you enjoy and do is built on it. I respect what you are trying to say, but do you think that ignoring something will change it? That cutting it out and pushing it away will make it better? There is no right answer to the problems in front of us, more gun control, less gun control. What we do know is that people will always hurt each other no matter how much we don’t want them to and we need to know how to respond and cope instead of trying to fix everything with one swipe of the hand. “Fixing” the problem wont bring those kids back and it wont stop people from trying hurt each other and justifying a fix-action with religion wont solve anything either. On an unrelated note, in my opinion, if God hates violence then why did he let some guy kill a bunch of kids? So we could love him more? A husband hits his wife and makes her suffer so she will love him more…its an abusive relationship no matter how you look at it, but that’s for another time. Thanks for reading,
    Andrew

    • Please don’t blow this out of perspective. I’m not speaking of war or of general self-defense. I’m speaking about our addiction to violence. Yes, sometimes violence happens. It may even be necessary on occasion. But in our modern culture, violence is entertainment. There are studies that say American children witness 10,000 acts of violence a day just from watching TV. And that *does* have a negative affect on them. Even worse, children under age 8 can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. So when your daughter watches a guy take a bullet to the chest and stand back up, she thinks that’s real. And from that, she learns that violent actions don’t have lasting consequences. Over time, such exposure to violence can alter a child’s brain chemistry. That’s dangerous.

      I think our familiarity with violence is beginning to affect how we discuss safety issues. There are people who think every teacher should be armed with handguns to stop school shooters. Honestly, I’ve never heard a more ridiculous argument in my life, and I can name about a dozen (perfectly rational, non-religious) reasons why. However, there are people so attached to this idea, that nothing anyone says can change their mind. Never mind that the presence of such guns could actually *increase* school shootings. Never mind that it could potentially place a huge burden of liability on teachers. Guns are the answer. Period. And anyone who shoots a no-good maniac in the face will always sleep like a baby afterward. This is not a mindset I think I should encourage.

      Am I going to disown my husband? No. Am I going to demand that he give up his guns or his movies? No. Am I going to stop watching all TV and movies just because there might be a hint of violence? No. But I am going to make wiser choices about what I choose as entertainment and what I expose William to. I’m going to pray about it and follow my conscience…which is something I think everyone should do.