I remember hearing once that the primary question confronting the religions of the world in this century is if we choose - really choose - to practice nonviolence or not. Every age and place and, indeed, every life is presented that question as well. How might I live in peace? How might I be a peace maker and live out nonviolence inwardly and outwardly?
Maybe we have talked enough about Osama bin Laden and I do sense a real fatigue in hearing about the ethical issues surrounding his killing. Without question, he committed crimes against humanity, and because of that justice was required.
For some of us the scenario was pretty simple: He was a bad guy, we hunted him down, we found him, we killed him, mission accomplished, justice is served.
For others of us it is profoundly complicated: An eye for an eye doesn't work, revenge does not commend our deeper values; we assumed a righteousness that many in our world do not see.
However we may find ourselves feeling, whether justified or not, I have been saddened by the jubilation that we saw in some quarters. I have written here before about a notion I am very drawn to - the myth of redemptive violence. I am drawn to it because of my faith in Jesus, who I believe came to us so we might walk with him in the way of nonviolence.
People who write about this myth speak to the reoccurring drama in human history of people or peoples utilizing forms of violence in order to receive some form of redemption. A primary dynamic in this reoccurring myth is the constant need to find a "scapegoat" (goats were often used for animal sacrifice in earlier ages) and, if we are able to eliminate the enemy, we then have done an act of nobility, courage and - finally - redemption. It is a story humanity plays out over and over, outwardly in the world and, also, inwardly in our very souls.
Violence is ever present in our world, but how might we best minimize its presence? Few would say we can entirely eliminate it and most of us would say that, at best, violence is a necessary evil. Sometimes necessary to protect the innocent, yet evil because violence by its very nature does harm and begets itself.
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When we confront recent events like the killing of bin Laden, it is a time for us to discern just what our deepest held values might be. How might we best deal with evil, with violence, with deeply held animosity between people? The world will always have its variations on Hitler, bin Laden, Pol Pot and much, much closer to home, the violent urges within our very souls.
It is the last character I name about whom I need to be most concerned and consider how I might deal with it. It took nearly 10 years to find bin Laden but it has taken me much longer than that to find the darkness within myself.
I hope to always realize how I am complicit in the ways of violence and how I may also follow in the light.
The following words (an often-repeated quote, the last two sentences of which are from Rev. Martin Luther King sermons) lead me: "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
Rev. Peter Shober is senior pastor of University Congregational, United Church of Christ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.