Engaging Orr-Ewing’s “What does love cause us to feel about perpetrators?”

A few years ago, I lived in the inner city in London, my husband was a pastor there, and I had a very good friend who at that time was the same age as me (late twenties). We were very different, from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, she had five kids, lived on quite a high floor in a block of flats. She also had about four dogs. None of the dads of her children were still around, in fact, one of them was in prison (he was a crack dealer, very violent man, she had a restraining order against him). She became a Christian and we became very good friends—we met weekly.

One day, her ex-partner (the father of one of her children) got out of prison and he came to her apartment and broke in and beat her virtually to death. I’ll never forget seeing her. When I saw her—it was just incredibly shocking—she was unrecognizable. Now, in that situation, what did I feel—what did love cause me to feel about the perpetrator of that violence? Love meant that I cried out for justice for her.
Amy Orr-Ewing, The Ring of Truth (12m 53s mark) or my transcript

Love causes us to cry out:

  1. for the evil to be acknowledged rather than ignored.
  2. for the evil to be stopped rather than for it to continue.
  3. for the awful damage done to be healed rather than for it to consume the victim. And,
  4. for the perpetrator to fully comprehend the evil, violence, and damage done, and to respond in genuine repentance, to completely turn their life around, dedicating the rest of their life to making amends and seeking to see domestic violence end everywhere.

I would suggest that d) is actually the only way to completely stop evil, because until d) occurs, the evil and hatred continues to fester and grow in the perpetrator. Tragically, unless the victim can reach the point of gracious forgiveness (which doesn’t mean ignoring the evil or allowing it to continue) the evil will continue to cause them harm, potentially consuming them with hatred. (This doesn’t to imply the onus is on the victim to act, nor that the responsibility for reconciliation is on their shoulders).

When d) occurs obviously it’s easier for the victim to forgive but sometimes it’s actually the victim’s forgiveness that causes d) to occur. How many perpetrators have turned around because of Jesus’, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, or because of Gladys Staines’ remarkable forgiveness of her family’s murderers, or Mandela’s forgiveness, or Eric Lomax’s?

But our forgiveness today can’t just be conditional on repentance, which may not occur in this life. It has to be freely given whether or not it’s going to provoke immediate repentance. It is actually for the victim’s own healing and peace that they forgive. Ultimately, it’s the only—albeit extremely difficult—way forward (and this may not be possible until Christ returns).

It is quite easy to put ourselves in the position of someone like Orr-Ewing, witnessing the awful wrong perpetrated against her friend. We recognise that feeling of righteous anger that she refers to. What is more difficult to do is to put ourselves in the position of someone who dearly loves the perpetratorperhaps his mother or brother? What would the love of the perpetrator’s mother cause her to feel? Surely, she would yearn for a), b), c), & d) to occur? This doesn’t mean she is callous towards the victim in this scenario. She wants the wrongs righted. She is angry and ashamed of her son. At the same time, she longs for him to repent and be changed, and to somehow undo the damage he has caused. This is the position of our heavenly Father. He deeply loves all His children—victims and perpetrators—those who love Him and those who still hate Him. The righteous son and the prodigal son. His love doesn’t discriminate.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children [imitators] of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect [in your loving], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:44-45,48, CSB

God instructs us to imitate His love of those who show Him enmity. How does “love your enemies” influence our view of justice? It may well still include punishment but unless it results in d), I can’t see true healing, reconciliation, harmony, and Shalom ever occurring.

Finally, we must remember that we’re all sinners—perhaps not perpetrators of domestic violence but it’s hard to avoid being complicit in some sort of violence in this world—don’t we all nail Jesus to the cross? There’s also some link between the forgiveness we give and the forgiveness we receive:

forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us. … For if you forgive other their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, neither will your Father forgive your offenses.

Matthew 6:12,14-15, MOUNCE

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32, NIV

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Colossians 3:13, NIV

I also think there’s some link between our cry for justice and the justice that is brought upon our own sins.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged

Matthew 7:2a, NIV

So I think we should to cry out for justice but justice that moves us all towards God’s Shalom.

Jesus is Justice
Jesus is Justice

Christianity—Motivating Violence & Non-violence?

The Centre for Public Christianity‘s latest Life & Faith episode seems particularly pertinent to recent events so I transcribed the first half here and the rest below.


Simon: Maria Stefan [is] an expert in nonviolent civil resistance from the US Institute of Peace. I caught up with her, and also her colleague, Susan Hayward, while in Washington DC filming for CPX’s forthcoming documentary on how the church is better and worse than you ever imagined. We filmed a segment on Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, just down the road at the Lincoln Memorial, and then headed over to talk to Maria and Susan together. They’re good friends and bounced off each other as we quizzed them on their respective areas of expertise.

Source: A History of Non-violence

Susan Hayward: I don’t think that people who are driven by their faith, or who are religious, are particularly better at peace than anybody else, but I do think they bring particular skills, or experiences, or techniques to their peacebuilding that might set them apart and make them more effective in particular situations.

Simon: Susan Hayward is an interfaith activist and a just peacebuilder. What she’s saying here is interesting because in our culture we’re more likely to connect religion with violence rather than peace, and there are reasons for this.

Susan: Part of what makes faith and religion such a powerful motivator and support for peace, is also what makes it a powerful motivator and support for violence and for war. And we can see that throughout the history of any religious tradition. I work a lot with the Buddhist community, and there’s similar examples as other traditions in Buddhist history, and what is contemporary life, of Buddhism being drawn on to support violence. But Christianity in particular I think has a long and difficult history of Christian ideas and Christian communities mobilizing in support of war. Scott Appleby sometimes refers to what’s called the “ambivalence of the sacred”—this idea that religion motivates these deep impulses and these deep motivations that can lead people to extraordinary acts and that sometimes that deep impulse can drive people to violence but, just as much, that same impulse can drive people to very selfless and courageous acts of peace.

Part of what makes faith and religion such a powerful motivator and support for peace, is also what makes it a powerful motivator and support for violence and for war.

Natasha: When it comes to peacebuilding, religious faith can offer something unique and potentially transformative.

Susan: Those who come to the work of peacebuilding with a religious motivation and a religious understanding of peace, may be bringing a sense of peace that goes beyond the technical. And it goes beyond purely the absence of violence—encompassing the idea of Shalom or Salaam—that is also about human dignity, that is about justice, that is about creating environments in which humans can flourish. Or they may be able to bring particular rituals, particular values, particular practices to their peacebuilding work that can trigger some of the deep reservoirs of people’s being and that can trigger kinds of personal transformations that can be very powerful, and it can then lead to social or institutional transformations.

peace that goes … beyond purely the absence of violence—encompassing the idea of Shalom or Salaam—that is also about human dignity, that is about justice, that is about creating environments in which humans can flourish.

Natasha: Haywood says that because religious communities have had to deal with conflict and have been working for peace in different contexts for millennia, they have this wealth of resources, this history of developing ways to respond to injustice, of trying and failing, and sometimes succeeding.

Susan: In the Christian tradition many people draw from the rich history of the Christian Just War theory. So beginning with Augustine in the 3rd century, up to Aquinas, to people like de las Casas in South America (who is arguing against the conquistadors), to Martin Luther King, and others in the modern era. There has also, in the contemporary era, been this movement called “Just Peace”, which has sought—particularly by Christian theologians and activists—to recognize what kinds of practices can help build up sustainable peace, so that situations of injustice can be best addressed non-violently. So you can have environments in which people’s human needs are met, so that international organizations are strong enough to be able to resist the pull to war by various countries, as a means to try to mitigate the war.

Simon: Of course, in the Christian tradition the example of Jesus Christ as a peacemaker is what many peacebuilding movements and practices are built on.

Susan: The teaching of Jesus and the practice of Jesus, and the ways in which Jesus was very consistent in arguing against violence throughout his ministry. And also the ways in which Jesus recognized issues of political injustice, economic injustice, social marginalization, as issues that should compel Christians to create an environment that can be one of sustainable peace—one of Shalom—in which all people live with human dignity.

Jesus recognized issues of political injustice, economic injustice, social marginalization … [that] should compel Christians to create an environment that can be one of sustainable peace—one of Shalom—in which all people live with human dignity.

I think it can be a really powerful rhetorical exercise to ask people in situations of violence, and to ask Christians in particular, to think of the model of Jesus and how Jesus acted—what his ministry looked like and what he said as a part of his ministry—and then to apply that to their current situation, in order to make the case against violence and to hold them to that moral standard.

Now the challenge is that in Christian history people have often—especially as soon as the Roman Empire converted to Christianity and they had political power—they’ve always been able to make the case that violence is legitimate in order to achieve a legitimate goal, in order to achieve peace sometimes. So here’s where I think the arguments of nonviolent resistance can be most powerful because if you can say back to them but has violence ever helped us to really achieve the peace that we’re seeking? Or are their nonviolent ways in which you can address this injustice and try to achieve peace that might be just as effective in reaching that goal but also allowing us to continue to act as Jesus called us to act as nonviolent resistors in the process?

has violence ever helped us to really achieve the peace that we’re seeking?

Simon: But it’s not always straightforward.

Susan: There are times in Christian history where people of good faith have determined that an act of violence was necessary because the situation was so egregious. So an example here would be Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During the midst of World War Two where in Germany he, along with other members of the confessing Church, organized and designed an initiative to try to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Saying that this was a legitimate targeted use of force in order to address an injustice. Ultimately he failed in that attempt and it’s contested by Christians on whether at the end of the day that use of violence was legitimate from a Christian perspective, on what Jesus would say in response to that. But certainly as a person of morality and a person of faith you can understand that impulse.

Natasha: Where religion really does some of its best work, according to Hayward, is in the aftermath of a violent conflict. And one of the best examples of this is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a restorative justice tribunal that was set up in 1994 in post-apartheid South Africa. It was a court like set up that allowed victims to give statements about their experiences of gross human rights violations and also allowed perpetrators of violence to give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution.

Where religion really does some of its best work, according to Hayward, is in the aftermath of a violent conflict

Susan: The very idea of reconciliation is a very Christian, a very religious, notion. It’s about transformation and it’s a redemption, which are very Christian concepts. And moreover, the needs—in terms of bringing communities together, of healing individuals and communities who have suffered a great deal and experienced a great deal of loss—are things that spiritual resources, spiritual ideas and processes, can lend a lot to. The very notion of a transitional justice and a reconciliation process that is based on ideas of confession, or of testimony, and of forgiveness and of reconciliation, are based in part on Christian ideas of what’s required in the aftermath of violence, or in the aftermath of conflict, or in the aftermath of some sort of a brokenness or wrong. And because both sides of the conflict there were primarily Christian, and were deeply religious, there was a shared narrative and a shared theological frame that could be used to bring people together and to drive this movement. And so what Desmond Tutu and other religious leaders were able to bring in terms of theological language and framework and spiritual rhetoric and spiritual practices—including song, including prayer—in the midst of the truth and reconciliation process was incredibly transformative and powerful and relevant for that context in which both sides of the conflict were Christian.

The very idea of reconciliation is a very Christian … It’s about transformation and it’s a redemption … bringing communities together, of healing individuals and communities who have suffered a great deal … based on ideas of confession, or of testimony, and of forgiveness

Simon: If you want to learn more about the history of non-violence Maria Stephan has written a book with Erica Chenoweth, Why Civil Resistance Works. The interviews with Maria Stephan and Susan Hayward will be featured in our documentary coming out later this year, For the Love of God: How the Church is better and worse than you ever imagined. You can visit our documentary website for more information and to sign up for our newsletter. If you liked this discussion, please do let us know, leave a rating and review on iTunes, just type “Life and Faith” in the search box to find us, and it helps other people find our podcast too.

Non-violence—Twice As Effective As Violence?

The Centre for Public Christianity‘s latest Life & Faith episode seems particularly pertinent to recent events so I’ve transcribed the first half below (second half here).


Simon Smart: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Actually, the passage in the Bible where this saying comes from goes a little further than that, “life for life, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” This principle of retaliation—that a person who has injured someone else should be penalized in a similar way, to a similar degree—is the basis for many codes of justice around the world. Now it might sound harsh. It was originally meant as a way of containing violence—not letting it escalate into feuds that would go on and on, and back and forth.

Jesus, though, suggested a radically different approach. From his teachings we now have sayings like, “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile”. But he wasn’t advocating a passive response to a wrong. Rather it was an active response, it just refused to repay like-for-like.

Natasha Moore: The tradition of non-violence, of civil disobedience, stretches a long way back and turns up in some unexpected places. In fact, the first recorded instance we have of a person protesting an injustice, using nonviolent methods, turns up in a play written by Sophocles in the 5th century BC, called “Antigone”.

Here’s how it goes: the title character, Antigone, refuses to obey an edict from the king— who is a ruthless authoritarian and who also happens to be her uncle. The edict forbids her, or anyone for that matter, from burying her brother, Polyneices, who has been killed in battle.

Maria Stephan: Antigone so believed in the morality of burying her brother that she disobeyed the law and buried her brother. And she faced death but that act of disobedience was the first recorded case where an individual challenged an unjust law.

Natasha: That’s Dr. Maria J Stephan, an expert in civil resistance movements. She’s just completed a major study into whether nonviolent resistance actually works (we’ll get to that in a bit) and she’s a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

Why Civil Resistance Works
Source: Why Civil Resistance Works

From Antigone, let’s fast forward to the 19th century, and you have Henry David Thoreau (an American poet and philosopher) who refused to pay taxes in protest against slavery and the US war in Mexico.

Maria: Thoreau was arrested and he was put into jail and he later wrote his famous essay on civil disobedience and the main thesis of the essay on civil disobedience is that it is the moral duty of every citizen to disobey immoral and unjust laws.

Natasha: Then, a century or so later, Mahatma Gandhi reads Thoreau in India and is fascinated by this idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system.

Maria: He took Thoreau’s idea of individual civil disobedience and applied it on a mass level. So Mahatma Gandhi was the first one to develop an actual methodology of mass civil resistance and non-cooperation, which he used very, very effectively to challenge the British colonial regime, from about nineteen sixteen to nineteen forty seven.

Natasha: An example of this was the nineteen thirty “Salt March”. Gandhi and a handful of followers embarked on a 387 kilometre trek across western India, picking up fellow activists along the way. They were protesting the fact that the British had essentially banned Indians from making their own salt.

Maria: So Mahatma Gandhi by then had tens of thousands of followers. [He] arrived at Dande Beach, picked up water, which evaporated to make salt, and by doing that he was engaging in mass defiance against the laws of the British colonial regime. Indians saw what he had done and there were shock waves sent across the subcontinent, that this mass civil disobedience was possible and it was powerful.

Natasha: Then there’s the leader of the great civil rights movement of our time, Martin Luther King Jr, who considered himself a student of Gandhi and Thoreau, and Jesus.

Maria: Martin Luther King was able to apply the Christian notion of love and connect it to the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance in a very powerful way. The idea that you can resist evil without violence, first and foremost. The idea that you can resist a system but still love individuals and treat them with respect and honor. The idea that evil must be resisted, it should never be normalized. The idea that mass nonviolent action can be a force for powerful change, is a set of principles and a message that I think will endure the test of time.

you can resist a system but still love individuals

Simon: These ideas are enduring and extremely powerful, and we’ll pick up on the connection between religion and peacebuilding a little later, but first there’s a couple of niggling questions that often come up in discussions around the concept of non-violence. For example, does it actually work or is it just a nice idea? How does it stack up against violent action? A few years ago, these were the questions that Maria Stefan and fellow political scientist, Erica Chenoweth, were grappling with.

Maria: We decided to study a basic fundamental question: Which form of resistance, violent or nonviolent, has been more effective historically against the most formidable of opponents? Because we had been hearing often, “Oh, non-violence can work in democracies or against benign opponents but against the tough brutal dictators it doesn’t stand a chance!” or “Violence must be more effective than nonviolent action in these particular environments.” So we fundamentally tested that proposition.

Simon: This study involved gathering data on 330 campaigns between 1900 and 2006—some violent, some nonviolent—and these were campaigns against formidable opponents, like an authoritarian regime or foreign military occupiers.

Maria: We came up with the very surprising finding, to many, that the nonviolent campaigns had been twice as effective as their violent counterparts in challenging these formidable opponents. So the nonviolent campaigns succeeded 53 percent of the time, compared to 26 percent of the time for the violent campaigns, which was a shocking, counter-intuitive finding for many people.

nonviolent campaigns succeeded 53 percent of the time, compared to 26 percent of the time for the violent campaigns

Simon: Success in this study meant achieving their objectives—that the authoritarian regime was removed or foreign military occupiers withdrew as a result of the campaign.

Maria: A lot of people were skeptical, dubious—how is it possible that the nonviolent resistance was more effective? Others were like, well, of course, it’s got to be that case, it’s got to be that way. So there have been varying reactions. At least this research provided solid evidence that you can do it non-violently and win.

Natasha: There are a few reasons why this result seemed counterintuitive. For one it feels unnatural. When a person or a group of people are oppressed and mistreated, it feels like the normal response would be to fight back.

Maria: I mean the natural instinct is to respond to violence with violence. When I’m talking with activists from difficult, repressive environments around the world, I completely empathize with them and understand why they want to respond in kind. It’s a natural instinct, it’s often therapeutic but it’s not strategic and if you want to be victorious and you want to win as a resistor, you have to do what your challenger, your opponent, does not want you to do. And authorities and regimes often want protesters to use violence because it justifies their own violence in a return, and it delegitimises the movement.

regimes often want protesters to use violence because it justifies their own violence

Natasha: Then there are people, like the philosopher Nietzsche, who think non-violence is weak. He describes the idea of turning the other cheek as illogical and pathetic.

Maria: Illogical and pathetic, maybe, but pretty darn effective too, I would say. The stereotype, or the connotation, is that nonviolent action means pacifism but in fact, nonviolent resistance is an active form of struggle that just involves different weapons. But I think what needs to be understood is where the power of this method of struggle comes from. And the power of nonviolent resistance is grounded in people, in the consent of people, so when large numbers of people refuse to obey, refuse to cooperate with evil systems or institutions that are unjust, this translates into significant social, political, economic pressure being applied against the opponent. So I would say it’s anything but passive, it’s anything but weak, and it’s anything but ineffective.

Natasha: Also the goal of nonviolent resistance, in and of itself, is counterintuitive because it is about challenging injustice but it’s also about engaging your enemy and trying to get them to effectively, switch teams.

Maria: Your goal is not to kill, harm, or humiliate the opponent. Your goal is to win over the opponent to your side, which is very different, of course, from armed struggle or insurgency. So you recognize the humanity in the other and you want to bring them on board to fight what is an unjust system.

Your goal is to win over the opponent to your side

Simon: But that isn’t to say that nonviolent resistance always works.

Maria: So the key ingredient of successful civil resistance is mass and diverse participation. So, for example, we found in the study that the average nonviolent campaign in our data set attracted 11 times the level of participants as the average violent campaign, and the greater the number of people, and the greater the diversity of participants, the more likely the campaigns were to succeed. So when campaigns are not able to attract mass participation, when there’s significant disunity—so when there’s no unity around goals, leaders, and tactics—that’s usually going to be a sign that a movement won’t succeed. If the campaign or movement is unable to maintain nonviolent discipline when faced with violence, that usually is a sign that it will not succeed. So nonviolent discipline—the ability to maintain a nonviolent posture when provoked or when violence is used against you—is one of the, if not the, most important ingredients of successful nonviolent resistance. And you can bolster nonviolent discipline through training, through preparation, through anticipation of the violence that’s coming, and knowing how to respond and what to do and what not to do.

nonviolent discipline is one of the, if not the, most important ingredients of successful nonviolent resistance

Simon: So take the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s in the US, this was a hugely significant nonviolent campaign. First, they had mass participation.

Maria: It was a campaign that was led by black leadership, that involved the churches, that involved white allies, and that involved a significant number of amazing nonviolent campaigns and tactics. So the Montgomery bus boycott was a classic example of African-Americans refusing to ride the bus and pay the fees to the driver, which caused a significant economic effect on the owners of the bus system. The lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville. So it was a very methodical, strategic movement of movements that brought lots of different people, groups, organizations, sectors of society together and achieved remarkable gains and ended the system of apartheid in this country.

Simon: And there was also that commitment to non-violence, even in the face of violent opposition. Take for example, the Selma March where protesters faced off against police wielding water cannons, hoses and batons.

Maria: People often ask, how did you maintain nonviolent discipline in this moment? A lot of that can be explained by, yes, the spiritual resources, the commitment to non-violence, which was articulated by leaders like King and others, and the participants had been trained in how to maintain nonviolent discipline in these difficult situations. So in the basements of churches there were trainings and how to do civil disobedience, nonviolent direct action, and how not to respond to violence with violence when provoked. And so these combinations of the spiritual and the practical strategic really came to bear in the in the Selma March.

Natasha: From all of the data and analysis there was a picture of human nature and human society that emerged for Dr. Stephan.

Maria: I think what it tells you is that humans—when faced with the most formidable obstacles, oppression, injustices—are capable of finding courage and taking action to resist and that they can be effective using nonviolent means. And it also suggests that people have different motivations, some people are very inspired by religious conviction and that can be a powerful mooring for their activism and for their use of non-violent action. And that it’s possible again to resist unjust structures and institutions without exhibiting anger, hatred, or non-acceptance of the other. And so it’s possible to organize, it’s possible to use nonviolent means, it’s possible to win over opponents even in the most difficult of circumstances. And it’s possible, most importantly, even when it seems impossible to be effective using nonviolent resistance.

it’s possible to resist unjust structures and institutions without exhibiting anger, hatred, or non-acceptance of the other

Is God Violent In Hell? Does That Influence Us Now?—William Cavanaugh Interview—part 5

William T. Cavanaugh
Dr. William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh is Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. He holds degrees from Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Duke University, and has worked as a lay associate with the Holy Cross order in a poor area of Santiago, Chile, as well as for the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School. His books include:

2016 Richard Johnson Lecture

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. William Cavanaugh and attending his lecture “The Myth of Religious Violence”. I’ve broken the interview up into 6 short posts:

  1. Violence and Theology? Just War and Pacifism?
  2. Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?
  3. Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?
  4. Has God Ever Commanded Genocide? What is Justice?
  5. Is God Violent In Hell? Does That Influence Us Now?
  6. Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?

I’ve also posted it as a single, combined post.

Is God Violent In Hell?

What do you think of the doctrine of hell, which in many ways is how God treats those who reject Him and how do you think that influences the way we treat people now?

I really like C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and I think that puts forward a speculative—but I think a very orthodox view—that Hell is self imposed and it’s not imposed by God. It’s a kind of self imposed separation from God… So the kind of gratuitous torturing God, I think that’s not the Christian God—just finding exquisite and inventive ways to torture people for all eternity. So this kind of self separation from God I think is the way to think about it and I think there’s a kind of general, broad agreement on that.

The question is whether anybody can resist God’s grace forever, whether anybody’s sin is strong enough to resist God’s grace forever and so I tend to think of these things in terms of… It’s not all necessarily over at death but, I guess this kind of points towards the Catholic idea of purgatory in some ways, that there is a continuing process after death of purgation.

Yes, I’d agree with that 1.

But I suppose you need to leave open… I mean Barth I think was wise on these questions to say at some point you have to just maintain a kind of holy silence. We don’t know and so there might be the possibility that some people are not saved and we can’t presume and be guilty of the sin of presumption.

In which case, I think Annihilationist ideas kind of make sense. Paul Griffiths recent book Decreation makes a pretty cogent argument for Annihilationism and that kind of fits into a whole Augustinian scheme of the farther away you get from God the less being that you have and so it might be possible that people that have kind of permanently excluded themselves from God’s communion might just cease to be in some sense. I think C. S. Lewis kind of points to that, in that eventually there might be nothing left but ashes.

Yes, I usually call that “Soft” Annihilationism, as it’s self inflicted, as opposed to “Hard” Annihilationism, where God is deliberately doing the annihilating.

Right, “Zap!”, yeah…

And you’re right, that particular view has gained a lot of popularity. As opposed to the view where, according to some people, God will be basically torturing people forever.

Does Our View of Hell Influence Our Judicial Systems?

Do you think our view of hell affects our view of Justice? Do you think our view of how God treats people in hell influences our judicial systems now? For example, our ideas of what prisons are about and what prisons are for? Whether they are simply, “Person makes a mistake, therefore they get locked away forever”. Or whether there’s a different kind of model, where we’re actually trying to bring about change. Prison, put loosely, is seen as a means to an end—as an opportunity to reform the person. 2

Whether or not Christian views of hell influence that… I think that they certainly could, and probably did, at least in the past. Certainly, yeah, but there’s a pretty clear divide between people who call it a penal system or people who talk about a Department of Corrections, as it’s called in the US. But so often there’s no longer any attempt at correction and I think that’s a huge scandal, especially the United States where we have an enormous number of people locked away.

And there seems to be money involved as well.

Right, a lot of for-profit prisons, which is astonishing isn’t it?!

Yeah, that seems absolutely… it’s just mindblowing. That is sooo just going to cause a problem!


1. Every time I hear someone advocate for C.S. Lewis’ view on Hell, I can’t help but think of Thomas Talbott’s insightful observations about C.S. Lewis’ own conversion: Why C.S. Lewis’ Conversion Suggests He Should’ve Been A Universalist.
2. Helpful further reading on the relationship between hell and our current justice systems A cheat sheet on hell (although re: Kevin’s last point, I think UR actually achieves more justice than the other views).

Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?—William Cavanaugh Interview—part 3

William T. Cavanaugh
Dr. William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh is Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. He holds degrees from Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Duke University, and has worked as a lay associate with the Holy Cross order in a poor area of Santiago, Chile, as well as for the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School. His books include:

2016 Richard Johnson Lecture

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. William Cavanaugh and attending his lecture “The Myth of Religious Violence”. I’ve broken the interview up into 6 short posts:

  1. Violence and Theology? Just War and Pacifism?
  2. Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?
  3. Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?
  4. Has God Ever Commanded Genocide? What is Justice?
  5. Is God Violent In Hell? Does That Influence Us Now?
  6. Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?

I’ve also posted it as a single, combined post.

Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?

I started reading through your comments on Constantine but I only had access to the Google preview, so couldn’t read your conclusions! {both laugh} So obviously, with Constantine, in one sense he stopped the persecution of Christians, which was a relief, but on the other hand, as far as I can tell, he still had to play two roles: as the Emperor—who was a military man—and as a Christian. Do you think that had a positive or negative influence on Christianity?

Suddenly Christians have gone from being persecuted, to basically having the power of the State, and Constantine being a military leader, whether or not he was a Christian (I assume he was but I don’t know). But how do you think that played out? Do you think it did make Christianity sort of go in a negative direction when it came to militaristic things and violence, or do you think it didn’t really have a big impact?

Well certainly it had a big impact. But I think there’s a few different ways of narrating it.

There’s the John Howard Yoder way of narrating it, where it’s a fall of the Church. The Church was relatively peaceful and the church was a kind of visible contrast of the rest of the world before Constantine and then the churches becomes very worldly after Constantine and the church is no longer visible because it’s blended into the world, and we use acts of violence, and so on.

Then there’s the Peter Leithart way of reading it, which read it as the fulfillment of all the promises of God, or the Eusebius way of reading it, where God has been chastising the Christians through the persecution, only in preparation to give them the sword. So that we can wield the sword justly.

William Cavanaugh (as are all the quotes below)

Yeah… {in an unconvinced tone}

I don’t really buy either one of those.

Stanley Hauerwas was my dissertation director and so clearly I have been influenced by the Yoder kind of reading. I think a lot was lost when the Church began to wield the sword but I don’t think that you can read it as an Anabaptist would and read Church History as just the Holy Spirit abandoned the Church in the fourth century.

Yeah, that seems a bit too much.

Yeah, and the real Church survives only in small remnants.

I think instead of a kind of fall narrative of the Church, what we need to do is read Church History in the way that Yoder reads the Old Testament, which is kind of pedagogically. There’s a movement going on there, by which the people of God are being led towards greater and greater understanding of what God wants of them and that’s the way he looks at the all the passages about the conquest of the Holy Land, Joshua, and so on. Yoder looks at those incidents and says we shouldn’t impose a kind of moral reading on them and condemn them for unfaithfulness but read them as a faithful Jew would’ve—seeing them as kind of the way that God has miraculously saved His people and that God is ultimately in charge of the means of violence and that we should not take those into our hands.

I think that kind of reading the Old Testament is the way we ought to read Church History as well. We’re not always very clear about what we’re doing, we go through different historical periods where we’re trying to kind of discern what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ and we learn things along the way and something that we may have learned from the whole experience of Constantine is that when the Church wields the sword it’s not very good for the gospel, for anyone, but to narrate it just as a kind of fall into unfaithfulness is going to far. This was pretty much what the Church was hoping and praying for, that the persecution would stop and that the Emperor would become a Christian and so the Emperor becomes a Christian, what do you say? “Well, that’s great but you need to find a new job!”

{Both laugh} That’s easy for us to say!

Yes, it’s very easy for us to say. “There’s an opening at the bakery down the street…”

Violence and Theology? Just War and Pacifism?—William Cavanaugh Interview—part 1

William T. Cavanaugh
Dr. William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh is Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. He holds degrees from Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Duke University, and has worked as a lay associate with the Holy Cross order in a poor area of Santiago, Chile, as well as for the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School. His books include:

2016 Richard Johnson Lecture

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. William Cavanaugh and attending his lecture “The Myth of Religious Violence”. I’ve broken the interview up into 6 short posts:

  1. Violence and Theology? Just War and Pacifism?
  2. Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?
  3. Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?
  4. Has God Ever Commanded Genocide? What is Justice?
  5. Is God Violent In Hell? Does That Influence Us Now?
  6. Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?

I’ve also posted it as a single, combined post.

Violence and Theology?

Thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed, I really do appreciate that! I’ve always been interested in:

  • theology—particularly how it applies to sort of everyday life.
  • politics—it often seems to be an application of one’s worldview.
  • economics—the way societies function in terms of distributing wealth and resources.
  • social justice—my wife is a social worker.

So is mine! {both laugh}
William Cavanaugh (as are all the quotes below)

So it keeps you thinking about social justice. And so there’s lots of things I could ask about but I just wanted to focus on one particular thing. I’ve listened to your lecture on religion and violence and how “religion” is a constructed term, that’s not very useful as it’s often defined to suit someone’s agenda. So I thought I’d try to narrow it down and ask you about whether some theology promotes, or excuses, or desensitises us to violence?

Yes.

Yes {both laugh}… Some atheists say that theology pretty much has no impact on what people do at all. Do you think that is an overstatement? Do you think that theology actually does influence the way we act?

Sure it does. I mean it does for some people so I don’t think there’s any question that there are some Islamic terrorists that take inspiration from theological ideas—no matter how distorted that might be—no matter what other kinds of influences there are in their lives. I don’t think there’s any denying that. The Crusaders were inspired by a certain kind of bad theology. And Islamic terrorists are inspired by a certain kind of bad theology. I don’t think it can be reduced to theological causes but I don’t see that there’s any point in denying that’s certainly in the mix of influences.

What I don’t buy is the idea that theology always has a kind of tendency, or a greater tendency than other kinds of ideas, to promote violence. Some people say, “Well, if you believe in God, then you have this kind of divine mandate for kind of extremism—it’s an absolute command that you can’t disobey”. But you can just as easily argue that if you have no God, then there is no kind of power looking over your shoulder and you are God, so you can do whatever you want. And you can make that argument very easily historically, with figures like Stalin and Pol Pot, and so on.

Yeah, totally. If I had more time I’d ask you about that more. But I think—you probably agree—that there’s also some theology that can actually promote peace? I guess, even nonviolence?

Right, yeah, absolutely. That was the subject of the Girard conference last week and I think that’s at the heart of Christianity—it’s certainly what I’d want to claim—this claim of nonviolence. God becomes incarnate, we kill Him, and He doesn’t retaliate.

Yes, I think there is a lot of positive things about Christianity. I think most theology is actually a positive influence.

Just War and Pacifism?

But just focusing on a couple of negative ones: the Just War theory.What do you think about the Just War theory, particularly in light of Pope Francis’ recent criticism or critique of it?

Cardinal Ratzinger, before he was Pope Benedict the sixteenth, in the context of the Iraq war, said we have to ask whether it’s even possible to talk about a Just War anymore. Oftentimes it’s presented as if there are two positions that a Christian can take:

One is pacifism and one is Just War—that these are two separate positions.

But I kind of see them as concentric circles because really at the heart of the Just War idea is the notion of nonviolence and therefore you have to justify any act of violence under very strict criteria. And so the Just War idea kind of draws the circle a little bit wider than a pacifist would. But nonviolence is at the heart of both of them.

I think I’m not sure if I’ve made up my mind whether to call myself a pacifist or not. For one thing there’s nothing at stake, I mean it doesn’t cost me anything and that I think is a really important consideration. But also I think that even if we took the Just War tradition seriously, it would have enormously radical consequences. If we took seriously the idea that we should not simply defer judgment on these matters to the nation state but that the Church itself should make these decisions about what qualifies as a justifiable act of violence or not. It would have enormous consequences, I mean many of the churches, including John Paul the second, the Vatican and so on, had grave reservations about whether the Iraq war would be justifiable.

Yes, I remember that.

So you can imagine how dramatic it would be if large numbers of Christians, or even Catholics, just said, “We’re going to sit this one out.” Not because they’re pacifists but because they simply judge that this is not a just war and so we can’t, in good conscience, fight it. But the Just War theory never seems to work that way. It only seems to work in terms of justifying acts of war once they have already broken out.

Yes, the bar seems very low! “We’re going to save them! That’s justified it.” But do they need saving??

I’d probably answer the same as you. I’m undecided, and again, because I’m not about to go off to war, it really takes the pressure off. So I’d want to be very, very, very sure that it was completely morally justified, and I think a lot of wars haven’t been—particularly in recent history…