Can We Be Redeemed Through Violence?

I’d like to think of myself as pacifist of a sort.  Maybe not to the same extent as Quakers or Buddhist monks, but I believe that all situations should be solved without bloodshed.  I hold the idea that loving my enemies is the best way to solve conflict.

That said, I am still drawn to stories of aggression.  Stories of violence.  It doesn’t matter how cartoonish/light it is, the fact that Mario needs to defeat Bowser to save Peach goes in tangent with my beliefs.

Maybe your beliefs aren’t as “radical” as mine, but I’d like to think that most of us agree that “violence is not the answer.”.  After learning that World War II was caused by the void that World War I made; after seeing the neverending bloodshed of gang violence due to cyclical retaliation; after connecting that with every violent action spurs vengeance, I’d like to think that many of us have grown tired of all war has to offer.

But that is far from the case.

According to activist/theologian Walter Wink, our culture relates to the “myth of redemptive violence.”  This is the idea that violence is not just a necessary response, but even healing one—especially if administered by the victim.  In essence, it is good/healthy to retaliate physically when one has been abused.

If art reflects culture, then the verdict is clear.  According to AMC Filmsite, the blockbuster hit of 1991 was Terminator 2.  1995: Batman Forever.  1998: Saving Private Ryan.  In each story, the protagonist must kill or they will be killed.  Comic-book heroes, as well, start from darker origins.  Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered, thus he becomes Batman.  Peter Parker’s uncle is murdered, thus he becomes Spiderman.  Life is tragic, so it is our role to fight evil or things will get worse.

Whether that is true or not, is physical retribution the only way to fight off evil?  Is it an effective way to fight off evil?  As mentioned already, on a micro and macro scale, violence is cyclical.  Oppression to any individual or nation leads to instilled hatred in the survivors, which leads to retaliation, which leads to instilled hatred.  With this paradigm, the only way to stop the cycle is genocide—which is never a popular choice.

So then what?  If we do not use our fists, then our oppressors will overcome us all, right?  If we do not defend what is “ours,” then what is to stop our oppressor from taking the whole world?

The first thing is to understand that our oppressor is just as human as you and me.  If we respond in violence, we are asserting dominance, trying to shine a status that we have control.  But in truth, we are no different than they are.  We have no more control than they do.  We are not better than them.  As long as either party holds the position of dominance, communication, peace, and resolution will never be established.

Ultimately, the goal is forgiveness.  Note I said “goal,” rather than “next step.”  One should never feel obligated to immediately forgive because it’s “the right thing to do” if they have not gone through their hurt, nor should they feel obligated if they have not conveyed to the oppressor that they have been oppressed.  I am a proponent of restorative justice, which includes that the oppressors do not walk scot-free.  However, I believe that in order to break the violent cycle, the goal should be forgiveness.  There are many reasons I suggest it, but a key one: by forgiving, not only do you offer yourself the key to move from the past, but you offer that very same key to your oppressor.

Sure, our primal instinct may want to ignore the last few paragraphs.  It’s understandable that our society aligns with the “redemptive violence.”  After all, there is a reason why I enjoy playing violent video games, even if I don’t agree with it.  If we are what we participate in, then I don’t know how to reconcile that aspect of myself.

But what I do know is this: we are called to transcend our primal desires of retaliation.  It just doesn’t work.  It is only through working together, loving both the oppressor and the oppressed, and finding forgiveness that this cycle can truly be broken.

About Jonathan Seligman

Jon is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of NWYT. While his main profession is in education/music/history, he has a deep passion for philosophy, theology, ice cream, and everything else that life has to offer. See All of Jon's Posts


  1. I was thinking laltey that to wish God’s vengeance on someone is a double-edged sword. How many times have I wronged someone? Maybe without knowing, maybe willingly? What would happen if someone wished God’s vengeance on me for those deeds or words? I feel blessed that up to this point in my life that I have never experienced the kind of injustice that hurt me so great in my soul that the only recourse would be to cry out for God to avenge me. I know that those kinds of injustice and evil are real in this world. As Christians, we should fight against injustice experienced by our brothers and sisters. Although it is written Vengeance is the Lord’s, perhaps it is OK to avenge general wrong done to others if those actions are done in love (i.e, work done in the same of social justice)? Are we not called to be God’s hands and feet? This is a very fine line to tread I realize.

Share Your Thoughts