The Myth of Redemptive Violence
The myth of redemptive violence is increasingly prevalent in our society as we begin to see violence legitimized more and more by politicians, the media, and through numerous aspects of our personal lives. The belief that evil can be overcome through violence and that in every situation as a nation we are the good and the conquered must be the evil only serves to promote the idea that violence saves us.
A classic case of the myth of redemptive violence being promoted through the media were the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. These almost mythical figures, embedded in the American psyche as being a danger to the collective “everything” that we “stand for,” were successfully and violently eradicated. Their deaths were not mourned, but rather grossly celebrated as being something that we had been hoping for. We were the good and they were the evil, the fact that they were human beings and that they had been murdered didn’t seem to enter into the equation.
Politically, redemptive violence often goes unseen or unrecognized. The recent fervor over Kony 2012 was a mass movement against a universally hated and brutal criminal in a far-off land. However, how often do we oppose the brutality and criminality supported by our own government? When the American government imposes sanctions that kill 500,000 Iraqi children or tortures suspects that remain unconvicted of any crime, when our government approves indefinite detention and spends billions of dollars on wars that the nation does not collectively support, committing unmentioned acts of violence in places where we are not welcome, who opposes this? Both situations deserve our attention. The myth of redemptive violence paints us as the good, when really in a situation outlined by the over-simplified terms of good and evil we are no better than those who we decry with such passion.
The myth of redemptive violence and its presence in my daily life went unnoticed until I spent a week away from Woolman. Through my experience at the Woolman Semester so far I’ve begun to have a dramatic change of worldview, and the fact that coming home for the break seemed to at first entirely reverse this worldview came as quite a shock to me. I left Woolman with the belief that things were indeed not right with the world, but that they could be fixed and that I had the power to create positive change. Day three into the break and I found myself thinking aloud, “Well, things aren’t that bad. There’s nothing I can really do about any of it anyway.” I was mortified at this to the point where I stopped what I was doing and eagerly sat down to read the articles that were assigned for homework.
It came down to this: while at Woolman, I felt legitimate. Everyone around me seemed to be in full support of all of the same peace, social justice, and sustainability movements that seek to make our world a fair place for all. At home it seemed as if the problem was everywhere: I began to see the myth of redemptive violence appear in the television shows that I watched, the newspapers I read, the conversations I had, and the everyday activities that I carried out. Even the clothes I wear are made with little conscience: other people make them for a pittance and I buy them for a relative fortune. The key element of redemptive violence is separation: the belief that all human beings aren’t connected and that our world cannot possibly be webbed with boundless interconnectedness only serves to strengthen the power of redemptive violence to the point that it begins to infiltrate our very consciousness.
The struggle against the myth of redemptive violence is in itself a form of redemptive violence: it is a fight, a struggle, a battle, there seems to be a good and a bad, an evil and a righteous side. As Walter Wink writes, “In short, the myth of redemptive violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence (pg. 3).” In our society and in our culture as it exists today, coexistence and unity are not considered to be valid means of creating said order. Peace and nonviolence are equated with chaos, everything around us screams out for winners and losers. However, our systems of war and of violence— both physical and structural—that seek to glorify few and degrade many are exactly that: systems. They are not so deeply ingrained in us as to be irreversible— we are entirely capable of changing the way that our society functions at its very roots so that our systems truly serve us in the pursuit of equality and dignity— if only we remain aware of the world around us and move with intent towards a future that is bright for all of us.