Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective
by Jacques Ellul

His thinking is incredibly muddled. His brain is addled by the gospel nonsense combined with socialist clap-trap. Some of the confusion may be the translator’s fault (Cecilia Gaul King), but most of the blame has to go to Ellul. He is the archetypal pseudo-intellectual. The whole book is about the true Christian view of violence, yet he never evinces a coherent understanding of what violence is. He uses the word so broadly that it includes physical violence, government, propaganda, psychological intimidation, humiliation, manipulation, free competition, management of employees under capitalism, racial discrimination, inequality, and wealth itself. Somehow, at the end he manages to come up with what I believe is the correct Christian view of violence: that Christians should not do it nor try to justify it.

I applaud his critical attitude toward his own church. It provokes these thoughts:

  • Mysticism is needed to justify use of a double standard when nature fails to provide a justification.
  • Nature provides two sexes with different drives and psychologies, which can justify a double standard with regard to sexual relations.
  • But in nature, the men who operate the state are like the men who are oppressed by the state. To judge them by different standards requires a supernatural, mystical distinction.
  • The Church gave supernatural authority to the people who act as agents of the state so that those agents were not subject to the same standards. A man acting on his own should rightly be condemned when he harms others, but when he does the same thing in his capacity as an agent of the state he is above criticism because, as an agent of the state, he is an agent of God.

    Good Quotations

    “But put Gandhi into the Russia of 1925 or the Germany of 1933. The solution would be simple: after a few days he would be arrested and nothing more would be heard of him.” (15)

    “... alas, it often turns out that theology merely amounts to a justification of the behavior of pretend-Christians.” (79)

    “The Christianity that accommodates itself to the culture in the belief that it will thus make itself more acceptable and better understood, and more authentically in touch with humanity--this is not a half-Christianity; it is a total denial of Christianity. Once Christianity gives way to accommodation or humanistic interpretation, the revelation is gone. Christian faith is radical, decisive like the very word of God, or else it is nothing.” (146)

    “To seek conciliation with the world is to cut off the gospel’s roots. This, of course, assured Catholicism’s worldly success--at the cost of its authenticity.” (147)

    “I have nothing against the person who prefers to take the way of politics, big business, science, revolution, technology, etc. Only, let him not pretend that he is witnessing to Christian truth. That much honesty can be demanded of him.” (148)

    “If violence is unleashed anywhere at all, the Christians are always to blame.” [For not having intervened in time to defuse it.] (156)

    “... it is impossible to be a Christian and at the same time to conduct successful politics, which necessarily requires the use of some kind of violence.” (160)

    Year Read: 2002

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