Thursday, March 16, 2006

The False Dilemma: War or Withdrawal

We had an interesting discussion about nonviolence last night at church. I was arguing for nonviolence, and a friend posed the "crazy hostage taker" scenario: is violence not justified if a man takes a group of children hostage and is going to kill them? Should we not kill the man to save them?

I argued inside the false dilemma for ten minutes: fight or not act. That's a false dilemma, and it's telling that even the people who advocate nonviolence have a hard time "waking up" from this false choice.

From http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=6889:
There are three general responses to evil: (1) violent opposition, (2) passivity, and (3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses: fight or flight.

Jesus' Third Way
  • Seize the moral initiative.

  • Find a creative alternative to violence.

  • Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person.

  • Meet force with ridicule or humor.

  • Break the cycle of humiliation.

  • Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position.

  • Expose the injustice of the system.

  • Take control of the power dynamic.

  • Shame the oppressor into repentance.

  • Stand your ground.

  • Force the Powers into decisions for which they are not prepared.

  • Recognize your own power.

  • Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate.

  • Force the oppressor to see you in a new light.

  • Deprive the oppressor of a situation where force is effective.

  • Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws.


Disavowing violence, Jesus wades into the hostility of Jerusalem openhanded, setting simple truth against force. Terrified by the threat of this man and his following, the authorities resort to their ultimate deterrent, death, only to discover it impotent and themselves unmasked. The cross, hideous and macabre, becomes the symbol of liberation. The movement that should have died becomes a world religion.

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