For some the senseless act of violence perpetrated against our fellow human beings (nine year old Christina Greene, Federal Judge John Roll, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and others) on Saturday, January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, constitutes a somber and sad reminder of the increasing link between our public rhetoric and violence and the violence in our speech. Violence spills into the streets from our hearts and mouths. Violence invades our homes, offices, communities, and the streets through us—what we exhale, we inhale; what we inhale, we exhale. There is a connection between what we hear or what people say and what people do, how they act. If this were not true, we would not spend billions of dollars on media advertising. Yes, people have free will and people make choices. But people make choices because they are (un)informed, motivated, inspired and/or provided with a (un)reasonable rationalization, so they think, for acting. What we say matters, especially if we are viewed as authoritative and/or moral guides.
Texts (human and non-human) we deem to be sacred (and their interpreters or agents whom we view as sacred by association) are too often given free and uncritical reign in matters of connecting words, images, people, and ideas with violence. For example, the violence we find in the Bible should not be immune from scrutiny and denunciation. Just because violence is inscribed on the pages of a sacred text (or in the rhetoric of a moral agent) does not mean that such violent words or acts should be reinscribed into our lives or the lives of others. If war is evil, then it is an evil act for any and all human beings and in every place from Afghan to the United States. Sometimes nations may be forced to defend themselves, but this does not change the character of war. If rape is a repulsive and wicked deed the perpetrators of which are worthy of severe punished, then it is an evil act on the printed page of the Bible and in the streets of Darfur. If slavery is atrocious and inhumane, then it is inhumane when read in the Bible and when children, women and men are trafficked in a small town in Ohio and in the Detroit metropolitan area.
We cannot sacralize or make sacred or moral some violence in some places, for some causes, and some circumstances and then expect to live in peace untouched by the very kind of violent words and images with which we pepper our rhetoric (written and oral). Because for one we will not agree on what causes are sacred and moral; what is a sacred and moral cause, circumstance, or place for some will not be for others. The abortion issue and differences on how we understand life (its beginning and end) is a prime example. Some have verbally supported and encouraged violence against abortion providers. In 2009 abortion provider George Tiller was murder at his church in Wichita. Some have murdered and/or sanctioned the killing of abortion providers because they have sacralized such violence. But some of us believe all life is significant, including the children who are already here some of whom are mowed down daily in Chicago neighborhoods, the children and families forced out of homes from the U.S. to Haiti, the mother whose health will not allow her to carry a child to term or who must do so under unimaginable circumstances, the many people who have been and will be sexually molested or abused in the next few seconds, etc.
Violence against other human beings should never be tolerated and certainly should not be an acceptable part of our public or private rhetoric. And the active perpetration of violence (verbally, physical, emotionally, spiritually) is as harmful as our passive neglect or omission of care (our indifference) for our fellow human beings. It is better to spend our days exploring love–what it means and how to incarnate or embody it in our lives and in the lives of others. Let’s learn to love ourselves and to love those who sit, walk, live, work, play, and worship next and near to us as we love ourselves, even or especially when we walk/sit/live/play/worship differently, disagree, or don’t understand one another or ourselves.
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” ~Mahatma Gandhi