Monday, July 22, 2002


It is something of a heresy to modern ears to say so, but violence is morally neutral.

(Please note: pacifists will disagree with that statement, but I am not a pacifist, and I’ve already had my say on Christian pacifism. If you don’t like that I’m not a pacifist, get your own blog and say so. They are free at Blogger.)

Think about that, in light of the attitudes of the people you know, especially the parents. Violence is morally neutral.

That is, the mere fact that one person struck another tells you nothing about the moral content of the act. Now, it may be that violence is likelier than not to be used for immoral purposes, but that’s a statement of probability, not moral weight. Sex is likelier than not to be used for immoral purposes, too, but modern sensibilities have actually decreed the act of intercourse (not to mention things not considered “sex” in Arkansas) to be a positive virtue. Again, though, the mere fact that two bodies are known to have engaged in intercourse, by itself, tells you nothing about the moral worth of the act.

I mention all this, because most parents I know have an aversion to allowing their children to see violence, any violence at all. The fact that one person will strike another in a movie or TV show is enough to make them forbid it to their child. Should one of those people be using a weapon, especially a firearm, the parents may even feel a need to host an intervention for their child, lest he or she become contaminated in some way. We are presented several times a year with a barrage of statistics confirming this: “the average child will witness 4.3 million acts of violence on television before the age of 2,” without distinguishing between a WWF “Smackdown” event and a police officer apprehending an armed robber.

Now, this is perfectly fine for very small children. A 3-year old, after all, is hardly in a position to make a distinction between violence in a good cause and violence in a bad one. But numerous problems arise with this as children grow.

First of all, there is no way to prevent a child from seeing violence. Unless one and all ones friends live like the UNABomber (whose lifestyle notably did not prevent a violent tendency, by the way), one cannot keep children from seeing violence on TV or in film sooner or later.

Second, children will see violence in person, no matter where they go to school. There has never yet been a gathering of 2 or more kids that does not, sooner or later, wind up at the very least in a shoving match. Actual punches are not unheard of either. This is true whether the kids are siblings or merely neighbors.

Third, the human brain is structured around a hippocampus and cerebral cortex that pretty much guarantee sooner or later that every single blessed one of us is going to act violently. A blessed few of us will learn to overcome those urges to the point that they can be managed perfectly, but the key point is the overcoming will be learned, i.e., it will take time to develop.

All of this will, sooner or later, mean kids will be faced with violence, and will be morally retarded about it. Worse, such kids will suspect (quite rightly in all probability) that their parents are morally retarded about violence too. They will be in the habit of thinking violence inherently wrong, but will recognize with their innate moral sense that some of the violence they see is not wrong. They will be forced to conclude that either their parents did them a tremendous disservice, or, far more likely (if you know any teenagers), that “right” and “wrong” must be meaningless concepts.

It is a difficult proposition to sustain, in any case, that Christianity teaches that violence inherently lacks moral value. Christ himself was not averse to violence, properly applied, as when he chased the moneychangers from the Temple. There was no passive resistance, no laying in doorways, no clever chants (“What do we want?” “The moneychangers out of my Father’s house!” “When do wen want it?” “Now!”). There was nothing but unrestrained anger and violent thrashing about.

What Christianity has always taught is that violence has many opportunities for sin, and should be avoided when nonviolence can achieve the same ends.

As a parent, then, my job is not to say, “No violence!” in our entertainments, but to explain what violence there is. “That character was wrong, because he struck that other person to make himself feel big.” “That policeman pulled out his gun to protect those people from the man with the rifle.”

Later today or tomorrow, I will pick up this theme, in talking about some movies I have seen recently.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What Christianity has always taught is that violence has many opportunities for sin, and should be avoided when nonviolence can achieve the same ends. "

You should trim this hedge. It's like saying we should avoid sex because there's many opportunities for sin. Avoidance is unnecessary, just wisdom.

10:59 AM  

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