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Violence and Idolatry

The older language in which the theme of “conformity to this world” was stated in Bible times had to do with “idols,” with those unworthy objects of devotion to whom men in their blindness sacrificed. Thus it is quite fitting to describe the use of violence as the outworking of an idolatry. If I take the life of another, I am saying that I am devoted to another value, one other than the neighbor himself, and other than Jesus Christ Himself, to which I sacrifice my neighbor. I have thereby made a given nation, social philosophy, or party my idol. To it I am ready to sacrifice not only something of my own, but also the lives of my fellow human beings for whom Christ gave His life.

In the deep nonconformity of mind to which the gospel calls us, we can not accept the analysis according to which one kind of action (suffering servanthood) is right from the point of view of revelation, but some other pattern is equally right from the practical perspective. This ultimately  denies the lordship of Christ and shuts Him up in the monastery or the heart. There is clearly a double standard in the world, but it is not between discipleship and common sense; it is between obedience and rebellion.

~ John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution, 174-75.


  1. bruce hamill wrote:

    What an amazing passage. Thanks. Very Girardian.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  2. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    But, Israel still has a right to defend itself by clusterbombing Palestinian civilians, right? Or does Yoder slip into liberal pacifism here? :)

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Yes, that’s the point, isn’t it.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  4. bruce hamill wrote:

    who give Israel the right to perpetuate reciprocal idolatry

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink
  5. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Craig Carter:

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  6. bruce hamill wrote:

    Thanks… that’s a disturbing descent into pragmatic realism

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  7. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Wow. I would not believe Craig Carter said that Israeli preemptive strikes against Iran would be self-defense, and advocates it, if I had not just read it from his own words. Then in the comments he invokes Yoder to defend his position! I am getting a little tired of these supposed “Yoderians” who do this.

    Apparently Yoder supports just war as compatible with pacifism, police, pre-emptive strikes, etc. Is there some secret code in Yoder that I am missing? Some alien language that only “real” Yoderians see in his work?

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  8. Daneil wrote:

    Yoder has a way of putting things that makes quoting him too damn easy.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  9. dan wrote:

    What about the destruction of idols? Does that count as violence?

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  10. james wrote:

    It would seem like Yoder should then admit that what is true from the point of view of revelation is not after all practical. In saying “he won’t accept the analysis” of two truths, he limits our response to obedience or rebellion. But he casually skips over the point which he well knows that ‘obedience’ does not lead to practical success when confronted by ‘rebellion’, nor is it meant to as the archetype of such action shows.

    Since this would not be entirely convincing, it seems to lead to two related habits seen among Yoderians. 1) Always use just war theory in public conversations, but only to negatively critique violence 2) make sure before and after the fact that no acts of violence ever appear practically the best option. If the latter was the case it would expose that a Yoderian is equally “ready to sacrifice not only something of [their] own, but also the lives of [their] fellow human beings” to a principle which looks suspiciously, formally like everyone else’s idol.

    Maybe Carter’s point was something like this.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  11. dcrowe wrote:

    Yoder specifically addresses your question about effectiveness all over the place. The problem, from the position of his writings, is that the definition of “effectiveness” your using here is not what he would call the Christian definition of effectiveness.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  12. Marvin wrote:

    I tried to send a trackback to this post, but I seem not to know what to do. Anyway, this post and Craig Carter’s prompted me to post this:

    And I wouldn’t mind hearing what you have to think…

    Friday, October 16, 2009 at 5:40 am | Permalink

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