Godly Violence

Just a full-term human pregnancy ago, a disturbed young man murdered two grocery store employees in Old Bridge, New Jersey. He then shot himself dead. Of course, such events will never sway those who staunchly defend our right to bear arms. The ratio isn’t too severe after all. Just two to one. We’ve had worse. But that was nine months ago. Earlier this week a police report revealed that Terence Tyler, the perpetrator, had a tattoo on his chest that read, “If there is a God he loves violence. It is his gift to mankind. It is truly magnificent and for this I am thankful.” The newspaper used the understated adjective “disturbing” to describe it. As an erstwhile biblical scholar, my first inclination is to exegete this strange scripture a little bit.

411px-B_Facundus_145“If there is a God.” The mind of the shooter is one for hedging bets. God is an unscientific proposition, and, we are told even by theologians, unknowable. Long ago Pascal urged a wager: God may not be real, but the safer bet is on the divine—you can’t really lose by believing. “He loves violence.” I’m sure many believers disagree, but those who read the Bible will have to admit that Tyler had a point there. There is an ancient kind of bloodlust that hangs heavily over demands for genocide and animal sacrifices. Even, according to mainstream Christianity, the death of an only son will serve divine ends. “It is his gift to mankind.” This may seem counterintuitive, but again, the Bible would seem to back this up, at least in part. Without violence the 144,000 martyrs wouldn’t have much to sing about. “It is truly magnificent and for this I am thankful.” Were this a biblical passage we would probably have to posit a redactor here, or at least an interpolation. Such editorializing doesn’t fit the spirit of the previous three verses.

Religions, while generally abhorring violence, too often condone it. This mostly comes through literal readings of ancient texts whose contexts have changed so much that the originals are unrecognizable by today’s standards. Bibles and Qurans must be understood by those who’ve managed to outlive them. They become the basis for, the excuse for violence that, as a whole, they condemn. In the United States, however, we trust cordite over creed, and guns over gods. We have moved on from the Old Bridge shootings, already for those outside the families of the victims and the local community, the headlines took a minute to jangle the bells of distant recollection. Not much has changed; the NRA still claims, even more vehemently than ever, that guns are our best friends. And, one can almost hear as a subtext, in good eisegetical style, “if there is a god he loves violence.”

3 thoughts on “Godly Violence

  1. Hi Steve. Hope all is well with you today.

    I’m a hard core Western girl, and I’m no martyr, so I would definitely say that guns have been my best friend more than once. Did they keep me from being shot at? No. Did they keep me from being a helpless victim? Yes. Would gun control have changed that equation? Yes, and not in my favor. But I would never presume to know how God feels about violence, Christian or otherwise. I only know I love having my gun and not having to use it, because whether God loves violence or not, I don’t. 🙂


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