Divine Violence

I have been chanting the Benedictine hours through Covid. This entails many, many Psalms, every day, every week, along with the accompanying Canticles. Much of it is about war. Much of it places God at the head of armies. Initially I found this deeply offensive. The Trump White House has changed my views. Was I naive?

I have never been a pacifist. Even though I find the retrospective arguments for the US entering WWII historically unconvincing — we did not enter the war when we learned that Hitler was killing Jews, Communists, and homosexuals — I believe defeating fascism was a relative good.

But I have also never countenanced religious justification for war.

Well. That’s kind of the point of the Hebrew sacred text. And the Psalms. And the Canticles. So. How do you handle that?

Lately, I have become increasingly convinced that truly evil people — like Trump and his supporters — need to be defeated. They will be using real guns, real bombs, real violence. They will be fighting for the right to eliminate women’s rights, eliminate gay and lesbian rights, eliminate the rights of Muslims. They will be fighting with real weapons.

In graduate school I studied German Nazi culture. Not so much the war. I read about the war. But I was more interested in Nazi law, Nazi education, Nazi advertising, etc. These people wanted to eliminate Jews, homosexuals, and anyone who displayed divergent mental, physical, or spiritual characteristics. Who will defeat them?

I am now reading the war texts of the Hebrew Bible in a different light. Who defeats this evil? What does David (or whoever) mean by the arm of God? The sword of God? The army of God? Who is that? Who does this?

In the Hebrew sacred text, these are people. They are us. Although they are credited with divine agency.

Emptying into the streets. Holding banners. Pounding the pavement. Descending on state houses. All of this is good. This is the army of God. But the Hebrew sacred text suggests that there might be another stage.

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