Struggling with Divine Violence

Notes on How to Read the Bible and Still Be A Christian by John Dominic Crossan

Crossan ViolenceFrom ancient times until now, the deepest hopes and fears of human life have been vividly displayed and viciously fought in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. This ongoing struggle is the constant theme of the Bible and the matrix within which biblical writers described God, developed contrasting systems of governing the affairs of humankind, and portrayed conflicting visions of how ordinary people are to live out their lives. These ancient lands have taken on even greater urgency in recent decades as human power to destroy has increased, seemingly exponentially. Therefore, the urgency of determining how governments, politicians, religious leaders, business people, and ordinary people should act is becoming ever greater.

In his book How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian, New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan provides a way to understand this crisis, both in ancient times and in our own world that in so many ways differs from the historical circumstances of long ago. The book’s subtitle identifies its central theme: “Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis Through Revelation.”

At the center of the narrative is the contrast between two visions of how the world works: a vision of nonviolent distributive justice in which all people and creatures of the world have what they need and a vision of violent retributive justice in which power rules by command and punishment and terrible discrepancies develop between those in command and all others.

In Crossan’s reading of history, the normalcy of human civilization depends upon what he calls escalatory violence as the characteristic process by which all things in life are be ordered. This violence is understood to be justified and carried out by religious systems of thought and ritual. Historical experience makes it seem inevitable that visions of a nonviolent and peaceable kingdom are transformed by using violence to force conformity of most people to the dictates of normal civilization. Read more Struggling with Divine Violence

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