General, Personal, Things We Shouldn't Discuss

Some Random Thoughts on Violence, Aikido and Capital Punishment

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8, ESV)

After the killing of Osama bin Laden a couple of weeks ago, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the violent nature of our world. I won’t pretend that I am not relieved that bin Laden is no longer among the living. He was a murdering psychopath – by his own admission. He openly claimed credit for terror attacks for years. I have no doubt that justice required that he die (Genesis 9:6).

My issue was not so much that Osama bin Laden was killed but that such violence is required in our world. My baptist forebearers were almost universally pacifists. Men like Jan Hus went to their deaths rather than fight the corruption of the government and religious authorities of their day. They did not believe Christians should ever advocate violence.

My own view of the issue is not quite pacifist. For a long time, I tried to figure out where exactly I fell on the scale between War Hawk ( and Dove. Then, my wife and I started studying Aikido – a martial art that revolves around the idea of harmony and peace. Rather than meeting others’ violence with violence, the Aikidoka (practitioner of Aikido) redirects the attackers violence. They use the aggressors own attack against them, with as little effort as possible. If you have never seen an Aikido master at work, it is worth googling.

What attracted me to the Aikido philosophy was that it seeks to redirect and dissipate violence. Unlike other martial arts which are designed to basically hit harder than the person who hit you, Aikido truly seeks peace.

This philosophy fits in the Christian worldview than any other view I can think of. Rather than Thomas Aquinas’ theory of “just war” or the retributive views I hear many advocate (abusing the “eye for an eye” passages of the TORAH while ignoring the “live by the sword, die by the sword” message of Jesus), the Aikido way finds balance.

We can act justly without adding to the violence of the world. We can turn the violence of others against them without seeking revenge. It can be done.

The thought that always comes to mind is Gandalf’s words to Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Rather than seeing justice as an expression of revenge or a way to “make things even”, we need to rethink justice as the redirection of the violence – turning their own violence upon the violent. I think that is what God had in mind when he commanded capital punishment in Genesis 9. It was not that we hold the lives of other men in our hands but rather that they hold their own lives in their hands.


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