by Jeanine Elliott, Bethel Congregational UCC, Beaverton, OR
Here’s an old saying that deserves a second look: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Matthew 5: 38-39). Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: Don’t hit back at all. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. (Eugene Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language)
Despite the massive media coverage of all events violent and brutal, we live in a far safer world than our ancestors experienced. In his recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker documents in 500 pages the decline in violence over human history. “I have to convince you that violence has really gone down…. knowing that the very idea invites skepticism, incredulity, and sometimes anger.” Despite Pinker’s evidence of the decline of violence, many people in this country have become so fearful that they believe that they must take protection and justice into their own hands. Policies, laws, and business practices have moved to reinforce these self-justice and self-protection actions. Do those policies, laws, and business practices escalate moments of violence or reduce them? Strong differences on this question divide us.
The recent shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman have brought many of these issues to the fore.