Face It: America’s God Is Violence

Readings for Trinity Sunday: Exodus 34: 4B-6, 8-9; Daniel 3: 52-56; 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18

You’ll never convince me that theology is unimportant or irrelevant to politics.

Early last week, President Trump had Lafayette Park cleared of protestors for a Bible-waving photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Evidently, his specifically theological point was to assure everyone that God is somehow on his side and that of the DC police in their fight with the peaceful protestors he called “thugs” and “terrorists.” The president implied that God supports his and the cops ham-handed attempts to quell the general uprising sparked throughout the country (and the world) by the brutal murder of George Floyd, yet another unarmed black man executed by the police state Mr. Trump now heads.

The presidential photo-op underscored not only the tone-deaf cynicism of the current occupant of the White House. It highlighted as well, the identity of the three-personed God he and his white “Christian” supporters actually worship. It’s not the God of Jesus.

I bring that up, because today is Trinity Sunday – a day that calls attention to the mysterious Christian belief that almost no one can coherently explain. It’s the faith that there are three persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today in these remarks, I’m setting aside any concern with obscure, esoteric explanations of that rich mystery so often trivialized into some sort of mathematical problem. (It has been well explained most recently by Richard Rohr in his The Divine Dance. Highly recommended.)

My point instead is to redirect its understanding in a more immediate way intimately connected with what’s happening now in our city streets. It is to explore the mysteries of the real Trinity that we Americans actually worship. It’s a divinity Americans call on to solve any problem you might imagine.  I’m talking about the deity called Violence. Yes, as what Dr. King called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” our nation worships Violence Itself.

Our reverence for this quasi-divine being is revealed in our vicious cultures of police and military so evident in our cities these days. It’s revealed in our worship of guns, in our “defense” budgets, in our films, and in the wars our nation more than any other on the planet initiates and sustains throughout the world.    

Like the traditional Trinity, our God of Violence also has three manifestations. There is Violence the Father, Violence the Son, and Violence the Evil Spirit. Let me try to explain.

Trinitarian Violence

Violence the Father: This is the invisible power that shapes all of our lives. Sociologists refer to his domain in terms of “structural violence.”  He is the creator of every society’s status quo – the form of mayhem that begets most of its other manifestations. This violent divinity is the one in whom we Americans live and move and have our being; he’s like the air we breathe; we don’t even notice his presence. Yet our simple participation in the world-as-we-know-it transforms us into his votaries.

Worldwide, this is the God who allows 15,000 children to die each day of absolutely preventable poverty and hunger. Most commonly, they are victimized by ailments as simple as diarrhea caused by contaminated water. But all those children die at our system’s hand just as surely and predictably as if executioners put guns to their heads and pulled the trigger 15,000 times every 24 hours. The God of the status quo endorses every shot.

Violence the Father also underwrites ghettoes, decrepit schools, food deserts, and structural unemployment. He makes sure drinking water is contaminated by lead, that borders are closed to refugees and asylum seekers, and that the air in poor communities is unbreathable.

For the police, he’s the patron of “qualified immunity.” That’s the legal doctrine that encourages law enforcement crime. In practice, it guarantees that police will never be convicted of any crime unless their attorneys prove unable to turn up a single cop anywhere in the world who wouldn’t have acted similarly in a similar situation. What a joke!

Americans love Violence the Father. We’re convinced his order is the best human beings can achieve. After all, we live in “the greatest country in the world.” [We say that with a straight face, even though (if we opened our eyes) we would see clearly that other better countries are all over the map. However, our fundamentalist religious brainwashing masquerading as “patriotism” just won’t let us go there.]

Violence the Son: This is the second person of the unholy trinity worshipped throughout America. Violence the Son is the offspring of the Father – his only (i.e. inevitably) begotten son. He embodies the self-defensive, but ultimately auto-destructive response of perhaps 5% of the protestors in our streets during these days of rage and rebellion. They are the marginalized, despised and brutalized who have abandoned hope of systemic reform by going through the channels. They’ve given up on Dr. King’s and on Jesus’ non-violent resistance.  

If the truth be told, many of them are heroic by standards widespread in our country, where precious few subscribe to non-violence. Often, these devotees consider themselves spiritual descendants of the U.S. Founding Fathers. Remember how those sometime heroes bravely defended the right to take up arms against any government or police force that denies rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In their Declaration of Independence, the founders wrote “. . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government. . .”

Yet, the attitude of these followers of Violence the Son, though apparently heroic, is self-destructive. That’s because it inevitably incurs a response from the militarized state that is overwhelming and absolutely destructive. It’s that response of police brutality that has horrified us all over the past ten days. It’s the third-level violence — that of the Unholy Spirit.  

Violence the Evil Spirit:

This is the spirit of fear, racism, vengeance, and false patriotism that inspires police and military over-response to the small number of protestors who worship Violence the Son. And, as I just said, the response in question is devastating. Worldwide, this Spirit routinely leads the United States to mercilessly slaughter any who dare raise a fist against first-level structural crimes inspired by Violence the Father. Think of the hundreds of thousands butchered throughout Central America during the 1980s, when the U.S. crushed peasant response to U.S. neocolonialism, regime change, torture and assassination in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras.

But closer to home, think of last week’s spectacles of police cars running over those exercising their Second Amendment rights.  We all saw those committed to “protect and serve” instead slashing tires, tear gassing, pepper spraying, and tasering peaceful protestors. We saw them crack open the head of a 75-year-old man in Buffalo. As agents provocateurs, they smashed windows, set fire to police cars, and left piles of bricks strategically placed for use by activists inclined to throw them.

It’s at the altar of this evil spirit that the NYPD worships along with other infamous blue-clad gangsters throughout the country.  By their actions, they’ve revealed the truth of Frank Serpico’s telling description of New York City police. Ten percent of them, he said, are honest. Ten percent are absolutely corrupt. And the other 80% wish they weren’t. In other words, 90% of our nation’s police forces are proving themselves to be brutally crooked especially towards people of color. And virtually all of them are committed to protecting each other’s backs no matter what. And that means that virtually all of them are liars and criminals.

And why not? They all worship our trinity’s third person – the Spirit of Violence itself.

Conclusion

Yes, what I’m saying is that almost all of us end up offering incense not to Christianity’s Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, the God most of us worship is Violence pure and simple. In fact, most in our country would laugh in your face if you suggested adopting and implementing Jesus’ words about love and forgiveness of enemies. No, we prefer to hate and kill them – in the name of God. For most of us, anger and violence are stronger and more realistic than any ethic endorsed by the one honored in that church Mr. Trump used as a prop. As a people, Americans love Violence.

Today’s Trinity Sunday observance and the teachings of Jesus in general call us away from all that. They ask us to repudiate our idolatry of Violence – Father, Son and Evil Spirit – and to join peaceful protestors all over the world – in the Holy Spirit of Jesus himself. That Spirit remains 180 degrees opposed to our country’s allegiance to the status quo and its violent police state Trinity.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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