The rage expressed against Christian symbols in the Rome riots may shock the conscience of those who revere what they represent to them – apparently something very different from the view of the desecrators. Dragging a statue of Mary through the streets and decapitating the head of crucified Christ are provocative and destructive actions though they are directed at inanimate objects. Do they descend to the level of violence we find in cases of domestic abuse, abortion and, perhaps even more commonly, character assassination?
Would that the same attention that the media and some public officials are paying to the few thousand Occupy Wall Street people be directed instead to the tens of thousands more who suffer in silence in our society. The squeaky wheel always gets the grease, it has been observed. Even in the a typical disciplinary scenario when little Johnny strikes Mary, it is often the bullying party who gets most of the attention while the victim lies there on the floor.
The violence inflicted against women – and the children to whom half the time it is also directed – by spouses and boyfriends, the daily destruction of pre-born children behind the doors of peaceful-sounding sanctuaries for “women’s health” and even, less dramatically though quite destructive, the deliberate ruin of reputations through detraction and calumny, are sins that make one wonder why the Sacrament of Penance has all but been forgotten. Perhaps the connection is greater than we realize.
We do not suggest that the practice of regular confession automatically cures behavioral patterns, bringing violent impulses into control, but an awareness of one’s own capacity for destructive violence – whether it be inflicted physically against life and limb – or psychologically, in a way that can leave scars even deeper than those on the flesh – is something without which none of us can honestly know ourselves let alone judge others.
It seems the more one can point to the irrational violence or uncontrollable passions of others, the less likely it is to see the plank in one’s own eye. Some of the images that have emerged in recent months from scenes of social unrest throughout cities of the world portray actions that are truly deplorable. But they should not be used as yardsticks against which to gauge one’s moral superiority. Nor should they seduce us into a self-indulgent frenzy of emotional garbage dumping.
Instead of violent protest, why not protest violence? A Christian confronted with the reality of evil – personal or institutionalized – even in its most oppressive manifestations, cannot justify the use of violence unless he or she has given up on the Way of the Cross. Choosing peace and reconciliation is not a cop-out that denies the existence of evil. Rather, it identifies evils and faces it squarely by refusing to be mastered by it. It recognizes what is broken and attempts to repair or heal it – not break something else! One suspects that those inclined to pick up rocks to smash windows, to torch stores and cars, are not likely to be easy to live with at home or the kind you would leave your children with alone. Their pomposity does not merit the attention they are receiving. Even if they may “have a point,” they seem to have given up trying to fix it and fail to see themselves as part of the problem.
During these volatile times when so many institutions to which we look for stability – political, economic and social – seem to be broken, it is more important than ever that we seek to repair and protect domestic life by resisting the hidden violence that often happens even within the intimate orbit of the home. Be it feuding in-laws, spousal or child abuse, abortion and the sexual dishonesty that is most often its cause – all of them contribute to a culture of violence that refuses to accept the most fundamental principle of civilized society: that all human beings are created equal and beings of moral worth to be respected.
Attempts to justify violence by relegating some class of people to an inferior state – rich or poor, born or unborn, male or female, black or white, or any other condition by which one human being might be distinguished from another – are invitations to substitute one’s own judgement for God’s. All idolatry leads ultimately to the destruction of the idolator. A people who have not learned this from history will inevitably be strewn in its ashes.