Per Caritatem

The relation between violence and the Christian religion or the role of violence in Christianity is of course not a new problem. However, like other difficult, controversial, and incredibly important issues, it is often left unaddressed or given scant attention in Christian circles including Christian seminaries.  Thankfully, at least some modern and

Marc Chagall (Russian-born French painter, 1887-1985), “Abraham Slaying Isaac”

Marc Chagall (Russian-born French painter, 1887-1985), “Abraham Slaying Isaac”

postmodern theologians, philosophers, and other Christian thinkers—Frederick Douglass, Jung Mo Sung, James Cone, J. Kameron Carter, William T. Cavanaugh have engaged the subject of violence and its relation to and manifestations within the Christian tradition.  Because I personally find this issue difficult, important, and extremely relevant to our current (post)modern context, I have decided to host a series of guest posts on the topic.  My interest in this series, however, is somewhat narrowly focused in a biblical hermeneutical direction.  That is, in dialogue with other Christians via this guest post format, I want to have a conversation about what Scripture itself says, promotes, prohibits, permits or seems to say, promote, prohibit, permit about violence, majoring on those difficult passages dealing with genocide, slavery, and the like—all with a view to developing a Christian hermeneutical trajectory that would enable us to intelligently and compassionately engage contemporary issues.

I have listed below specific topics for engagement and hope to receive two to three submissions per topic presenting different and perhaps even opposing perspectives. I welcome Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant contributors, liberal as well as conservative. (Recently, a number of thoughtful non-Christians and atheists have written excellent works dealing with violence.  As a philosopher, I find these works incredibly valuable; however, for this series, I am looking for contributions exclusively from Christians, as I want the series to serve as a resource of sorts for Christians interested in this subject area and who also find it a challenge to their faith. If you would like to participate, please leave a comment with your name, institutional affiliation (if you have one), and a brief description of your proposal.  If you are selected to write a guest post, I will contact you via email and give you the details regarding the length, due date for the post, etc.  Generally speaking, the posts should be between 500–1500 words, with a strict maximum limit of 1500 words.

Specific Topics

  • How should a Christian community interpret the mass killings (genocide) commanded by God in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 6, 10, etc.)?  Should we read these allegorically, literally, or what?
  • How should a Christian community interpret passages in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus and Leviticus) that at least appear to permit slavery?
  • How does a Christian community make sense out of seemingly opposed views on slavery (e.g. Philemon, and I Cor 7:23 verses 1 Peter) in the New Testament?
  • Does a Christian community’s theology of atonement make a difference as to  how it interprets the violent acts recorded in Scripture?  If so, how?
  • Given the relevance of Girard, a Girardian reading related to any of the above topics and which interacts with some particular Scripture passage is quite welcome.
    • If it is the case that Christianity breaks the cycle of sacrificial violence (at least in theory, historical praxis may be another story), how so?
    • From a more Catholic perspective, how ought we think of the Eucharistic “sacrifice” in dialogue with Girard’s insights?
    • What would Girard say to those holding a view of eternal (physical or psychological) punishment and torture of the “damned”?  If you are a creative type, a fictive dialogue between Dante and Girard would be ideal!


20 Responses so far

[…] September 4, 2010 by d. w. horstkoetter Cynthia over at Per Caritatem has put out a call for guest posts on Violence and Christian Holy Writ that she wants “to serve as a resource of sorts for Christians interested in this subject […]


All of those are great questions and I have views on them all, but I haven’t figured out which to respond with a guest post. Will repost on my blog and already have on FB.


Are you planning on including some girardian input?


[…] intersection of philosophy and Christian theology), Per Caritatem, Cynthia Nielsen is calling for a series of guest posts by Christian writers on several questions related to violence, slavery, and the […]


[…] Posts: Violence and Christian Holy Writ Posted on September 5, 2010 by Celucien Joseph  Cynthia Nielsen over at Per Caritatem is accepting Guest posts to address the issue of Christianity and violence or […]


Very nice!


Hello Cynthia,

I propose a guest post arguing that it makes the most sense for the Christian community to interpret the divinely ordered genocide figuratively. Specifically, I would respond to the literal interpretation that God needed to command genocide in order to maintain the purity of the chosen people. This reading elevates the role of violence in the grand narrative. Salvation is now not merely dependent on God’s suffering of violence, but on humankind’s obedience to the role of annihilator, a role that purifies the way for Mary’s “Yes” and the Incarnation, Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It grants the infliction of violence a salvific role—a necessary part to play in salvation history. Purifying genocide becomes a prerequisite for redemptive suffering. Why this reading of violence is inconsistent with a Christian worldview would be the goal of my argument.


Hello to All! Thanks for such a GREAT first day response. Thanks also to those who re-posted this announcement on their blogs and FB pages.

@Kyle–Your proposal sounds great. I’ll send you an email (in private) discussing the details later this afternoon.

@Bruce–Sure, Girardian input is most welcome!

@Michael–send me an email when you come up with a specific proposal. I hope you tackle the slavery in the NT issue : )

I’m also hoping for someone to tackle the atonement question. I’d really love to get a view that argues against the Anselmian position and one that argues more or less in that trajectory.


Cynthia, I’d love to take a shot at a quasi-pro-Anselmian reading, as I think Anselm has been read often and badly. I teach his Cur Deus Homo every semester, and while there’s some problems, there’s some overlooked dynamics which mitigate some of the “violent” interpretations of it.


@ Myles–I’ll send you an email off-line. Your proposal sounds great. Now we need to find someone to offer counter-point to your reading. This series is shaping up rather nicely!


I look forward to this series, Cynthia. If you are looking for comments on Joshua, the recent commentary by Gordon McConville and Stephen Williams in the Two Horizons series addresses the problem head-on without going too quickly to a (merely?) metaphorical or spiritual reading.


Hi Patrick, Good to hear from you; it’s been a while : ) Thanks for the commentary suggestion. I also look forward to this series, as I’ve already received several excellent proposals!


1 more vote for Girard!


I also vote for Girard–so now we just need someone to submit a proposal engaging his thought in relation to the topics above!


I’ve just shared your invitation with classmates in Contemporary Issues and Biblical Interpretation as part of a discussion board response on our first set of reading assignments.

One reading that I’ve found to be relevant and helpful to your first question is READING WITH YIN YANG EYES: NEGOTIATING THE IDEOLOGICAL DILEMMA OF A CHINESE AMERICAN BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS by TAT-SIONG BENNY LIEW
Chicago Theological Seminary in _Biblical Interpretation 9, 3_

two excerpts I found helpful (which of course needs be understood in the entire context of the careful development of thought in this article):
–> “I hope it is becoming clear by now that the contradictory look that I have in mind regarding yin yang eyes is not the aesthetic
experimentation and indeterminate freeplay that have become popular with some Bible scholars “infatuated” with Derridean deconstruction in an obsolete and solipsist kind of way. Instead of an ambiguity that proclaims “nothing means anything,” I am
referring to my double-edged attitude that the Bible and its interpretation are at once both sources of liberation and oppression.
Instead of passing through the contradictions within a biblical text playfully to celebrate bliss, this biblical hermeneutics pushes for
messy debates regarding biblical texts and contemporary power relations. To put it bluntly, reading with yin yang eyes means a
reading that never assumes the normative authority of the Bible.” (p. 319)
–> “In my opinion,if we have the courage to give up fetishizing (to use another psychoanalytic concept) the Bible and using it to ventriloquize our views, we may actually invigorate Christianity by being able to discuss openly with each other the “whats,” “hows” and “whys” we desire in our Christian lives. (footnote 18 p. 320)

Now for my much more crass response/reaction based on my interpretive use of Liew’s work:
The work by Tat-Siong Benny Liew generated a thorough sense of detached engagement with the bible that most resonated with me. Liew’s admission that the bible can cause and has caused harm, not solely via interpretive errors, but in it’s AS IS form, seems necessary to me. and so the effort taken to dislodge adherents from “fetishizing” the bible may permit (or even demand) self-identified adherents to the bible become willing and/or able to say biblical authors were flat-out wrong at points… or at least be able to speak our doubts and admit certain writings were probably not all that helpful even at the time they were written and continued implementation of those aspects as a model needs to be re-examined. For example from my point of view – “divine sanctioned” genocide is flat-out wrong – or at least I can refuse to worship any god which would sanction such violence.


Hi Cynthia,

I have been working on a piece comparing the violence of Jesus to the different approaches taken by Paul and the author of John’s Apocalypse. Jesus, I argue, engages in a form of resistance that includes performing acts of violence against private property (a point that has not really been explored in scholarship). Paul employs nonviolent resistance, and the author of John’s Apocalypse offers withdrawal as resistance. Thus, to use a phrase that has been seeing some resurgence in the wake of the anti-Olympics and anti-G20 protests that occurred here in Vancouver and Toronto, the NT offers us a “diversity of tactics” — including the possibility of Christians engaging in violent property destruction.

If this proposal interests you, let me know.


I’m definitely interested, Dan, and am sending you an email right now.


@ Brenda–thanks for passing on the announcement. Also, you make a number of excellent points in your comment. Would you be willing to develop this into a mini-essay for the series? If so, I’ll need the essay by Oct 1.



Nice to see people engaging with this topic from a range of perspectives. I was very disappointed recently to read in a book on Old Testament ethics that the author simply put the matter into the too hard basket. It does unsettles me a little, however, to see that when the topic is raised there is often a Lebenswelt birthed response that uses a pomo-consumerist hermeneutics that demands a god constructed to one’s own specifications.