Oscar Romero wrote a book called “Violence of Love” that came to mind when I saw a meme posted up against extremism. It was a positive post calling for unity between Christians, Muslims, and pretty much everybody else. But it called for unity against extremism which incorrectly identifies the problem that we face.
Some people are extreme hunters/swimmers/snow boarders/Christians/Muslims/Aesthetes/Ascetics/Hindus/Pacifists and on until the end of time or the end of our language – which apparently keeps growing. The difficulty that we face socially is not a result of extremism unless we want to couch it in particular terms.
Working through this the first thought that came to me is that it’s an extreme belief in violence and coercion. But belief in violence and coercion for what end? We can all see violence and coercion around us, but the people attacking don’t just believe in it they see it as an expedient to accomplish their goals.
So, not extreme belief in violence and coercion, but extreme belief that violence and coercion are efficient means.
Which flashes us back to Romero talking about the violence of love. Clearly the act of loving someone does not leave them alone. It is not a live and let live pattern, but love directly interferes with those around us. It is a sort of violence and coercion that can change people, but it’s a sort of violence and coercion that Romero finds consistent with the gospel.
And I don’t tend to disagree.
Think about it this way, Ghandi transformed a colony of one of the most powerful empires the planet has ever seen. All through a different type of coercive power, a different kind of violence available only to pacifists. The same could be said of MLK Jr. and others around the world.
That’s a different ball game of coercion, it’s a coercion of accepting violence and using it to persuade people. It’s pretty extreme.
While it’s a broad leap, perhaps that means that there are some forms of violence and coercion that are acceptable within social frameworks. In other words – violence and coercion are efficient means. Those extremists are right, or I’m just wrong so far. Some other caveat is needed.
Violence and coercion are means of seeking power – for both our heroes and our villains. So power isn’t necessarily the caveat we are looking for, and both our heroes and villains are powerless. They are utilizing what resources they have for the power they need to transform their and their companions situations.
Villains and heroes are both using some form of violence in extreme ways. So, it can be moral in some situations and immoral in others. So, it isn’t extremism that we should be combating. It isn’t denouncing extremism or violence or coercion. It’s something else.
Or perhaps two things: the first is hate. The second is self righteousness. I can’t think that either of those are the biggest problem. Plenty of hateful people never killed, and the same can be said of the self righteous. It’s the deep seated idea that murder is ok in any case or any situation.