Reclaiming Radical

This post originally appeared on Medium.com

There’s nothing radical about violence.

Violence is pedestrian.

Violence is weakness.

Violence is the way things have always been.

In the beginning…

The Hebrew Scriptures tell us a story of how violence came into being. Two brothers, Cain and Abel, got into a fight over religiously motivated jealousy. Apparently, God preferred Abel’s sacrifice of meat to Cain’s sacrifice of vegetables and fruit. This story makes sense from a tribal perspective by the way. One was supposed to sacrifice to the gods. These sacrifices were the way you keep the gods on your side. And the best sacrifices were bloody ones. So when Cain, who is a farmer, only has fruits and vegetables to offer to the gods, here named God, his sacrifice pales in comparison to the one made by his brother.

Cain gets so jealous of his brother and his perception that the gods or God approved of Abel more, he grabbed a stone and hit his brother in the head, killing him. After this act of violence, the world devolves into more and more violence, until the ways of humankind were always evil, all of the time (according to the writers of the Flood story in Genesis).

Whether we believe this is the beginning of violence in the world or not, we know that violence has always been the way of the world.


Perhaps it is our innate desire to survive that leads us to violence. Just yesterday I was driving over a mountain pass when my wife noticed a bee on the seat behind my back. She tried to flick it out the window, which is a kinder sort of violence. A little further down the road, I felt the bee on my leg. I flinched and swerved, just a bit. In that moment, driving on a two lane highway on the side of a mountain, she made a snap decision to violently end the bee’s life. Which she did, while calmly telling me to keep my eyes on the road (real psychopath that one).

Because it was a matter of life or death. As I have said before, if it is between me and a bee, it’s always going to be the bee that dies.

We see so much violence happening around the world today. We have terrorists of ALL religious backgrounds and races, but we also have drones and chemical warfare, fire bombs, attacks on ships full of refugees, gun violence in so many forms, and more, all in the name of self-preservation.

Each violent act by a terrorist (or a nation, by the way) is a value judgement: What matters more: What I believe this world is supposed to be like, or the world as it is today? Whose life matters more: Mine or yours? However distorted one’s vision of what the world should be (whether Jeremy Christian or the stabbers on London Bridge), it all comes down to a value judgement.

This is why I don’t believe violence is radical.

What IS Radical, Then?

Kindness is radical.

Compassion is radical.

Love is radical.

Mercy is radical.

Forgiveness is radical.

The radical ones are those who choose to take it upon themselves to repair the world. They choose to look at someone with whom they disagree and boldly declare, “I love you. You matter to me.” Religious radicals believe that God’s intention is to remake and repair this violence-filled world, and they believe that they are called to participate in this restoration. Religious radicals are the ones who are seeking to make peace with their neighbors and enemies (and even enemy-neighbors). Religious radicals are making strides towards including those who have been outcast and scapegoated by society.

Radical Muslims are those who are opening their doors to welcome their neighbors to break bread with them during their holiest month of Ramadan.

Radical Christians are those who are taking Jesus’ example and making the Church an inclusive and welcome place for people of all genders, sexualities, religions, and races.

The list could go on.

Websters defines radical as “favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions”. As far as I can tell, pursuing an end to violence, pursuing justice, pursuing peace — these are the most radical and extreme changes anyone could pursue in a world of violence, injustice, and war. Am I right?

I say we reclaim the word radical from those who are indefatigably normal. Here’s to the truly radical ones who reject violence, embrace compassion and mercy, and, whether religious or not, are working to change the way the world looks in the future.

Your radicalization is the only hope we have.


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