The Myth of Redemptive Violence


Around the country, people are polarized about whether gun control or widespread ownership of guns would make us safer. I have written earlier about the U.S. culture of violence and the growing economic inequity, which is violent in itself and is linked to increasing violence. Today’s post addresses the violent “myth” that underlies our culture:
In his work on the Powers [the institutions that rule our world], Walter Wink claims that the primary myth of our time is the “Myth of Redemptive Violence.” This myth, which is so pervasive in contemporary U.S. culture, has its roots in the ancientEnuma Elish,a Babylonian creation story about the struggle between cosmic order and chaos. The idea is that force must be used to bring order out of chaos and that the only way to conquer evil is through domination and violence. This story has been played out around the world for generations, and continues to be played out today.The pervasiveness of violence among human beings brings to mind the ancient biblical story of Cain’s murder of Abel and the subsequent multiplication of violence articulated by Cain’s descendent, Lamech: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold.” (Gen. 4:24) It is this very cycle of violence that Jesus seeks to remedy when he tells his followers that they must forgive even seventy-seven (or seventy times seven) times (Matt. 18:22). Sadly, Jesus’ rejection of violence and his embrace of nonviolence, so central to his life and message, have been ignored by many who claim to be Christian. And although it was the political, military, and economic Powers, supported by the religious establishment, that put Jesus to death, much of official Christianity throughout history has supported similar institutions and systems that are based on domination and violence. Walter Wink calls this changing but similarly interlocking network of worldly Powers “the Domination System.” Others call it “empire.”
Empires, too, function out of the myth of redemptive violence, under the illusion that domination and violence can bring order out of chaos and can conquer evil. Furthermore, empires seek to be ultimate and absolute, demanding people’s loyalty and service. Those who resist are seen as enemies and subversives, as Jesus was.
As someone who seeks to follow (not just worship) Jesus, I choose the nonviolent path that he chose. And I seek and work for a world transformed by Love, as he did.
The photograph I chose for this blog is from an article that appeared in, of all places, The Economist. The article is entitled: “Evil beyond imagining: If even the slaughter of 20 small children cannot end America’s infatuation with guns, nothing will.
Sharon Delgado is an ordained United Methodist minister, founding director of Earth Justice Ministries, and author of Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization (Fortress Press, 2007). She lives in Nevada City, California. To find out more go to or

0 thoughts on “The Myth of Redemptive Violence

  1. For me, the timing of this piece by Ms. Delgado is somewhat uncanny, as I just picked up Jonathan Swaim’s book, “The Death of Judeo-Christianity”, in which he also explores the meaning of the myth of redemptive violence and links it to psychological trauma bonding. Having just begun the reading of this, I don’t want to misrepresent what he is positing, but my first question is about what looks like his understanding and exploration of the question within the historical period it tries to explain. Certainly what he calls trauma bonding in this situation is, on a tiny scale, what we have labeled Stockholm Symdrome, or even Patty Hearst Syndrome, it must be looked at within the context of what Riane Eisler in “The Chalice and the Blade” describes as societies based on domination and hierarchy. Such societies do not promote life, but are based ultimately on killing in competitive struggles for survival. She builds a strong case for the evolution of our dominant world religions, culturies, and societies out of fear-based attempts to cope and understand what would otherwise be seen as overwhelming threats to the groups’ very survival. The 5000+ years of Empire coincide with the developments of Judeo-Christian theologies and systems of domination.
    How often have we heard this explained as “It’s just human nature”? It is not, of course; it is just that humans are infinitely adaptable to conditions confronting them and, sad to say, it has led to such horrendous consequences. Now we are up against it: Our survival and that of life on our earth depends on finding cooperative modes of existence.

  2. Nice piece. It is my view that historical Christianity has not only failed to solve the problem of violence but has made it worse because the main focus of most Christians is on salvation. Jesus saves. Confess your belief in Jesus as the Christ and you will receive eternal life. Such faith is so comforting, and easy. To follow Jesus the teacher, the author of the Sermon on the Mount, is a far more difficult challenge, a challenge that most Christians prefer to ignore.

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