It is easier to be violent than it is to care.

That is the problem near the heart of so many of the maladies afflicting our nation today. Care costs us something. It demands something from us. If you choose to care, your life will be different than what you imagined, there will be obstructions to your own sense of liberty. You will have fewer choices.

Violence, in contrast, asks for nothing save the searing of our own conscience—and that seems to be a price we’re willing to pay.

To take one example: A pathetic number of large firms in our nation have, since Friday’s SCOTUS ruling in Dobbs, said that they will provide funds to their employees who need to travel out of state to secure an abortion. Others have even said they will pay the relocation costs for any employees wishing to move out of a pro-life state. The reality behind this apparent “generosity”? An abortion is cheaper than maternity leave. As one of our contributors observed on Twitter over the weekend, it’s worth asking why so many firms with abysmal histories in labor practices are the first in line to pay for abortions.

It is easier to be violent than it is to care.

Abortion is not the only arena in which we can see this reality playing out, of course. You see it in our relationship to the land and to animals: Caring for our livestock, giving them good food and a healthy life, that costs more. It’s easier to stuff them into tight, unhealthy spaces, pump them full of growth hormones to get them to butchering weight sooner, and pump them full of antibiotics to kill all the bacteria they’re subjected to because of their vicious, morally inexcusable living conditions. Violence is easier than care.

I said earlier that the only thing violence asks of us is the searing of our own consciences. If you read that as a suggestion that this is a danger that lies before us, then you misunderstand me. We have already answered violence’s demands, we have already seared our consciences. Why else, do you think, is it so easy for us to default to violence in our contemporary political disputes? As Matt noted on Friday when commenting on the threats of violence made by groups like Jane’s Revenge,

In enacting such violence, defenders of abortion simply make public the nature of what they would defend within the womb.

Such violence is thus inevitable, but also intolerable for any society that wishes to remain a society.

Because we in America have lived in a deeply violent nation for so long, a nation that would not exist in this state were it not for centuries of unjust violence, we have come to believe that problems are best resolved through violence. Leah Sargeant spoke truly when she said,

You can look around and say, our culture has no room for the vulnerable. It doesn’t have room for babies who are vulnerable and it doesn’t have room for women who are vulnerable. So abortion is a crutch that lets us navigate that hatred of dependence that’s pervasive in our culture. I think it’s one more mark of a sexist society that we take the burdens we put on the vulnerable, then lay them heavily on women and demand an act of violence to have equal access to society.

The challenge before us, then, is simple: Will we choose a different story now? Will we live as if another world is possible? Will we seek to live peaceable lives marked by care, by attentiveness, by availability? Or will we continue to chase the individualistic fever dream that has left our nation burning in more ways than one?

We are now living several centuries into the story of a nation that has solved many of its greatest problems and challenges through ever expanding cycles of violence. As I argued in What Are Christians For?, the west’s solution, time after time after time, to challenges created by past acts of violence is simply more violence: chattel slavery followed not by reconstruction but by lynching, which was followed by Jim Crow followed by mass incarceration. Or to take another example, we began with the dismembering of the household (brought about by industrialism and late 19th century capitalism) followed by the dismembering of children, brought about by the sexual revolution—and now the dismembering of marriage and even the quite literal dismembering of bodies, all done in the name of “liberation.”

We have had our “liberation,” and all we have gotten from it are more chains. We now wear the chains we have forged throughout our nation’s life, to borrow from Dickens. We are like Marley and Scrooge: We have made these chains, link by link, and yard by yard with each and every assault on God’s image bearers and God’s world. We girded it of our own free will and by our free will we still wear it. It is a ponderous chain.

And yet we needn’t go on wearing it. The chance to change is before us. Our nation’s laws now no longer stand in stark violation of God’s law as it relates to the unborn. And yet our nation’s failure to care continues as a manifest, high-handed sin against heaven. If we depart from our present course, then (again borrowing from Dickens) our end may yet change. It is a grace given to us by God, this chance to repent, this chance to change our ways, to lay aside the violence that runs through our nation’s story.

And yet, as Lewis said of Rabadash as he blasphemed during his trial, “The doom is nearer now: it is at the door: it has lifted the latch.” So, I fear, God speaks to our country. There is yet time to repent, but that time grows short.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).

5 Comments

  1. Jake, the universe is a very violent place, always has, and always will be. If you eat animals for food you are benefitting from violence. Animals do terrible things to each other. Natural disasters kill sentient living things by the millions. So do harmful bacteria. I’m not saying I like it, but why would you expect humans to be different from the rest of nature in that respect?

    And in the Bible, violence seems to be one of God’s favorite methods of dealing with problems. See Noah’s flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Joshua’s instructions to kill the Canaanites, Saul’s instructions to kill the Amalekites, even the existence of hell. What are these if not the use of violence to obtain desired results?

    Are you living on land that was forcibly taken from the Indians? Or wearing clothes made by slave labor in the third world? Yeah, me too. If I had magical powers, I’d change all that, but I don’t.

    Reply

  2. Seems rhetorically ineffective to scold society for being violent. Duh. All nations are built on violence and preserved through violence. Society isn’t capable of caring about things– only individuals are.

    Reply

    1. Mike,
      But not all societies are built on violence. That is because not all societies experience the same levels of violence.

      In addition, when we look at the title of the article alone, could it not also apply to our nation’s problem with gun violence?

      Reply

  3. […] The Violence We Can’t Live Without – Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture — Read on mereorthodoxy.com/the-violence-we-cant-live-without/ […]

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