Does Jesus Forbid Self-Defense?

In daily Mass for Monday of the 11th Week of the Year, we read a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. It is a challenging text that raises many questions if read in a literal or absolute manner.

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. … You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you … (Matt 5:38-44).

What a text. It seems to preclude self-defense! What does it mean to “offer no resistance to one who is evil”? Jesus does not say that one should not defend oneself if attacked; He says that one should turn the other cheek. Is this a call to radical pacifism? Does this mean that a nation should have no police force, no judicial system, no army? So radical does this text seem to most that they are overwhelmed and simply turn the page.

Instead of turning the page, though, we might do well to reflect on its message:

The text seems to be more about offenses against personal dignity than physical attack. It is true that a strike on the cheek is physical, but in the ancient world such acts were understood as an attack on personal dignity rather than a grave physical threat. This is the case even today. Being slapped in the face is not a devastating threat to physical well-being; it is an insult. In the ancient world one who wished to humiliate a person struck the person’s left cheek with his open right hand. For the one struck, this was an indignity to endure, but not the worst one that could be inflicted. The worst insult that could be given was striking the right cheek of a person with the back of one’s right hand.

So, what Jesus is describing in this passage is more a question of dignity. His basic teaching is that if someone tries to rob you of your dignity (by a slap on the cheek), realize that your dignity does not come from what others think of you; it is given by God and no one can take it from you. Demonstrate your understanding of this by offering your other cheek. Don’t retaliate to “regain” your dignity. The one who struck didn’t give you your dignity and cannot take it away from you. To retaliate is to enter the world of the one who insulted you. Stand your ground; do not flee, but do not become like the one who insulted you.

This text is not about defending oneself from life-threatening physical attack; it is a text about personal dignity. Wanting to get back at others because they offended you, or did not praise you enough, or poked fun at you, or did not give you your due; all of that ends because it no longer matters to you—at least not when Jesus starts to live His life in you.

So, this text has a cultural context that does not necessarily require us to interpret Jesus’ words as an absolute exclusion of legitimate self-defense in moments of serious physical threat.

Any distinctions I have made above by way of explanation should not remove the core of Jesus’ message, which is meant to limit retaliation and remove from it anything “personal” other than the protection of one’s life from imminent threat or significant injustice.

This reflection serves as background to the Church’s careful and thoughtful approach to the subject of necessary self-defense. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sets forth this teaching as part of its exposition on the 5th Commandment (Thou Shalt Not Kill). Here are some excerpts:

The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor … The one is intended, the other is not” (CCC #2263).

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore, it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow: If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful … Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take care of one’s own life than of another’s (CCC #2264).

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility (CCC #2265).

The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party (CCC #2266).

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (CCC #2267).

All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed (CCC #2308).

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine (CCC #2309).

Thus, self-defense and the ending of unjust aggression should never be something we do lightly or without reflection. The Lord and the Church require of us serious reasons for bringing lethal blows even to enemies; we should never undertake such measures without considering carefully other less-extreme responses. Respect for life means that I can demand my enemy respect my life, but also means that I must respect his. Recourse to war or other lethal measures may sometimes be necessary, but we must examine our motives and carefully consider alternative methods.

Finally, recall that the Sermon on the Mount is not a list of moral rules that we are expected to follow with the power of our own flesh. Rather, they are a description of the transformed human person. They describe what a person is like when the Lord lives in him and transforms him by His grace. The transformed person is not excessively concerned with personal dignity. The world did not bestow dignity and thus cannot take it away. The transformed person is not concerned with getting back at those who have inflicted blows against their dignity; He is content to be in God’s favor and increasingly free of vainglory, the excessive desire for human praise and standing.

Three Characteristics of the Diabolic That Are Widely Evident Today

door panel, Pisa Baptistery

The video at the bottom of this post is of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It is a fascinating excerpt from a longer presentation he did. In it, he analyzes the diabolic (anything of or relating to the Devil) from several different perspectives. Archbishop Sheen identifies three characteristics of the diabolic by examining the story of the Gerasene demoniac, which is presented in the synoptic Gospels. Here is the beginning of the story as it appears in the Gospel of Luke:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time, this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him (Luke 8:26-30).

Following this, Jesus drove the demon(s) out the man and into the herd of swine.

From this story, and also based on an insight from Dr. Rollo May, a psychologist of his time (the talk was given in the mid-1970s), Archbishop Sheen sets forth these three characteristics of the diabolic:

  1. Love of NudityFor a long time this man had not worn clothes.
  2. Violence… though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains. The version of the story in Mark’s Gospel has more vivid detail: For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.
  3. Division (split personalities, disjointed minds) – … many demons had gone into him. In Mark’s version, the demoniac replies, My name is Legion, for we are many (Mk 5:9). All of the versions say that the demoniac lived apart from others or in solitary places.

It does not take much effort to recognize that these three characteristics of the diabolic are alive and flourishing in the modern world, at least in the West. Let’s examine the evidence we can see all around us today:

1. Love of Nudity – This is obvious in the modern world on several levels. First, there is the widespread tendency toward immodest dress. We have discussed modesty here before on this blog, noting that the words “modesty” and “moderation” come from the word “mode,” which refers to the most commonly occurring value in a set of data. Hence, while we want to avoid oppressively puritanical notions about dress that impose heavy burdens (especially on women) and regard the body as somewhat evil, we must also critique many modern forms of dress that are at the other extreme. These “fashions” reveal more than is reasonable and are generally intended to draw attention to aspects of the body that are private and reserved for sexual union within marriage. Too many in our culture see no problem with parading about in various stages of undress, wearing clothing that seems intended to call attention to, rather than conceal, the private areas of the body. This love of disclosure and titillation is surely an aspect of the Evil One’s love of nudity.

Pornography, though nothing new in this fallen world, has surely reached epidemic proportions thanks to the Internet. Any psychotherapist, counselor, or priest will tell you that addiction to pornography is a huge problem today. Millions of Americans are viewing enormous amounts of pornography and the “industry” appears to be growing rapidly. What once required a visit to a hidden-away adult bookstore is now available in one’s home with just a click of the mouse. And the thought that browsing habits are easily discoverable matters little to the addicts of this latest form of slavery. Many are on a steep slope downward into ever-more-deviant forms of pornography. Some end up at illegal sites and before know what’s happened, the FBI is knocking on their door. Yes, Satan’s love of nudity has possessed many!

The overall sexualization of our culture also ties in to Satan’s love of nudity. We sexualize women in order to sell products. We even sexualize children. Our sitcoms feature endless immature chatter about sex. Collectively, we act like oversexed teenagers obsessed with something we don’t really understand. Yes, Satan loves nudity and everything that goes with it.

Then of course there is the utter confusion that celebrates homosexual activity. What Scripture calls gravely sinful, disordered, and contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν – para physin – Rom 1:26), is openly celebrated by many in our culture. Those afflicted with such desires openly and proudly identify themselves with what tempts them. Rather than lamenting the trials faced by those with such an affliction, and offering love, support, and the truth that they should live celibately (as all the unmarried are called to do), our sex-saturated culture, blinded and darkened by its own wild lust, affirms and even encourages them to indulge in what can only bring further harm to them and others. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie … (Rom 1:25). It is no surprise that as a result of this celebration of darkness and confusion, the even more deeply confused notion of “transgenderism” has taken root.

Thus, the love of the nudity and the related obsession with (and confusion about) sex is manifest in our culture. It is surely a sign of the diabolic.

2. Violence – Collectively, have turned violence into a form of entertainment. Adventure movies and video games turn violent retribution into fun and death into a “solution.” Recent popes have warned us of the culture of death, a culture in which death is put forward as the solution to problems. Violence begins in the womb as the innocent are attacked as we defend “choice” and “rights.” The embrace of death continues to pervade the culture through contraception, gang activity, frequent recourse to war, and capital punishment. The past century was perhaps the bloodiest ever known on this planet: two world wars, hundreds of regional wars and conflicts, starvation campaigns, and genocides. Paul Johnson, in his book Modern Times estimates that over 100 million people died violently in just the first 50 years of the 20th century. With every death, Satan did his “Snoopy dance.” Satan loves violence; he loves to set fires and then watch us blame one another as we all burn.

3. Division – Satan loves to divide. Archbishop Sheen says that the word “diabolic” comes from two Greek words, dia and ballein, meaning “to tear apart.” Most literally, dia means “through” or “between” and ballein means “to throw or to cast.” Satan “casts things between us” in order to divide and distract us. Thus, we see our families, the Church, and our country divided. These divisions occur in almost every facet of our lives: race, sex, religion, politics, economics. We are divided on the basis of age, region, blue vs. red states, the coasts vs. the heartland, liturgy, music, language, and more trivialities.

Our families are broken. Divorce is rampant. Commitments of any sort are rejected as too difficult or even impossible. The Church is broken, divided into factions. Though we once we agreed on the essentials, now even appeals to shared truth are called intolerant.

Inwardly, we struggle with many divisive drives, with figurative and literal schizophrenia. We are drawn to what is good, true, and beautiful and yet at the same time to what is base, false, and evil. We know what is good, but desire what is evil; we seek love, but indulge in hate and revenge. We admire innocence but often revel in destroying it or at least in replacing it with cynicism.

Three characteristics of the diabolic: love of nudity, violence, and division. What do you think? Is the prince of this world working his agenda? Even more important, are we conniving with him? The first step in overcoming the enemy’s agenda is to recognize his tactics, name them, and then rebuke them in the name of Jesus.

Thank you, Archbishop Sheen. Your wisdom — God’s wisdom — never ages.

Pay attention to what the good archbishop has to say!

Violence as Entertainment and the Christian Walk

When I was a young man in my twenties I loved “action movies.” I remember that we guys often talked about the “kill ratio” as a way of rating the movie. High kill ratio movies were “good,” and low kill ratio movies were poor and dangerously on the way to becoming a “chick flick.” Car chases, buildings being blown up, and the bad guys being killed in large numbers, was the recipe we looked for.

In fact, I’ll save you some money and give you the plot of every adventure movie ever made or to be made. The movie opens with some bad guy, a guy who is unambiguously evil, doing some terrible thing. Perhaps he kills some one, takes hostages, or engages in a terrorist act. After this our hero steps on the scene. And, after about ninety minutes of car chases, blowing things, up and killing people, he exacts vengeance, restores justice and walks off the scene, girl in arm, burning city in the background, roll credits. (There is usually a sub-plot which involves the girl wherein she enters the scene, complicating things for our hero, and is usually a combination of an insistent partner to our hero, and also plays the role of damsel in distress. OK, so save your $15. You’ve just had them all presented to you. There is almost no variance to this theme and it is usually downright cartoonish.

In recent years I have lost interest in these movies. Some of it is age. But a lot of it is my Christian walk. I no longer love these movies because it is clear to me that the Lord does not love them. For a Christian of some depth, it becomes clear that, violence should not be proposed as entertainment, or be experienced as entertaining. Violence is always regrettable and is a cause for sober reflection, not exuberant joy.

I am no pacifist, there are times when the police have to repel or restrain criminals with violent force. There are times when nations, for a grave reason, and as a last recourse, must go to war. But this is always lamentable, and surely not entertaining. People often die terribly in war, and in other violent ways.

The adventure movies and video games often present simplistic and cartoonish notions of violence. For example, our hero may be involved in a high speed car crash. Despite this, he often walks away from it and remains quite fit to do further battle. But in reality no one walks away from a high speed car crash unscathed. The whole body is wrenched and there are almost always neck and back injuries that require months to recover from. Some never recover. Further, as our hero kills bad guys left and right, we are never invited to consider that in real life death has terrible ripple effects as families, children and others, related to the dead, experience the tragedy and often never recover.

The CBS video below speaks of an area I know little, the world of video games. I will admit, that video games are simply not, and never have been a part of my world. When I was in high school the only video game available was “PONG” (a simple monochrome tennis game). Pac Man and Donkey Kong were just on the horizon, but I never warmed up to them in college years.  The first video shows that a new rating system has come into play for these games, many of which are horribly violent as well as being saturated with sex and bad language. I am personally glad to see it and hope it will guide parents to be more sober about what their kids are playing.

I intend no crusade here. I am not calling for abolishment of such games, or of adventure movies. I will even say I oppose those who refuse to let little boys have toy guns and play war. I figure for them it is just a stage, a boy thing. But that is a central point, it should be just a stage.

So what I do propose is that, as we grow in our Christian walk, the notion of raw violence as a form of entertainment, becomes increasingly untenable for us. Violence is something we increasingly mourn, increasingly find troubling. If it ever did appeal to us, it appeals less and less. The voice of Jesus echoes in our conscience: Put away your sword (Matt 26:52).

And as we grow in grace, that still small voice of Jesus gradually has its way. The swords are sheathed, the video controllers are set aside, the movies look silly, and violence becomes unappealing, lamentable, and a subject for prayer, rather than a form of entertainment.

Photo credit is a snap from the second video

The first video is from CBS News and details some of the problems with violence in video games. The second video is a humorous description of how silly adventure movies really are. Pardon a could mild profanities. One of the lines says, Cool guys don’t look at explosions, they blow things up and walk away, and never think of the people they’ve killed.

If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! – A Reflection on Recent Movie Making

Yesterday I went to the movie “The Rite” and shared with you some reflections on that movie in yesterday’s post. Frankly yours truly doesn’t get to the movies much. In fact the last movie I saw in a theatre was the “Passion of the Christ.” Yes, it’s been a looong time.

But as you likely know, one of the aspects of movie going is to sit through a number of “trailers” that are shown prior to the main movie. These trailers depict movies that are coming soon. I want to share with you a brief reflection on my experience of viewing those trailers.

My fundamental reflection is how dark and violent movies have become. I must have seen at least six trailers and every one of them was packed with extreme violence, anger, and very dark themes. Many of them featured sinister evil, most of them involved life and death pursuits, explosions, gunfire, dismemberment, and car crashes filling the screen of these trailers, one after another. This is film noir on steroids. How dark and looming the themes were. I have embedded some of the trailers I saw for your viewing “pleasure” at the end of this post.

It also strikes me how much these movies resemble video games more than regular movies or real life. People walk on walls, have magical powers, use exotic weapons, and appear and disappear at will. The landscapes are often surreal and some of the characters are not even human. Further, the pace of the movies seems unrelenting and the dialogue is staccato. We are rushed from one shot-em up scene to the next, and fresh, hot, close pursuit seems the point of it all. There seems little appeal to an attention span. I am sure that the filmmakers know their audience and, for those raised on video games (I was not, they came after my teen years) staccato dialogue, chase scenes, rapid pace and violent explosion after violent explosion may appeal. To me it seems very dark and the violence is extreme.

Call me out of touch. I realize I don’t get out enough. Call me stuffy, I am becoming old fashioned. Call me uptight, you might even be right. Maybe I should relax and say there’s no problem here, it’s just fantasy. But I would also like to argue that, due to the fact that I don’t have a steady diet of all this sort of thing, I have not become desensitized to the violence and darkness of modern action movies. Maybe it is worth being the odd man in the room for a minute. Perhaps it is important for someone like me to come from “another planet” or to “step off a turnip truck” and be quite surprised, even shocked at what is marketed. Maybe I am the one to ask with some exasperation, “What on earth is THAT all about?”

And I will admit, I have also been on something of a personal journey is this regard. When I was younger, especially in my 20s I was like most men my age. I loved a good action movie with something of a “high kill ratio.”  Blowing up stuff, chase scenes, etc. appealed to me. But somewhere in my journey I heard the Lord say to me, “It’s not good to find that sort of thing entertaining.” Indeed, real violence is horrifying. Actual murders are awful. Even low speed car crashes also cause great injury. In the movies, our hero walks away from the crash scene. But in real life car crashes cause, broken bones, back and neck injury,  neuropathy, even paralysis and death. It’s not “cool” at all.

Real Death – In my last assignment I lived in a very tough neighborhood. There were murders every week. And two people were killed right on my Church grounds. It was pretty awful to see a young man lying on my parking lot who had just been shot to death. He had died in a gunfight that took place on our grounds even while the children were at recess just on the other side of the Church. I remember,  I left the bullet holes in my Church window unrepaired for a long time in silent protest to the violence. There was also a woman who was stabbed to death in front of my rectory. I still remember the crime scene tape and her lifeless body lying there. She was well known to all in the area as one of the neighborhood beggars. She had her troubles but basically she was a sweetie. Violence like this was no movie. Real people were killed. Real children were threatened by nearby violence. This was no cartoonish movie, it was real violence, real murder and real threat.

Somewhere in the years that have transpired, I have lost my taste for violent movies. I have stopped finding them exciting, entertaining or even all that interesting. I am not on some crusade to end such movies, but I do rejoice that they no longer appeal to me. I think that is grace at work. Deep in my heart I always knew there was something wrong with enjoying movies that featured violent killing.

And so, there I was yesterday in a theatre. And suddenly the lights went down and the screen lit up. But the light flickering on the screen seemed very dark. And I thought of the words of Jesus who said, Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matt 6:22-23).

So, how say you? Should I just “lighten up” (pardon the pun)? Am I being too severe? Are these movies just good fun? And remember, it’s not just their violence, it is their dark themes. Recall too, I am trying to start a conversation here not pontificate. When it comes to cultural trends there are always going to be different views, even among believers. I am interested in your views.

Here are some of the trailers I saw yesterday:

Parody on the Culture of Death

We have discussed the “culture of death”  numerous times before on this blog. This description of Western Culture was used by Pope John Paul II. Fundamentally it refers to the fact that in the modern, western world, especially America death is incresingly seen as a “solution” to problems. Has a child come along at an inconvenient time? Perhaps the baby has been diagnosed with defects perhaps there is some other wrenching problem regarding the pregnancy such as the poverty of the mother. The solution? Abort the baby. Has a criminal committed heinous acts? Kill him through capital punishment. Is an elderly or sick  person suffering from a reduced quality of life? Perhaps they are bedridden or experiencing the pains of the dying process. Solution? Euthanize them. Does raising children and dealing with a larger family cause hardships: economic and emotional? Do children cause stress? Simple, contracept so that they don’t exist in the first place. So you see, the death or non-existence of human beings is increasingly the “solution” to problems and this is what is meant by the “culture of death.”

This whole mindset has even reached our entertainment industry which portrays the culture of death in an almost cartoonish way. Notice the basic scenario of most every action or adventure movie:

As the movie begins a villainous individual or group commits some heinous act of injustice. But soon enough “our hero” steps on the scene and commits to resolve this terrible threat and correct the injustice. After about 90 minutes of killing people, breaking things, blowing up buildings and engaging in hair-raising car chases that usually end in fiery crashes our hero triumphs overwhelmingly, restores justice and walks off the set with “the girl” on his arm, burning buildings in the background….fade to credits.

And we love this sort of stuff. At one level it is very entertaining. But it IS a cartoon.  In real life villains and heroes are not as easily distinguished (though I do NOT mean to say that there is no such thing as right and wrong). Likewise, in real life blowing up buildings, car chases etc. endanger lives and take serious tolls. Real people do not walk away from high speed car crashes like they do in the movies. If they survive at all it takes months to recuperate from the damage inflicted on a real human body. In real life people who get killed, even if they are villains have people who mourn their loss. The true toll of all this violence is far greater in real life.

Ultimately it is the culture of death on display in cartoonish fashion. It is a parody of real attitudes in western culture. But the message is clear enough, cartoonish though it be: the solution to injustice is violence, mayhem and death. I do not deny that sometimes lethal force must be used to protect society from evil but it is always a last recourse and a moment for deep concern and moral reflection.

“Oh come on Father lighten up!….” OK  I admit it is usually “good fun” and most don’t take it seriously. But my central point is that we should be careful as to the messages we send and receive even in diversionary entertainment. It says something about us that we are entertained by this sort of stuff. We ought at least to do a reality check as to this. Every now and then we do well to examine our culture and its premises. Is this movie teaching what Christ did? Just a thought.

Here is a funny video that well illustrates the cartoonish nature of adventure/action movies. It’s really quite funny. It’s entitled “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions, They Blow Things Up and Then Walk Away.”  Just a word of warning there are two slightly vulgar  expressions (nothing horrible) used at the very beginning of the video but it’s part of the caricature intended. Otherwise, enjoy this rather silly video that parodies one aspect of the “Culture of Death.”

Why are you Cheering?

so-you-think-you-can-danceLast week I watched the finale of So You Think You Can Dance which my sister had recorded for me. Explosive. Extraordinary. And a bit disturbing.

I’m speaking of Mia Michaels’ dance to Sara Bareilles’ song “Gravity” which displays a man physically and sexually abusing a woman: throwing her on the ground, seizing her body, and even strangling her.

Now someone might say, “Wait Laura, Mia Michaels intended it to be about addiction, not abuse.” To this I would respond in the words of the great choreographer George Balanchine who said, “You put a man and woman onstage together, and it’s already a story.” While she may have intended a piece about addiction, what we saw was physical and sexual abuse.

I wasn’t disturbed so much by the dance itself (I can appreciate realism in art), but by the audience’s reaction to it. The audience erupted into applause and cheering both in the middle of the piece (at a point where sexual abuse was most strongly implied) and at the end of the piece.

Certainly the dancers did a phenomenal job and are to be commended for their discipline and artistry. But I want to contrast this to Tyce Diorio’s dance about a woman with breast cancer. This dance elicited tears from audience and judges alike because of the personal subject matter and tragedy of losing a life to breast cancer.

But isn’t the subject matter in Mia Michaels’ dance just as personal, and isn’t losing a life to abuse (or addiction) just as tragic? Why did his dance elicit tears while hers elicited applause and cheering?

What’s my point?

My point is to ask ourselves, How do we respond when we are shown images of abuse against women and men who are made in the image and likeness of God? How do we respond to art that portrays abuse? How to we respond to degrading comments or crude jokes? How do we respond when we start to suspect that a friend is in an abusive relationship?

Let’s take a moment to pray for those in abusive relationships as well as for those suffering from addictions.

I am in pain and distress; may your salvation, O God, protect me. Psalm 69:29

How Do You Solve the Problem of Violence? A Commentary on Superheros

 The following video features Fr. Robert Barron and his Commentary on Batman “The Dark Night.” Here he ponders the problem of violence and critiques the world’s notion of how to fight violence.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once remarked that if everything is going to be an eye for an eye, then we will have a world full of blind people. He also said, “Dark cannot drive out darkness only light can do that. Similarly, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Fr. Barron Makes a similar point from the Christian Tradition here: