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Wendell Berry on Alternatives to War

When talking about war, and the Civil War in particular, Wendell Berry says that he is “unwilling to come to rest with the idea of war as a solver of problems.” While he obviously agrees that slavery is a great evil that should be stoped, he argues that “war was a poor way to stop it.”

At the same time, he says that war is often inevitable because of hatred, division, and greed. When asked what a better solution would be, he offers this insightful comment:

“If, having said that the war was a bad solution, I should be asked to propose an alternative that would have been better, I would laugh. Given the sectional division as it had been for a long time and as it was when Lincoln was elected, there was no alternative. The two sides could only leap into the dark with all the power and money they could command and all the optimism they could work up. My only responsible reply is that our history might have been less tragic if either side could have adhered to its professed faith—“Love one another,” “Love your neighbor,” “Love your enemies”—instead of its actual faith in solutions violently forced.”

Since we continue to put our faith in redemptive violence instead of the restorative justice and radical forgiveness of enemies on the cross, we can only ever envision violence as the chief solution to our problems.

Unfortunately, we have missed the point of Revelation: whether you are Jerusalem, Rome, or Washington, if you choose the way of redemptive violence, then it will always lead to blood flowing in the streets, brother fighting against brother, and famines, distress, and misery. Or you might even say a lake of fire.

Instead, when we choose the path of the lamb that was slain, whose sword comes out of his mouth, then we naturally end up in the New Jerusalem instead of the plains of Megiddo. We bring peace, love, and justice to the world around us.

Wendell Berry boldly calls Christians out in his book “The Need to be Whole” by challenging us to embrace the Way of Jesus instead of the way which leads to the destruction of our enemies as well as ourselves.

I post excerpts from my current reading on my Facebook page. In 2023, I’ll also post them here and categorize them accordingly.

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