Violence Begets Violence in a Not So Civilized Society

By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.
Founder & President, G.L.O.B.A.L Justice

We live in a violent world. That’s what everyone says. And when you see the headlines, watch the news coverage, or just hear the comments, they certainly confirm that statement. And violence has always been in our world. The first act of violence was in the first family – Cain killing his brother Abel. And violence has been at the center of every major civilization – perhaps most notably in the Roman Empire or Nazi Germany. Violence has also been a part of great movements and revolutions – consider America’s Revolutionary War or the slavery abolition movement worldwide. But the fact that we live in a violent world or that violence has always been with us does not mean that it is supposed to be. We are both taught and know inherently as civilized people that we should not promote or provoke violence. Indeed, civilized society at its core is for the purpose of protecting people from violence – in all its forms. So how does violence perpetuate itself among civilized people in a civilized society?

Is it because of the means for violence? Consider the gun control debate. Those that believe in gun control state that the pervasiveness of guns increases the likelihood of violence. Those that don’t support gun control note that guns don’t kill, people do, and people will find the means to do violence with or without guns. So who is right? Certainly there are statistics in support of either side of that debate. But generally the idea that simply applying gun control will end violence in our society is short sighted. If anything, it may increase criminal activity since non-criminals will have less defense. But on the other hand, playing loose and free with access to guns, and every form of gun, certainly cannot help the efforts to curb violence. But in the end, violence in our society likely does not stem solely from the availability of weapons.

Is it because of the promotion of violence in films, videos, and music? Increasingly our media and entertainment outlets seem to glorify violence in their depictions, descriptions, and demonstrations. We have a growing population of people who either enjoy seeing violence in film or TV or enjoy experiencing violence through an avatar-like engagement with video games. Ironically, most of these depictions, even though they are virtual and not actual, try to replicate what might be the real thing. Consider Call of Duty – a video game that encourages mostly young men or boys to pretend to be in military-style, war-like situations. But those who experienced the real ravages of real war would attest that war is anything but a video game. Certainly media’s efforts at sensationalizing and desensitizing us to the true nature of violence may have a role in today’s violent culture. But in and of itself, media cannot create a violent culture and is more likely to reflect a violent society.

Is violence the result of tensions within our society? Consider the complex conflicts of race and authority resulting from the events in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore. Consider also the mass shootings in Charleston and recently in Virginia, each tinged with racial epitaphs. Or perhaps the ongoing tensions of crime and violence in predominately poor communities. Do the realities of racial and economic tensions create violence in communities? They certainly can create the conditions in which violence can erupt and fester. The tensions cause conflicts which often result in violence. But being poor or being of a minority race does not in itself create violence or a violent culture.
While violence may be dramatically affected, promoted, or even provoked by the above issues, fundamentally violence in our society does not stem from any of these issues. They can serve as catalysts for the violence but not as the source. Violence itself stems from only one thing – our sin nature. God did not create us to be violent to one another. The violence was an outgrowth of our separation from Him – the definition of sin. Cain killed Abel because his sinful nature succumbed to the greed, envy, and anger. Greed, envy, and anger stemming from our sinful nature continue to be the source for violence in every society, and most definitely in today’s society.

Greed has led to most of the conflicts in our homes, communities, and countries. The violent pursuit of money, resources, and power all stem from greed. Similarly, envy has become the focal point for most of the interpersonal tensions and conflicts within various forms of relationships, personal and societal — each wanting what the other has. And anger is an extension of both greed and envy when they are not met to the satisfaction of the one desiring the money, power, status, or affection.
Ultimately, our sinful natures left unchecked take people to various dark places within themselves and within their societies. They may cause a disengaged, white man to hate his black community members and kill them during their church service. They may cause a black, gay man to seek revenge against former employees by shooting them down during a live broadcast. They may cause clinical professionals to consider the mutilation of developing life as solely science. They may cause a community to riot and loot their neighbors businesses as vengeance for another neighbor’s shooting. They may cause disenfranchised men and women to leave the freedoms of democracy to follow the brutality of terrorism. At the heart of each of these situations is a sinful nature that has turned from God and turned to that place within and without where we are no longer civilized, and where violence seems to be the only course of action. And that has been the reality form the beginning of people and of society – civil or not.

So if violence not only continues but even escalates in civilized society, what then do we do to meet our purpose of protecting people from violence. We certainly need to pass good laws, provide good standards, and ensure good practices among organizations, individuals and the community as a whole. But the most important thing we can do is instill principles within our families and within our society that values life – at every stage and for everyone. No one life matters more or less than the other. But each life also has a responsibility and accountability to the other. With that value and that understanding, we then have a foundation to teach inter-generationally that violence only begets violence and rarely is a real solution to any problem. And when violence needs to be used in limited contexts such as just war, we need to also protect those that are engaging in or affected by that violence — ensuring that the violence is only to the degree that it protects them and us from harm. Fundamentally, violence is a problem but not the problem of society. Violence reflects the broader issues of morality, conscience, and humanity which are of greater consequence and impact.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.