American Violence

By Andy Kachel


My grandma used to call every weekend while I was growing up to check in. Our conversations always started the same, with her asking, “Are you playing those shoot ‘em up games again?” To which my brother or I would reply, rather ashamedly, “Yes, Grandma” or “No, Grandma,” and then we would try to explain why the video game we were playing wasn’t a “shoot ‘em up” game, but it almost always was.


It’s funny to think that I, as a millennial, can remember a time before the Internet, but I cannot remember a time before video games. My first video game console was the original Nintendo console. The device looked like a blocky VHS player with a wired, rectangular controller and five buttons. Compared to today’s technology, the Nintendo was rather crude in design. But by the time my conversations with my grandma were occurring, video game technology had taken a big leap forward, and most controllers had trigger buttons to simulate shooting. Thus, my grandma asking about “shoot ‘em up” games.


Violence is one way modern storytelling solves fictitious issues. Video games tend to receive most of the criticism since their unabashed portrayal of, and the audience’s participation in, simulated violence is very apparent. However, violence is also found as a major selling point in other media. The next time you see a major-selling movie, ask yourself how the main character solves their predicament. That answer can tell you a lot about the creator’s problem-solving abilities. That answer can also tell you what an audience values. A story opens with a problem, thrusts its characters into the fray of things, culminates in a climax, and resolves with an answer to the problem. Propelling a narrative into each of these stages requires a catalyst, and more often than not, that catalyst is violence.


A review of the top one hundred highest grossing films of all time reveals that violence is an interwoven theme throughout [1]. At the top of the list is Star Wars VII, The Force Awakens. How is violence used in that story? Very simply put, the First Order wants to eradicate the Resistance. The First Order attacks the Resistance, who retaliates against the First Order, who launches a counter strike, and so on and so forth. Number five on the list is Marvel’s The Avengers. What about that story? How is violence used? To put it simply again, the Avengers assemble to fight Loki, who has stolen a powerful ancient relic. The Avengers attack Loki, who retaliates against the Avengers, who counter Loki’s attack. Loki opens a giant wormhole over New York City and a melee ensues between interdimensional monsters and the Avengers, destroying a major portion of the city in the process. You would be hard-pressed to find one movie on the top one hundred list offering an alternative solution to attacking the “bad guy.”



In Proverbs 3:31, we are directed to “not envy the violent or choose any of their ways.” But secretly, deep down inside, we all want to be the action hero. The money we spend to see these stories on the big screen are our votes of confidence. In error, we believe that the issues that plague our world can be solved by eradicating the “bad guy.” This belief is as old as time. In Genesis 4, the feud between Cain and Abel started because “on Cain and his offering [the Lord] did not look with favor.” And how does Cain solve this? “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” Problem solved, but not really.


The takeaway is if you do something bad to me I must exact equal or greater vengeance upon you to even the scales. If you punch me, I must punch you harder. If you destroy my stuff, I must destroy your stuff, and on and on it goes. This is the myth of redemptive violence, and we’re stuck in it! That’s why Jesus’s journey to us is not about appeasing a vengeful God, but about breaking the cycle of violence in the world and in our own lives.


We believe that violence can redeem our world, and that’s the exact notion Jesus wants to dispel. In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” And later in that passage, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It’s just that no one in power likes this version of Jesus. Some might call him “hippie Jesus”; you know, the Jesus whose ideas sound so incompatible with our twenty-first century world.


And we’ve had many centuries to amend Jesus’s teachings. Look no further than St. Augustine who writes:


They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” [2]


It is St. Augustine who later terms the phrase “just wars,” and the world is worse off for it. What follows are the Crusades, the Inquisition, and many other “just” wars. It’s hard to imagine that our Lord, who said, “Pray for those who persecute you,” would also want his followers to “put to death wicked men.”


Violence is an admission of a lack of creative solutions to deal with one’s present circumstances. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, writes: “[Violence] is a sign of weakness, an expression of our fear and inability to know what to do to help the situation. Killing a person does not help him or us. We have to look collectively to find ways we can really help.” [3]


Instead of understanding what’s gone wrong with a “bad guy,” violence aims to eradicate all the “bad guys.” Sure, we’ve proven time and again that we can be violent: we can wage wars, commit murder, and put to death criminals. It’s Jesus who suggests another way: we can pray, we can perform acts of service, and we can love.


It’s time we start telling new stories. Stories are at the heart of how people solve their own real-life issues. I’m not going to watch Star Wars and learn the skills needed to ace a job interview. But when I’m next faced with adversity, the stories I consume as a whole will inform how I act. When someone cuts me off on the highway, will I choose to respond by honking my horn in frustration, or will I have the cognizance to not respond and let it go? You see, it’s not just nations that war against each other. People war against one another, and we war against ourselves. Paul was very aware of this cycle and wrote: “I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:23-24, NASB)


That’s why Jesus told stories or parables. Sure, you can flat out tell a group of people to stop hating one another, or in St. Augustine’s case, you can string a few words together to make it seem like there is a way to supersede the sixth commandment. But to tell a story that penetrates a person’s soul is much more difficult. It’s why Jesus’s parables are more convincing than any commentary that a theologian might make. They create in our minds images of wayward sons returning to their fathers, buried treasure, Pharisees and publicans, and rich privileged rulers in hell and the poor they neglected at peace in heaven. These stories demand that we pause, a nonviolent act, and search deeply within ourselves to find the truth Jesus is speaking about.


What underscores these parables is the life of Christ and his death. Christ, an innocent man, was put to death by a violent regime, and he did not retaliate. In Matthew 26:52, he even chastised his followers for attempting to fight back: “‘Put away your sword,’ Jesus told him. ‘Those who use the sword will die by the sword.’” On the cross, in Luke 23:34, he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” What were they doing? Violence. Afterwards, Jesus is resurrected, and even then he does not retaliate. I sometimes wonder why Christians don’t wear empty tombs around their necks. Yes, the cross is a powerful image, but it’s not the complete story. The empty tomb is not just a victory against death; it is the most important person in history moving the story forward without violence.


When was the last time a book or movie made you pause? There’s a good chance that the work of fiction made you consider your own life carefully. Maybe that book or movie compelled you to take a closer look at the “bad guy.” Maybe you saw within them an abused child or a disappointed lover. Everyone has a story, and the best works of fiction don’t need violence to portray the “bad guy.” Frequently, the best works of fiction show the bad guy being bad, but then go on to explain what led him or her to that point. We need more stories like that.


[1] “Box-Office Top 100 Films of All-Time.” AMC Filmsite. Accessed December 10, 2017.
[2] Augustine. The City of God. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), 27.
[3] Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. (New York: Riverhead Books, 2015), 75.



Andy Kachel is a writer and editor in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Outside of work, he enjoys hiking, perusing the local comic book store, spending time with his wife, and reading.


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