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The Myth of Justified Violence: Many of Us Have Been Brainwashed From Childhood

by Dennis Byler

For as far back as there are written records of civilization, people have been fed the myth of “justified violence” from earliest childhood. The classic presentation of this myth is the story of the reluctant hero who resists his sacred duty, established by the gods, to defend the defenseless and protect the weak. In this tale, the unmitigated evil and villainy of those who do not respect life eventually compels the hero to come to his senses, avenge innocent victims and slay the evildoers. And at that point the gods intervene to right every wrong and bring forth a new age of peace and prosperity.

This plot is easily recognized in literature and film. It is conscientiously worked into children’s stories, helping shape their moral attitudes. As a children’s story, the plot sticks to its purest form in Disney’s The Lion King. Perhaps the most memorable film version is the 1952 movie High Noon, in which the pacifist convictions of Quakers are shown to be wickedly irresponsible in the face of the real, nitty-gritty evil in this world. It is also the plot of many other films, such as Braveheart and The Patriot, and much of television.

About 13,000 years ago, humanity adopted agriculture and animal husbandry, and populations grew to the point where, for the first time, large concentrations of people dwelt together in close proximity. About that time true warfare arose (as opposed to the occasional skirmish involving small numbers of nonprofessional fighters). At this time also religion arose (as opposed to a haphazard collection of beliefs and superstitions). One of the functions of religion has always been its usefulness for making this most unnatural (actually bizarre) behavior of warfare seem necessary and unavoidable. For these purposes, I include as “religion” more recent, superficially secular, phenomena such as nationalism, fascism, communism and many other ideologies. These substitute some abstraction other than gods, yet they are religious in the power of the loyalty they inspire, a loyalty so emotional, unquestionable, worshiped and beloved as to motivate people not only to lay down their lives but be willing to kill.

Exceptional individuals will always be willing to die for others, and to kill as well; but the willingness to do so on a massive scale, and for such abstract causes as justice or nation or peace or God, requires the whole society to be mobilized to indoctrinate its individuals from earliest childhood with moral tales along the lines of The Lion King.

The myth of justified violence is everywhere. It is so pervasive and unavoidable as to amount to systematic, continual brainwashing. It is the most consistent and constant moral grounding found in TV programming. Its repetition is so unceasing, it ends up being taken for unshakable moral truth. The myth of justified violence is so irresistible in its ceaseless repetition, so foundational to our earliest training in human values, morals and attitudes, that most Christians are unaware of how profoundly pagan, how unChristian or anti-Christian, this myth is. (more…)

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