Sunday, November 4, 2007

On Justice and Violence

A post by Tom Vollmer:

Is violence always wrong?I find this whole ethical interpretation rather interesting, especially in relationship to justice. For Levinas punishing a person should be done without degrading (19). He then makes this statement, "Admittedly, there is violence. But it is an act without a spirit of violence, contempt or hatred" (20). How does one keep the spirit of violence in check? It seems that the rabbis and Levinas predicate it upon the word "brother" and thus place it in a mediatorial type of role whereby the best interest of the person, though being punished, is still considered. He then speaks of justice becoming compassion, and places it into the divine realm. "God speaks with a compassion that is born in the severity of the tribunal" (20). Thus, God in some respects partners with human tribunals to make an ethically minded society, which at times, necessitates the use of force/violence against others to bring justice. I know it is a precarious line to take, but how does one use violence for justice, or should violence be used in the modern world, and if it is plausible to dispense justice with violence behind it, can an Old Testament ethic be applied to justify its use? Of course, he develops this much further, but one last point of inquiry: Levinas speaks of evil on p. 21 and the need to triumph over it. I found this statement fundamental to his reasoning, "And the rabbis gloss 'thousands' as at least two thousand! For at least two thousand generations steadfast love granted to merit is handed down; for four generations iniquity cries out for justice: compassion is thus five hundred times greater than divine severity. Behind this arithmetic of mercy there is moral optimism: the triumph of evil has one time only; nothing is ever lost from the triumph won over evil or from good." In the end, then, I only have more questions, but will end with this- how does one triumph over evil?


  1. Interesting analogy. Evil can never triumph over good. Evil only makes that which is good shine more brightly. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death Thou are with me." Although death is not evil it is a good contrast to life and life is what we all consider as good. As life is so contrast to death so is good contrast to evil.To conquer evil is to be good.

  2. Tami,

    Thanks for the comment. Just to put this post in context, this blog is the work of doctoral students primarily in biblical studies at the University of Leuven. The post from me is taken from a doctoral seminar on biblical hermeneutics where the work of Emmanuel Levinas was read and reacted upon. Thus, the post was a beginning point for further posts from the doctoral students to come. Apologies for the reference to page numbers and sources that are not listed, but they were framed within the seminar. This post was taken directly from a short comment I wrote in discussions from the seminar.

    I agree with you that to conquer evil is to be good. The question for me is how that is accomplished from a societal or personal view? It also brings up a question for me; namely, how do we define good and evil? Is there an overall ethic that determines good?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...