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July 17, 2003

Sex and violence

Several years ago I had a peculiar and interesting conversation. I was reminded once again the truths I believe to be self-evident are profoundly non-evident to others. I was speaking with a veritable banshee of a woman: red-headed, a writer and a boxer. Long-time friends know this is a devastating combination on an impressionable Flea.

She was not only a pugilist and a writer but a devout Catholic. It was in the confusion of our profoundly held religious convictions that I learned my lesson. The rocks upon which our potential mutual interest were to founder were about the difference between sex and violence. She had struggled with sex and relationships in her desire to make sense of the way we live now and her commitment to follow the teachings of the Holy See. My Protestantism renders sexuality a non-struggle. I have considered carefully those passages of scripture I consider to be relevant to the issue and reached my own conclusions about how best to govern myself. I have not discussed all my views on sex and sexuality at the Flea largely because the issue is a settled one for me.

Violence is a different question. Where sex is consensual and between adults I do not believe the things other people get up to are any of my business. I can think of few contexts where violence may be said to consensual and I believe the difference imposes different ethical obligations. This blog is, after all, the home of the fighting Quaker and I have used this odd little platform to advocate quite a bit of violence over the last few months. This has troubled me. There are very few points of doctrine among the Society of Friends but pacifism is almost inarguably at the centre of what the Quakers are about. It is a teaching I am forced to disagree with. In fact, it is almost incomprehensible to me that there are those who choose not to fight evil when it presents itself. Evil can be as universal as the one which threatened to consume the world in the 1930s or as specific as a threat to, say, my sister. I would fight both kinds of evil and I believe it would be immoral to ignore either one in favour of a misguided commitment to peace at any price. Dead people are at peace but they may not rest easy while their killers continue to go about their work. Yet I believe I am failing to understand a truth which has been revealed to the Quakers. Perhaps I have not worked hard enough or devoted enough time in contemplation for that truth to be revealed to me.

My pugilist acquaintance had no such qualms. She claimed to study boxing for two reasons. First, if anyone attempted to rape her she could defend herself from her attacker by hitting him very hard thereby causing him to fall down. Second, astonishingly, by doing so she would not only have protected herself from harm but have prevented him from committing a mortal sin. This ass-kicking theology helped to clarify a point about the ways in which we can judge our actions to be good and to underline the utterly foreign character of the processes by which other people do so. I am still impressed at the idea of her anticipatory, redemptive violence. She took my breath away. Wow.

I am not so certain of the effects of violence on the souls of those who would do us harm but I share a Protestant conviction about the need to defend liberty by force of arms when necessary. I believe there are many who would shirk the obligation to do violence even when the cost of keeping their hands free of blood means blessing the enslavement of others. It is the shame of Canada that we have allowed our virtue to come before our duty in this time of trial. I can only pray our next Prime Minister is made of sterner stuff.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at July 17, 2003 09:59 AM