Force (chr.)

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(Turk. Güç)

In terms of its original meaning, in a neutral sense, the (German) word for force, ‘Gewalt’, denotes to begin with, an ability or capacity that implies disposal over one’s own or even others’ powers. Within this basic definition, a distinction is then made between force as the power to exercise authority (rule) and force as the application of physical or psychological pressure against the will of the person affected (violence). From this point forwards, the ethical question arises as to the conditions under which an exercise of force can be deemed legitimate. Christian ethics has a largely positive relationship to force in the sense of institutionalised order and the supervision of social structure. This type of force is declared by God Himself (e.g. 1 Chr 29.11), and in the sense of a commission of dominion over the world, it is also passed on from God to humankind in the Creation (Gen 1.28). The Christian is called upon to accept the respective political power as God-given and not to rebel against the rulers if the latter are not Christians or do not comport themselves as such (Mk 12.17; Rom 13.1–7). And yet, Jesus expressly warns his supporters against idealising political power or making it absolute. Rather, he presents the rule of God as announced in his message as a reversal of current power relationships, a reversal in which the greatest and the most noble will be the servants and the slaves to all (Mk 10.42–45). Because in the ethos of Jesus all power will be governed by love, he radically rejects violence in the sense of pressure, in the commandment of loving one’s enemy (Mt 5.43–48), even in the case of resistance in defence of one’s own life (Mt 5.38–41). Any retribution for wrongfully suffered force is not to be meted out by the individual affected but is instead to remain a matter for Divine judgement (Rom 12.19). The Biblical tradition also contains very anthropologically informative statements about the causes and reasons for human violence. It is traced to the human inclination to sin behind which can be found the egocentrism and material greed that have tempted people to commit acts of violence ever since the beginning of time (e.g. even fratricide: Gen 4.1–16). Because the love God has given liberates humankind from fixation upon itself, it can be understood as salvation from the evil side of force. The non-violent ethos of love as taught by Jesus makes every form of forceful pressure problematic, even if enlisted by the legitimate political forces for the sake of peace and order. If this is advocated by Christian theologians (e.g. Thomas Aquinas, d. 1274), theologically speaking it can be justified only in terms of the fact that the absolute non-violence of Jesus is an anticipation of an eschatological condition (a condition not yet achieved in the present). In practice, if force is applied to prevent a greater evil, the aim is to humanise it as far as possible (e.g. through renunciation of torture), in view of the call for a maximum of love.

Martin Thurner

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