Without making this too much of an ad hominem, I often get the impression that theologians and other Christians who loudly proclaim that violence is a necessary evil are much more focused on the “necessary” part than the “evil” part. All the good ends that the “necessary evil” of violence is supposed to serve fade into the background, and the result is essentially an outright defense of violence as such. One begins to detect a fascination with violence, seeing in it a heroism that arises not from the athleticism of war but rather from a certain supra-moral “toughness,” a willingness to “get your hands dirty.”
Such a stance should be unsurprising: Is there anything more distinctively Christian than the fascination with motiveless malignity, the desire to violate the law precisely for the sake of violating the law? When it comes to violence, this Christian nihilism is even more dangerous because violence really is fascinating.
Once in a seminar discussing Butler’s Precarious Life, I said that if a situation arose where I was, say, about to be mugged but somehow managed to get the better of the mugger, I would be tempted to beat the shit out of him — almost glad that he had attacked me, so that I would have a justification. I don’t think I’m a uniquely violent person, but everyone else protested: “No, of course not, I would never have that attitude, I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
As I clarified after everyone defended their own peaceful instincts, I was trying to get at the point that it is naive to think that violence can be simply an indifferent “means to an end” — it has its own attraction. What possible meaning would the discipline of nonviolence have if not for this very attraction? If anything, a practitioner of nonviolence should be more conscious of the fascination of violence than an outright advocate of violence is — a practitioner of nonviolence precisely because everything in them wants to be an advocate of violence.