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'Violence is, from the Christian perspective, either fantasy or oblivion.' Rev Dr Sam Wells - 01/09/16

Thought for the Day

Good morning. A few days ago the broadcaster Jeremy Vine posted a video that portrayed him cycling down the centre of a one-way street in Kensington, and being first tailgated, then confronted and shouted at, and finally threatened with worse, by a driver who felt he was wilfully obstructing her.

A car is a space capsule that’s supposed to transport us across the limitations of time and distance, surrounded by comfort and customised entertainment, and deliver us to our destination, energised and good to go. Any obstacle or delay is infuriating, but a human impediment impudently inhibiting our swift passage is volcanically enraging.

Road rage exhibits the violence that’s inside each one of us. Violence is the attempt to take advantage of an imbalance of force by the threat or infliction of injury.

There’s two aspects to violence. One is fantasy. The fantasy of violence supposes that all opposition, disagreement or subversion can be overcome through degrees of obliteration, and the threat of them. When the person in the car screamed at Jeremy Vine, she imagined eradicating him would clear her path of all resistance.

The other aspect of violence is oblivion. By oblivion I mean the deliberate removal of oneself from conscious, rational, relational existence. When the red mist descends, we enter an intoxicating world without conventional rules or inhibitions.

The difference between fantasy and oblivion is that in fantasy, we’re unaware that we’re living an illusion – in this case the illusion that driving a car makes us ruler of the visible world. By contrast by entering oblivion, we actively seek an alternative to the boredom, discomfort, or horror of our current existence. When the car driver in the video went beyond anger to making threats, she entered this alternative, almost virtual, universe.

Fantasy’s a fruit of hope, albeit false hope; oblivion’s the result of despair, albeit false despair. Violence is, from the Christian perspective, either fantasy or oblivion. It represents the fantasy of a solution to matters that can seldom be solved, or oblivion from things that are too daunting to see for what they are.

By posting the video, Jeremy Vine wasn’t so much getting revenge on the angry driver; he was demonstrating how deeply addicted we are to violence, and how being wedded to technology – in this case the car – increases the degree to which we’re absorbed in fantasy and drawn into oblivion.

We’re inclined to think of violence as an unavoidable part of life, and peace as an idle dream. But when Jesus said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ he indicated that maybe it’s the other way around: life is a constant process of making peace – interrupted and delayed by episodes of the fantasy and oblivion of violence.

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