Confessions of a Cowardly Pacifist

(Warning: dark musings ahead.)

I dreamed the other night that I stabbed a woman to death.

In part, I blame the Walking Dead. Ben had been watching season two on DVD that night while I ran around the house doing odds and ends and I happened to catch a few glimpses. Every scene I witnessed contained horrific, graphic violence. (I do not approve of his watching that show, FYI. I don’t care how well-written it is. The violence is horrifying.) That alone filled my subconscious with dreadful images.

But the nightmare was also a consequence of some soul-searching I’d been doing that night. In response to the show, of course. I’d been meditating on what I would do if I ever found myself in some kind of nightmarish, violence-riddled world like that of the Walking Dead.

As someone who claims to be committed to radical non-violence, how would I really respond to threats of violence upon me and my family?

My meditations weren’t very optimistic. I felt like maybe I could surrender my own life if it were the only one at stake. But my daughter’s? Oh gosh.  I can see myself killing someone if that person were threatening my daughter and I had the means. I don’t believe it would be the right thing to do, but I can see myself doing it. (What do I think would be the right thing to do? I’ll get to that.)

That night, as I slept, I saw a woman hiding behind an open door, and I knew she was intent on killing me. The next thing I knew, I was frantically stabbing at her chest and abdomen with a large chef’s knife until she fell. (I don’t know how I had the strength to penetrate her ribs with a kitchen knife . . . and there wasn’t any blood, either. Just terror and madness and self-preservation).

I felt horrible about myself as I awoke the next morning. I felt the nightmare painted a true picture of my soul.

The truth is: I don’t want to face violence with love. It seems too horrible. For me and my family, that is. I completely believe that that’s what Jesus calls us to do, and I completely believe that he is God and the only hope of good in this world.

But the thought of actually practicing it sickens me. Like, when I actually envision myself in such a situation. I feel certain that I would fail to live up to my deeply-held convictions. The self-preservation instinct is soooo strong.

I understand that violence doesn’t work and doesn’t solve problems. But goddammit, I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to see my daughter harmed.

The nightmare was like a taunt.

I know the real you, it said. And she isn’t nearly as courageous and peaceful as you’d love to think.

Of course, I have no idea how I would really respond in a life-threatening situation. And I don’t think the scenario likely, given my status and situation as a white, educated Canadian girl in rural Southern Ontario. (I’m very trusting. I’m the kind of person who leaves doors unlocked and goes for nighttime jogs by myself because I assume no one wishes me harm.)

What I hope and pray, though, is that the Holy Spirit would indwell me so thoroughly that she would guide me to do the right thing if something that dreadful were to befall me or my loved ones. (Yes, I referred to the Holy Spirit with a feminine pronoun. I started out with the masculine, but it just didn’t feel right. The Holy Spirit just feels feminine, you know? Please don’t be offended. I’m still talking about the Holy Spirit of the Bible, the Advocate Jesus promised).

I will openly confess that I don’t think I have that good a relationship with the Holy Spirit at this point in my life. I’m not surrendering my desires and daily choices to her wisdom. Sometimes, I’ll even block her out if I suspect she’ll hint that I ought to do something I don’t want to do.

The nightmare was a reminder of how much I need the Spirit inside me, pervading every aspect of my life. I need to foster that relationship so that I will do the right thing in a moment of crisis. (This is relevant in all areas of life, of course, and not just conflict with knife-wielding strangers).

Otherwise, I’m just a cowardly pacifist, spouting out high-minded ideals.

I’m so far from where I want to me.

* * *

For further reading, check out this wonderful article: What Would You Do If Someone Attacked Your Family?

Image courtesy of VinothChandar.
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  1. PepperReed says

    2 things…

    1. I wonder if the woman you were ‘killing’ was you? Doing away with your ego or perhaps your higher self?

    2. The Holy Spirit feels feminine to me as well. I just experience it as such a nurturing source (not that men cant nurture, of course).

    Interesting post. Even though I’m a Peace-nik, I’m still cut from the human cloth… and still very much and old Punk rocker with my aggro-Love (ala Henry Rollins). It’s an odd mix trying to balance what at first glance appears to be opposing forces. I may be a pacifist, but I believe in Active Non-Violent response to our societies ills. Still wrestling…

    • Wow, PepperReed . . . interesting psychological reading of my dream! I WONDER . . .

      And I agree that it’s a complicated issue, trying to balance pacifism with active response and resistance. I’m still wrestling, too. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Alice Connor says

    (Longtime lurker, first-time commenter)

    I have often said that, if my family were being threatened, I would indeed use violence, even deadly force. And while it would be good to protect them, it would also be sinful. Sinful and necessary. In a world as broken as ours, such situations do not have clear answers.

    • Nice to finally hear from you, Alice! Thanks!

      Your response sounds very much like Bonhoeffer’s, who felt it was sinful but necessary to try to assassinate Hitler. Are you familiar with that story? I deeply admire Bonhoeffer. Interestingly, however, his assassination attempt didn’t work, and it ended up making Hitler even more confident in his evil pursuits.

      I absolutely agree that there are no clear answers. I wonder, though, if violence really is “necessary”? Or if there are other options?

      • I think, or wonder, if there’s perhaps not also a difference between this topic on a personal and a national level. Nations are not Christian; governments have no duty to imitate Christ. Perhaps Bonhoeffer, as a person and a Christian, should have trusted God to provide a non-violent answer. But the Allied governments couldn’t ethically make an argument that they should “let go and let God,” even though perhaps every Christian individual in those governments could have. Does that make sense? It gets quite confusing, because governments and nations are not people and yet are made up of people.

        Wars aside, think on the local, law enforcement level–if there aren’t individuals willing to use force or the threat of force to stop those willing to perpetrate violence, there’s just chaos. And yet in a way every cop is deliberately turning away from what Jesus told him to do, is putting his trust in society and government and his badge instead of God.

        My head hurts. o_0

  3. This is a not-completely-hypothetical dilemma for me. My husband is an assistant district attorney. While no one has ever threatened him, one of his coworkers came home one day to find that someone had taped an exact schedule of her children’s daily routine (what time they left for school and came home, etc.) to her front door. That is terrifying.

    I am just as afraid that, if push came to shove, I would not have the capacity to protect my children as I am that I would respond with violence. I’m afraid that I would just freeze in shock–not because of some commitment to peace or determination to let the Holy Spirit act through me, but just because I was scared.

    The article you linked is interesting–would it really be moral to let someone harm my family because I refuse to react with violence? And yet if I “am” different instead of just “acting” different from the way of the world…I don’t know. I really just don’t know.

    In the meantime, I go to the gun range and I lock my doors and I pray for the people the DDH prosecutes and hopefully I’ll never have to find out what I am or am not capable of.

    • Wow, Katie — what a terrifying situation! And your coworker’s experience? OH MY WORD. Gave me the shivers just thinking about it. I can’t even begin to imagine what I would do. Scary, scary!

      I don’t know if the article was suggesting it would be moral to “let someone harm your family.” The third paragraph talks about how the word Jesus uses for “resist” doesn’t imply passively allowing something to take place, but rather connotes resisting a forceful action with a similar forceful action. I think the idea is that there may be non-violent ways to disarm an attacker. Like the example of the woman who spontaneously said, “Your mother forgives you.” He’s not saying, then, to do nothing

      Needless to say, I can completely sympathize with someone who uses violence to protect their family. But I still hope to learn more and foster a deeper understanding and a relationship with the Spirit.

      • Yeah. And they were never able to prove for sure who did it–she has a couple of people who she thinks are likely, but with no proof…there’s nothing they can do but pray about it, though they also moved to a different neighborhood and her kids are not allowed to walk to school or play out front with the neigbor kids, which is awful.

        Right, I was unclear–I was repeating the author’s question, “Would it be moral to let someone harm my family?” as being thought-provoking, not saying that he said it wouldn’t be. And it’s true, and that’s a great story about that woman’s experience. I’m just afraid that doing nothing would be exactly what I would do, and that probably is the worst or most unmoral thing I could do.

        It’s hard, because logic can totally provide very good reasons why violence is the best response, but that doesn’t mean it is.

  4. I’m so far from where I want to be, as well. I know I’m not alone. And using “goddamitt” in a post? Doesn’t fit with the the rest of the thoughts.

  5. Proverbs 13:24New International Version (NIV)

    24 Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
    but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

    What about this, Kathleen?

  6. Sam Smithson says


    Love the picture. Totally gives the post that certain something.

    An interesting conundrum, but one I think has been resolved (from a practical perspective) with the development of the Japanese art of aikido—an art centered on protecting oneself without harming an attacker. It seems a lot of very clever Buddhists had the same dark musings.

    Useful thing said, time for some opinionated ranting!

    I think that violence solves lots of things. Not from an absolute perspective of course, but we can’t change the nature of things anymore than we can invert gravitational attraction. So we might as well live with the fact that its a dirty world, and sometimes we have to immerse ourselves in the filth to get things done. If some punk wants to rape one’s daughter for instance, I concur that one should pray, and trust in God—while calmly and without malice or anger preparing to shoot said punk in the head. If that’s not God’s way, He has the power to create a different outcome, but our part is to do what we can with what we’ve got.

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