Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Fascination of Violence

by Fr. Vincent P. Miceli, S.J.


This article, by the late Fr. Miceli, is as applicable to today's society as it was when it was written. Those wanting a better understanding of the roots of the problem will find Fr.'s article enlightening.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano

Publisher & Date

Vatican, June 29, 1972

The violence-explosion is at present horrifying and stupefying the minds of men all over the world. Future historians will be sorely taxed to explain the unparalleled international crescendo of savage assaults in all forms of intimidation, vandalism, kidnapping, bodily brutality and guerilla warfare against persons and institutions. For the escalation of violence represents a spiritual reality similar to a Hydra-headed serpent; it is a persistent, ever increasing evil with many sources and causes, Indeed the apologists for the wave of the new barbarism are not merely, nor even primarily, demonically sick individuals, but rather organized groups who have raised nihilistic anarchism to the status of a religion whose fundamental dogma seems to be: I kill, therefore I am. Inspired and sustained by this metaphysic of murder, centres of organized revolution have mushroomed in every nation. They seem bent on demonstrating the truth of Oscar Wilde's aphorism: Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess. Moreover, they enthusiastically strive to experience both the subject and the object of Shakespeare's truism: Violent delights have violent ends.

Champion of extremes

Nietzsche is the prophet who foresaw and foretold the coming of the modern age of violence. Indeed, he proclaimed its greatest commandment whose faithful practice would create a society of savages. The time has come, he wrote, to oppose morality with immorality, to call what priests call good, evil and what they call evil, good. The time has come for the transvaluation of all values. This prophet of modernity, of revolutionary society and radical thought was a champion of extremes. We immoralists do not even need to lie... We would come into power even without the truth. . . The magic that fights for us is the magic of extremism. Nietzsche, who accepted with pride the description of himself as an aristocratic radical. was used by Marx and his followers to create citadels (Russia, Red China, Cuba) for armies of proletarian radicals. These centres of organized revolution radiate out to the whole world the call for violence and rebellion. This call is beamed everywhere twenty-four hours a day for these centres work as effectively, ceaselessly and secretly as the law of gravity, pulling down to destruction every civil or religious community striving for social justice and peace. Now both Nietzsche and Marx foresaw the public victory of the extreme side of their thinking; this gave them both the experience of triumphant power. There is a hypnotizing fascination in their fanaticisms. Their chaotic excesses, their iron wills, their high voltage writings have attracted millions, like moths, to fly into their incandescent madness. Nietzsche was forever knocking down things and taking delight in their destruction:

O my brothers, am I cruel? But I say: what is falling, we should still push. Everything today falls and decays: who would check it? But I-I even want to push it. Do you know the voluptuous delight which rolls stones into steep depths? These human beings of today-look at them, how they roll into my depth! I am a prelude of better players O my brothers! A precedent! Follow my precedent! And he whom you cannot teach to fly, teach to fall, faster!... To this mankind of today I will not be a light, nor be called a light. Those I will blind! Put out their eyes, O flash of my wisdom!.

Architects of anarchy

We are living in the age of Nietzsche's better players who, ecstatic with the voluptuous delight which rolls humans into steep depths, keep pushing society to the brink of social chaos and suicide. It suffices to look at some of the ruins. Many universities, once centres for Christian wisdom, are now training camps for architects of anarchy. In the cities mass confrontation has degenerated into guerilla warfare. In the churches clergymen, seeking notoriety proclaim the new morality of hedonism and engage in the burning of public property. In the press, under the rubric of liberty and reform, the role of violent protesters is romanticized. Thus, factories, schools, theatres, civic halls and chapels have become launching pads for the projection of violence into surrounding communities. In politics ideological sloganizing develops the proclivity for violence in the intellectually rootless and spiritually depersonalized masses, turning them into willing storm-troopers bent on destroying legal and peace-keeping structures of society with neither thought nor care about what to put in their place.

We would identify and expose the root reason for the delirium of violence which is rampant today. It is the attack against God. Behind the metaphysic of murder lies the metaphysic of hate. I refuse therefore I am Refusal to serve God was the cry under which Satan brought violent rebellion among the angels. He seduced men into aping his fanatical refusal and thus brought violence and death upon the earth. Christ testifies that this father of lies was a murderer from the beginning and he warns the Pharisees that men who reject God will freely choose to become the children of Satan, and will follow in their lives Satan's desires and deeds. We live in an age of violence because we live in an age of organized and spreading atheism. In the West a generation that has rejected absolute Christian truths and values, that has dissolved God into a series of harmless abstractions, that disestablished and secularized religion, that has praised permissiveness and tolerance of heresy and immorality, is living a life pleasing to that murderer from the beginning. Such a Judaeo-Christian civilization is trying to live not off the substance but off the vanishing perfume of Christianity. In coming to terms with lying, fornication, adultery, sexual perversion, divorce and mass abortion this civilization has opted for a life of sin-the source of every violent way of life. Such a civilization cannot any longer attract men to ideals and virtues it has long rejected. On the contrary it inflames men to violent rebellion because of its betrayal of these values and of its hypocrisy in still posing as Christian. Our modern godless civilization with its amazing advancement in technical progress has, nevertheless, turned men into machines, destroying their sense of personal dignity and responsibility. True, it has afforded man much upper middle class affluence. But even this, because it lacks religious roots has only excited the passions of greed and pleasure, has riveted man to an earthly, ruthless competition for more wealth and power and suffocated his spiritual aspirations. The rebels of today are striking in blind hatred against this system of post-Christian hedonism. For a society that has nothing to peddle but facts and things, that can no longer throw light on the spiritual dimension and destiny of man, is being violently vomited out of the mouth of mankind.

Failure of authority

An allied reason for the growth of violence is the failure of authority to exercise itself as a bulwark against crime. This failure is also due to the weakened faith of both civil and religious authorities. As the poet Yeats so well expressed this problem: The best in society seem to lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity. For violence proliferates with the breakdown of authority. And authority breaks down when Christian convictions are denied in theory or cowardly betrayed in conduct. When governors, superiors, lawmakers, administrators and teachers cease to believe they have a body of truth to teach and a code of Christian goodness to live, inculcate into others and die for, both of which come from and bind men to the God of Goodness and Love, then the community is abandoned by its leaders and left a prey to professional inciters of murder and rapine. For once bereft of effective Christian leadership, the masses are pathetically prone to heed the siren call to revolution. When authority is confused, apathetic, fearful of performing its duty, then society falls into the hands of the most cunning and powerful who are usually organized and proceed ruthlessly to amalgate communities into communes. When authority is weak it often succumbs to blackmail thus becoming a catalyst to fiercer attacks of the revolutionaries. For successful violence inevitably calls forth greater, bolder violence. What civil, and especially religious authorities must realize is that the apologists for organized violence know no loyalty, reverence no reality. They are neo-nihilists, spiritually famished, deprived of God by self-denial, deprived of mature personhood by self-destruction. They are waifs of a materialist, godless civilization. What they need is not coddling but discipline. What they admire and respond to is not cowardly captitulation, but firm convictions and adamant enforcement of moral and civil laws. When authorities, civil and religious show a courage that is the fruit of deep Christian convictions and conduct, then the rising tide of violence, fruit of a disintegrating Christian civilization, will begin to fall to a low ebb. Then the spiritual starvelings who are fascinated with the violence of gangsters may be won instead to the violence of saints which conquers the kingdom of heaven and leads to a life of love with God and man.

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