Question of the Day

question_mark1This is a new feature. Each afternoon we will have a question that we pose the Vanguard community.  Sometimes it will be a local issue, sometimes a national issue, and sometimes a deeper and more philosophic questions.

Today’s question: Is MLK’s non-violent resistance possible without the Christian conception of God and the notion of redemption, Christian love, and turning the other cheek?

Have a question you want to ask? Log onto your twitter account and tweet it to us using the hashtag: #DavisVanguard

Follow the Vanguard on Twitter

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts


  1. Rifkin

    [i]”Is MLK’s non-violent resistance possible without the Christian conception of God and the notion of redemption, Christian love, and turning the other cheek?”[/i]


    King borrowed his concept of non-violence from Mahatma Ghandi, who was not a Christian, but rather a Hindu.

    Something I am not sure of is whether in nearly 2,000 years of Christian history before MLK, there ever was a large movement which practiced ‘non-violent resistance.’ I am aware that there are plenty of examples of Christians over that period who were non-violent and who believed that was the proper ‘Christian-like’ philosophy. But what I don’t know is whether any oppressed Christians in a large, cohesive group ever employed the same strategy King used, especially in the face of violence.

    FWIW, I think the main thing which makes non-violence successful is having an enemy who is not ruthless. Up against a Hitler, a Stalin, a Saddam Hussein, etc., a non-violent resistance stands no chance. A vicious regime will kill anyone in its way. But put up against various U.S. governors or mayor or against the British or French Empires, there is probably no better form of resistance, if your cause is just.

  2. Robb Davis

    Rich one answer would be the Anabaptists of the 16th and 17th century in modern-day Switzerland, Austria and Germany. They were the forerunners of the modern “peace churches”–especially Mennonites, Brethren and Amish. They were heavily persecuted by other Protestants and Catholics (for a variety of reasons) but held unswervingly to a non-violent position.

  3. Davis Progressive

    Gandhi was heavily influenced by Tolstoy, who of course was christian.

    “Gandhi realized later that this level of nonviolence required incredible faith and courage, which he believed everyone did not possess.” from wikipedia.

  4. Robb Davis

    Rich you may also want to Google Andre Trocme who was a Christian pastor in the French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Though perhaps not a “large movement”, an interesting example of non-violent resistance.

    Oh, and lest I fail to complete the assignment… there are many groups committed to non-violence around the world today who no connection to Christian teaching. So the answer is yes–it is possible.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    King believed that ‘‘the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom’’

  6. Rifkin

    [i]”… but didn’t Gandhi himself [b]borrow[/b] heavily from Christianity?”[/i]

    I referenced Gandhi because, aside from his example for King, I don’t think the Mahatma borrowed “the Christian conception of God” or “the notion of redemption” or “Christian love.” (Perhaps Hinduism has similar concepts, albeit with a bunch of gods). All of those Christian-specific tenets were stated in the question.

    However, I think the idea of “turning the other cheek” is original in Christian teaching (if you don’t count the other Jews who lived around the time of Jesus who were saying similar things). That perhaps came directly from Tolstoy to Gandhi from a purlely Christian teaching. Turning the other cheek was, I think, meant to be a repudiation of the Hebrew Bible’s conception of an eye for an eye (later borrowed by Islam).

    Keep in mind that for a long time* before Christianity was created, the Jews had preached (though practiced much less) a swords into ploughshares philosophy.

    To wit, Isaiah 2:4–

    “Then they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; They will no longer learn how to make war.”

    *I don’t know when the Book of Isaiah was written. Some late components of the Hebrew Bible were only a few hundred years or less before Christ. Others were much, much older and evolved over many centuries.

  7. Rifkin

    [i]*I don’t know when the Book of Isaiah was written.[/i]

    Here is what Wikipedia says: [quote]Scholars therefore divide the book into three parts:

    [b]Chapters 1 to 39[/b] (First Isaiah, Proto-Isaiah or Original Isaiah): the work of the original prophet Isaiah, who worked in Jerusalem between 740 and 687 BCE.
    [b]Chapters 40 to 55[/b] (Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah): by an anonymous author who lived in Babylon near the end of the Babylonian captivity.
    [b]Chapters 56 to 66[/b] (Third Isaiah or Trito-Isaiah): the work of anonymous disciples committed to continuing Isaiah’s work in the years immediately after the return from Babylon. This section includes visions of new heavens and new earth. (Other scholars suggest that chapters 55–66 were written by Deutero-Isaiah after the fall of Babylon.) [/quote] A Wiki author adds, [i]”This implied sequence of pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic material is somewhat misleading, as significant editing has clearly taken place in all three parts.”[/i]

  8. medwoman

    There are four separate questions imbedded in the single question as asked :
    1) Is non violent resistance possible without the Christian concept of God ? – unequivocally yes. From personal
    experience during the Viet Nam era I know this to be true since I was present at protests in which I and
    others that I knew practiced this without adhering to the idea of God as expressed in Christianity.
    2) …. the notion of redemption ? .. unclear on meaning, in this life…or in another life ?
    3) …. Christian love? Certainly. Love is love and does not need the prefix “Christian” to define it or embue it
    with power.
    4) …. and turning the other cheek? Well that is the essence of non violent resistance, is it not ?

  9. Rifkin

    MEDS: [i]2) …. the notion of redemption ? .. unclear on meaning, in this life…or in another life?[/i]

    Here is what a website called (which I suspect is not part of the Al-Jazeera network)says to your question:

    “The Christian definition of redemption is “the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil“. In the beginning starting with Adam and Eve, mankind did not have a need to be redeemed because there was no sin. A Redeemer was needed when Adam and Eve experienced the destructive aspects of their sin and were separated from God. This is when they and all of mankind had and still have a need for a Redeemer to re-establish their relationship with God. … At this point mankind needed redemption, a savior, to remove the curse and to reconcile them back to God. Mankind’s savior is Jesus Christ who loves us and whose act on the cross has provided all of us with the opportunity for redemption.”

    However, has a slightly different answer:

    “The Shopper definition of redemption is “the act of delivering from overcharging; saving a Shopper from high prices.” In the beginning starting with Sears and JC Penney, mankind did not have a need to be redeemed because there were no high prices. A Redeemer was needed when Adam and Eve experienced the high prices charged by Mom & Pop Shops. This is when they and all of mankind had and still have a need for a Redeemer coupon to re-establish their relationship with Salvation from high prices. … At this point mankind needed redemption, a savior, to remove the curse and to reconcile them back to the Grace of discounts. Mankind’s savior is the Coupon Guide who loves us and whose act on Mount Coupon has provided all of us with the opportunity for redemption.”

    The more you know …

  10. Don Shor

    Many instances of nonviolent resistance, some more successful than others.
    It may be idealistic, and perhaps foolhardy, to appeal to the better nature of your adversary. But there is nothing particularly Christian, or not, about it. You have to achieve a critical mass, and accept the possibility of casualties.

  11. J.R.

    Most of the posters are missing the point of this question, I think.

    It is not the protestors who need to have Christian, or Judeo-Christian values, or some variation of these, for nonviolence to have a chance. It is the forces that they are protesting against. Gandhi’s protests were against the English, who were in that time and place decent enough for non-violent protest to work. The English were Christian, not Hindu.

  12. Edgar Wai

    When I read the question, I see two interpretations. But since my English is not good I can’t tell them apart.

    Interpretation 1:
    If MLK was not Christian, and never referred to Christianity, or never delivered any speech that makes people associate him with Christianity, would his movement be successful given that in US, in 1960s, many people of his audience were Christians?

    Interpretation 2:
    Could the concept of non-violent resistance be developed and be successful without the involvement of Christianity?

    I don’t have an answer to either question because I don’t know history. My perspective is this:

    If it couldn’t have been done without Christianity, then let’s give credit to Christianity. If we don’t know who should be credited, but Christianity claims the credit, I would give it to them also.

    To me, I think the important question is not where that concept originates, but whether we, at this moment, have a solid foundation of the philosophy so that regardless who we talk to, the audience and us would come to the same understanding of how conflicts should be resolved.

    So far, my understanding is that when a conflict happens, is to confirm with every stakeholder that the outcome they want is one where every concern is address. This is the Win-Win solution. If this shared intention cannot be achieved, the stakeholder who cannot declare an intention to reach a Win-Win solution automatically loses the moral high ground.

    Under this principle, the intention to seek a mutually good outcome, conflict resolutions can be ranked as follow:

    Rank 0) Seek to Understand
    Rank 1) Tolerate and Wait
    Rank 2) Inform Plainly
    Rank 3) Discuss Constructively
    Rank 4) Decide Fairly
    Rank 5) Act Legally
    Rank 6) Act Illegally

    A peaceful and sane person would only escalate the conflict if the conflict is worth escalating, and actions of lower ranks have exhausted. A peaceful person is always ready to de-escalate the conflict.

  13. Edgar Wai

    The precedence of my philosophy, as far as I know, is the Art of War:

    [quote]The Art of War (~BC 515) [Ref] ([url][/url])
    “Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.”[/quote]

    In the Art of War, the best generals win a “war” without making any military moves. From this, I learned to rank things, and the principle to act based on escalation. When I generalize this concept in the context of conflicts instead of wars, I get the ranking in the previous post.

    Regardless how each one of us arrive at the philosophy we have, if you shortcut the precedents, this is the foundation of the philosophy:

    Axiom: A moral person would always strive for an outcome that is good for everyone, because a moral person has no reason to cause harm unless he [i]has to[/i].

    Effect 1: Due to limitation of creativity, a mutual beneficial solution is not always conceptualized; however, a moral person will always be ready to adopt such solution when it is conceptualized.

    Effect 2: Because the moral person cares about not hurting others, a moral person would rank their own actions in terms of potential damages to orders.

    Effect 3: The conflict resolution continuum is a product of such an attempt.

    In simple words:

    Q: Why choose non-violence?
    A: I didn’t ‘choose’ non-violence. I simply didn’t want to hurt anyone unless I have to, and I am lucky that I know a way to resolve it without hurting anyone.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for