Pacifism and Nonviolence: Addressing Comments

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Because I love this topic and really want to understand how, if at all, it can fit in with the clear line of Church teaching, and because it appears that I have not explained my point clearly, I will respond to comments on Pacifism and Nonviolence in this post.

First, very politely to Chris who stands a little further inside the boundary than I do. I frankly can't conceive of how overthrowing tables and whipping people can be viewed as anything but violent. "Zeal for thy house consumes me." Righteous anger can be acted upon and may result in fireworks. One further point, Jesus Himself pointed out that "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12). I won't argue exegesis, but let's just agree that we won't see eye-to-eye on this particular point.

But to this, I have a much more extensive reply:

Comment from Nate Wildermuth

You make a case for violence as a necessary evil in our fallen world.

But if Christ's love hasn't made all evil unnecessary, then in what way has it freed us? If Christ's love has empowered us to love in the face of death - and in doing so, to conquer it. This isn't about nonviolence. This is about Christ's nonviolent love.

"You make a case for violence as a necessary evil in our fallen world." If so, I have failed in what I would like to say. I don't believe that it is a "necessary evil," but that it is an actual evil in the fallen world. I do not know if it is necessary, though I strongly suspect not. I do know that it exists at present and at times in the past and in times to come it has been necessary to preserve the way of life of Christians and others throughout the world. Whether or not this justifies the use of violence is an exercise for stronger theologians than myself.

"But if Christ's love hasn't made all evil unnecessary, then in what way has it freed us?" As I said above, evil isn't necessary--that is, of course, the point of Christ's coming to us. Evil is not only unnecessary it is counter to the action and desire of God. Christ came to free us from our sin and our own self-imposed slavery to the princes of this world. In doing so, He showed us a better way.

I think there are too many passages to go into here in which Jesus clearly shows us that the best way is the way of nonviolent interaction with our brothers and sisters. "Who lives by the sword, dies by the sword." "If thine enemy smite thy cheek turn him the other." And how many times, seven? No, indeed, 7 x 70 times.

At the same time I must acknowledge that there are clear indications in the Gospel of the right and the responsibility to defend the common good. "There will ever be wars and rumor of wars. . ." I am not arguing that Jesus thought this the best way, merely that it was the way things were to be.

Your point is valid. Once all of humanity embraces the love of Jesus Christ we can enter into the time when the lion will lie down with the lamb. It is up to voices like ours to speak of this time and to present the possibility of nonviolence--to show that while it may be possible to legitimately and without sin end things in a violent way (if Just War Doctrine is true), that it is not the best way nor even a better way. My point is that aggressive pursuit of this end, to the point of threats and violent argumentation is counterproductive to the end of nonviolence. Nonviolence must be modeled in our demeanors, in our means of argumentation, in our lives. And nonviolence is a gift given to a few--a gift to be shared and to be encouraged among others as much as we can, but a gift nevertheless. And most of us use and practice that gift very poorly. While I might be an okay pacifist, I would not serve as the poster boy for nonviolence. Any who have witnessed my interactions around blogdom recognize that I have a fiery temperament that can express itself more forcefully than circumstances would necessitate when provoked. That is the root of violence itself. So, while I'm growing toward that end and trying to understand how it fits in with traditional Catholic teaching, I am not there yet.

The truth of the matter is that I am uncertain about nonviolence and pacifism and their interface with Catholic teaching. I would certainly say that the Church has made it clear that there are times when violent actions can be justified. Traditional teaching or war and the death penalty show this; however, I might go further and say that it is my sense that the Church does not see these things as the "better way." While they might be justifiable given the weaknesses of human nature, they are not the best or swiftest way to effect God's will, which, as you noted, is peace, love, and union with all of His children.

Hope that serves to clarify the point and thank you for the comment and the opportunity to try to express better what I intend.

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Thanks, Stephen. Great response.

But I've come to believe that the Church's support of violence is predicated upon a 'lesser evil' sort of argument, the idea that violence is a necessary evil in a world full of sin, especially for those responsible for the 'common good'.

Like you point out however, there's no such thing as necessary evil. Moreover, we've discovered that war never serves the common good. It only seems to. I think this is the reason that Church doctrine on violence is developing to a nonviolent stance.

You've got a lot of depth to your post, however, and I'll try to respond in a more thought out way later. Thank you! I found your response to be nonviolent and loving. :)

I frankly can't conceive of how overthrowing tables and whipping people can be viewed as anything but violent.

1. The Gospel of St John doesn't say Christ or his disciples wipped anyone. You are reading your own violence into the gospel accounts. I was reading one of St Augustine's commentaries on the cleaning of the temple very early this morning and he described Christ as non-violent.

2. Overthrowing tables is perfectly non-violent. Violence is damage to the human person, not to inanimate objects.

3. I know that the non-violent use of a measured degree of force when necessary for the Common Good is often unpopular and a challange to the social order and the ruling powers, but perhaps its worth studying or participating in such actions to get a better understanding of what kind of physical actions Christ was doing cleaning the temple.

God Bless

Dear Chris:

(1)And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;

Now, do you honestly think that Jesus made a scourge of small cords as practice in macrame? It is clear that he used this to drive both the money changers and the cattle out because it is stated clearly in the following passage.

(2) By this faulty reasoning blowing up as many building as you want to is perfectly not violent as it only damages inanimate things.

However, that is a very peculiar defintion of violence.

I'm sorry Chris, you are simply wrong in your suppositions here. In addition, you cannot be nonviolent and act violently. Period. A measured use of force is not non-violent. You can, and I have seen, argue that our intervention in Iraq and Vietnam were "a measured use of force." Those words allow for violent means--there is no measured use of force that is not violent. So, if you are in favor of a measured use of force, then you are not in favor of nonviolence in the way I would define it. I could see you as a pacifist with a measured use of force because pacifists are not necessarily nonviolent--but once you talk about using force, you are talking violence.

However, we will simply need to disagree on this issue because I know from past experience that neither will come closer to the other's definition of things. That is fine. I will say for the record, however, that for me nonviolence eschews any use of force to coerce or to cause to come about the end you mean to attain. I find it the most noble and most perfect means to effect an end; however, there are times when it may be necessary to make a scourge of small cords. My problem with that is that I am not Jesus nor do I have His authority or clear sensibility in the matter, nor have I the right to judge things I cannot know entirely. That said, moneychangers in the temple need to be opposed. Most often I do that by not changing money.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 14, 2007 8:15 AM.

A New Metric was the previous entry in this blog.

"Nonviolent Civil Disobedience in the Temple" is the next entry in this blog.

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