Pacifism and Nonviolence

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from Transfiguration
Fr. John Dear

May you be blessed as you journey up the mountain to meet the transfigured Jesus and follow him down the mountain as his disciple into the world of war, injustice, and violence on the Gospel mission of peace, love, and nonviolence.

Pacifism and nonviolence are related but not identical ideological stances. One might say that Pacifism is a subset of nonviolence. It is possible to be an aggressive pacifist; however, it is not possible to be an aggressive proponent of nonviolence. Nonviolence often incorporates the idea of nonresistance as well--that is that true nonviolence at its core proposes that anything that is "in opposition to" is in fact in violence toward. The nonresistant faction of the nonviolent tends to be very small and in my experience confined to community situations such as the Mennonites. I won't pretend to understand the fullness of nonresistance or its underpinnings, but I think that their use of the word violence does violence toward it.

Nonviolence sees violence in all sorts of situations that most of us would pass over without comment. A true practitioner of nonviolence would see violence in compulsory education laws. Violence (the force of law) is used to compel students who may or may not wish to participate to be educated.

I don't know if Fr. John Dear would fall into this group of extremes; however, it is evident that wherever he perceives injustice (whether or not it is truly there) he perceives a violence against nature, people, or God's law. His interest is not merely pacifism but nonviolence.

Now, were it not for original sin and the imperfectiblity of humankind in this realm, there would be nothing really wrong with the idea of nonviolence in its largest sense. However, nonviolence pretends that humankind can live in some kind of Edenic peace and joy--that through our works and prayers we can bring about the New Jerusalem ourselves. But the New Jerusalem is not a human state--it is a divine gift that comes from grace and God alone.

This does not mean we should not strive to come as close to that Edenic possibility as we can. However, stern-eyed realism demands of us that we recognize that the only time we truly live in peace is when there are strictures outside of ourselves that keep us in check. Self-regulation is not part of the built-in human apparatus--anyone who has dealt with a two-year old knows this. And the reality is that most of us carry around that two-year-old child within us throughout our lifetimes. The job is to encourage that child to mature--and the great Saints managed this, living a life of self-restraint and contemplation. They are our examples and the direction we should all go. But to propose that all people will in the same degree and at the same pace suggests a grossly deformed theo-anthropological system.

Nonviolence is an individual choice. To force it upon others is, in some sense, perpetrating violence. To force it upon others by saying that it is divine decree uses a different system of violence. The only way to encourage nonviolence is not upon pain of sin, but rather upon the firm understanding that we are meant to become like God and move toward His peace and love for all. Some people seem to think that pacifists and those in favor of nonviolence think that all who do not agree with them are dreadful sinners headed straight for Hell. That may be true for some inclined to pacifism, but it is not true for me. Pacifism and nonviolence are akin to private revelations--they are binding upon those to whom they have been revealed, but they are not necessarily incumbent upon all of humanity. Jesus himself was not nonviolent. He overthrew the money-changers' tables and scourged them out of the temple. He called the Pharisees "whitewashed sepulchers"--an extreme of verbal violence. So the call to nonviolence would radically distort the story of Jesus in order to make its point. Those in favor of nonviolence (myself among them) must start by acknowledging that the path we tread isn't the path everyone is called to--although there are aspects of that journey that are universal.

Don't know why I'm maundering on about this. But I will probably do so more later when there is time to clarify and refine what I'm trying to get at.

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Those of us who see Jesus as a proponent of non-violence do not see the overthrowing money-changers' tables, the use of a whip (which was not used on people) or calling the Pharisees "whitewashed sepulchers" to be examples of violence at all.

We see the first two as examples of the nonviolent use of force and the later as simply stating the truth forcefully and prophetically.

We differ in what we consider violence.

Lookup violence in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and you'll see that the Church teaches that violence is never permissible.

God Bless

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.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 13, 2007 9:04 AM.

A Slow Sort of Review was the previous entry in this blog.

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