Dear Maureen Dowd: Yes, We’re ‘Fools and Knaves’ For God

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

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22 Responses to “Dear Maureen Dowd: Yes, We’re ‘Fools and Knaves’ For God”

  1. Well spoken Dan. It validates my own feeling of being a fool and knave in the face of those who tell me to “be real” or “be practical. Keep up the great work you’re doing in so many ways.

  2. The Concord Pastor blog for today ( http://concordpastor.blogspot.com/2011/05)features Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation calling for the mothers of all countries to assemble and work for peace.

    Mother’s Day Proclamation

    Arise, then, women of this day!
    Arise, all women who have hearts,
    whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

    Say firmly:
    “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
    Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
    for caresses and applause.
    Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
    all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
    We, the women of one country,
    will be too tender of those of another country
    to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

    From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
    It says:
    “Disarm! Disarm!
    The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

    Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

    As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
    at the summons of war,
    let women now leave all that may be left of home
    for a great and earnest day of counsel.

    Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
    Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
    whereby the great human family can live in peace,
    each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
    but of God.

    In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
    that a general congress of women without limit of nationality
    may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
    and at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
    to promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
    the amicable settlement of international questions,
    the great and general interests of peace.

    -Julia Ward Howe

  3. That’s funny, Jane, because I was inspired by that same Mother’s day poem in my blog today: http://www.womenbeneaththecross.com.

    Blessings to all this Mother’s day as we ask the Spirit to help us understand what it takes to have peace in this world!

    -Nancy

  4. Br. Dan,

    I have a serious question: When flight 93 was high-jacked by Al Queda, the passengers used violence to take down the terrorists. It resulted in the plane crashing over an empty field, rather than crashing into the Pentagon and costing more precious lives. Todd Beemer’s last words to his wife, “Let’s roll” called the passengers to action that they had quietly coordinated. Do you feel that their use of violence in that situation was wrong? You stated above “ALL killing is the same.” I do not agree, nor does the Roman Catholic Catechism:

    2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge.[66]

    • Julianne Says:

      Jared-

      I would also agree with Dan that “ALL killing is the same.” I don’t know how much more explicit you can get when the 10 Commandments themselves say, “Thou shalt not kill” and when you support that “All life is sacred.” Here, Dan brings two very valid points. Furthermore, in the canon you cite, it doesn’t say killing is OK, just that there is a right to self defense against a civil injustice. The issue of self-defense (violent or non-violent) in light of our faith is a difficult issue to deal with. And the fact is that, being a Christian means not taking the easy way out. Whereas most people would be satisfied with this form of “vengeance” or “justice” that has been served through the death of Bin Laden, we, as Christians cannot simply be satisfied with a violent act (murder) solving the problem.

      • Julianne,

        Thank you for your comments, but I am not sure I understand. I agree that all killing is the same, in that it stops a beating heart and ends a life. Killing is never something to celebrate. I noticed that you did not respond to the direct question that I have posed above, regarding flight 93. It is because I believe that “Thou shalt not kill” and that “Al life is sacred” that I understand the teaching of our Church as well as the cannon that I cited. I also have met some Franciscans who are proud of their military service–talk to Brother Denis who fought at the Battle of the Bulge.

    • Hi Jared,

      Many thanks, as usual, for your comments and support of the blog! To your question: I believe that all violence is wrong, that Christianity and nonviolence are inseparable. I mourned the loss of all life that September day in 2001. Someone else a few days ago cited CCC #2320 in more or less the same way you are using #2265 here. This was my response:

      “I would not overlook the CCC paragraph immediately prior to your selected passage (#2320): “The murder of a human being is gravely contrary to the dignity of the person and the holiness of the Creator.” As was reported this morning, that the White House issued an order to assassinate, not capture, Bin Laden is explicitly murder and contrary to the long-standing teaching you cite. Additionally, the catechetical teaching you reference, #2321, never endorses nor prescribes violence (although the abrogation clause seems to imply it), perhaps some other form of intervention — police action, for example — could “render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm.” I stand by the long-standing Christian tradition of nonviolence (most clearly seen, I might suggest, in the pre-Constantinian era before the need to justify war) and the dignity of all human life. It has been a very somber day indeed.”

      The Catechism passages you and this other person cited do not endorse violence, but instead name the “right to repel by armed force” as the right of the civil community — a statement that reflects more of a Rawlsian conception of social contract than it does defend violence from a Christian perspective. I need not rehearse the manifold reasons contextual-less citing of a catechetical text for neophytes is problematic in such conversations.

      Like other Christians, I believe there are nonviolent forms of resistance that are oftentimes quickly overlooked for an easier and more violent approach. Furthermore, I will say that by focusing on particular examples like the flight 93 scenario in a limited scope does injustice to the systemic questions that led to a world where such violence is permitted to exist. What led the hijackers to do what they did, heinous as it was? What ways might we have better or might continue to better make this world peaceable?

      It is not easy, my friend, but being a Christian never is. When Jesus preached radical peace, nonviolence and forgiveness he was crucified. Why should we expect anything less? Are we ready to take up our crosses and follow him, preaching peace, nonviolence and forgiveness? Or are we ready to crucify those that do?

      Peace and good!

      • Dan,

        I think that by my bringing up flight 93, when that is not the original topic of your blog, I have perhaps made my position unclear. As far as Osama goes, his assassination was perhaps avoidable and I was not using cannon law to support anything having to do with his demise. I am trying to understand the absolute statements that you made saying that all killing is the same. On the evening that Obama announced Bin Laden’s death, I posted here that I hope Bin Laden is in heaven.
        I used the cannon that I citedabove in the very precise context of flight 93. Again, that citation of the cannon seems to be very relevant to those circumstances. Are you saying that we cannot answer the moral question of weather or not the passengers were correct in using violence, because their are other important questions about the roots of terrorism? That is a HUGE smokescreen, if I ever heard one. I’ll ask again: Were the passengers on flight 93 correct in using violence to fight the high-jackers with deadly force?

      • Just to be clear about a few things. The first is that you’re citing the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (CCC) not the “Code of Canon Law” (CIC), the Catechism is, as I’ve mentioned above and frequently before, a very useful text that, in its many iterations over the centuries, was and is designed as a teaching tool for catechumens, not to be used as a standard theological text. You say “Canon” a lot in this most recent post (7:29p) and I wanted to address that upfront. Another point, and I think you are correct here, by bringing up flight 93 you have confused the discussion a little bit, but I’m willing to respond to your example if you’d like. All that said, there are ways in a post-constantinian world that some justify uses of force from an ostensibly Christian perspective. However, I would argue (as many much more distinguished theologians, historians and ethicists have) that this is a compromise resulting from the establishment of Christianity as the State religion. War and violence on the part of the state had then to be justified, but prior to that historical development no such practice was endorsed or justified. Look at the canon of Christian scripture — all written prior to the 313 Edict of Milan. Jesus certainly does not support violence, but was himself the victim of state-supported capital punishment. As to your question about whether or not I believe the passengers in your example were “correct” in use of violence, I repeat what I said before: violence is never ok. You can find plenty of people to disagree with me on this point, but — to borrow Melanie’s line from below — I am more concerned about what Jesus would have us do than what post factoarguments others might proffer.

    • Brother Dan,

      Again, I apologize for the unclear way in which I brought up the discussion regarding Flight 93. Thank you for responding to my question directly.

      I disagree with your position only in the way that I see it as an extreme. Had the heroic passengers on Flight 93 sat in their seats, rather than rise up against the terrorists, there would have been more violence and loss of life. That is why I see such great wisdom in the Roman Catholic Catechism, which I have cited above.
      St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Every judgement of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins.” If I was on that flight, I would be in violation of my conscience if I did not participate in an attempt to take down the terrorists. Perhaps, you could be sitting next to me and be unable to act, in accord with your conscience.

      Thank you!

      • As I’ve said time and again: nonviolence does NOT equal non-action! This is precisely the problem with those who rush too quickly to look for an excuse for violence. There are nonviolent ways to resist. Please refrain from insulting Christian pacifism with the mistake of equating it with passivity. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus of Nazareth, Francis of Assisi and so many others were not passive in the world, but they were nonviolent.

        I feel that I have to make this point very clear to you because in nearly every back-and-forth on this subject you operate from this false presumption. I hope that is clear now. No one is advocating “no action” anywhere here, just “nonviolent” action.

      • Brother Dan,

        What should the passengers on Flight 93 have done?

        You have stated: “There are nonviolent ways to resist. Please refrain from insulting Christian pacifism with the mistake of equating it with passivity. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus of Nazareth, Francis of Assisi and so many others were not passive in the world, but they were nonviolent.” You have also asserted, “I’m not very good at listing hypothetical actions to vague hypothetical situations”. SO here is a very real situation. Passengers aboard Flight 93 have been taken over by terrorists. They have communicated with loved ones and it is certain that the plane is going to be used to crash into a building for the specific intent of killing a mass number of people. What non-violent solution do you advocate in this situation?

        Thank you

  5. There is an article called “The Witness of the Tibhirine Martyrs” written by Armand Veilleux, a Cistercian monk, relating to the story of the movie “Of Gods and Men.” The author explained the reasons for the seven Cistercian monks’ stance on non-violence (actually it is the Christian stance). The author knew those men personally. The article also named other Christian witnesses of Algeria. I find the article fascinating and inspirational. To conclude the article, the author said: “Their [the monks'] deaths were provoked by an evangelical attitude in situations of violence, lucidly perceived and analyzed in the light of faith. If a purely political reading of their life and death would be an obvious error, a purely spiritual reading that ignored the courage and lucidity of their involvement in concrete situations would be not only naive, but would also empty their message of its meaning. Was it not the same with the death of Christ?”

  6. melanie statom Says:

    Imagine if we were truly to believe that the “justice of God”, “God’s retribution” is in fact the defining, clarifying, interpretive Word he has spoken in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By all accounts, Jesus does not resurrect as a killing machine bent on retribution and revenge. Flannery O’Connor’s protagonist in The Misfit says : ” Jesus thrown everything off “….including our sense of justice. Seems to me there is simply no way around the non-violent path of Jesus. A direct mission to kill any human being ( including wicked ones) cannot ultimately be a Christian mission. To be morally troubled by the killing and reveling over Osama Bin Laden’s death is a indicator of spiritual health.

  7. angelus gambatese Says:

    You are right on, as usual, Dan.

  8. melanie statom Says:

    You raise important and difficult questions Jared. I have imagined that if my children were being attacked and threatened with torture, rape, hatcheting dismemberment, I believe it would take a divine intervention of grace to stop me from using all means necessary, to stop the attack. My intention would not be to intentionally kill the attacker, but to restrain. If the death of the attacker occurs during the struggle to protect my children, it would be for me a sorrowful, yet unintended consequence of an attempt to protect the innocent. The question remains, however, what would Jesus do?

    • Melanie,

      Thanks for your response. When I reflect on, What Would Jesus Do?, I arrive at the conclusion that he would use violence to save a child from torture and rape. I also think he would judge me negatively if I allowed a criminal to take a child out of my house without me putting up a fight.
      Remember, Jesus is God—the same God who sent David into battle against Goliath.

      • Calling the police, acting as a human shield between the aggressor and would-be victim, running away, engaging in verbal resistance… just a few of the things one could do (I’m not very good at listing hypothetical actions to vague hypothetical situations). As I’ve said above: nonviolence does not equal non-action. What would Jesus Do? Certainly not act violently. Perhaps he would lay down his life for the friend.

  9. Dan, I think you will like the article on Dan Berrigan from The Progressive Catholic Voice: http://theprogressivecatholicvoice.blogspot.com/2011/05/daniel-berrigan-lifetime-of-peace.html

    I think that you and he would be in agreement on the violence issue.

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