When Doubleday requested that I review Transfiguration: A Meditation on Transforming Ourselves and Our World by John Dear I was rather hesitant and I really don’t like writing negative reviews. John Dear is a Jesuit priest heavily involved in the peace movement and being another collarless priest he fit many of my bias stereotypes. Being though that this was the start of Lent I decided not to judge a priest by his collar and to read the book. One of my many faults is that I really don’t like to listen to contrary opinions. In years past when I use to watch Hannity & Colmes I often had the mute button on half the time. Over the last year I have read a lot of G.K. Chesterton and found that I greatly admired his ability to have friends like George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells; people with opinions and philosophies quite at odds with his own. He was able to keep them as friends while at the same time critiquing them in his books. Though he would accentuate the good and give arguments about what he disagreed with which were never at the personal level.
With this attitude I set about reading this book over the last week. The book is a reflection on the Transfiguration as seen through the peace movement. When he is writing about prayer and following Christ is when the book succeeds. Some of the chapters that had this as their main focus were quite good. All of the chapters ended with questions/reflections and a prayer. He is a good writer and the book is an easy read even at 240 pages.
Unfortunately the more I read the more I was annoyed and later chapters verified what I suspected from previous ones. One of the biggest problems of the modern peace movement is their total pacifism. In the book Fr. Dear wants the elimination of the Just War theory from the Church. In his eyes there can be no just war for any reason and calls war "a mortal sin." Besides disarmament he also wants the total elimination of our military and to "close down every military base." To be consistent he should also demand the closing down of all police stations since sometimes they to use violence to control a situation.
The old arguments that violence never solves anything or that violence only begets violence are used repeatedly (Germany and Japan anyone?). He gives as evidence Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and the People’s Power Revolution in the Philippines as evidence that non-violence always works and in fact he says that non-violence always works. Though strangely Tiananmen Square was not mentioned. Now as as 20 year retired Navy veteran these statements were extremely irksome. Now I truly believe that "Blessed are the peacemakers" and think the general statement about war by Pope John Paul II that War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity," is right on the money. Even a just war is always a defeat in that a military response was required because all others efforts failed. Response in a just war results in the unintended deaths of civilians and of course the deaths of soldiers on both sides. The fact that a response is just does not make up for those families who lose family members.
Any of us thought might be called to respond non-violently to a violent situation that could mean laying down our lives. The martyrs many time did exactly this and proved a witness to Christ and in many cases lead to further violence against others being restrained. For example it was soon after the beheading of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne that the executions ceased. The cases of non-violent resistance given by Fr. Dear have a common thread. These countries were sufficiently soaked with the Gospel that they could see that a violent response to these people was unwarranted. The Philippines is a thoroughly Catholic country and the soldiers in their Army were quite hesitant about firing on the unarmed protesters at the end of Marcos’ reign. Gandhi could succeed because England was a Christian country and they could listen to his arguments even if they disagreed with his goals. In China though where Christianity has not made major inroads they drove tanks over protesters.
Father Dear also goes on to give some of the causes of war as poverty and illiteracy. I guess that explains our current war with Mexico, South America, and Bangladesh. Oh wait that didn’t happen. He also goes on to talk about injustice with the Church. You know that "male hierarchy" as he says and of course progressives can’t write a book on any subject without clamoring for women priests and a married priests and Father Dear does not disappoint in this regard and throws in global warming to boot. One of the greatest lacks on this book is that it has no Catholic vision. It could easily had been written by some Universalist minister. Though you can imagine why he doesn’t quote from Church documents since there are none that support his case. He quotes extensively but selectively from scripture, conveniently ignoring whatever does not fit into a pacifist world view. Lots of square pegs pounded into round holes until they fit. He used the word nonviolence so often that if they were removed the book would likely be 40 pages shorter.
Writers like Fr. Dear do great damage to the peace movement. Their one-size-fits-all pacifism makes them very hard to seem credible and even when they are right on something, they make themselves easy to ignore.
"Even when the oppressor try to murder everyone, one day they will see the pain they cause and repent. No matter how noble the cause or the fervor to the culture’s patriotism, people of nonviolence refuse to support war."
Yeah I remember Stalin’s tears of regret. Let us try a parable. A man is in the process of being beaten to death. A priest in the peace movement walks by and ignores him in able to maintain ritual nonviolence. Another person walks by and ignores the situation as well. Then a Samaritan saw the situation, jumped in, and helped to beat off the attackers. Which one of these people would Fr. Dear consider has loved his neighbor as himself?
He also says that we must not listen to the President, the Pentagon, the CIA etc and then says we must listen to our enemies. I found this highly ironic since the first people on the list he certainly sees as his enemies. I also found it ironic his praising the fall of the Berlin wall, but maybe he thinks it fell because people marched against U.S. Military bases kind of like in this Onion [parody story. He doesn’t realize that not only can there be a just war, but that there can also be an unjust peace. Certainly we need to redouble our efforts to spread the Gospel, to act justly and to help to right injustices, to fast and pray when situations can lead to open warfare. We can certainly prudently choose to lay down our life when violently attacked, but is it prudent to do the same when we are all that are stopping them from doing the same to our family?
"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." G.K. Chesterton.
If you want a book with insights on the Transfiguration then look to the Church Fathers or other reliable authors. If you want one where the Transfiguration is about Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus about nonviolence then Fr. Dear has the book for you.
Tom at Disputations previously reviewed the same book, though I waited till after writing my own review to read his. His makes some of the same points as I did, but says it much better than myself.
Citing Gandhi in support of pacifism is always interesting. The man certainly knew the value of nonviolent protest, but he also said that disarming the Indian army was one of the worst things Britain did during the occupation. Perhaps he just thought it wasn’t fair if the Brits didn’t lay down arms at the same time.
I haven’t read the book you are reviewing but I do think you might be misrepresenting non-violence a little in your take on the Good Samaritan. From what I understand of the non-violence movement, it would never mean walking by while someone is being beaten, but the attempts to stop the beating would be non-violent. Like talking to the beater or distracting them or some other such method to get them to stop. Hence the term creative non-violence.
The trouble with the Just War Theory is that it has been so abused and is so easy to twist to suit whatever the aggressor wants to do. You know the Romans always claimed that they needed to attack their enemies. They orginally came up with the concept of Just War. That’s how they took over the world. So Just War is largely hollow because so very, very few really follow it.
I applaud you for trying to be open-minded. It is hard! Chesterton inspires me that way too.
May you have a blessed Lent!
Does Father Dear also believe that one should never make a whip of cords and drive buyers and sellers out of temples?
God forbid that you should ever be mugged or beaten, but if you are and I happen by, on your advice I will try calmly to ask your attacker(s) to please stop whatever violent acts that they may be doing to you, otherwise I shall be forced to find a pay phone (or borrow their cell phone as I don’t own one) and to call those folks in blue or black (usually) uniforms who carry batons, big guns, and cuffs to come and rescue you. Hopefully, they will arrive before the ribs on your other side are broken and you have two swollen eyes rather than just one. Thanks for the creative tip.
And, Faith, do have a holy, creative and a Safe Lent!
Well, I guess by using the word “talking” I made it sound very wimpy, so excuse my poor wording. Perhaps you, John, are capable of attacking a mugger. I am not. I am a 5 foot 3 inch female who has never been very athletic. I have to cope with situations using my imagination. If I happened on someone being mugged, I could shout Police! I could scream bloody murder to scare the mugger or perhaps there could be something nearby that I could make a loud startling noise with or something. I can’t resort to violence to solve that kind of problem because I’d be overpowered probably. So I have to use my wits. I can’t be somebody like you are perhaps, who maybe knows martials arts or is a body builder or whatever and can just leap in to save the victim.
My point, however, was that someone who espouses creative non-violence as Father Dear does is not a sit back and have no compassion for the oppressed kind of person but would try a different, out-of-the-box kind of solution before assuming violence was the only way. To say that he or anybody who espouses non-violence doesn’t care about the abused is simply not the case.
And I really think it isn’t very Christian to use sarcasm to wish someone a blessed Lent. That was ungentlemanly of you.
The question is Faith, what do you do when creative nonviolence fails? If you physically have the capability to stop a murder in process and other actions have failed what do you then do?
According to Fr. Dear war is never just, so in a case where there is a aggressive attack on a country by another he says they basically have no right to defend themselves. Hard to defend yourself if you have no military as he advocates. Hard to defend yourself if you have no military bases to work on as he advocates.
Perhaps the next time you might better describe your situation–you did make it seem universal rather than personal.
I can’t apologize for my Lenten wishes as they were not sarcastic but just good natured. Nevertheless, I feel a sense of sadness that you took them the wrong way. Do lighten up a bit. It disguises our personal fasting during this holy season (said without sarcasm).
PS Ever consider taking up the martial arts? Age and size have nothing to do with it!
Well, I have not read the book so I can’t defend Father Dear’s absolutist position. I was just quibbling with your characterization of the Good Samaritan as just walking by without doing anything. I didn’t think that was an accurate description of what I have read of Father Dear (a long time ago!).
I do think that extreme pacificists tend to be utopian. You know, if we all just behaved there would be no injustice, which just isn’t true as far as I can tell. This is a fallen world we live in. It’s never gonna happen! I think though a lot of the pacificism is a reaction to a world too quick to resort to violence.
Christ did speak an awful lot about turning the other cheek, those living by the sword, blessed are the peacemakers, etc. People do use the driving the money lenders out of the temple as an excuse for violence. However, that was the Christ himself doing it. He’s allowed righteous wrath. He didn’t tell the apostles to do likewise.
So while I don’t agree with everything non-violence, I think they raise a lot of good points and try to be more scriptural and slower to anger than those who accept violence as just par for the course. I think a lot more violence could be avoided if people tried harder. I mean isn’t that obvious? But people tend to have very knee-jerk responses to non-violence. I thought you were being very fair until you got the Good Samaritan thing.
But, again, I haven’t read the book, so maybe I should just be quiet now!
Well, John when you were “unsacastically” talking about how you would treat me if I was being beaten, weren’t you making it personal? If you want to talk in universals then stay there, don’t make it personal. I was using my own example as someone who can’t resort to violence to illustrate that there are other, outside-your personal-way-of-thinking-box to handle the situation.
Do lighten up, you say? Do you have any idea how condescending that sounds? Do you operate in any other setting besides abrasive?
I’ll work on my martial arts skills if you work on your manners. Deal?
Next time I Hope to use more Charity. :)-
Good luck with the Kung Fu.
I’m a Filipino and I was at EDSA during the People Power revolution, but realistically speaking, I don’t think the Gandhian approach would have worked with the Khmer Rouge.
About a year ago I was driving my kids to a class when somebody honked their horn at a traffic light. Two teens in the car in front of mine started making obscene gestures. I asked them to stop because I had small children in the car. All that did was enbolden them more and they started making even more violent obscene signs. I stepped out of the car to tell them about the kids in case they had not heard. It was then that they stopped. Was it because I said anything to them? No, it was because they didn’t expect that the guy driving the minivan behind them was a 210 lb. martial arts instructor in uniform on the way to teach his kids a class. I never thought about using any violence but it was not until they perceived that they could get a whooping that they stopped. All these people who think that being nice and pleading with violent offenders will make them stop tend to forget two words: “Satan” and “sociopaths”.
Yes, pacifists should give a witness by refusing to defend themselves.
So when I was a missionary, we didn’t own guns.
But you know, the “freedom fighters” hit one English Protestant mission where they were pacifistic, and the bad news is that they didn’t merely shoot the wives or young daughter of the missionaries.
So does a pacifist have the right not to “lay down his life” for innocents under his care?
Mr Flaptrap: I wish you could be my sensei. ^_^
When I was in grade school I tried the nonviolence approach in dealing with bullies. To put it mildly the results were… not stellar. Basically I got beat up a lot.
Fast forward to college, I had started learning martial arts and when some guys tried to haze me (head in the toilet) I used some simple and effective techniques. The end result was that people didn’t try to push me around me anymore.
I also taught women’s personal defense on that same college campus for a couple of years and can tell you that some of the girls used the techniques (sometimes violently) to protech themselves from assualt.
Sadly, there is a place for violence within our society. And while choosing a nonviolent path may at times be noble, but at different times it can be an act of cowardice. A man has a responsibility to protect his family. Police have a responsibility to protect the innocent. A shepard must protect his flock from the wolves. The same goes for a country.
Finally, I will allow the Catechism to sum up our beliefs as Catholics:
2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.
Reducing the Gospel to simple non-violence is to shortchange the Gospel. To read the Gospel outside of the context of the Church is irresponsible and dangerous. Violent (at least as defined by a pacifist like Fr. Dear) imagery is all over Scripture, beginning in Genesis when God prophecies that the serpent’s head shall be crushed by the woman’s seed. Fast forward to Revelations and we see the war imagery very clear–angels fighting angels, humans fighting dragons, and Christ leading the battle against Satan. Paul tells us to put on the ‘armor of God’, not so we can lay down but so we can fight what he refers to as a spiritual battle. If our job is to imitate Christ, then it would seem that our job is to do violence to evil for the sake of Salvation. Now how that manifests itself in the temporal world is a case by case thing, not an absolute rule. This is the reason that He gave us the Church to lead us into all truth. If we stay close to the Church on this (and every issue of faith and morals, really), we know the will of God. If the Church does not read the Gospel in that limited way, then why would I?
For anyone thinking of taking up a regimen of martial arts, do a Google for No Nonsense Self Defense which gives an excellent account of true street fighting and how many martial arts trainings will get one in more trouble than out of.
The problem with non-violent resistance is that it only works when applied to basically good people.
I take up martial arts myself, and we are taught that fighting should only be as a last resort. The first step to protecting yourself is not to blunder into dangerous situations in the first place.
That said, I am no pacifist. My position on war is summed up by what C.S. Lewis said (I forgot the exact wording): That was is evil is not the question. The question is whether war is the greatest evil.
BTW, I also think the Good Samaritan analogy has limitations. Actually attacking the mugger yourself is not the only way to help the victim; you can also help by calling the police. In fact, books advise against attempting daring rescues if you’re not confident of your own skill, otherwise you’ll only end up giving the next person two people to rescue instead of one.
But the Good Samaritan analogy did drive home the point that the Curt Jester was making, and I must admit I found it very creative.
When Christ told us to turn the other cheek he was talking about our own cheek, not the cheeks of others we are responsible for. The quote from the CCC from Christopher Y makes that point.
You do not have the right to put the lives or safety of others in your care at risk to satisfy your own pacifism. Fathers, policeman, soldiers, politicians, Presidents have that kind of responsibility, whether they use their wits, their muscle, or some type of equalizer. That used to be known as being a man.
John Deer was just in my town yesterday. I didn’t get the chance to see him speak, but my dad didn’t have very nice things to say about some of his views
How do you find time to be a martial arts instructor and a father in between the 20 hours a day you spend posting on blogs?! AMAZING!