instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The unseriousness of Catholic pacifism

Karen Marie Knapp links to what she calls "a fine essay on the witness of the White Rose Society (aka Sophie Scholl and companions)."

As it happens, the essay is written by Fr. John Dear, SJ, whose book Transfiguration I read last month.

He discusses the story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, who opposed Nazism through a campaign of anonymous leaflets distributed in Munich for several months in 1942 and 1943. The campaign ended when Sophie and two others were caught, tried, and executed over a five-day period. (Three others were executed later in 1943.)

Fr. Dear writes of a talk given by Howard Zinn, who said that the key to
Every U.S. movement for social change ... was that ordinary people kept doing ordinary acts of nonviolent resistance every day even when there was absolutely no evidence of any positive outcome...

Great breakthroughs of hope derived from this, he said. Change evolved because ordinary people kept at it. They refused to give up. They did what they could, no matter how small the act. Everyone involved made a difference.

This is the lesson of Sophie Scholl. Her life and witness, along with all the heroes of the White Rose, bore good fruit after all. Their memory urges us to stand up and do what we can to stop the evil U.S. war on Iraq, the unjust occupation of the Palestinians, the criminal bombing of Afghanistan, the lethal funding of Colombian death squads, the demonic maintenance of our nuclear arsenal, and the refusal to feed and serve the starving masses of Africa, Latin America, India and elsewhere.
The last sentence could probably have ended with the words "to stop the evil U.S." without much loss of meaning.

I consider this essay yet another example of the fundamental unseriousness -- and let's not confuse seriousness and earnestness -- of Catholic pacifism in the United States today. Sophie Scholl's life and witness were given in opposition to Nazism, and it wasn't ordinary acts of nonviolent resistance that brought Nazism down.

If anything, the White Rose is an example of a non-U.S. movement for social change that didn't evolve change and, at least at the practical level such movements speak to, didn't make a difference. What did make a difference, what effected the change Sophie Scholl desired, was that ordinary people kept doing extraordinary acts of brutal violence every day even when there was absolutely no evidence of any positive outcome. When Fr. Dear, or Catholic pacifism in general, faces up to this fact, rather than glossing over or (as in this case) flat out ignoring it, then I will say they are being serious.

I think the lesson of Sophie Scholl goes beyond, "You, too, can be a martyr to your cause, whatever it may be!" And it's ... well, I'll just call it bad manners to claim that Fr. Dear's own hope for his own cause is the "good fruit" that the White Rose bore.