Jesus teaches that, No one is good except God alone, (Mk 10:16; Lk 18:19). Knowledge of God for the Christian is therefore intrinsically moral and transformative. A morally good act is achieved only in communion with God, that is, a person is good only in so far as he or she participates in the life of God and chooses to act in thought, word and deed in a manner logically consistent with the knowledge that emanates from that communion.
This immediately raises the questions, “What kind of God is God” and “How can a human being know the kind of God God is.” For the Christian both of these questions are definitively and infallibly answered by Jesus, the Son of God, the “Word of God made flesh,” the Messiah of God, who is the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus’ answer proclaimed by His Person, His words and His deeds is God is Abba, God is the Father of all, God is love (agape). Communion with God for the Christian then is communion with a Father who is Love (agape) Itself. The Way to this communion is the Way of God, that is the Way of love (agape), which He Himself communicates through His Incarnate Word, Jesus. Therefore the supreme and ultimate moral good of the Christian life is love, as Jesus loved, rooted in communion with God through communion with Jesus.
Now, if the Jesus of the Gospels is nonviolent—as He incontestably is— and lives and teaches a Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies—as He incontestably does— then the love that is as God loves, the love that is as Jesus loves, the love that flows from communion with God through the Nonviolent Jesus is a Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies.
Gospel Nonviolence is a Christian’s chosen “way of being” flowing directly from Being’s way of Being, IAM’s way of Being, God’s way of Being Jesus’ and way of being—which is the way of perpetual unceasing love (agape) instant after instant during a lifetime and across eternity. This “way of being” chosen by the Christian is ultimately the response of a human to God’s love. God loves first and the believer loves in return. This love of the Christian for God is expressed not by sentiments and emotions, but rather by doing His will as He has communicated it to us through His Word, Jesusby keeping His commandments. The Christian behaves in thought, word and deed as Christ-God wants him or her to behave, not out of fear, but because he or she is convinced that this is the proper expression of being in communion with God through Jesus, and also because he or she has no doubt that these commandments are in his or her best interest because God is good and loves him or her and His commandments are eternal life for each and all (Jn 12:59).
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” says Jesus (Jn 14:15). Christians want to follow the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels because they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, who was murdered and lived those words to the very end, and was raised from the dead by the Father to give Divine validation to Jesus’ way, life and truth for the sake of their salvation and the salvation of all.
And, what is the commandment of Jesus that “contains and summarizes all the other commandments and the entire moral Law of Gospel” and is “God’s will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven” and thereby manifests authentic communion with God? It is, “I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1970, #2822). To love (agape) as the incarnate God who is agape loves is in fact not just the Way to authentic communion with God; it is authentic communion with God. To live in and from that communion with Divine agape by continually choosing to love as Jesus loves, by doing continually micro-deeds of Christlike love in the smallest and largest of matters is what Gospel Nonviolence is in action, in praxis.
The quotation from Thomas Merton in Fast Food Helping Thirty-Nine makes luminously clear, thatit serves the elites of a society, who control the major consciousness forming and conscience forming institutions of society, to hammer into the minds of Christians by every means available the perception that Gospel Nonviolence is only a political tactic on behalf of this or that cause, and not a very effective one, and that its purpose is to get people to do voluntarily what they do not want to do, and what the nonviolent practitioners would force them to do by violence if they had the power, governmental or otherwise, to do so. That the rulers of a society should drum this understanding of Gospel Nonviolence into the heads of those they rule is logical because it serves their interests. The last thing in the world they want, say in the United States, is 65 million Christians questioning whether they can be in communion with God through Jesus and simultaneously engage in the cacophonous human mutilation and homicidal madness of war. So it is better to have a continuous public relations campaign and other mechanisms up and running to keep people thinking that Gospel Nonviolence is just another adversarial political tactic.
But, Gospel Nonviolence is not a cause. Ending the mass murder in Iraq is a cause, getting medical help to the poor is a cause, the restoration of stolen property to those from whom it was taken, e.g. Native Americans, Palestinians, World War II Jews, etc., is a cause, getting someone elected or defeated is a cause, eliminating the monstrous daily starvation on the planet is a cause, reallocating multi-national corporate profits is a cause, getting rid of all nuclear weapons is a cause, gun control is a cause. But, Gospel Nonviolence is not a cause. It can be and must be brought to pursuing to any good cause by the Christian, but it is not a cause nor is it a mere temporary tactic by which to pursue a cause.
Gospel Nonviolence is, as said above, a “way of being,” a way of living daily, rooted in a faith in Jesus being a person’s Lord, God and Savior, one’s way, truth and life. It is prior to and subsequent to any and all causes. It does not depend on any cause for its existence nor can any cause’s success or failure validate it or invalidate it. Gospel Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies is what the Christian brings to the effort to accomplish all matters he or she desires to undertake. Nonviolent Love towards all in all circumstances, as defined by Jesus’ words and deeds, teachings and commandments, is the means that the Christian must perpetually opt for in trying to realize any and all ends.
Ends that cannot be attained by adhering to this means are ends that the Christian is not called to accomplish, regardless of whether he or she is trying to bring them about within the home, the Church, the ethnic group, the business, the state or the grocery store. The end the Christian may be struggling to achieve may be to get incarcerated human beings out of the hellish world of the American prison system or to educate those children that a society’s elites intentionally plan generation after generation to leave uneducated in order to always have a pool of cheap labor available to them to do their dirty work, including killing and being killed in their wars. But the righteousness of the cause never allows the Christian to employ means not in conformity with the Way of the Nonviolent Jesus.
In the summer of 1969 at the invitation of Dorothy Day, I gave a talk at the Catholic Worker’s Pax Conference at the Catholic Worker farm in Tivoli, N Y. My talk was loosely along the lines of the above. I said that Christian nonviolent civil disobedience was utterly possible to engaged in within the letter and the spirit of the Gospel. But, a Christian had to be very conscientious in choosing and planning the means and the spirit that had to be maintained during any Christian CD action. I then went onto the present possible distinctions between Christian CD and non-Christian CD. I concluded with some thought on the legal understanding of conscientious objection as not require being like Jesus and rejecting all violence under all situations.
The talk lasted less than an hour. When it concluded in the crowded large living room of the farmhouse, there was polite applause. The first person to ask a question, and I’ll never forget him, was an Italian fellow in his late teens or early twenties in a tank top undershirt that revealed the physique of a guy who pumped iron seriously. He really didn’t have a question to ask, he had a speech to make. He proceeded, with an extremely well honed oral vocabulary of old and new vulgarities, to tell me that what I was saying “was irrelevant and meaningless because what had to be done was to stop this…Nixon and his…cronies and his …military from killing the poor people of Vietnam. All this talk about doing things with the means and with a spirit that Jesus would approve of was just so much GDBS.” This fellow was then, as is still the case now, probably accurately expressing the value system of most peace and justice Christians as well as most Christian.
When one of the great nonviolent Christians of the twentieth century, Clarence Jordan, brought a black man to his all white Baptist Church in Georgia, that very afternoon the elders of the Church called him to a meeting that evening in order to excommunicate him. At the evening meting after the elders made their accusations and laid out their case against him and it was now his turn to speak and defend himself, he placed his Bible on the table in front of them—he had a doctorate in Biblical Greek and they knew it— and said, “Show me in that Bible where it says I did anything wrong by bringing a friend, who is a Negro, to Sunday Worship Services.” There was a long silence, finally broken by one of the elders telling Jordan in no uncertain terms, “Clarence, we don’t care what it says in the Bible. We don’t want N…in our Church.”
If Jesus is not Lord, God and Savior, the Word of God made flesh, then the Italian young man above is correct—who cares what Jesus would approve of. But if He is God Incarnate then to say, “We don’t care what it says in the Gospels,” is a travesty and a tragedy, which can only bring to humanity further evil, misery and destruction. However expeditious, valuable, rational and/or realistic a choice by a Chrisatian, contrary to the teaching of Jesus, may appear in the moment, it is not and cannot be good.
So to my readers of this reflection and to my readers for these past forty days, I bid you, “Adieu,” with a paraphrase of the words of Muriel Lester: “Don’t you, who believe in the Nonviolence of Jesus of the Gospels, see you have a job to do for the world?”
-Emmanuel Charles McCarthy