Longtime readers and friends know I have tried to practice pacifism for several years. Back in the 80’s I read much more about it, and have pretty much lost touch with what the scholars of non-violence are saying these days. Pacifism is also quite out of the mainstream, both in Catholicism and, of course, in the culture, so I have few to none with whom to discuss it.
My practice of non-violence isn’t a model of perfection, by any judgment. The internet is the greatest test of it. I tend to be a rigorist about my own spirituality, so in applying pacifism to my arguments in c-space I find I come up far short of the ideal. I see I’m much more combative and biting that I could be. Many, many other bloggers score much better than I without professing an explicit non-violence.
One mentor from the 80’s cautioned would-be pacifists about dwelling exclusively in the ideological, and not applying principles to one’s own life: family, work, friends, passers-by, parishes, and religious communities. Consider, he cautioned, not just your actions but your words and even your thoughts. In the internet age, that would extend to one’s commentariats, other bloggers, and certainly one’s own writings. In other words, what good does it do (or could it do) to advocate others, namely nations, lay down arms and be unwilling to tame one’s own tongue or wit.
As much as I love my own family, I find myself deeply tempted especially in raising a daughter. It’s not that I’ve ever been tempted to commit corporal punishment, but watching my own words, especially to a sensitive adolescent, is a task I need to be up for every day.
All that said, I have to confess something didn’t seem quite right with the headlines of my former bishop’s recent talk. I don’t think I’m morally obliged to accept warriorhood in the Church Militant. But there is a lot of spiritual value in Bishop Finn’s suggestion that a believer must steel herself or himself for spiritual struggle. But is it war? I don’t find such language to be helpful, but perhaps a non-pacifist would.
As the discussion has continued on the Catholic Key site, my doubts on Bishop Finn’s approach have deepened somewhat. The danger in using a metaphor of war is that the traditional aggression inherent with warfare spreads to attitudes and approaches. One commentator there felt free and didn’t see the fault with bringing unrelated topics into the discussion. Bishop Finn’s spiritual war has morphed, at least on the Kansas City newspaper’s site, into a broad brush approach for the whole Culture War.
A wise general would ensure her or his troops are prepared and focused. Tackle an important objective. Don’t spread out across the countryside and swarm like ants, cocking one’s gun and firing in every direction.