Thursday, September 21, 2006

nonviolent struggle

Classes started yesterday, so I'm once again reading a lot and enjoying good lectures--at least I soon will be on the lecture part, because the first day of class isn't usually the best lecture ever, just an "explaining the class" day. But I'm looking forward to all my classes. I have only four this semester, just in case something weird happens with my pregnancy.

My classes:
Systematic Theology II
Exegesis of Acts
Hebrew Poetry
Toward a Theology of Nonviolence

I'm excited about the nonviolence one--it should be interesting hearing about the Reformed tradition moving "toward" a theology of nonviolence. We already have a theology of nonviolence as Quakers (generally), but I suppose my professor is right that no one has really put forth a really good systematic theology of nonviolence. Quakers aren't known for their systematic theological works...I don't know of any besides Barclay, do you?

Anyway, for that class, so far we've read about 150 pages of Gene Sharp's book "Waging Nonviolent Struggle." It's an excellent book! I've come across Sharp before, for his famous 198 methods of nonviolent struggle list, but I had never read and works by him. This book is great because it lays out reasons for using nonviolent methods, then explains examples of these methods being used (although we haven't read any of that yet), and then he explains how to begin putting these methods of nonviolent struggle into practice effectively. If anyone's looking for practical advice about how to begin a nonviolent revolution...look no further! (Although it's a huge volume, so it will take a little while to wade through it.)

One thing that's struck me as I've been reading is, how do we get ourselves into gear to actually use these great methods? There are so many things we could be working on--resisting paying taxes that go to the military, boycotting goods that cause injustice because of workers' wages and conditions, demanding alternative energy sources...the list could go on. But how do we get ourselves empassioned enough to actually start acting on what we say we believe? These things wouldn't even probably hurt us (physically) to stand up for, they would just take time and energy, and being willing to be inconvenienced a bit. Well, I guess we might be thrown in jail for the tax evasion thing, but jail's not so bad compared to what early Friends endured.

So we have all these methods at our fingertips. When are we going to use them? How many deaths in the Middle East will get my generation to act like my parents' generation did about Vietnam? How long will we allow ourselves to be lulled into submission by our exorbitant amount of comfort? How long will we keep doing peace marches and not taking any more risky action?

What should we tackle first?


Chris M. said...

Oh, your questions hit home, Cherice. Thanks for asking them....

Happy International Peace Day!

-- Chris M.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

"No one has put together a really good systematic theology of nonviolence."


I guess that's a matter of opinion.

Our Friend Jonathan Dymond's treatment of the subject is exceedingly systematic, and had a tremendous impact in his time (the late 19th century) -- a sign that, at least back then, many people did think it was really good. See Jonathan Dymond, Essays on the Principles of Morality and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind Or see Dymond's shorter work, An Inquiry into The Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity, popularly known as "Dymond on War".

In my own opinion, Stanley Hauerwas did not do badly at all in his book The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. It is widely read in peace church colleges.

John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. Vicit Agnus Noster is an even better choice than Hauerwas, because it goes deeper into the relationship between nonviolence and the Cross. But I suppose your prof might bridle at it because it is not as systematically organized.

The Buddha's theology of nonviolence is exceedingly systematic. Just FWIW.

cherice said...


Thanks for your input on the systematic theologies of nonviolence. I've not heard of Jonathan Dymond before, so I'll have to check that out. Of course Yoder's work is excellent, as is Hauerwas, but at least according to my professor (who referenced both of these so I know he knows their work), they don't count as "systematic" works. I'm not exactly sure what has to be there in order for it to be counted as systematic, and I'm pretty sure Quakers (and Mennonites for that mater, like Yoder) aren't really as worried about complete systems as they are about laying out the facts as they perceive them and then getting down to the business of living it. I think this may be a better perspective, but I may be a bit biased!


I knew it was Int'l Peace Day, but I didn't put that together as I was writing the blog entry. I guess I wrote on the right topic, though, eh? Happy Peace Day to you, too!


Joanna Hoyt said...

I don't have a systematic answer, but for me the first step has been to stop doing things that lead to violence in my own life insofar as I can. (No war taxes, making and growing what I can and buying less, not lying...) I still haven't figured out how to avoid some other parts, like buying gasoline. I don't feel clear to focus on political work telling other people what they should do until my life is somewahat consistent, and demonstrates that there really is a viable alternative that could be chosen.


Marshall Massey said...

Cherice, thank you for that further explanation! It's very helpful.

When you find out what your prof does mean by "systematic", and why "systematic" is so important in his eyes, I'd like to know, for my own education.

But I'm with you -- simply laying out the facts is enough, and getting down to living them is what I hunger for.

cherice said...

Joanna, I think you're totally right on the whole thing about living out a different way. Unfortunately, as you point out, it's really hard to get around living in ways that are harmful to others, like buying gas for our cars. That's not really optional as an American--even using public transportation you're still using fossil fuels gained in ways that aren't healthy for the people or the ecology of this Earth. But we can only do what we can. I think at some point we need to do some political or at least more public work to not just live out our beliefs in a corner and hope someone might notice, but educate people and work to change systems that lead to oppression, even when our lives aren't totally clean yet.

Marshall, I think maybe what my prof means about a "systematic theology of nonviolence" is one that would cover all the doctrines of the faith, e.g. creation, fall, salvation, church, christology, sacraments, and whatever all the rest are. It's one thing to decide that Jesus wants us to use nonviolent methods of working for justice, but how does that effect the doctrine of salvation? How does it interact with the doctrine of creation? What does it say about our "fallen" state? I think Quakers kind of have an idea about these things, a system that hasn't been written down yet perhaps.

But systems can be problematic. I think as Friends we kind of realize that life is messy, that not everything fits into a category or can be explained--and I'm sure Presbyterians are that way too. But there's a sense that we just have to live what we know we're called to, and that is less prevalent in Reformed circles, I think--they think more about the whole picture, what it means that we're asked to live a certain way or believe in a certain thing. For me some of those questions are interesting, but then, do we ever get out and do them, or just sit around talking about them? I'd rather be in a denomination of action, which I guess is why I'm Quaker.