John Dear, “non-violence” or “non-existence”

By Dennis Gruending

john_dear_sj.jpg John Dear, an American Jesuit priest and peace activist, gave an uncompromising address on non-violence to about 120 people in an Ottawa church basement on August 22. “Violence doesn’t work,” he said. “War doesn’t work. War is not the will of God. War is never justified. Peaceful means are the only way ahead.”  The message was stark in its clarity: there is no excuse for violence — ever; no just war theory; no supporting a war to end all wars. Rev. Dear has been arrested over 75 times in acts of non-violent civil disobedience for peace, has organized hundreds of demonstrations against war and nuclear weapons at military bases across the U.S. and worked to stop the death penalty. He is also the author/editor of 25 books on peace and non-violence. Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008.

Dear spoke at St. Joseph’s Parish in Ottawa on a Friday evening, and then left for the Galilee Centre in nearby Arnprior to lead a weekend retreat on non-violence. He reminded those in his Ottawa audience that it was 45 years ago (on August 28, 1963) when Martin Luther King Jr led 200,000 people in a non-violent civil rights rally in Washington D.C., and 40 years ago that King was shot to death while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis. Dear said that King’s last publicly spoken words were: “The choice is no longer between violence and non-violence. It is between non-violence and non-existence.”

“The world is a mess,” Dear said. “There are 35 wars going on right now. There are 20,000 nuclear weapons and no significant peace movement. The U.S. is building state of the art nuclear weapons and the Pentagon is itching to use them. In the American church we have developed a spirituality of violence and war. In Los Alamos, New Mexico the people who the build nuclear weapons actually believe that they are the peacemakers and our priests bless the bombs.”

“Martin Luther King was hopeful at the edge of despair,” Dear said, “and we have to do this as well. Non-violence is not only a strategy; it is a way of life. There is no cause for which we will support the taking of a human life. We are willing to take on suffering in this struggle without a trace of retaliation. It’s called the cross. We really have to work on inner non-violence. The starting point is in our heart, it is our doorway to peace and non-violence.”

Dear said that the future of the movement must be inter-faith. “Non-violence is the common ground of all religions. Jesus said love your enemy. He was meticulously non-violent but he was not passive, and if you are his follower you are non-violent. It is as simple as that.”

Dear concluded with a how-to list regarding non-violence:

– Be contemplatives of non-violence. Spend time every day with God, giving up your violence and anger so that you have something else to offer. “Radiate the peace personally that you want politically.”

– Be students and teachers – learn, then teach the methodology of non-violence. “Every level of our society has to be transformed.”

– Become activists. Get involved in organizations. Pick one or two big issues and have a hand in them. “Canada is critical here.” Dear said. “I worry about Canada but there is a lot that you could do here in Ottawa.”

– Be visionaries of non-violence. “Think of the abolitionists,” Dear said. “They announced that a new world was coming and that slavery had to end. We are the new abolitionists. A new world is coming and it’s not going to be John McCain’s (the U.S. presidential candidate’s) 100 years of war.”

– Become prophets of non-violence. “Demand end to the 35 wars and the abolishment of all nuclear weapons, and institutionalize non violence in our societies.”

– Connect issues such as war, poverty and environmental degradation. “Ask this — where is the money that has been stolen for weapons but which belongs to the poor of the planet?”

Dear took questions following his remarks. One person describing himself as a former diplomat said that Canadians are told that they are good guys who are in Afghanistan to fight bad guys. “Don’t believe it,” he said. “We are fighting on behalf of the winners in a civil war against the losers. What our troops are being asked to do is wrong. We have to stand up against it. Don’t wear red on Fridays whatever you do.”

The man also said that Canada’s super secret commandos in the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) have been sent to Afghanistan to kill people. “That’s what they do, they kill people.” He added that JTF2 is instructed in its deadly arts at Dwyer Hill Training Centre, just to the west of Ottawa.

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