Friday, November 16, 2012

Anarchist Saints and the Folly of the Cross

Anarchy in the USCCB...
I am a notorious political waffler. In early high school, I considered myself an anarchist. Later, I became obsessed with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. After college, I attended Quaker meetings and my political views were influenced by Quaker values. I have voted for Republican, Democrat and third party presidential candidates. 

And most recently, I found myself reading First Things, an amazing magazine, and surprised myself by exclaiming loudly, "Maybe I am a conservative!" (Reading articles by R.R. Reno can do that to you...)

I have hopscotched from ideology to ideology, looking for the right fit, the magic bullet that will be the answer to all of the world's problems. I see the good and true in different political thought but then, after a honeymoon phase, I lose hope in its potential to change the world and I move on to the next thing. I have been in serial relationships with political ideologies.

Predictably, after this year’s election, there have been articles suggesting that the bishops change their political “strategies.” It strikes me when I read these articles that there is a tendency to speaks about the bishops as if they were any other organization, following the same rules and strategies as the rest of the world. 

What many people do not seem to get is that the Church does not choose what to speak out about based on data and political polls. We are not in a popularity contest. If we were, we would be losing badly, even among our own.

Right now, the Church is vilified in the Western world as the big bad conservative monster under the bed that wants to tell people who they should have sex with and when they should have babies. People, including many Catholics, want to put our bishops in a box with other conservative politicians and dismiss them as out of touch, white males obsessed with power.

We might have an anarchist Saint people! 
But I just want to point out that our big bad conservative bishops just unanimously promoted the sainthood cause of a self proclaimed Christian anarchist, Dorothy Day, known for her tireless work for social justice and founding the Catholic Worker Movement. 

When Robert Ellsberg, a friend and editor of much of Dorothy's writings, first met Dorothy, he asked: “Miss Day, how do you reconcile your Catholicism with your anarchism?” She looked at him and said, “Well, it's never been a problem for me.” Dorothy, while a radical tirelessly working for social justice also remained a loyal daughter of the Catholic Church. In her, I think, is a model of the mind boggling and paradoxical message of Gospel and therefore of the Catholic Church, (although Catholics, of course, do not have to claim anarchist as their political identification).

Another example is Pope Paul VI. In some circles he is known as the now infamous, conservative pope for writing the encyclical HumanaeVitae, which taught against the use of birth control. Not as many people know that he also wrote an encyclical called Populorum Progressio. When the encyclical came out, Time magazine wrote that parts of Populorum Progressio “had the strident tone of an early 20th century Marxist polemic.”

Yes, we Catholics like to confound the world.

We are a Church that is seemingly backwards thinking on social issues and far too forward thinking on issues of justice. We are seen as conservative fuddy-duddies on the one hand and are accused of being Marxist radicals on the other. There is no box you can put Catholic teaching in. As much as people try to wedge us in with the Republicans (or the Marxists), we aren’t going to be wearing elephant or hammer and sickle pins anytime soon. 

As Catholics, we cast our votes but (hopefully) our votes don’t cast us.

We are a faith of paradox because the Gospel is a paradox. I know a man who converted from Hinduism who told me that after reading the Gospels he thought, “This is so crazy, humans could not have made this up.”

It’s true, we have not made this up. The Holy Spirit has entrusted these truths to us as a Church.

Many Catholics are suggesting different ways to deal with the issues that face our Church today. A lot of them involve circling our wagons and protecting ourselves, or giving in on those issues that seem so backwards to many people.  We understandably want to avoid being crucified in the arena of public opinion and getting rights and privileges taken away from the Church we all love.

But the thing is - we serve a Savior who did not avoid crucifixion. The Gospel confounds. The Gospel enrages. The Gospel inspires. If we choose to continue following the Gospel, we will continue confounding the world. 

And yes, we just might be crucified. But, as Dorothy Day once wrote, “The most effective action we can take is to try to conform our lives to the folly of the cross.”

Which, I have been thinking, might be my new (and permanent) political ideology – the folly of the cross.


Sr. Lorraine said...

A question that came to me concerns how Dorothy Day's Christian anarchism is different from a secular anarchism.

It's also good to keep in mind that saints are canonized on only one criteria: did they live heroic faith, hope, and charity? So if she is canonized it wouldn't mean that the Church is saying all Catholics have to have the same political views.

Thanks, Theresa, for this thought-provoking post.

Ami Ami said...

Dear sister, this blogpost strikes me as another one of your poignant calls to each of us to step out of our comfort zones of labels and political dualistic ideology for the greater purpose of surrendering more to the fullness of God. To the mystery of being human creations with such a magnificent and wise-beyond-us God, who asks us to live in relationship with one another, not essentially but at odds, but rather striving for unity in Him, in Truth.

As a former teenage anarchist you are no stranger to challenging people about complacency and how happy I am to see how God uses all you are now to continue to stick it to us :)


tagnes said...

Sr. Lorraine - That is a good point, I revised the post a bit to make it clear that I am not saying Catholics are anarchists :)And I think also it is good to point out that Dorothy was anarchist because she believed in the authority of God and she did not see our form of government as recognizing that authority. The source of her anarchist views was her understanding of the Gospel, which is very different from secular anarchism.

Ami Ami - Thank you my sister! You are right, I am still a rebel - hoping that vow of obedience goes well... :) And also right that acknowledging the paradox in our faith is a step to unity because we are stepping away from black and white thinking and labels and stepping into the mystery that is our wonderful faith.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thanks for that additional info about Dorothy's anarchism. That's new to me; I hope you can do another post about it. Did she think there should be no government at all? What did she think about separation of church and state? And what did she think about the practical things that government does in society? (not the micro-managing of big government today but the basic things). Was she a libertarian?

About that rebel thing--you're in good company: St. Paul was a rebel too, and St Thomas, too; he stubbornly insisted on becoming a Dominican even when his family kept him under house arrest for a year.

Paul said...

I am curious. I have read about Dorothy Day in the past and read some of her columns from the Catholic Worker and also a fair bit of the writings of Peter Marin who worked closely with here and also a smattering of Jacques Maritain the French convert whose philosophy they both admired.

I don't recall Dorothy Day or her influenced after he conversion explicitly espousing anarchism. I knew they were extreme pacifists. Could you please direct me to where I could read about the anarchist ideology?

Caspar Ignatius said...

As far as I can make out, "anarchist" does not actually mean "anarchist,"--it seems to mean "localist," "agrarian," or "distributist" when it comes from Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. For more on what they meant, see Maurin's Easy Essays . See also Alan Carlson's Third Ways, E. F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, and Chesterton's The Well and the Shallows. For what they are against, see Belloc's The Servile State.

tagnes said...

Paul and Casper,

Casper is correct that Dorothy Day did have qualms about the term anarchist because it was often misunderstood. In her diary she wrote: "Fr. Guerin much disturbed by our 'anarchism.' Blast the word."

However, she supported anarchism and called it that. You can read many references to it in her diaries.

One entry:

“The true anarchist loves his brother, according to the new law, ready to die rather than compel his brother to go his totalitarian way, no matter how convinced he may be that his way is the only way.”

In the Duty of Delight, she writes that Peter Maurin never used the terms pacifist or anarchist but "privately he admitted to both positions."

another (in The Long Loneliness) - "I do believe - whether it can be realized or not - that the anarchist society approaches nearer this ideal [the kingdom of heaven] than do other forms of government"

I have hope that rather than explaining away Dorothy's radicalism, we can see her as a future Saint who can intercede for a divided Church (at least in the US). We all may not go as far as she would in our political positions but she represents the fullness of our faith in many ways.

This quote from her sums it up for me:

"When it comes to labor and politics, I am inclined to be sympathetic to the left, but when it comes to the Catholic Church, then I am far to the right."

Love it!

Thank you for your reading recommendations Casper, I will check them out!


Sr. Theresa

tagnes said...

Sr. Lorraine,

I am not sure of all of Dorothy's positions on those things but I think this summary that I found might be helpful:

"Although she preferred the words libertarian, decentralist and personalist to anarchist, Day's attraction to anarchism was an enduring one. With Peter Maurin and others, most notably Ammon Hennacy and Robert Ludlow, Dorothy Day sought fundamental changes in the structure of society by minimizing the presence and power of the state and by arguing on behalf of personal initiative and responsibility expressed in direct action.

Whether acting alongside of or in spite of Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day believed in the power of the person as the starting point for the good society. Day described anarchism as being "personalist before it's communitarian: it begins with living a disciplined life, trying to be what you want the other fellow to be." Day admitted that although one must assume responsibility oneself, the fact is the many others will not. When they do not, one must simply try to understand them, given their sufferings and their backgrounds, and accept them.

...Anarchists are not so much politicians or sociologists as they are moralists; their stand is not so much political and economic as it is spiritual and ethical."

Hope that is helpful!

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thanks, Theresa, that is helpful and quite interesting. I like very much her point about minimizing the presence and power of the state in favor of personal responsibility.
Today the trend seems to be going in the opposite direction: to maximalize the presence and power of the state, and to minimize personal responsibility.It's getting to be more and more like a nanny state. For example, NY City banning large sodas. Sure, it's bad for people's health, but isn't it the responsibility of each person to care for their own health? Is it really the role of the government to be micro-managing these decisions? And when the government puts out so many regulations, you need a police state to enforce them. Then what becomes of freedom?

Sr. Lorraine said...

Another reason this is interesting is because Dorothy Day might actually be a bridge to help unite the right and the left. Again, I really don't know that much about her,but her tireless advocacy for the poor would make her a favorite of Catholic social liberals, I would think. But her opposition to government doing things for people that they should be doing for themselves would make her attractive to conservatives. Sometimes conservatives are seen as being not concerned enough about the poor, and maybe some of them aren't. But I think they worry about something that is often lost sight of: the long-term effects of government dependence can erode a nation's character. Even the proliferation of lawsuits, where instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes people will sue someone so easily.

tagnes said...

I totally agree Sr. Lorraine. Elizabeth Scalia makes a similar point about the danger of an encroaching government in her recent post about Dorothy:

I think many young people, myself included, do not fully understand how easily a government can overstep its bounds and that is a real danger.

Julianne Wiley said...

A returnee to Catholicsm, I was converted (back) to the Church some 40 years ago by reading the writings of Dorothy Day. What you have to keep in mind is that she was not a theoretician at all. She was a liver of the Gospels, and a personalist journalist (or diarist.)

Dorothy read and Kropotkin and Tolstoy and Debs, but cannot be identified by their theories. She more closely resembles the Three Teresas: of Avila, of Lisieux, and of Calcutta.

My fave Dorothy the Anarchist quote:

"The Church must never abandon the poor --- to Holy Mother the State."

tagnes said...

Good point Julianne, and I LOVE that quote. Thanks for sharing it.