January 26, 2007


For several years now, the friars around here have become involved in activist community organizing. They've done some great work toward achieving better health care for poor and elderly folks, and are also working on the awful question of youth violence.

I've never been into it, and my conscience has bothered me about it. Why not? Shouldn't I care about the rights of the poor? Trying to figure myself out on this point uncovered some previously unarticulated assumptions.

I think because my conversion was heavily influenced by punk rock (especially the anarcho-syndicalist sub-humans of the UK) and also by some catholics with anarchist tendencies (e.g. Simone Weil and Peter Maurin), my imagination about the transformation of the secular world tends more toward the "dual power" model of creating new structures "within the shell of the old" rather than trying to bend the capitalist system to some sense of gospel justice.

I think this is at least part of what caught me heart in St. Francis: he left the world where identity was based on prestige and money and security, went to the lepers, and allowed an alternative society to form around him, based on "downward mobility," the community of "lesser brothers," or friars minor.

I'm not saying I'm right, but that my imagination about re-forming the world seems to come from a different place. But is this out of date? Am I wrong? I'm honestly not sure about this.


Anonymous said...

While I may not share your conversion experience, I think your conclusions are correct. The Church has always taught that the way we change the world, is by changing ourselves-i.e., becoming more like Christ (I believe that this was the insight of St. Francis and most of our saints). We then hopefully inspire others who are our political representatives to change the law in light of our common morality or teaching. There is a reason that the Church prohibits religious and priests from holding political offices! All of the baptized are called to holiness. Of course assisting the poor is part of that call. Advocating for socialist legislation is not.

Charles of New Haven said...

Thank you for your thoughts, brother anonymous!

Jeff said...

That's an interesting question to ponder. I love Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, but I often wonder if their agrarian-ideal view of the world was too idealistic and unrealistic. This is the ideal under which Eamon De Valera and the bishops ran Ireland for many years, and there has been quite a backlash against it.

I admit I've never really thought of the punk rock, anarchistic take on it. A Henry Rollins view of the world, if you will... :-) I'll have to think about that. I think individual conversion and action is essential before we challenge society to be better, but we need to get there eventually. If we look at our OT heritage, there was great emphasis on what the larger community was responsible for as a community - jubilee years, forgiveness and cancellation of debts, release of captives, concern for widows and orphans, etc... so I do think it is legitimate for the Church to encourage and challenge a state commitment towards charity and to social justice.

forget me not said...

Well said Jeff. The poor are hungry now, and the church has always been THE authority on the promotion of morality. Promiscuous sexuality, war and abortion are not the only immoral things going on in the world. There is nothing more immoral than poverty,all forms of poverty that is (not that the poor are immoral, but our indifference, stemming from the economic mechanisms of our consumer society ARE), and not only should the Church promote a change in this sad state of affairs through every means it has available, it does well to be in the front line in actively doing something about it.

Charles of New Haven said...

Thanks friends, for taking the time with such thoughtful comments...as I said, I'm not pushing a line here, just explaining how I'm trying to reflect on unexamined assumptions I have brought with me into this life.

Oh, and Jeff, I once saw Rollins in a small place in CT, and he is quite a presence.

Jeff said...

I once saw Rollins in a small place in CT, and he is quite a presence.

You don't say? No Kidding? Was that in his Rollins Band phase, or are you going back to his Black Flag days?

I was getting the IFC channel at home for a while, and Rollins had a talk show on Saturday nights I used to catch now and then. Henry is an interesting, multi-faceted guy. Sort of a Renaissance Man.

Charles of New Haven said...

Well, let's see, I think it was in fall of 1990, so that would make it the earlier Rollins Band phase.

He was always kind of a mysterious folk-hero for us when we were young...just a DC punk who more or less accidentally became somebody through Greg Ginn and Black Flag, seemingly very disciplined, a writer, apparently celibate...

My favorite Rollins piece that I haven't heard in a long time is his spoken-word "commentary on Iron Man," a hilarious exegesis of the Black Sabbath song.

Jeff said...

Exegesis on Ozzie's Iron man? Fascinating... I'll have to check out a bit of that. I have to say, it does sounds weird when I hear Henry doing a commercial voice-over now and then.

I thought "Liar" was a masterpiece is a strange sort of way.