The E-catechism, January 1998
|Authority||The strength of nonviolence|
Six months ago, we launched the Electronic Catechism. We introduced texts which we thought were provisional, in view of bettering them with your co-operation, thanks to your contributions. Many have written to tell us how much they appreciate our work, but few (not enough) have made positive contributions. We are grateful that two presentations have called such commentaries. We met in July and looked at your mail. We thought the project over and we have redone the two following texts. You have them today. We thank you in advance for suggestions and criticisms. They are essential for this catechism to become our common share. And do not hesitate to suggest topics.
Who has not seen civil, military and religious authorities, side by side in their sparkling uniforms, at celebrations of national feasts or on specialdays?
Our modern time is diffident towards any authority. "Our times find itessential that people are no longer led by authority or trust. It is only by following their own judgment that they accept to contribute to something." Hegel, 1830.
We know people who have authority but no power. Others have power but no real authority.
Sample surveys show the discrepancy between authority and power among people in politics.
Authority is founded either on competence or on the strength of seduction, or it is linked to an office.Today, the most underrated type of authority is the one that is attached to an office. Authoritarianism, which is a caricature of authority, is disparaged. The word "authority" comes from the Latin "augere," which means "to make grow" or "to give abundantly."
Understood that way, authority is analogous to service - at the service of life and of life together. It provides a space for people's freedom.
In the Gospels, crowds acknowledged Jesus' authority: "No one ever spoke the way this man does." They were struck by his teaching because Jesus taught as one who himself had authority and did not rely on the experts in the law.
In the Catholic Church, the authority attached to an office is called magisterium (which pertains to the pope and bishops). The Vatican II Council broke off hierarchical authoritarianism and gave precedence to "the people of God." The authority of the faithful has a place in the Church and is practiced as "public opinion" which has always existed in the Church and which is traditionally called "the sense of faith." For example, the assumption of Our Lady was celebrated by the people well before it was declared official dogma byPope Pius XII.
Authority is necessary. One cannot do without it. But it has to be qualified.
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The strength of nonviolence
Who cannot recall this moving picture which was seen by all the world?
A young man standing in front of a line of tanks rolling towards Tienanmen Square. It was an unbelievable face off. The first tank stalled by a one little man who, unarmed, held his own against the guns. It was in the spring of 1989. This unknown man symbolizes all of us who, armed only with our sincerity, struggle for peace.
Nonviolence is not a refusal to defend oneself. It is not a surrender, nor is it steeped in passivity. Nonviolence requires action. It is a struggle.
It is an alternative way to combat and solve the unavoidable conflicts of life. One can fight for justice and human dignity without hating or killing. We know from experience that a human being is the first one to suffer from violence done to someone else. By destroying my adversary, I destroy myself.
Nonviolence has regard for the adversary. Its purpose is to awaken consciousness and touch hearts. While violence thwarts human relationships, nonviolence builds human relationships anew. It creates new relationships between people. It is thought out, aiming at efficiency. It does not do without social analysis and assessment of strengths present.
Nonviolence plans and it does not cooperate when situations are unbearable.
Therefore nonviolence can be a failure. It cannot solve all problems. It is not the only possible choice in front of violence. Nonviolence is a shared good to all humans. It is available to the greatest number. It is the weapon of the poor and the weak. No religion owns it. One becomes conscious nowadays of its necessity in families, schools, churches ....
Nonviolence is first of all an attitude from the depth of one's being. It is a state of mind; a way of acting which flows from what one is.
Nonviolence cannot be practiced by proxy and cannot be decreed. It is
a personal choice.
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