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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Persistent Peace: One Man's Struggle for a Nonviolent World by John Dear


Published in 2008. 

Let me start this review by stating the following in clear and unequivocal terms:

I have no problem whatsoever with people who protest and demonstrate for the things they believe in, especially those who do it like Rev. John Dear, who proceeds with the understanding that there is a possibility of arrest and detention as he protests for peace and against social inequity.

The positives of A Persistent Peace: One Man's Struggle for a Nonviolent World:

It is written in an engaging style, most of it can be easily grasped, even by those who are uninitiated in Christian theology. His story of how he struggled with the choice of whether or not to enter the priesthood is quite well told and interesting.

The chapters are organized by both time frames and theme so it is fairly easy to go back and find comments and stories.

The negatives:

That being said, I do have a problem with a priest that re-interprets the Gospels (he calls his re-interpretation the "Gospel of peace") and devotes himself to the peace movement to the exclusion of all else. I am concerned with an autobiography that written by a Jesuit that mentions nuclear weapons, Dr. King and Gandhi more than Jesus Christ. On page 80, Mr. Dear comments that Gandhi is in heaven for being a non-violent protester (where is the Church's teaching about being at least a Christian, if not a Catholic? How about Jesus' comments about his being 'the way'? Throw them out, I suppose. In a similar vein he tells that president of Georgetown University, "I ask you in the name of Jesus...to end the ROTC program and close all research into nuclear weapons. If you do, I'm sure you'll get into the kingdom of heaven."(p. 109)

His comments point to Jesus as being some sort of anti-Roman protester that was eventually killed for his protests (p. 79). Considering that Jesus was part of the largest empire on the planet at the time and considering how truly miserable the Jews were under Roman rule, Jesus says surprisingly little about the Romans.

Dear refers to what he calls Jesus's words of invitation: "You are my beloved. I am with you. Don't be afraid. I want you to be my disciple. Follow me on the road to peace and justice to my reign. Advocate nonviolence like me, and carry on my work for me." I searched these words on the internet and the only place I can find them is on web pages featuring articles by Rev. Dear. This is troubling. It is most inappropriate to make up quotes for Jesus. It is Even more so to refer to those words as if they are authoritative and to use them to teach others without noting that they are not Biblical text.

Rev. Dear's protests seem spectacular (they once tried to disarm a nuclear device, for example) but they are merely glitz. In one protest they block a busy intersection during George H.W. Bush's inauguration to protest families being evicted from their apartments for not being able to pay their rent. No doubt, the eviction of families is a bad thing. This protest drew attention to the problem, but it sure didn't help anyone pay their rent, or get additional training to get a better job so that they would be able to pay their rent easier, did it?

One of the common terms for a reverend is "pastor" - a term that means shepherd. Dear's superiors continually try to move him towards the role of being a shepherd that takes care of the flock - teaches, comforts, teaches the faith, consoles. Dear does precious little of that for any extended period of time, although he seems to have done an exceptional job in New York City of 9/11 and its immediate aftermath. His lack of experience as an actual shepherd of the flock shows when he is shocked at someone asking him how to pray. He demonstrates an unwillingness to be a shepherd except when directly ordered to by his superiors. He starts to help with some worthy projects and then, soon enough, he wanders off to go protest somewhere.

Dear complains about the Jesuit leadership throughout, claiming they are blind to the true vision. It seems to me that he is being re-directed by everyone because he is the one that is wayward. Ironically, the book is published by Loyola Press, part of the very Jesuit bureaucracy he is so disappointed in. He claims they do not support him yet they publish his book...

He correctly chastises the Church for its cover-up in the sexual abuse scandal. But, his answer to the problem is odd - denounce the Catholic doctrine of the Just War. (p. 372) Rev. Dear, you are missing the point by focusing on the same issue all of the time.

This book should have included an index. I am looking at an "uncorrected proof" so perhaps the final edition will include one.

Factual errors:

In his introduction, Martin Sheen claimed the prophet Isaiah commanded us to "beat swords into plowshares and make war no more." This is not a command, but part of a larger prophecy about Judgment Day.

Sheen also claimed that the so-called Star Wars defense plan proposed by Reagan included putting nuclear weapons in space. This is not true - it was proposed and still remains a plan for developing an anti-ballistic missile shield with lasers and intercepting missiles. We used that technology to destroy a dangerous failing satellite earlier this year.

Dear claimed he witnessed an anti-Star Wars demonstration in New York City in 1981. That would have been amazing since it was not proposed until March of 1983.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: A Persistent Peace: One Man's Strugle for a Non-Violent World.

Reviewed on July 17, 2008.

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