Active nonviolence and piety

merton_hatIn an essay Thomas Merton dedicated to Joan Baez, he wrote, 

We know that our unconscious motives may, at times, make our nonviolence a form of moral aggression and even a subtle provocation designed (without our awareness) to bring out the evil we hope to find in the adversary, and thus to justify ourselves in our own eyes and in the eyes of "decent people."

The temperament of moral superiority crouches at the door of all our souls. But I believe its sly appeal is especially tempting for the nonviolent activist. And when it slips in unnoticed, as is its bent, the pacifist become the violator.




Well, I’ve felt this spirit creeping around in my own soul. It’s made its slippery entrance. All I can do now is name it–it’s the only way I can remain somewhat free of its control. But if I  loose track of it, forget its there, within, believe I’m free of it, I’ll need a gentle friend to point it out to me.

Because when active nonviolence becomes an avenue to piety it becomes putrid. It relinquishes all creative possibilities and just deepens divisions.

The last thing active nonviolence is out to do is "convert the wicked." Its raison d’être is about reconciliation and reunion. It is only, and always, about the flourishing of humanity.


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