Sunday, November 18, 2007

Holy Disobedience

Coming after an introduction to Holy Obedience written by a God- entranced Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly, it is fitting that we also consider the Holy Disobedience advocated by the sometime Communist, peripatetic Socialist and fellow traveler of many Quakers, A.J. Muste. It a Muste slogan which is quoted by Quakers when they proclaim "There is no way to peace - peace is the way."

Inspired by a recently published book by Georges Bernanos, Tradition of Freedom, Muste sets down his convictions regarding the peace-time draft. Written in 1952, after the conclusion of World War II when Muste was quite active in the peace movement, this pamphlet illustrates his continued commitment to resistance toward conscription.

Of the book by Bernanos, Muste says it “is a hymn to freedom, an impassioned warning against obedience and conformity, especially obedience to the modern State engaged in mechanized, total war.” This literature might still be appropriate reading today.
"Most believers in democracy and all pacifists begin, of course, with an area of agreement as to the moral necessity, the validity and the possible social value of No-saying or Holy Disobedience. Pacifists and/or conscientious objectors all draw the line at engaging in military combat..."
But more than refusing to bear arms, Muste argues, "To me it seems that submitting to conscription even for civilian service is permitting oneself thus to be branded by the State. It makes the work of the State in preparing for war and in securing the desired impression of unanimity much easier. It seems, therefore, that pacifists should refuse to be thus branded."

In this small volume Muste argues forcefully not only against the horrors of war and destruction, but also against the conformist attitude which allows the militaristic state to forge ahead with its totalitarian plans.
"Precisely in a day when the individual appears to be utterly helpless, to "have no choice," when the aim of the "system" is to convince him that he is helpless as an individual and that the only way to meet regimentation is by regimentation, there is absolutely no hope save in going back to the beginning....[It] is of crucial importance that we should understand that for the individual to pit himself in Holy Disobedience against the war-making and conscripting State, wherever it or he be located, is not an act of despair or defeatism. Rather, I think we may say that precisely this individual refusal to "go along" is now the beginning and the core of any realistic and practical movement against war and for a more peaceful and brotherly world."
The simple protest of non-conformity becomes a spiritual rebirth which has the potential to turn the tide of sentiment against the tyrannical urgings of the propagandists, the talking heads, the scripted orations of our nation’s fear-mongers.
Non-conformity, Holy Disobedience, becomes a virtue and indeed a necessary and indispensable measure of spiritual self-preservation, in a day when the impulse to conform, to acquiesce, to go along, is the instrument which is used to subject men to totalitarian rule and involve them in permanent war. …It does not seem wise or right to wait until this evil catches up with us, but rather to go out to meet it — to resist — before it has gone any further.
This is a foundational document in the peace movement; one which stands even today as a beacon of light in the totalitarian darkness of a State of War.

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet #64: Holy Obedience

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