THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Ronald Knox v. the Godly

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, people whom Msgr. Ronald A. Knox labeled “enthusiasts” have a definite tendency not only to think themselves better than everyone else and separate from such ungodly ones, but often have a strong tendency to act on it in a more forceful manner when the ungodly refuse to accept guidance or act, think, or believe the “right” way.


Nor was this mere speculation.  Knox chronicled incidents carried out at God’s command ranging from human sacrifice (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 582.) and an attorney who embezzled an inheritance (Ibid., 584-585.), to pacifist Quakers in Cromwell’s army who slaughtered unarmed children, women, and men as well as their opponents in battle as readily as did their fellow Ironsides.  As Knox explained,

Their doctrine was, not that nobody has a right to take the sword, but that no worldly person has a right to take the sword.  Dominion is founded on grace; if you are not in a state of grace you have, strictly speaking, no rights, and therefore no authority either to government or to make war — least of all on the saints. (Ibid., 148.)

Today’s demonization of political opponents, civil or religious ostracism of those who think or believe differently, and riots are simply a replay of what has been going on for millennia.  Once the self-appointed godly gain power — or try to — it is usually only a matter of time before they begin forcing others to act virtuously, or simply eliminate them with the guillotine or the gas chamber.  As Knox concluded,

Wat Tyler's Rebellion


But what if the saints contrive to set up the theocratic kingdom which is, always, the subject of their dreams?  Is it so clear that they have no right to enforce their own superior enlightenment on the world?  The Peasants’ Revolt* and the defence of Munster** give the answer to your question. (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 148.)

* This appears to be a reference to Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, the Great Rising of 1381, inspired by the sermons of the radical priest John Ball (cir. 1338-1381) and led by Walter “Wat” Tyler (?-1381), ostensibly sought peaceful redress of grievances.  After being ordered to disperse, the rebels entered London and rioted, being joined by many of the townspeople, killing anyone they found associated with the government.  The next day the fourteen-year-old King Richard II (1367-1400) acceded to their demands, but while the meeting was in progress the rebels entered the Tower of London (at that time the royal residence) and killed more government officials.

** An attempt by Anabaptists to establish a communist theocracy by means of a reign of terror in the city of Münster in Westphalia in 1534-1535.

Merely separating from the sinful world and undertaking a Great Trek is mild by comparison, although still not consistent with Catholic social teaching or a personalist approach to social and economic reform.

"Leave the sinful world for the City Upon a Hill!"


Naturally, these days going off into the wilderness is not an option for most people.  Some, however, still attempt to found new communities or establish a counterculture within the existing culture so that real Christians — or any other group — can live the way they believe God intended.

As conditions have deteriorated over the past couple of decades, a number of authors have presented versions of the “City Upon the Hill” alternative, or at least a siege mentality, while some individuals and groups have worked to establish separate towns or transform existing communities.  Literary examples include Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.  New York: Sentinel, 2017; Charles J. Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2017; and Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture.  Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2017.  Calling to mind the seemingly countless utopian experiments of the nineteenth century (Brook Farm, New Harmony, Icaria, etc.) are Hyattsville, Maryland, the Daniel Berrigan Center/Benincasa Community, New York, Front Royal, Virginia, and Ave Maria, Florida, among others.

The New Harmony Parallelogram (never built)


Some may protest that the named books do not, in fact, advocate actual separation from the rest of society.  There is some merit in that position, but only up to a point.  The three cited works — and many others in a similar vein — all take for granted that American (and global) society has not merely stumbled but has fallen and cannot get up by purely human means.

Once you read these admittedly well-intentioned tomes, you realize that recommendations to resolve the current crisis are all variations on the assumption that if we just grit our teeth in a grim rictus of determined cheerfulness, pray hard enough, and do the right thing regardless of the consequences, All Will Be Well.  Why?  Because the godly will triumph with God’s help.  The ungodly will ultimately not be able to stand against them and will surrender or perish . . . more often than not with a little nudge from the godly to help them on their way.

There is just one slight hitch in the program.  God gave us free will and cannot contradict His Nature by forcing us to act against our own, even if we are doing immense harm thereby.  He does not encourage — or tolerate — those little assists to virtue in the form of torture or any other coercion, physical, social, or mental which enthusiasts seem to find so useful, even necessary, to establish their Kingdom of God on Earth.

We do not need to go into a long philosophical discussion here as to why this is so.  It can be boiled down very simply to the fact that God did not make human society.  People did.  If society is in bad shape, it is not God’s fault, but ours.  We broke it, and it is up to us to fix it — but not with a Great Reset.

The question then becomes how to do it — which we will start to look at in the next posting on this subject.