Sacred Text Reading Group
Date(s) - 07/31/2021
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

A weekly online sacred text reading group with Amy

Using a spiritual-practice approach, in each session we will explore a different brief scriptural text in depth. The aims of the sessions are educational (learning something about the texts and traditions), spiritual/moral (discovering what the texts ask of us), and community-building (getting to know each other better). Amy will have a version of the text available to share; “bring” your own if you like. All are welcome, as are your suggestions of future texts. About half our readings so far have been those suggested by group members.

Our text for Saturday, July 31 is from Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society. From the member who suggested the text: Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971; not to be confused with his brother H. Richard Niebuhr or his nephew Richard R. Niebuhr, both also theologians) was a minister and theologian who wrestled with topics such as justice, non-violence, coercion, and realism. He was German American and was a minister in a German evangelical church in Detroit in the 1920s. He was a pacifist at the start of his career but his observation of the injustices suffered by workers in Detroit’s automobile industry moved him into the ‘militant’ wing of the Socialist Party. He favored strikes despite the interpersonal violence and property damage they sometimes produced. He wrote Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) to explore, among other topics, the meaning and limits of non-violent resistance to injustice.

  1. The distinguishing marks of violent coercion and conflict are usually held to be its intent to destroy either life or property. This distinction is correct if consequences are not confused with intent. Non-violent conflict and coercion may also result in the destruction of life or property and they usually do. The difference is that destruction is not the intended but the inevitable consequence of non- violent coercion. […]
  2. Non-violence is essentially non-co-operation. It expresses itself in the refusal to participate in the ordinary processes of society. It may mean the refusal to pay taxes to the government (civil disobedience), or to trade with the social group which is to be coerced (boycott) or to render customary services (strike). While it represents a passive and negative form of resistance, its consequences may be very positive.
  3. It certainly places restraints upon the freedom of the objects of its discipline and prevents them from doing what they desire to do. Furthermore it destroys property values, and it may destroy life; though it is not generally as destructive of life as violence. Yet a boycott may rob a whole community of its livelihood and, if maintained long enough, it will certainly destroy life. A strike may destroy the property values inherent in the industrial process which it brings to a halt, and it may imperil the life of a whole community which depends upon some vital service with which the strike interferes. Nor can it be maintained that it isolates the guilty from the innocent more successfully than violent coercion. The innocent are involved with the guilty in conflicts between groups, not because of any particular type of coercion used in the conflict but by the very group character of the conflict. No community can be disciplined without affecting all its members who are dependent upon, even though they are not responsible for, its policies. The cotton spinners of Lancashire are impoverished by Gandhi’s boycott of English cotton, though they can hardly be regarded as the authors of British imperialism. If the League of Nations should use economic sanctions against Japan, or any other nation, workmen who have the least to do with Japanese imperialism would be bound to suffer most from such a discipline. […]
  4. [Thus Mr. Gandhi has written]: “Often a man’s actions defy analysis in terms of nonviolence; equally often his actions may bear the appearance of violence when he is absolutely non- violent in the highest sense of the term, and is subsequently found to be so. All I can claim for my conduct is that I was, in that instance cited, actuated in the interest of non-violence” (C. F. Andrews, Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas, p. 142).
  5. The advantage of non-violence as a method of expressing moral goodwill lies in the fact, that it protects the agent against the resentments which violent conflict always creates in both parties to a conflict, and that it proves this freedom of resentment and ill-will to the contending party in the dispute by enduring more suffering than it causes. If non-violent resistance causes pain and suffering to the opposition, it mitigates the resentment, which such suffering usually creates, by enduring more pain than it inflicts.

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