‘Violence to Non-Violence’ presented at Symposium

Notre Dame professor Michael Baxter tells students, “your life can be of world historical significance if you learn who you are and follow your heart.”
Baxter spoke on March 24 to more than 100 students, professors and visitors at St. Ambrose University.  The presentation, entitled “From Violence to Non-Violence: A Tale of Two Traditions,” was this year’s Wilber Symposium on the Christian Tradition and Non-Violence.
Baxter spoke of two different traditions: Americanism and radicalism. The Americanism tradition started in World War I, according to Baxter, when Catholics publicly and almost universally supported the war. This led to the development of the American Catholic War Council in 1917. This group pledged to support the war and helped with relief work and social reconstruction during and after the war.
“This was a turning point for Catholics in the country and they became recognized as a group,” Baxter said.
This Americanism tradition carried through the end of WWI and into WWII. Catholics continued to support the war, and support the “just war” theory.  The theory of just war is that war is, under some circumstances, justifiable and necessary. At this time, Baxter said, Catholics continued to believe that war was necessary. Even through more recent wars, such as the conflict in the Gulf, Baxter recalls counseling young soldiers about being conscientious objectors.
Being a conscientious objector means refusing to perform military duties on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience or religion. Baxter described stories of men throughout history who became conscientious objectors throughout the course of war, as well as those who objected previous to beginning service in the military.
This led to the second tradition: radicalism. For lack of a better term, radicalism does not necessarily mean radical action. Instead, Baxter says, it’s about not supporting wars and not serving in wars.
“The ‘just war’ theory doesn’t hold in modern times.  Radicalism uses ‘just war’ to critique modern wars,” Baxter said. Baxter emphasizes the need for all Catholics to be pacifists and to follow the gospel.
Baxter says the tendency in this country is towards Americanism and we need to change towards radicalism. When counseling young men, Baxter encourages them to follow their own personal conscience. If it tells them to be conscientious objectors, then they should not support the war.
Baxter ended the presentation with several observations about the two traditions that emphasized the need for more radicalism.
“All of us are called to plant seeds of peace,” Baxter said.
The Wilber Symposium is made possible through a gift from Charles K. and Mary Ellen Wilber, who were in attendance at the lecture. The Wilbers are from South Bend, Ind. and support the Peter Claver Catholic Worker House in South Bend and other peace and social justice initiatives. The Wilbers generously donated $20,000 to SAU to support peace and non-violence studies and research.

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