They Will Inherit the Earth: Peace and Nonviolence in a Time of Climate Change, by John Dear, March 2018. Orbis Books, ISBN: 978-1626982642, 176 pages. RRP £16.99 (paperback)
John Dear, a US Catholic priest who campaigned for more than three decades against nuclear weapons, war and the American support of dictatorships in Latin America, is now completely dedicated to promoting the nonviolence of Jesus (‘’Offer no violence to one who does evil’’; ‘’put down your sword’’). His base is in the New Mexican desert, with the Los Alamos nuclear weapons production and testing site sufficiently near his home to be a constant reminder of where the nonviolence of Jesus does not yet hold sway.
This wild area gives him a daily experience of his connectedness to other-than-human life and a dependence upon what the Earth provides. It keeps him in close touch with the extremes of weather associated with climate breakdown. His book links concerns about the violence being inflicted upon the Earth and its poorest peoples to a firm belief that the primary way forward for Christians is to follow Jesus’ way of peace and nonviolence. This is not theoretical for John Dear who has been imprisoned many times for civil disobedience.
Three chapters describe the commitment of indigenous peoples who care for the Earth, and he focuses particularly upon some extraordinary women. One of them is Berta Caceres of the Honduran Lenca people who co-founded a national council of indigenous organisations. By 2014 an average of two environmental activists a week were being assassinated there. She responded to death threats by saying ‘’They fear us because we are fearless.’’ Receiving the prestigious environmental Goldman Prize, she explained how ‘’giving our lives …. for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet.’’ She concluded ‘’Let us wake up, humankind! We must shake our conscience free from the rapacious capitalism, racism, and patriarchy which will only assure our own self-destruction.’’ She was assassinated in 2016.
The chapter “The call of Pope Francis” is as much about peace-making as about care of the Earth, the poor, and future generations. It begins with a statement called “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence”, the outcome of a conference arranged by the Vatican Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2016. It was followed a year later by the Pope’s “Nonviolence – A Style of Politics for Peace”, in which his concluding words were ‘’I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence. Every such response…helps to build a world free of violence, the first step towards justice and peace’’.
This book raises topics which in my experience are rarely discussed, let alone practiced, by British Christians. Why is civil disobedience so much a part of Christian life in the poorer countries and so scarce a part here? When I read about people like Berta Caceres, I wonder what fears stop us taking similar actions?