Educational Materials

Study Guide

Pacifism

 

Dorothy Day was a life-long pacifist who decried war and the justification of war on any terms. In a May 1936 article in The Catholic Worker, Day stated the organization’s position as “sincerely pacifist” and opposed to “class war and class hatred,” as well as “imperialist war” and the “preparedness for war.” Day and Catholic Worker supporters protested American involvement in World War II, as well as the Vietnam War and the post-World War II nuclear arms race. Day refused to accept theories of a “Just War” or a “good” war, instead seeing all violence as a contravention of Jesus’ call for his followers to be peacemakers.

Questions to Consider

 

1. Much of Day’s work in New York City involved providing food, shelter, and hospitality to the immigrant poor newly arrived in America. There is much debate today about federal policies toward immigrants and immigration and what sort of welcome immigrants legal or illegal do or do not deserve. What do you think Dorothy Day’s stance would be on this debate? For instance, would she support the “Sanctuary Cities” movement? Do you imagine that she would be actively engaged in the federal immigration debate? What can we learn from her concern for and call to engage with the immigrant poor?

2. Many studies have shown that the sense of belonging, of seeing oneself as part of a larger community of persons, is central to good health and wellbeing. When a sense of community is lacking, institutions often fail and people feel isolated and alienated from the larger culture. What can we learn from Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movements’ emphasis on community? What, according to Day’s example, would be the fundamental requirements for being in community with others? What responsibilities does it entail?

3.Do you agree with Day’s assertion that “[w]e cannot love God unless we love each other”? What does this say about the role of community in regard to one’s relationship to God? How might the two be connected? How did Dorothy Day understand the word hospitality? What did it mean to her? Does it mean the same for you, or perhaps something different?

4. Studies over the last two decades by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) and others have suggested that America is suffering from a decline in the sense of community, as fewer people participate in social and civic organizations, recreational leagues, PTAs, houses of worship, and other local institutions that support community feeling. Is this something that you or persons you know have experienced? How do you think this can be addressed (or can it)? Do Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker model offer any insights as to how to build community, or what principles it can and should be founded on?

5. For several decades, the United States has experienced growing social and economic inequality. Do you think this is a significant factor in the decline of community in our country? What other factors do you think contribute to this feeling? Can you identify patterns or places where community feeling is stronger or weaker? Do you have a strong sense of community where you live and/or study?

Related Day Quotes

RTE INTERVIEW 3:15 The works of war destroy the food, destroy the homes, and do the very opposite of what the Lord asks. So that makes us, of course, ardent pacifists, and as such we could not possibly be communists or fascists or think in terms of use of force at all.

MOYERS FILM 27:06 I believe in miracles of course. I believe someday there will be mutinies large enough to bring an end to war. Who knows what will happen. …

THE CHRISTOPHERS PROGRAM (9:50) there is a tremendous growth in the peace movement in this country… (10:10) and the constant emphasis on the need for voluntary poverty and the works of mercy as a basis of the peace movement. (10:35) these things are taken hold all through the young. The desire is there to grow spiritually and to see how much they can do without to see how much they can change the system by each one playing his part…a great sense of personal responsibility…and the importance of it.

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