At various times in her life, Dorothy Day considered herself an anarchist, and she was for a brief period a socialist. Her relationship with politics was always complex and often confounding. She believed individuals should not leave to government what they should do themselves, and while she was an early advocate of women’s suffrage, she never voted. Throughout her life, she challenged the government’s authority to levy taxes, wage war, implement a draft, and develop weaponry. She marched, protested, witnessed, and was arrested when she felt that government infringed upon or did not uphold human dignity and care for the vulnerable. Not everyone agreed with her stances or her tactics, but everyone knew that she stood upon her convictions and would be heard.
Questions to Consider
- Do you agree with Day’s extreme pacifism? Is it a tenable position—or even a Christian one, as Day declared? On what do you base your opinion?
- What should be the Christian approach to non-violence? Can it be legitimately considered as a way of life? What would that look like?
- Day generally did not engage with government in the sense of advocacy, as many religious organizations do. Neither did she exercise the right to vote, despite her early work for women’s suffrage. Did these decisions limit her effectiveness, in your view? Or do they help articulate her vision of the importance of the individual? On what do you base your opinion?
- Do you consider Day to have been a true “anarchist”? How does that complicate your view of her as a religiously devoted person? (Read the brief Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “anarchist” here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anarchism. How does what you know about Day agree with or differ from this definition?)
- What do you make of Day’s involvement at various times with Communism and Socialism? Can a person be either and still be a Christian? Are Socialism or Communism and Christianity compatible in some ways—or in none? You can find short definitions and comparisons of Communism, Capitalism, and Socialism here: http://www.ushistory.org/gov/13b.asp
- One can use the facts of Day’s life to argue both for and against combining Christianity and political activism. Do you believe Christians should or should not be politically engaged? If the latter, to what extent should Christians be engaged? Is there a point at which Christianity and politics clash, or one supersedes the other? You may wish to consider the concepts of moral law, natural law, and civil law, which are covered in many Roman Catholic high school classes on morality.
- Do you see Day’s political activism as a model for most Christians? Or is it simply too extreme? What is her political legacy for today’s Christians?
- Day could often be a thorn in the side of Roman Catholic hierarchy in America, but she always abided by church authority. Was this an appropriate compromise, or should she have directly challenged church authorities when she thought they were wrong?
Related Day Quotes
We make this demonstration not only to voice our opposition to war, not only to refuse to participate in psychological warfare, which this air raid drill is, but also as an act of public penance for having been the first people in the world to drop the atomic bomb. We are engaging only ourselves in this action, not the Church. We are acting as individual Catholics. (The Life You Save May Be Your Own, 236)
[Writing of her youthful engagement with Socialism] For me Christ no longer walked the streets of this world. He was two thousand years dead and new prophets had risen up in His place. I was in love now with the masses. . . . The poor and oppressed were going to rise up, and they were collectively the new Messiah, and they would release the captives. (The Long Loneliness, 46).
[Writing of her decision to convert to Catholicism] I had become convinced that I would become a Catholic; yet I felt I was betraying the class to which I belonged, the workers, the poor of the world, with whom Christ spent His life. (The Long Loneliness, 144)
[Of that conversion] I was just as much against capitalism and imperialism as ever, and here I was going over to the opposition, because of course the Church was lined up with property, with the wealthy, with the state, with capitalism, with all the forces of reaction. This I had been taught to think and this I still think to a great extent. (The Long Loneliness, 149)
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