John Dear on the refusal to vote

Of course, he’s in a country where voting is not compulsory; and after his Plowshares action, he’s ineligible to vote anyway. But this passage from his book “Peace Behind Bars” still makes me wonder whether as Christians we should vote at all…

The Gospel of Mark calls for “new wine in new wineskins.” This “newness” led us to discuss the need for an entirely new society, a new way of living as the human family. “The Gospel is about nonviolent revolution,” Dr King used to say. What are the ingredients of this nonviolent revolution, this new human society? The Gospel makes it plain: nonviolence, voluntary poverty, resistance to evil, community, prayer, hospitality, solidarity and care for the earth. This new nonviolent revolution rules out reform. Jesus doesn’t stand for reform: he is about personal and social nonviolent revolution. The three of us [Bruce, Philip Berrigan are in prison together for the Pax Christi Spirit of Life Plowshares action] do not vote or seek public office. People often explode with anger when I tell them that like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, I’m a Christian anarchist. They are not too upset that I go to jail or risk my life living in an violent inner-city neighborhood or travel into the war zones of El Salvador or Haiti, but when I mention that I don’t vote, people get apoplectic. Bruce explains it this way: 1) He votes with his life; everyday, especially in jail, he tells his government what he thinks; 2) voting is “the opiate of the masses.” People think that all they have to do in a democracy is vote; actually voting every four years and not doing anything else is the antithesis of democracy. 3) Voting is about real choices, but we are never offered any real choices. We might be able to vote whether we want 22,000 nuclear weapons or 21,000 nuclear weapons, but we will never be allowed to vote for total nuclear disarmament. A few years ago, we could vote to spend $40 million or $90 million to the death squad government of El Salvador. That is not a choice. As Clarence Jordan said, “We don’t want to shuffle the deck; we want a whole new deck.” New wine and new wineskins!

2 thoughts on “John Dear on the refusal to vote

  1. I have heard another american express similar views, but with the opinnion that it’s against freedom of speech to have compulsory voting – that he shouldn’t be forced to make a statement. While I totally admire John Dear’s activism and know that he constantly makes statments, I think the reasoning that “there’s no one good to vote for” is faulty – even if there aren’t people you can totally back with vigour, having NO voice come election time is not a solution. Then NONE of your views are heard, because they are anonymous, and given this is pretty much the only time politicians give a damn what we think, I want to make it count. I would rather show my leanings, even if there is no perfect match, than abstain. The system is massively faulty, but I shouldn’t have to pay the penalty of silence.

  2. I hear you Jude…this is the thing with compulsory voting though…there are penalties for those who refuse, who withdraw consent from a system that forces you to choose between two (or more) evils. That refusal means you ARE heard – much louder and clearer than if you had simply voted.

    I don’t think John is advocating silence at all…rather that your life would be your vote rather than some utterly anonymous and (let’s face it) ineffectual tick on a sheet of paper that passes for “representation”.

    There is actually something powerful I think about withdrawing consent from a system like this. I mean, imagine all Christians refused to vote – what a powerful statement about power! But regardless of others, I think we’re called first and foremost to be faithful…I’m still thinking about it, but I find the idea pretty persuasive. The only question is, is this a hill I really want to die on?

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