Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was an American convert to Catholicism in the late 1920s. Prior to conversion she was more of a social radical, attracted to socialist ideas and living a bit of a Bohemian lifestyle. Horrified by the plight of poverty and the miserable fate of the factory workers she felt the need to take action in some way and began to perceive religion as too ineffectual or indifferent to social issues and an opiate for the weak. In her own words;

“..the ugliness of life in a world which professed itself to be Christian appalled me………As a little child the happy peace of the Methodists who lived next door appealed to me deeply. Now that same happiness seemed to be a disregard of the misery of the world. “

In contrast as she put it “The Marxist slogan, ‘Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains,’ seemed to me a most stirring battle cry.”

A few pages later she reflects;

“Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the meek,’ but I could not be meek at the thought of injustice. I wanted a Lord who would scourge the money-changers out of the temple, and I wanted to help all those who raised their hand against oppression.
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, they were collectively the Messiah, and they would release the captives..”

Years later however something in her perception about both socialism and Christianity changes as she converts to Catholicism!!!! Not that she forsook her concern for the workers but rather her faith took it in a new direction - The Catholic Worker Movement!!

Her story strikes a chord with me because whilst never a Marxist or even a proper Socialist I have (as my school friends will testify) been known for my leftish/socio-environmental/radical leanings in the past. I was always a bit of a frustrated leftie though because I like order too much and to play by the rules!!! However I felt strongly that our Capitalist economy was grossly injust (and still do) and so somehow by default that made me a 'leftie' because in a post Cold War climate the two often get presented as polar opposites with no other alternatives. I cannot tell you the joy it gave me to discover writings on the Distributionist movement (of which Chesterton and Belloc were key players), Catholic Social Encyclicals and now Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement!!!!


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