The Nonviolent Life was written by John Dear

Reviewed here by Katy-Anne Binstead

One day not too long ago, a driver ran a stop sign when it was my turn, and in a fit of road rage, I said some choice curse words, and was about to flip off the driver, when I looked closely, just to find out that she was one of the women from my church. I quickly put my hand back down, embarrassed, hoping she did not see or hear me. The fact that this was a person I knew from church should not have made any difference to my reaction, as we are all created in the image of God, and God loves this lady as much as God loves me. Sadly, I tend to react in violent ways in some situations that come up in everyday life.

John Dear’s book The Nonviolent Life challenges all our ideas about violence and nonviolence. His book has been life-changing for me. Although I was already a pacifist (which let’s face it, is not a popular belief in the south), and was theoretically against all forms of violence, Dear’s book totally changed my outlook. Dear argues that our society is built on violence, and that we are socialized into violence and violent thoughts are part of everyday life. 

The Nonviolent Life begins with a deep concept that I had never really considered before: the fact that we are violent, first and foremost, to ourselves. He starts with this because if we cannot be nonviolent towards ourselves, how are we supposed to be nonviolent towards others? Dear argues that the reason we are violent with ourselves is because we have forgotten our identities as beloved children of God, and therefore we commit violence against others because we have forgotten their identities as beloved children of God also. 

The book talks about how nonviolence is a way of life, something that we need to actively pursue daily. He gives practical ideas on how to accomplish this shift in mindset in order to live out nonviolence. Through our active nonviolence we consciously reconcile with every human being as well as resist every structure, system and act of violence, in order to welcome God’s nonviolent reign of justice, love and peace. (Dear, 2013, pp. 17-18). It is interesting that Dear opens the book with this idea, because the Bible talks of God’s kingdom as being in the here and now. And in my church at least, and many others, we pray the Lord’s Prayer every week, where we pray the words:thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10). 

Through our active nonviolence we consciously reconcile with every human being as well as resist every structure, system and act of violence, in order to welcome God’s nonviolent reign of justice, love and peace.

John Dear

The fundamental Scripture passage that Dear builds his book around are the beatitudes that Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount. These verses and concepts are repeated throughout the entire book. 

As far as cursing out the lady from church, Dear has an entire chapter about violence while driving. I failed to see this lady as one of God’s beloved at that time, and therefore sinned against her. Although I did not have a physical altercation, I had violent thoughts and attitudes in my heart. The Nonviolent Life challenges us to think about our beliefs, our thoughts, and attitudes, and to strive to change our hearts in order to live a life of consistent nonviolence. For me, it comes back to the promises I made when I was confirmed. The priest asks: will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? And those entering into this covenant respond: I will, with God’s help. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). This is essentially what The Nonviolent Life is about. It’s about recognizing the image of God in every person, and about those two greatest commandments that Jesus ever gave: to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.