There's a Right Way to Fight Tyranny, and a Wrong Way

Father Jerzy Popiełuszko is pictured in a Solidarity mural in Ostrowiec Swietokrzyski, Poland
Father Jerzy Popiełuszko is pictured in a Solidarity mural in Ostrowiec Swietokrzyski, Poland (photo: Photo credit: “Krugerr”, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

During this Fortnight for Freedom, the US Bishops have asked us to “Hold firm, stand fast, and insist upon what belongs to you by right as Catholics. — Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” Furthermore, Archbishop Lori has pointed out that we must fight for freedom in a spirit of joy, signaling out the Little Sister of the Poor saying, “Look at the Little Sisters of the Poor, They are certainly defending themselves, but they are also joyful. They are not just trying to win a lawsuit. They are bearing witness to the Gospel, and doing so joyfully.”

This type of resistance stands in stark contrast to a common fallacy that is easy to ascribe to: fight fire with fire. When faced with oppression or tyranny, our first impulse is to face the opposition with our fists out and ready to strike.

We want to defeat the opposition and pummel them to the ground in a rage of glory. In fact, some would even argue that we must destroy them to the point of extinction.

Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out the flaws with this approach in a letter where he commented on an article he saw in the newspaper. Near the end of World War II Tolkien wrote, “There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory; because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don’t know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?)…You can’t fight the enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy; but unfortunately Gandalf’s wisdom seems long ago to have passed with him into the True West…” (Letters #81).

What Tolkien points out is that we can’t ensure victory over our enemies by using the same tactics that they use on us. One of the most successful uprisings in the history of the world stressed non-violence and paved the way to the tearing down of the Berlin wall.

That uprising was named “Solidarity” and informed by their Catholic faith; the people of Poland resisted the unjust laws of their Communist occupiers with peaceful protests. In fact, one of the most hated (and revered) men in Poland was Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, who spoke against the regime through his sermons and Masses for “Freedom.” He did not incite violence, but peace and justice for all men. His ability to inspire others to resist in a peaceful way were not liked by the government, who eventually assassinated him.  However, his simple example helped ignite a nation to fight for freedom in a way consistent with their faith.

It is easy to use militaristic language when campaigning for religious freedom in America, but it should never be about a conquest to annihilate our enemy. The Little Sisters of the Poor would have looked silly if they started a propaganda campaign that was hateful, mean and arrogant. If they won a victory because they bulldozed their way over people, it would have been short-lived.

The best way to fight tyranny is to combat it fiercely with prayer and peaceful protests. It may seem counterintuitive and “weak” to fight with peace, but it will ensure a final victory that converts hearts.

We cannot defeat tyranny by using a Ring of power. Instead, we must become small and use simple tactics of peace in order to pass into the Enemy’s territory to destroy the Ring of tyranny once and for all.