Daniel: Under the Siege of the Divine - Daniel Berrigan (Plough Publishing House, 1998)

We know of Daniel the interpreter of dreams, Daniel who survives the lion's den, but what do we know of Daniel the resister, the man who dares to say no?

In his analysis and commentary on Daniel, Daniel Berrigan links the theology with his own contemporary world of civil disobedience, an outlaw prepared to say no to authority and not engage in blind obedience. Like his namesake, Daniel Berrigan has faced the lion in his den and seen the inside of a prison cell.

Initially Daniel Berrigan catches us unprepared, off guard, like one skilled in ju-jitsu who catches us off balance. He is discussing Daniel within a contemporary c 580 BC setting when suddenly he switches to today, and those prepared to lay down their lives to halt the atrocities of today.

Daniel dared to say no, he said no to the royal diet of meat and wine, and instead requested a simple diet of vegetables and water (Daniel 1:8-16). As did the opponents to the Vietnam War, and many others who dared to say no to war, to the tyrants who launch wars, and their weapons of war.

His 'no' is all Daniel can offer - and there is no altar to offer it on. We hear that word, that refusal. We hear it repeated, echoed down the centuries, perhaps even more strongly than in our own day. We know, or know of, those who dare utter it. And of some who die for the utterance. A puny monosyllable ... Daniels's 'no' shakes the thrones and the enthroned where they sit ... And one thinks of ... Nelson Mandela, of Oscar Romero ... the 'no' of my brother Philip ... of peacemakers far and near, some awaiting trial, others already convicted and imprisoned. And across the world, how many thousands, unknown, swell that sublime chorus! ... In another place (Dan 2:24-35) the initial 'no' of the resistance is likened to a stone that gathers fierce momentum and eventually topples the superhuman image of the king. It is a stone that grows, a living stone; as alive as the 'no' of resistance that echoes across a spiritual void.

When three Jews, compatriots of Daniel, refuse to worship a statue of King Nebuchadnezzar he has them thrown into a furnace to be burnt alive. An act that conjures up the horrors of our own century. Nevertheless we ask ourselves how can a tyrant behave in this manner. And yet as Daniel Berrigan in his analysis goes on to say:

This episode lies too close to comfort. Close indeed, and torrid. Scorching, a near memory of furnaces of our lifetime, stoked against the innocent. So we incline to put the image of the furnace at a distance, as we do other horrors of the age: cluster bombs, landmines, smart missiles, napalm, rubber bullets; successive incursions, whether in Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, Grenada, or Central America.

The plain fact is that our nation, along with its nuclear cronies, is quite prepared to thrust enormous numbers of humans into furnaces fiercely stoked. Of the preparation and commission of such crimes, of their technique and strategic advantage, we have learned a great deal. But of repentance we have learned precisely nothing.

What Daniel teaches us, amongst other things, is blind obedience to the law, such is the path to tyranny.

As Daniel demonstrates, there is obedience and obedience. One form tends to servility and shallowness; it hides out in the shadow of him-who-has-the-last-word. Over such conduct no cloud of witnesses hovers, no ancient ancestry, no text ... no whispers and dreams beckoning. Servile obedience is like a clamorous parental voice at our ear, spelling out details, moral precepts, footnotes, jots and tittles. The law, is always the law!

Daniel is a dreamer, an interpreter of dreams.

He is cognizant of the great dream times of the Bible, of the great dreamers as well, and of those who interpreted skillfully and thus enlightened the tribe. Dreams and dreamers! Like a crowded ark afloat against odds in the storms of history - the Bible positively teems with them.

The importance of dreams places the roots of Christianity firmly with that of Amerindians and other tribal people, or the teachings of Don Juan, and shows how far the latter day church has drifted from its roots.

The theme running through Daniel is how are the mighty fallen, they all have feet of clay, and it takes little to push them over if we try.

But to our story. Early on, a common theme emerges. Kings are enthroned on high, for that is the way of the world. But: the same eminences can be dethroned, brought low with astonishing ease.

Daniel Berrigan adds colour with little personal anecdotes. Like the time he and his brother Philip found themselves in a Washington cell following a White House demo.

Who is this book aimed at? It is probably unlikely to draw any new converts to Christianity, especially into the mainstream church, though readers may be drawn by the relevance of Daniel to today even without Daniel Berrigan's excellent analysis and commentary. But if he gets smug church goers to stop and question the world around them, to act, no matter how little, against the abuses that are all around them, then Daniel Berrigan will have helped make the world a better place.

A symptom of the above, a clue: among many Christians, such deadly idols as nuclear weapons raise not a whiff of scandal. But what a storm and scandal erupt when a few Christians decide to launch a 'rock' against these images of violence!

Daniel is illustrated with the woodcuts of Robert F McGovern.

Highly recommended.

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Books Worth Reading ~ Berrigans
(c) Keith Parkins 1999 -- September 1999 rev 0