An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Freedom of the Eucharist

Torture seeks to script our bodies into a drama of fear, to place the mark of the state upon us so that we willingly accept our slavery to its purposes. The Eucharist breaks the drama of fear and gives birth to the freedom of the sons of God, not by the domination of a material counter-power to the power of the state, but through the “weakness” of love. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (I Corinthians 1:25). This weakness is stronger than the power of the state, and requires a deeper discipline than the discipline of torture.

What we believe was born in pain, the pain of Jesus on the cross. Those who torture Iraqis seek to isolate them in their pain, to disarticulate the victim’s bonds to others, those intermediate social bodies which would challenge the new state power that seeks to extend its neoliberal grip. In their suffering, we can see the face of the suffering Jesus, just as “the theologian Jose Aldunate says, ‘Torture is the most vehement attack against the body of Christ’; according to Aldunate, it is Christ himself who is tortured.” (William T. Cavanaugh. Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1998. p. 257). Torture removes the intervening layers of society that buffer the individual from its raw power. The sexual humiliation which we witnessed in the photos from Abu Ghraib represent a technique that has been refined over decades, particularly in Latin America, which induces the degradation necessary to force acceptance of the state’s drama of power. “The goal of torture, in effect is to produce the acceptance of a state discourse, through the confession of putrescence.” (quoted in the study referenced above on p. 31). Far from simply being a desperate attempt to wrest information from unwilling subversives, “We misunderstand modern torture, however, if we fail to see that enemies of the regime are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber. Torture does not uncover and penalize a certain type of discourse, but rather creates a discourse of its own and uses it to realize the state’s claims to power over the bodies of its citizens.” (Ibid, p. 31). This is not sadism or “stress relief”, it is science, a carefully refined tool used to fragment all social sources of identity other than the corporate state, a mode of governance which targets the springs of spiritual identity, as we see in the desecration of the Koran, just as Pinochet targeted the Church in Chile.

What torture represents in its extreme form, the disintegration and disappearance of all that rivals the corporate state, inhabits the society that practices it as a pervasive atmosphere of fear and fragmentation. What is remarkable about the post 9/11 era is how disciplined the “coalition of the willing” has been in “scripting our bodies into a drama of fear.” (Ibid, p. 33). Their purpose is not directly to repress, but to induce a sense of chaos from which they can rescue us, to produce the drama of a new era, in which “everything has changed”, most notably the rules against “cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment.”

The society that enters into this drama is one in which intermediate organizations, churches, unions, parties, those units of what the Catholic Church calls subsidiarity, which as originally articulated in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, counter the “…injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order” that assigns “to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” QA, paragraph 79. After the fall of Baghdad, Bremer’s economic policies were described by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank, as “an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world” (Klein, Naomi, “Baghdad Year Zero”, Harper’s Magazine, Sept. 24, 2004.) The same form of “shock treatment” required similar social measures in Chile during the 1970’s, as “Los Chicago Boys”, Milton Friedman and his fellow travelers, were called upon to restructure that economy. The all-too-familiar results, atomized unions and soaring unemployment arise from an ideology in which “only individuals can have moral obligations”, in the words of Friedman (Milton Friedman, “Good Ends, Bad Means” in the Catholic Challenge to the American Economy, ed. Thomas M. Gannon, S.J. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1987, p. 105). To support such “therapy”, an economic “grill” was needed. In Chile, a detainee described the “grill” as follows: “…immediately I was taken to the torture chamber. There they made me undress and with my hands and feet tied to the metal frame of the lower part of a bunkbed they began to apply electric current to me. This is the ‘grill.’” (Ibid, p. 24). This “grilling” was the logical counterpart to the “shock” to the economy applied by the Chilean dictatorship and almost exactly parallel to the one ordered by Paul Bremer in Iraq. Torture can effectively aid the required atomization of society. “The disarticulation of worker’s organizations through the strategy of torture was an essential component of the neoliberal economic model imposed in Chile and other Latin American countries.” (Ibid., p. 39).

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