"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.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Oppression makes a wise man mad
Christians who truly believe that God can only be loved by doing justice to the oppressed must think through their convictions. To say that we are concerned about the poor, but that we have no competence in matters of social structure is a refusal of both responsibility and compassion. The attitude is well characterized by Walter Wink, a theologian whom I admire above all other living theologians, "No social struggle can hope to be effective if it only changes structural arrangement without altering their spirituality...We are not commission to create a new society; indeed, we are scarcely competent to do so. What the church can do best, though it does so all too seldom, is to delegitimate an unjust system and to create a spiritual counter climate. We may lack the wisdom to determine how homelessness can be solved; and our attempts as churches to feed, clothe, and house the homeless may only obscure the true causes of homelessness and fill us with false righteousness. But what we can do is create an insistent demand that homelessness be eradicated." - Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers.
Are we Christians incompetent to analyze the "true causes" of oppression? Have we not be commissioned to create a new society? Or did Jesus only commission us to found churches? Is the attitude above not simply another variation on the theme that spiritual and material concerns are safely isolated from each other? As the rulers of this society devoutly wish them to remain.
If Christ came to save the world, then did he only come to save it "spiritually", and not materially? "...is unrestricted fidelity to Jesus Christ to be reproached as preoccupation with the material? How are we going to give food to all who are hungry if we leave the means of production in private hands, which necessarily destine these means to the augmentation of capital and not to the satisfaction of the needs of the population?" And again, "The God of the Bible is knowable only in otherness, in the call for help of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger...Our revolution is is directed toward the creation of the new human being. But unlike the attackers, we seek to posit the necessary means for the formation of this new human being. And the indispensable means is a new social structure." Jose Miranda, "Communism in the Bible".
The moral principle is that if you will the end, then you must will the effective means. Far from being incompetent to envision and implement new social structures, Christians led the way by founding communism in the Acts of the Apostles. It is only with the modern uncovering of the mechanism of social and economic oppression that Christians can take the next step toward the fulfillment of Jesus' vision. Only through common ownership of the means of life can that vision be fulfilled: "In conformity with the material position of the men belonging to this class, the first Christians put forward the demand for property in common - communism. What could be more natural? The people lacked means of subsistence and were dying of poverty. A religion which defended the people demanded that the rich should share with the poor the riches which ought to belong to all and not to a handful of privileged people; a religion which preached the equality of all men would have great success." - Rosa Luxemburg, "Socialism and the Church"
Communism was first established by Christians, as we learn from the words of a contemporary, "...these do not believe in fortunes, but they preach collective property and no one among them possesses more than the others. He who wishes to enter their order is obliged to put his fortune into their common property. That is why there is among them neither poverty nor luxury – all possessing all in common like brothers. They do not live in a city apart, but in each they have houses for themselves. If any strangers belonging to their religion come there, they share their property with them, and they can benefit from it as if it their own. Those people, even if previously unknown to each other, welcome one another, and their relations are very friendly. When traveling they carry nothing but a weapon for defense against robbers. In each city they have their steward, who distributes clothing and food to the travelers. Trade does not exist among them. However, if one of the members offers to another some object which he needs, he receives some other objects in exchange. But each can demand what he needs even if he can give nothing in exchange."
Such was the origin of Communism. The original Christians did not consider themselves incompetent to envision and implement new social structures, but considered such implementation the fulfillment of Jesus' vision of the kingdom of God. However, the effort ultimately failed because of an inability to challenge the underlying mechanism of wealth and poverty, precisely the weakness that continues to be encouraged among Christians today.
Economic conditions are far more compelling than the most insistent spiritual demands. If we truly love our neighbor, then we will create material conditions in which our neighbor can flourish. The Church continues to fail in this responsibility and its excuse is that "We are incompetent in matters of social and political structures." This from an institution that structured the politics of entire continents for centuries.
The more fundamental cause is fingered by Luxemburg, "The communism, this community of the consumption of goods, which the early Christians proclaimed, could not be brought into existence without the communal labor of the whole population, on the land, as common property, as well as in the communal workshops. At the period of the early Christians, it was impossible to inaugurate communal labor (with communal means of production) because as we have already stated, the labor rested, not upon free men, but upon the slaves, who lived on the edge of society. Christianity did not undertake to abolish the inequality between the labor of different men, nor between their property. And that is why its efforts to suppress the unequal distribution of consumption goods did not work. The voices of the Fathers of the Church proclaiming Communism found no echo: Besides, these voices soon became less and less frequent and finally fell silent altogether. The Fathers of the Church ceased to preach the community, and the dividing up of goods, because the growth of the Christian community produced fundamental changes within the Church itself."
The Christians among us today are sitting in Israeli jails for bringing humanitarian supplies to those who represent the face of Jesus today - the Palestinians of Gaza. Jesus lives in their dignity and courage in the face of a power structure that denies their right to exist.
"Israel’s murderous 22-day offensive last December/January left more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties, 200 schools, 39 mosques and two churches damaged or destroyed. The International Committee of the Red Cross says the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza are 'trapped in despair', unable to rebuild their lives because Israel, having wantonly wrecked their civil society and infrastructure, is blocking efforts to bring in the necessary repair materials. Those on board the Spirit of Humanity were acting in accord with donors’ pledges of $4.5 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation and US President Obama’s request to Israel to let those supplies pass." - Stuart Littlewood, Dissident Voice, July 4, 2009.
Let all of our prayers be with the followers of Christ sitting in Israeli jails or in the words of Isaiah, "Justice will go before you/ And the glory of Yahweh behind you." - Isaiah 58:8