"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 12, 2008

The Other Edge of the Sword

"...the Dalai Lama is a jackal in monk’s robes and an evil spirit with the heart of a beast’ - a phrase from the Chinese Communist Party hardline party chief in Tibet, Zhang Qingli

A specter is haunting Chinese Communism. It is the specter of religious truth. Why are the Communists (actually some of the most uninhibited laissez-faire capitalists the world has ever seen), so afraid of the power of the spirit?

"Although the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] recently began to admit capitalist bosses to its ranks, it still forbids its members from practicing religion. This ban poses a serious obstacle to upward mobility for religious believers, since party membership is a virtual necessity for advancing into the higher ranks of government employment or business." - David Whitehouse, "The Struggle Over the Future of Tibet", May - June 2008

Underlying the violent repression of Tibet is a long history of Chinese religious repression, "The Communist Party, and the emperors who ruled before them, have often seen religious movements as potential threats to their authority. A central ideological task for the party, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), was to establish its moral authority—in fact, to establish a monopoly on moral authority." - David Whitehouse, "The Struggle Over the Future of Tibet", May - June 2008

Why is religion more of a threat to Communist dictators than capitalism? Because it represents a fundamental moral authority outside the sphere of power enforced by the party or the market. In China, the party suppresses religion to crush a rival to its own authority. In the West, the market plays the same role toward Christian moral authority.

Whereas in the West the Christian religions have largely neutralized their own revolutionary potential to accommodate the material authority of the marketplace, the CCP still understands and fears the potential of religious revolution: "The CCP waged war on Confucianism during this period not just because it was a doctrine that supported Chinese feudal traditions, but also because it posited moral standards that were independent of the whim of any ruler. Likewise, Tibetan Buddhism became a target—and party loyalists in Tibet destroyed monasteries and persecuted the open practice of the religion—for the same reasons. Religious traditions that promote the moral authority of particular religious figures are still subject to special attack. Worse yet are those whose leaders are based outside the country and free from regulation, such as Roman Catholicism, Falun Gong, and Tibetan Buddhism." - David Whitehouse, "The Struggle Over the Future of Tibet", May - June 2008

While the West has consistently used Christianity to support its own moral authority, this source of support has been a two-edged sword. The aura of Christian moral authority, for instance in the George W. Bush administration, derives from adherence to a set of principles which are independent of the Republican party or the government. Though the officials who appeal to this source of legitimacy may deviate from its standards, as long as they consistently endorse them and pretend to live by them, the illusion of legitimacy can be maintained. But the other edge of the sword is revealed when those who accept the same source of authority use it to question those in power. Currently, questioning those in government according to Christian standards is considered widely acceptable in the U.S., though the nature of those standards is in dispute. What remains taboo is to question the legitimacy of our economic system on the basis of Christian principles.

Though Christians denounce "greed", it is conceived as a purely personal vice. Sinful social structures are simply the accumulated product of the behaviors of individuals. In the language of the Catholic catechism, "Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. 'Structures of sin' are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a 'social sin.'" Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1869.

Behind these words lies the demand for "concientizacion", the absolute moral requirement to form a Christian social conscience. "The Christian quest for justice is a demand arising from biblical teaching. All men are merely humble stewards of material goods. In the search for salvation we must avoid the dualism which separates temporal tasks from the work of sanctification. Although we are encompassed with imperfections, we are men of hope. We have faith that our love for Christ and our brethren will not only be the great force liberating us from injustice and oppression, but also the inspiration for social justice, understood as a whole of life and as an impulse toward the integral growth of our countries." - Medillin documents, 1968.

Only by looking beyond the obsessively subjective focus of current spirituality can we see vistas of justice and thus rightly form our Christian conscience. This can release a power which no party or system of global capital can control.

Proclaim the Lord, you nations,
Praise the glory of God's power,
Praise the glory of God's name!
Bring gifts to the temple,
Bow down, all the earth,
tremble in God's holy presence.

Tell the nations, "The Lord rules!"
As the firm earth is not swayed,
Nothing can sway God's judgment.
Let heaven and earth be glad,
The sea and sea creature roar,
The field and its beasts exult.

Then let the trees of the forest sing
before the coming of the Lord,
who comes to judge the nations,
to set the earth aright,
restoring the world to order.

No comments: