Stephen Chan: Political thought on the just rebel­lion. We’ve talked ear­li­er about the dif­fer­ence between revolt, rebel­lion, and rev­o­lu­tion. We’ve talked about dif­fer­ent the­o­rists of rev­o­lu­tion. People who talk about rev­o­lu­tion in mate­r­i­al terms like Theda Skocpol. People who talk about rev­o­lu­tion in cul­tur­al terms, such as Fred Halliday. We’ve dis­cussed very very much the ten­sion that rides in between the think­ing of two such thinkers. People like Ted Gurr talk about rel­a­tive deprivations—there’s not just a want for mate­r­i­al pos­ses­sion and mate­r­i­al ben­e­fit, but a psy­cho­log­i­cal need to have what some­one else is per­ceived as hav­ing. The idea of absolute mate­r­i­al depri­va­tion is some­thing which is very dif­fi­cult to sustain.

Having said that, we’re going to have a brief excur­sion to one ele­ment of what Fred Halliday would’ve called cul­tur­al con­di­tions,” cul­tur­al thought that leads to rebel­lion. We’re going to have a look at lib­er­a­tion the­ol­o­gy, and what that has to say about rebellion. 

Try to put that into the con­text of a cer­tain form of knowl­edge, a cer­tain form of thought. Because of course one of the things that we need to bear in mind when we use this term thought,” that we’re actu­al­ly talk­ing about often very dif­fer­ent things. That thought could be a the­ol­o­gy. That is a rea­soned dis­cus­sion about the nature of the uni­verse and the nature of divin­i­ty. Which is dif­fer­ent from divine com­mand, or rev­e­la­tion, where thought does not enter the picture. 

Thought could also come from phi­los­o­phy as artic­u­lat­ed by com­plex philoso­phers like Immanuel Kant. People like Hegel. Thought can come from the­o­ret­i­cal sources, peo­ple like Skocpol and Halliday are them­selves the­o­rists. Thought can come from ide­ol­o­gy. Someone like Karl Marx was an ide­o­log­i­cal writer. And cer­tain­ly Lenin, in his wake, was an ide­o­log­i­cal writer. 

So there are very many dif­fer­ent forms of thought. In terms of the­ol­o­gy and in terms of lib­er­a­tion the­ol­o­gy, what you have how­ev­er are two things. You have a rea­soned return to basic foun­da­tion prin­ci­ples of Christianity. And the sec­ond thing is you have a refusal to accept an estab­lish­ment view of what this Christianity should be. This was very very true in Latin America, for instance, where for sev­er­al decades from the 1960s onwards, there was this com­mit­ment to lib­er­a­tion the­ol­o­gy which cost the priests who were involved often very very dearly.

There were all kinds of foun­da­tion scrip­ture that ger­mi­nat­ed in these priests the need to think what Christ would have want­ed them to do. In some ways it was a chris­to­log­i­cal vision that is in the foot­steps of Christ, rather than some­thing that was Christian in the form of an estab­lished church. And if you’re look­ing for a foun­da­tion scrip­ture, then it prob­a­bly comes from Matthew 25, vers­es 31 to 46. And this is the para­ble of Jesus when he comes again, sep­a­rat­ing the sheep from the goats. And he sends the goats into damna­tion, and he accepts the sheep into the splen­did par­adise of his new kingdom.

But he says to both the sheep and the goats, When I was hun­gry, you fed me. When I was poor and naked, you clothed me. When I was sick, you came to vis­it me. When I was in prison, you came to help me. Insofar as you do this to the least of my broth­ers and sis­ters, then you would have done this to me.”

So the idea of reach­ing out to the poor, to the deprived, and doing that as the true voca­tion of the church despite the oppo­si­tion of dic­ta­to­r­i­al gov­ern­ments, and despite the reluc­tance of the estab­lished church to sup­port such chris­to­log­i­cal out­reach to the poor, con­sti­tut­ed the basic impulse behind lib­er­a­tion theology.

Now, this became very very much of a strug­gle right at the cen­ter of the church, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Roman Catholic Church. When you look at the role of the imme­di­ate past Pope, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger for instance, he was very very much the hound of God, as it were. He occu­pied the mod­ern ver­sion of the Inquisitor General’s office. And he was very very much against the work of these lib­er­a­tion the­olo­gian priests. He called them Neo-Marxist. He was on the verge basi­cal­ly of declar­ing them an anath­e­ma to the Church.

And of course this kind of atti­tude gave gov­ern­ments that were dic­ta­to­r­i­al almost a license to per­se­cute such priests. This was nowhere more con­spic­u­ous than in the case of Óscar Romero, who was the bish­op of the Catholic Church in El Salvador. He became the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador. And he was assas­si­nat­ed in 1980. We still to this day are not total­ly cer­tain who assas­si­nat­ed him. But cer­tain­ly com­bi­na­tions of a right-wing gov­ern­ment, its agents, and also agents of the CIA, are com­mon­ly depict­ed as being involved in the assas­si­na­tion of Óscar Romero. He is regard­ed as the unof­fi­cial saint of Latin America. Not even the cur­rent, more lib­er­al Pope has moved to can­on­ize him. But among ordi­nary peo­ple, among com­mon peo­ple, among poor peo­ple, he is regard­ed very very much in saint­ly terms.

And the kind of out­reach that he epit­o­mized was tak­en up by some­body like Gustavo Gutiérrez. He was a Peruvian the­olo­gian, and he him­self was of Peruvian Indian origin—a native American, if you like. And his famous book, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, not only spoke of reach­ing out to the poor, but it spoke about the priest’s voca­tion of con­sist­ing also as liv­ing as if he were a poor per­son. In oth­er words the right­eous priest had to share in the pover­ty of those who were deprived. In oth­er words, sol­i­dar­i­ty meant that a Christian, some­one who fol­lowed in Christ’s foot­steps, had to par­take in the same lot of life that poor peo­ple par­took in. So, Gutiérrez was very very much some­one who want­ed to lead by example. 

You had peo­ple who became aca­d­e­mics. People like Leonardo Boff in Brazil. And you had peo­ple who became fight­ers. And prob­a­bly the prime exam­ple of this is Ernesto Cardenal, who was a work­er priest. He was a fight­er priest. He was, as it were, the priest who accom­pa­nied the Sandinistas in their lib­er­a­tion of Nicaragua. He was chas­tised face to face by the Pope. But he was also not only a fight­er, and not only a priest to the rebels, but he was a con­sid­er­able poet. And it’s prob­a­bly very very much as a poet that he will be remem­bered. He became Minister of Culture after Nicaragua was lib­er­at­ed by the Sandinistas. But his poems rage against not only oppres­sion of the poor, but they rage against the multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies. Companies that he names in his poems. He rails against inter­na­tion­al cap­i­tal. He says that there is a world struc­ture which is anti-Christian.

All of this turned into a cer­tain the­ol­o­gy, which says that God approves of the poor, because they are hon­est. That God approves of the strug­gle of the poor, because they fight against wicked­ness. And that God endors­es those priests who take the side of the poor. And that those priests have got no choice but to take the side of the poor if they’re to fol­low the exam­ple of Christ and the para­ble of Jesus in his sec­ond com­ing sep­a­rat­ing the sheep from the goats.

Now, this kind of think­ing was not con­fined to Latin America. There was a con­spic­u­ous exam­ple of it for instance in the work of the Zimbabwean priest Canaan Banana, who in fact became the first cer­e­mo­ni­al pres­i­dent of Zimbabwean after that coun­try’s inde­pen­dence, before he fell foul of the machi­na­tions of Robert Mugabe. But Canaan Banana wrote a series of books, The Gospel According to the Ghetto. He rewrote the Lord’s Prayer, in which he asks God to for­give us for our docil­i­ty, our pas­siv­i­ty, in the face of repres­sion. And he was extreme­ly active in the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, and tried to mobi­lize peo­ple to fight.

We’re going to have a look as well at his work, often neglect­ed, out of favor polit­i­cal­ly at home, often in the shad­ow of the Latin American lib­er­a­tion the­olo­gians, and try to dis­cuss how this kind of the­o­log­i­cal thought in fact pro­vides an inter­na­tion­al bedrock to forms of rebel­lion which even today have not been ful­ly appreciated.

Further Reference

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