229: WHO IS MY BROTHER?

Who is my bro? Who is my sister? Who is my sibling? Who is my friend?
This essay is a meditation by Camilo Torres on a couple of vv. in the Bible:
”So, even if you happen to be offering  your gift at the altar and recall that your brother (or friend, etc.) has some claim against you, leave your gift there at the altar. First go and be reconciled with your friend, and only then return and offer your gift.” (i)
In other words Jesus is putting reconciliation with a brother/friend who has some claim against you before your act of worship in God’s temple. And Torres, the communist Catholic priest who was killed fighting with Colombia’s Castroite guerrillas, asks himself : ”Let’s stop and think a minute. Who are we talking about here? Who in God’s eyes actually is my brother? Come to that, who am I? To which Torres could answer “I am a priest, a middle class academic, I’m white. My group has played a role in history of my country. I am a member of an economically powerful and dominating class.
”Who has something against me, some claim against me? The answer is clear: the poor, the worker, the peasant, he has something against me! Furthermore, what he has against me is objectively real – my mere membership of the institution, the group, the class to which I belong is an oppressive action. Therefore, if I interpret the text as merely  affecting my subjective interpersonal relation to those whom I know personally (within the circle of my relations) I am rejecting and denying the real wider estrangement. My interpretation in such a case would be an ideological  filter, bound to  the interests of my class. I can only read the gospel text authentically if I recognize the class conflict at work here between my small dominant class and the class to which the largest number of my brothers belong.
”So, the only meaning of “reconciliation with someone who has a claim against me” is that I should remove all alienating barriers between me and my brothers.”

Camilo ignored the ‘normal’ interpretation of this text – like resolving a personal quarrel with a fellow priest or a colleague at work.
He also chose not to be satisfied with an act of charity which would have left the objective conflict untouched.
He went the whole hog and took up arms on behalf of Latin America’s oppressed peoples, and paid the price for it, as extremists often do.(ii)

In apartheid South Africa, where a tiny minority of white Afrikaners and people of British descent, controlled the black majority for 150 years, a few whites could not accept the role their group/race/class expected them to play. They wondered what the role of the white man would be when apartheid ended, after the years of discrimination and oppression and humiliation which he had imposed on the Blacks of the country.(iii)

In a fictional court case, André Brink makes the point that:
“As a white Afrikaner, linked through the colour of my skin and through my culture to that group which is in power in this country, I have 3 choices:

  • I am free to reap the fruit of my white superiority while it lasts
  • Or I may choose to do nothing at all
  • Or as a thinking and feeling man my only freedom today lies in renouncing, for the freedom of others, everything I might otherwise lay claim to, not through any merit on my part, but through the condition of my birth – which is the epitome of bondage. No man is so completely oppressed by the oppressor as himself!”

This concerned lawyer, after being advised by his white colleagues ‘not to meddle in politics’, sets up a subversive, though non-violent, organisation, similar to Catholic organisations in Brazil which spread ‘conscientisation’ among the poor; i.e.making South African blacks more aware of their situation. In other words, this Afrikaner saw his country’s blacks as his brothers from whom he was alienated. His organisation soon grew to embrace a programme of sabotage, choosing targets which would have an impact on the mind and the imagination, yet without any danger of causing injury or loss of life.

The fictional advocate continues “But I believe the distinction comfortably drawn  between violence and non-violence to be mainly an academic one. Once one has chosen to rise against an oppressive establishment, one should also be prepared to go the whole way – in direct equation with the increasing power and violence of your opponent. There was a time when our organisation  could foresee the possibility of effecting, by non-violent methods, a meaningful change in the attitudes prevalent in this country. But the authorities decided to react with increasingly violent measures, creating less and less scope for the most ordinary expressions of opposition. The result was that in due course we reached the stage where we also had to provide for urban terrorism.”

Violent acts were designed to show:-

  • The vulnerability of the system
  • That justice is not the prerogative of officialdom
  • That it can be implemented by the people
  • That freedom exists
  • Proof of one’s solidarity with the masses.

Non-action or silence would have implied that one condoned the apartheid system. “But in the end your apartheid system must crumble. For in order to cling to power permanently would require what you lack: right on your side, and justice in your system.”

Like Brink’s lawyer, one North American minister of religion who has served in Latin America (iv) has written of his embarrassment  at being white, male, European, middle class. “On every count I am numbered with the oppressors! God identified himself with the poor, women, racial minorities, i.e. Liberation Theology is where the theological action is! Yet that’s not where I am. We need to tap those biblical struggles and understandings as resources that might inform our current social struggles. A whole new higher level of seriousness  and commitment, where we ask ourselves questions like:

  • ”What is the connection between politics and radical Christian practice?”
  • ”How do economic, political and ideological class struggles influence both the production and the reception of biblical texts?”

And possibly conclude that:

  • ”Perhaps theorists will be nudged towards practice, and activists towards reflection.”
  • ”The Bible is an indispensable aid to survival on the long journey through the wilderness of capitalism.”
  • ”By insisting on a full and honest analysis of the ideological assumptions of the Bible, and of our own ideological assumptions, it is possible to increase our awareness of what we hold to be true (theory) and what we do (praxis).

From these 3 examples, I would conclude that if you, like me, are what used to be called a W.a.s.p. (White, anglo-saxon protestant),  or at least male, middle aged, middle class, then you are the equivalent of an Afrikaner in the days of apartheid. As far as the world is concerned, you are one of the 1%, and one day the 99% are going to get what’s theirs, and if you follow Jesus you should be working for that day.

(Please note that, as I’ve made clear in my Post on Jesus and non-violence, I am personally against all forms of violence.)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
The spiral of violence
Jesus and wealthy people
Crimes of the bourgeoisie#4: Resources go to the rich
The causes of poverty according to Clodovis Boff
Dear Pope, #13; The trouble with you

Sources:
(i) Matt. 5:23-24
(ii) Bonino, Miguez in eds Gottwald N., Horsley, R. “The Bible and liberation” Orbis/SPCK (1993) p.112
(iii) Brink, André “Rumours of Rain “ W.H.Allen (1978) p.133
(iv) in Gottwald op.cit p.??

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