Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Resistance and Liberation--and Reconciliation

Today is the birthday of Che Guevara, the man who tried to liberate Latin America by force.  Like many who travel through the underdeveloped world, he came away distressed by the plight of the poor.  Unlike many, he came to believe they could only be set free through armed revolution.

It's interesting to me the ways in which concern for the poor manifest themselves.  What turns one man into a revolutionary fighting with machine guns, while another decides to spend the rest of his life digging wells?

I wonder how much one's religion has to do with one's response?  When I go back to the Gospels looking for Christ's teachings about how to deal with state oppression, I see a very careful message.  Some people scorn the passage that tells us to turn the other cheek.    But turning the other cheek lets us live another day and gives us another chance to practice resistance.  I've written about this idea in some detail hereWalter Wink has written volumes, should you be interested in an in-depth exploration, and I can think of no one who explicates these ideas better.

Violence can be an effective tool; we'd be crazy to deny that.  But philosophers of all varieties have warned us about the danger of this tool.  It's like handling a rattlesnake; the tool of violence puts the user in as much danger as the one at the receiving end of the violence.

We might look to Latin America now and say that Che Guevara was successful in transforming the society.  But we all know that social transformation happens for many different reasons.  Perhaps it was the CIA influence throughout the region.  Perhaps it was a generation of radicalized priests who practiced liberation theology.  Perhaps it was the threat of violence.  Perhaps it was the violence itself.  Perhaps the population finally decided that they had had enough and acted accordingly--through their votes, through insurrection, through their work abroad bringing pressure on regimes back home.

I think of Africa, particularly the Sudan region, and I can't imagine how those problems of humans rights abuses during war will ever be solved.  After a place has endured such horrific violence, how can it heal?

I look to South Africa and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  What a brave experiment.  I love the idea of letting victims tell their stories, letting perpetrators tell theirs, putting in place a system for restorative justice.  Justice is so often punitive and harsh.  It so rarely looks to rehabilitate, to reconcile.  I hope in the future we see this experiment duplicated more often. 

We don't do it because it's hard and so often heartbreaking to hear all those tales of loss and abuse.  But faith traditions across the planet tell us that we must.  Our own Gospel Good News is that the redemption of the world has begun, that we can see the bright light of God's restoration of creation breaking through already.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is one of those bright lights.  The battles fought by Che Guevara and the Castro brothers?  Not so much.

It's easy to begin an armed battle with the right intentions, the right motivations.  It's so hard to keep sight of them as the battle continues.  It's so hard to win the war without losing one's soul--one reason why so many religious traditions counsel us to be careful before we embrace violence, why so many religious traditions encourage us to act non-violently in our attempts to transform the world.

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