There is no distinction between structural violence, which is the basis of the capitalist social order, and counter-violence.
“First of all, I would like to state that there is a violence from which all other violence derives: violence number one – the violence of injustices that exist everywhere, the violence of oppression.” (Dom Helder Camara), the original violence.
“Charity means toppling the powerful from their thrones”.
What to do against the violence of circumstances?
By Benedikt Kern and Julia Lis
[This discussion posted in December 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, »Nächstenliebe heißt, die Mächtigen vom Thron zu stürzen«].
You work from a liberation theological perspective on possibilities for social change. Forms of civil disobedience also play a role in your practice. How do you perceive the debate around civil disobedience and state repression?
JULIA: The protest form of civil disobedience has become more self-evident. Many people, not only leftists, now find it legitimate to use sit-in blockades as a means of protest – be it at Nazi marches or at the mass actions of “Ende Gelände.” New forms have also emerged with “Fridays for Future” – such as the school strike for the climate. In the feminist movement, too, the women’s* strike has developed as an international practice.
At the same time, we see a certain stagnation: sit-in blockades are carried out more and more ‘professionally’, but there is sometimes a lack of creativity and courage to try out new forms as well. The question is how people empower themselves in these practices in such a way that self-organization processes can emerge from them, how experiences are made there that encourage them to take a step further. That would be radicalization in a positive sense: That we go to the roots with our critique, uncover the structural causes of the problems and begin to fundamentally change them.
BENEDIKT: Yes, there is often a strong focus on what has a positive resonance in the bourgeois press and public. But that’s only one aspect of civil disobedience: it’s also about disrupting the status quo and developing the consciousness as a movement that you are collectively capable of doing that. That has something to do with self-empowerment. So whether something has been achieved cannot simply be measured by whether there were great pictures in the press or whether we were able to push through a minimum demand.
Dealing with state repression is also often determined primarily in legal terms: How is it possible to keep repression to a minimum? That is understandable, but at the same time it also requires a political approach. Repression points to the contradictions inherent in this state: a monopoly on violence that allows police officers to legally do things that are considered crimes by others; laws that aim to defend the existing economic order and the right to property; that while it is allowed to say what the causes of the problems are, it is forbidden to change anything about them.
As a socialist left, we are dealing with the problem of trying to overcome a structural relationship of violence. In the protests in the U.S. after the murder of George Floyd, many banners read “We’re not starting a race war – we’re trying to end one”. How do you think the relationship between violence and counter-violence is?
JULIA: In fact, most of the time there is no distinction between structural violence, which is the basis of the capitalist social order, and counter-violence. Liberation theology has been dealing with this distinction since the 1970s. In the words of the Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara:
“First of all, I would like to state that there is a violence from which all other violence derives: violence number one – the violence of injustices that exist everywhere, the violence of oppression. In fact, most people, when they speak of violence, already mean violence number two – the reaction of the oppressed, the revolt of the youth against the original violence. “1
1 Interview with the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Dom Hélder Câmara: “When they tear out my nails,” 9/21/1970, in: Der Spiegel 39/1970, http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-44904924.html
This distinction has lost none of its relevance today, as can be seen, for example, in the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the United States.
In the meantime, the right has even succeeded in branding the leftist “terror of virtue,” political correctness and, most recently, a so-called cancel culture as leftist violence. How do we get out of this continuous loop of justification?
BENEDIKT: The fact that we constantly feel on the defensive is also due to the fact that we cannot deal with our own social marginality. As left-wing Christians, we have to deal with this differently. We are a minority even in our own ranks. This does not mean to justify our own position all the time, but to find reasonable arguments why what we do is legitimate and even necessary in view of the circumstances. This also requires theoretical work, as we do at the Institute; a theory that takes seriously that a resistant practice is always subject to justification. We have to develop our own idea of what a society beyond capitalism could look like and articulate it clearly. The resistance in Hambach Forest, for example, was also so successful because many people found it fascinating that people there decided to occupy a forest for years and to step out of the logic of exploitation. That attracted many who then also came to the forest to oppose the eviction. It was less the love of the forest than the question of what a life beyond the capitalist logic of the destruction of nature and social relations could actually look like.
You yourselves had concrete experiences with state violence. In what context was that?
BENEDIKT: On February 1, 2020, before the protests of the alliance “Ende Gelände” at the new power plant Datteln IV, we were taken into custody as theological observers and only released the next day. However, we were not accused of any crime; only the fact that we had driven past the power plant site on a country road and had provisions, sleeping bags and a change of clothes in the trunk was cited as a reason for detention. Our vehicle was confiscated and towed away, a cell phone was confiscated, we had to undergo undignified searches of all orifices and spend the night half-naked in solitary cells without the possibility to contact a lawyer. The next morning we were banned from entering an area of several square kilometers for three months.
JULIA: This police action was not only disproportionate, there were also violations of service regulations. The only reason given for these measures was danger prevention, so it was preventive detention. What we personally experienced here in terms of violence is an expression of rampant state structural violence. In our perception, the police are increasingly acting without a legal basis and in the knowledge that their measures will later be declared illegal by the courts. But for the activists and for all those who, because of their social position, often become victims of police violence (e.g. through racial profiling), it is then too late.
Christian-motivated leftists are often accused of representing an attitude of “turning the other cheek”. How do the commandment of love of neighbor and resistant forms of politics in the struggle against the violence of capitalism fit together for you?
JULIA: Understanding the commandment to “turn the other cheek” as a call to non-interference and indifferent passivity is a common misunderstanding. On the contrary, it is a provocative act that does not react to violence by fleeing from the confrontational situation, but by facing it. Charity has nothing to do with rapturous feelings for others, but means working to “overthrow the mighty from their thrones” (Luke 1:52) in order to make a good life possible for all.
Civil disobedience is considered by some to be a particularly radical form of politics, and one that does involve risk. Ultimately, however, it remains within the given rules of our capitalist democracy. The causes of exploitation, injustice, racism or climate catastrophe are not touched at all. What to do?
JULIA: This is another question that liberation theology has been dealing with since its beginnings. It is always about a fundamental change in social conditions. The Colombian liberation theologian Camilo Torres put it this way in the 1960s: “Revolution means establishing a government that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and teaches the ignorant, in short, practices love, but does not do so only occasionally or temporarily, and does not satisfy only a few, but cares for the great mass of our brothers and sisters. For this reason, revolution is not only permitted to the Christian, but it is his duty, if it is the only effective and sufficient way to enforce love for all.” Not everything we would formulate in the same way today. But we are convinced that in the existing, within the capitalist economic order, we will not achieve a “life in fullness,” as it says in the Bible.
BENEDICT: So we have to arrive at a society that organizes production and reproduction according to people’s needs, not according to the principle of maximizing profits. There is certainly no master plan for how we can do that. The first step is for people to organize. It must become clear that real alternatives to the existing are not only necessary but also possible, that we cannot think only within the framework of the given possibilities. We have to work on this today; the next steps and forms of such changes must then be developed collectively.
The cry of the poor
Churches have long made themselves available to power as appeasers-but there is a strong tradition of politically liberating theology.
By Roland Rottenfußer
[This article posted on 9/9/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/der-schrei-der-armen.]
“To believe in God is to be in solidarity with the oppressed,” said liberation theologian Jan Sobrino of El Salvador. In Christianity, critiques of capitalism and socialist-like concepts have a long tradition, dating back to the Gospels themselves. Throughout history, churches have often sided with the rich and powerful. Nevertheless, the spark of solidarity with the socially vulnerable never quite died out and flared up again in the Latin American “liberation theology” of the 20th century. Beyond theological sophistry, this millennia-old debate asks us a question that is still relevant today: are religions there to provide the narratives of the respective authorities with a divine nimbus? Are they an aid to escaping the world and a spiritual sedative to dress up misery on this side with comfort on the other side? Or does their very task lie precisely in radically taking the side of the exploited and oppressed – with the authority of those who, through their faith, have freed themselves to some extent from worldly fears and considerations?
“Christ walks in a poncho” was one of the slogans of the grassroots churches in northern Peru. The campesinos, small farmers of Indian origin, had been farming in the inhospitable mountain landscape for generations. A hard bread. Any disturbance of the usual routine can threaten their existence. In the years after the turn of the millennium, the campesinos in Cajamarca, Peru, suddenly had problems with the nearby Yanacocha mine, the largest gold mine in South America. The metal-laden steam from the mines settled on the fields as a rusty-brown smear. As a result, the cows died.
The campesinos began to fight back. For a long time, they were supported by a church that had championed the rights of the poor since the Second Vatican Council. The legendary Bishop José Dammert Bellido had built up a self-confident Indian church in Cajamarca until his retirement in 1992. He had trained 3,000 campesinos as church workers, some of whom performed priestly functions such as Bible readings and baptisms. The courageous priest Marco Arana continued the work of the bishop and founded the environmental and civil rights movement “Grufides”. With numerous non-violent actions, he supported the peasants in their struggle against the mine operators.
But Marco Arana had to deal with death threats soon after he began his activities. Six campesinos had been murdered, presumably by mine security forces. The violence had increased when local bishop Lázaro stabbed Arano, the priest under his authority, in the back. The bishop had announced his intention to clean out the “pigsty” when he took office in 2004. Insiders reported that he had the gold mine operators give him a car every year. In 2006, Bishop Lázaro wrote a pastoral letter in which he called on several committed priests to immediately stop their “agitation” and to “confine themselves to their actual priestly duties.”
Throne and altar – the unholy alliance
What are the “proper priestly duties”? Undoubtedly, two views of the church clashed in Peru that could not be more different. Two traditions of biblical interpretation that have been fighting each other since the origins of Christianity. The connection between throne and altar, as it had been in the offing since the Roman emperor Constantine, between ecclesiastical pomp and the display of worldly power, was opposed by a current of socially committed Christianity that invoked the commandment of poverty in certain passages of the Gospel.
The evangelist Luke is considered the unwitting founder and reference point of any kind of “left-wing theology.” In his Gospel, written between about 80 and 90 AD, there are – compared to Matthew, Mark and John – a conspicuously large number of passages in which the social difference between rich and poor is a theme. The famous Christmas story with its romanticism of a stable and a manger has been handed down exclusively in the Gospel of Luke. It relocates the birth of Jesus – which is not historically proven and is often doubted – in a “lower class milieu”, in the midst of the animals of the field and the simple shepherds. The Son of God bedded on straw – here the myth of God’s descent into the “lowliness” of humanity finds a striking and extremely popular expression.
Even before Jesus’ birth, however, social revolution is proclaimed in Luke: “He exercises violence with his arm and scatters those who are proud in their hearts,” it says about God the Father. “He pushes the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. He fills the hungry with goods and leaves the rich empty” (Luke 1:51). The leftist revolutionary who proclaims this is none other than Mary, the mother of the founder of religion. However, in the rich tradition of Marian devotion, especially in Catholicism, this “aggressive” aspect of Mary plays only a minor role compared to her gentle qualities – grace and mildness. Mary’s “hymn of praise” is a typical role-reversal fantasy, which will shape the rhetoric of Luke’s Gospel in the following. The poor are to be placed in the position of the rich in the “kingdom of God” and vice versa.
The blessed poor
Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount says, “Blessed are you poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who hunger here, for you shall be filled. (…) Woe to you who are rich! For you have lost your comfort. Woe to you who are full here! For you will hunger” (Luke, 6, 20-24). Further behind in the Gospel the warning against greed: “Watch and beware of covetousness, for no one lives by having many possessions” (Luke 12:15). In the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus, the rich man finds himself in an agonizing realm of the dead after his death and has to watch the poor man, who has also died, enjoying himself in “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke, 16, 19). Of course, there is also the story of the rich man to whom Jesus advises to give everything he has to the poor. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke, 18, 25).
Such an accumulation of socially engaged passages has earned Luke a reputation as an evangelist of the poor and a socialist-minded writer. In fact, however, the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel is not concerned with an idealization of involuntary poverty, but with the ideal of voluntary renunciation of possessions as a prerequisite for discipleship-the surrender of ego, to choose a neutral term.
The de facto communism and propertylessness of Jesus’ community of disciples became the model for propertyless monastic communities and poverty movements in later Christianity.
Spiritual therapy for the rich
The rich, meanwhile, are exhorted to see attachment to material gain as an obstacle on the path to salvation. They are to forgive debts, return wrongfully appropriated property, and generally donate a large portion of their possessions to the poor. These instructions are first of all “spiritual therapy” for the rich, but they are also the outline of a fundamental social order which – in contrast to the modern economic order – is capable of closing the gap between rich and poor.
These two aspects become particularly clear in the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus, whom Jesus instructed to give half of his goods to the poor and to give back four times as much to people he had defrauded (Luke 19:8). Zacchaeus is the prototype of the exploiter, the enemy image of all socialists. Tax tenants in Judea at that time were collectors for the Roman state. But they often added many times the amount demanded by Rome in order to shamelessly enrich themselves from the population of their own country. Zacchaeus is a fine example of a sinner’s repentance and forgiveness.
But it would certainly be a misunderstanding if the churches, with reference to Zacchaeus, were to ally themselves with exploitative structures and thereby let the necessity of the repentance of the “sinner” fall under the table. One can certainly say that “leftist” interpretations of the Gospel have a basis. Jesus denies the rich the moral right to keep their possessions merely because they can lay formal legal claim to them.
Poverty as a bride
It is impossible to give here an overall survey of the socially engaged currents of church history that follow Luke’s Gospel. Famous, for example, is the “Address to the Rich” (370 A.D.) by Basil, Archbishop of Caesarea:
“The rich are just the same: they consider the goods that belong to everyone as their private property, because they were the first to appropriate them. To the hungry belongs the bread you keep for yourself; to the naked the cloak you hide in the chest; to the poor the money you bury.”
When we think of “buried” riches today, we may well think of money hoarded in bank accounts and withdrawn from circulation. Basil’s contemporary, the Greek bishop Grogor of Nyssa, even explicitly addressed the problem of interest: “What difference is it to come into possession of other people’s property by burglary (…) or to take possession of what does not belong to you by coercion, which lies in interest?”
A great innovator of the commandment of poverty, as it can be read especially from the Gospel of Luke, was Francis of Assisi (1181 to 1226). In his native town, a gray, torn, repeatedly patched habit can still be seen today, an extreme expression of his unpretentious attitude of mind, averted from all worldly things. Francis of Assisi was the son of a rich merchant. When his friends, also from the “upper class”, once found him alone and pensive in an alley, they asked if he was thinking of “taking a wife”. Franz is said to have answered: “I am thinking of taking a bride, but this one is much nobler, richer and more beautiful than you are able to think and imagine.” This bride was poverty.
Francis sold everything he owned in his father’s house for the reconstruction of a neglected chapel near Assisi. When his father publicly confronted him for this and threatened to disinherit him, Francis stripped himself completely and vowed to belong only to God from then on. Since then, St. Francis – and in his succession the orders of the Franciscans and the Poor Clares – have initiated countless social projects and, as a rule, have remained faithful to their vow of personal frugality. The strong charisma of Francis of Assisi is certainly also due to his traditional cheerful mood – convincing proof that a consistently immaterial attitude to life is very well capable of establishing a fulfilled life.
The poor Franciscans were thus also a constant provocation for an increasingly ostentatious church, which tended to interpret away the social message of the Gospel. We find a literary trace of this dichotomy in Umberto Eco’s novel “The Name of the Rose.” In this famous medieval novel, a debate is described between representatives of the Franciscan Order and a legation of Pope John XXII, which revolves around the necessity or non-necessity of the Church’s poverty. But let us return to modern times.
An antisocial religion is at an end
The politically engaged Church received a major boost after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 with the emergence of so-called liberation theology in Latin America. It was initially a movement of the poor themselves, landless peasants and slum dwellers, who read out of the Bible a message of liberation from hardship and oppression. They interpreted the biblical stories, such as the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, as something that had immediate consequences for their daily lives. The church hierarchy was ambivalent about grassroots efforts from the beginning. Part of the Catholic clergy traditionally sided closely with the powerful and the propertied.
In other countries around the world, too, the link between Christianity and politics was discovered to be a powerful instrument of social change. Recourse to the widely recognized authority of biblical statements served to lend weight to the justified claims of the poor and oppressed, to spur their courage, but also to prevent violence. Thus, the leader of the black civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, “expressed his conviction that every religion which is supposedly concerned about the souls of men, but does not care about social and economic conditions, is already spiritually marked by death and is only waiting for the day of burial. (…) A religion that ends with the individual is at an end.”
Since the 1970s, theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, who coined the term “Teología de la liberación,” Ernesto Cardenal and Leonardo Boff demonstratively threw their weight behind grassroots Christian movements in Latin America. They created a theoretical foundation with writings such as Boff’s “Cry of the Poor,” but did not see themselves as founders of the movement, but rather as its mouthpiece.
The liberation theologians did not understand the Bible’s message of redemption exclusively in a transcendental sense, but found in it a secular-economic, even social-revolutionary message.
Thus they could not avoid criticizing the church hierarchy, which they accused of serving the exploitative interests of the propertied classes by dumbing down the poor. In Germany, the activities of sympathizers of the Latin American liberation movement culminated in the statement of theologian Helmut Gollwitzer: “Christians must be socialists.” Gollwitzer was also a friend and supporter of Rudi Dutschke, the leader of the 1968 student movement in Berlin.
God’s solidarity with the oppressed
Jon Sobrino, one of the most popular liberation theologians who had his center of life in El Salvador since 1957, expressed the view of liberation theology particularly succinctly: “To believe in God is to show solidarity with the oppressed.” Sobrino was also an advisor to Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was murdered by a death squad in 1980. Military advisers from the United States were probably behind the murder. In his last sermon before his assassination, Romero had said: “No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is against the law of God. (…) I beg you, I implore you, I command you in the name of God – stop the oppression!”
In 1985, the Brazilian Leonardo Boff was sentenced to a year of silence by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and later deprived of all ecclesiastical functions. Ratzinger accused Boff, among other things, that in his view Jesus Christ had not commanded a particular church form, so that others than the Catholic church model were conceivable from the Gospel. Further, that revelation and dogma played only a subordinate role for Boff and that he had described the historical abuse of power of the church institution in an unnecessarily polemical and disrespectful way. In his justification to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Boff said, “The church of the rich for the poor denies the power of the people to liberate themselves.”
In the 1990s, Leonardo Boff launched sharp attacks against the spreading ideology of neoliberalism, in keeping with the tenets of liberation theology:
“Liberation theology emerged in the sixties from the cry of the poor. This cry resounds until today. And it has become a loud cry because it no longer concerns only the Third World, but two-thirds of humanity. Not only the poor are crying out, but also creation, our earth, which is being plundered. In the 1990s, the issue is not liberation but social exclusion as a result of the new modes of production, the world market and neoliberalism.”
And Boff notes with bitter irony, “If this development continues, the poor lose their privilege of being exploited. They will simply be excluded, declared nothing, and, like Brazilian street children, for example, shot by death squads like troublesome dogs.” In another interview, the feisty theologian said, “I believe that change is possible because I cannot accept a God who is indifferent to this world, but only one who turns to the poor, to those who suffer. His grace gives strength to resist, strength to liberate.” Theology, he said, “must be open to such challenges, to the cry of the poor. Otherwise there will remain a gap between the world of faith and concrete political reality.”
But what about socially committed Christianity in our latitudes, in the “rich” countries of the West increasingly threatened by a new poverty? Here the forces critical of capitalism received encouragement from unexpected quarters. In his 2003 book “What Would Jesus Say Today?” Heiner Geißler, the former secretary general of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who was once considered a conservative hardliner, asked the unconventional question: “Are capitalists allowed to call themselves Christians?” Geißler’s answer: “Those who absolutize the stock market value and the share price of a company and allow only the interests of capital to count economically belong to the group of people who, as Jesus says, have a lot of money and for whom it will be difficult to enter the kingdom of God.”
About the “Pharisees” in his own party, Geißler, a former Jesuit student, said: “To go solemnly to church every Sunday (…) as a political showman, so to speak (…. ), but at the same time to demand deep cuts in the social net, the reduction of social welfare, to abolish the protection against dismissal, to allow wage dumping as an element of competition, instead of a citizen insurance to privatize the risk of illness and need of care and to ship it to the capital market, is not only economically wrong, but leads, as in the USA, to a division of society and is not compatible with the message of the Gospel. ”
Wealth that makes poor
An eloquent example of the spirit of liberation theology in Germany is an essay by evangelical theologian Ulrich Duchrow, published in Carl Amery’s readable anthology, “Letters to Wealth.” Duchrow frames his contribution as a fictional correspondence between two fictional characters: the Argentine bishop Teófilo Lucano and the German bishop Justus Zumkehr. The Argentinean states on record:
“It is not about poverty as such. Rather, it is about wealth that makes poor. It is about mechanisms of enrichment that are declared to be necessary to nature and are thus idolized. Poverty is the consequence. Therefore, the church cannot avoid coming into conflict with this wealth. Only in this way can it help to tackle the causes of the present misery. As we know, it is not enough to take care of those who have fallen among the robbers. It is necessary to take care of the robbers and even the causes that and why there are robbers.”
Teófilo Lucano, respectively Ulrich Duchrow, then specifies his economic analysis. The mechanisms of exploitation would have “to do with the introduction of private property – not in the sense of utility property, but of property with the help of which one can pursue wealth accumulation according to market laws. The connection of absolutized disposal property – interest – money – loss of mortgaged land/debt slavery on the one hand and growing large-scale land ownership with cultivation by slave labor on the other hand – is thus structurally a mechanism that reverses the blessing cycle and thus necessarily comes into opposition to Yahweh.” He then quotes the Bible, “No slave can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Luke, 16:13). The liberation of the rich from mammonism is, psychologically speaking, “addiction therapy.”
The text gets extremely specific in economic theory, criticizing churches for their practice of profiting from interest on monetary investments:
“If, on the other hand, the rate of interest exceeds the rate of growth, the owner of monetary assets robs the other participants in the economic process, that is, above all, the working people, of their fair share of what they have earned together. (…) The argument that the churches need the interest income at market conditions (…) is equivalent to the plausible statement that robbers also need something for their livelihood.”
Author Duchrow adds:
“Neutrality in an asymmetrical system means taking sides with power and wealth. If the church wants to be church, it must side with God. And God takes the powerful down from the throne and lifts the lowly from the dust.”
“This economy kills”
Is the accusation of siding with power justified? Ex-Pope Benedict XVI issued a strong doctrinal condemnation against liberation theologian Jon Sobrino as recently as 2007. The Latin American spreads in some of his books “considerable deviations from faith and church” and could thus “do great harm” to the faithful. He emphasizes too much solidarity with the poor and oppressed and too little faith and salvation through Jesus Christ. Moreover, Sobrino emphasizes too much the human character of Jesus and neglects his divinity.
So, will Jesus continue to be clothed in gold and purple? Or does he walk along, as the Peruvian campesinos think, “in a poncho,” in the costume of the common people? Will he be found in bishop’s regalia or rather in the torn habit of Francis of Assisi? Does the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus absolve the churches of their duty to care for the poor, which may also mean taking a stand against unjust enrichment mechanisms?
Should a distant, transcendent God continue to be worshipped at the expense of and past the people? Or does “incarnation of God” not mean precisely that the high ethical principle of love of neighbor has descended to earth, as it were, in order to become a concrete reality here in our environment?
The current Pope Francis gave many cause for hope, and not only through the interesting choice of his name. “This economy kills,” he said in his teaching letter “Evangelii Gaudium” (2013).
“Man in himself is considered like a consumer good that can be used and then thrown away. (…) Until the problems of the poor are solved from the root, renouncing the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and addressing the structural causes of income inequality, the world’s problems will not be solved.”
In his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” Francis wrote in a similar vein:
“The market alone does not solve all problems, even if at times we are made to believe this dogma of the neoliberal credo. It is a simple idea, repeated like a prayer mill, that always pulls out the same recipes before every burgeoning challenge.”
The Pope accuses capitalism of a tendency toward uniformity within world culture:
“Local conflicts and disinterest for the common good are instrumentalized by the global economy to impose a single cultural model. Such a culture unites the world but divides people and nations.”
Whether the Catholic Church, in its current state, comes anywhere close to living up to the encyclical’s claim is another question.
Vaccinated and tested redeemers.
Since 2020, the churches have also largely caved in to the Corona narrative, stripped themselves of their universal claim, and in many places become patronage cults for holders of 3G certificates.
While Jesus embraced lepers, most of his “followers” supported that segregationist zeitgeist that had declared parts of the population lepers in the first place without need. Not a few priests turned into vaccinated- and at best tested-redeemers.
These sad developments may not be the essence of the Christian impulse, nor, as we can hope, may they have been the last word. However, merely muddling on after the Corona cultural rupture will not be enough. As long as only falling incidence figures, not real insight, lead to a normalization of the situation in the churches, open wounds will remain in many previously excluded people, which will be very difficult to heal without a credible plea for forgiveness.
After all, the subject of Corona by no means exists completely independently of the discourse on capitalism, which is the focus of my article. Corona and the subsequent staged crises around war, inflation and gas shortages have made the “cry of the poor” described by Leonardo Boff resound louder again. The numbers of the poor are increasing rapidly. Pope Francis, who among other things declared vaccinations a “moral obligation,” at times proved to be part of the problem rather than pointing to solutions. His appeal helped swell the coffers of some pharmaceutical giants, while de facto occupational lockdowns, investment in armaments, and inflation caused wantonly by disastrous energy policies are sinking more and more people into poverty.
Unfortunately, there is little doubt that growing poverty will be the big issue of the coming years – especially in countries like Germany that have been relatively rich for a long time. How will the churches position themselves in the upcoming conflicts? Will they hope, with Leonardo Boff, that God’s grace will give them “strength to resist, strength to liberate”? Or will they confine themselves, as Bishop Lázaro recommended, to their “proper priestly tasks,” which would then probably amount to politically ineffective or even system-stabilizing soul care?
Beyond the duty of obedience
Behind this conflict there is another one, which concerns the relationship of the faithful to “his” authorities. On the one hand, there is Paul’s sentence (Romans 13): “Let every man be subject to the authority that has power over him. For there is no authority except from God; but where there is authority, it is ordained by God.” This sentence seems to clumsily want to transplant power narratives into people’s souls.
When one observes how priests went against the spirit of the Gospels in many ways-from blessing arms to 2G churches-one can even say that Paul’s sentence about authority may have been the only one that could be relied upon to be faithfully “cared for” by the churches at all times.
On the other hand, there is the sentence from the Acts of the Apostles, “One must obey God more than men.” This suggests that there can also be an opposition between God and the secular authorities, and that the Christian must clearly take God’s side in case of conflict. As, incidentally, also in the area of tension between “God” and “Mammon”. Theologically, both Bible quotations are difficult to reconcile with each other, although, of course, this has also been attempted in a subtle way. From a socio-political point of view, however, it seems clear that only the second sentence, the one from the Acts of the Apostles, is liberating. It releases religious people from an automated obedience to worldly power, gives them support and dignity, which are derived from a supra-worldly realm. It presents a perspective from which the oppression and plunder narratives of governments can be relativized and overcome.
In authoritarian, controlled societies, only two kinds of worldviews are ever tolerated: first, an atheistic-materialistic one that leads to obedience to the authorities, because no source of value-setting beyond them is recognized; second, an embedded-religious attitude that, in an adventurous mental construction, brings God and governance into congruence and directs the “freedom of a Christian man” (Martin Luther) back to the lack of freedom of a churchgoer who belongs to the state. But one can also argue quite differently: If I am an atheist, I do not have to obey, because I know that government action does not spring from any sublime mystical mystery, but only from realpolitik considerations of always only very relative validity. If, on the other hand, I believe in God, I don’t have to obey anyway, because the “moral law within me” (Immanuel Kant) is always the more reliable guide compared to the more random results of worldly power haggling.
Roland Rottenfußer, born in 1963, studied German and worked as a book editor and journalist for various publishing houses. From 2001 to 2005 he was editor at the spiritual magazine connection, later for the Zeitpunkt. He worked as an editor, book copywriter and author scout for Goldmann Verlag. Since 2006 he has been editor-in-chief of Hinter den Schlagzeilen and since 2020 editor-in-chief of Rubikon.