Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reflections on Ethics among the Marginalized

The following are quotes found in the first chapter of Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins by Miguel A. de la Tora

"For those doing ethics, the issue is not to determined some abstract understanding of what is ethical, but rather, in the face of dehumanizing oppressive structures, to determine how people of faith adapt their actions to serve the least among us.  Ethics becomes the process by which the marginalized enter a more human condition...."

"It is not what is said that bears witness to the good news of the resurrection, but rather what is done to those still trapped in the forces of death."

"Those who would eliminate injustice are therefore always placed at the moral disadvantage of imperiling its peace.  Privileged groups will place them under that moral disadvantage even if the efforts toward justice are made in the most pacific terms.  They will claim that it is dangerous to disturb a precarious equilibrium and will feign to fear anarchy as the consequence of the effort."
-Reinhold Neibuhr

"What is logical to the oppressor isn't logical to the oppressed. And what is reason to the oppressor isn't reason to the oppressed." -Malcolm X

She uses an analogy of society as a mental asylum, whose misguided doctors determine the exit of oppression, but they do not realize that the system itself imposes a "mad" system of behavior which would deny them freedom.

"Like patients in an asylum, the marginalized suffer from their own 'madness'-- their refusal to conform to the ethical standards of 'civilized' dominant culture.  In the minds of those with power and privilege their marginalization is self-imposed, a refusal on the part of the disenfranchised to assimilate to what is perceived as the common good.  When they behave, when they submit to the law and order of the dominant culture they are 'free'.  Those who reject the dominant view are eyed with suspicion."

"The marginalized do not lack the academic rigor to do ethical reflection, nor do they simply bypass ethical reflection altogether. Rather, their approach to the oppressive situation produces a different way of doing ethics."


Allow me to give few examples.  Today a friend of mine on Facebook accused the majority of people on welfare to be "in sin" because they are single mothers.  However, there is no clear evidence that sex before marriage is a sin, per say.  Marriage is not even a requirement in the Bible for a sexual couple.  Adultery, breaking one's commitment to one's spouse, is a big issue, but that doesn't have to include marriage.  However, marriage and the ability to divorce is a privileged game, costing from 65 to 200 dollars or more for the opportunity to have it legally done.  The poor bypass such ceremonies because it usually doesn't have as much meaning to them.  They will be faithful to their partner, and that is a solid agreement, but that isn't the same as marriage.

When two people who are both on disability want to get married, they will almost always do it "off the books", not in a legal manner, because they will be economically punished if they legally marry.  The system treats them to see legal marriage as something to avoid, even if they wish dearly to make the commitment.  They live according to a different ethical standard than the middle class. Still, the middle class will condemn them for acting practically.

Another example.  For many churches, getting drunk and even possibly drinking alcohol is a sin.  Yet the Bible says that one who rules shouldn't get drunk, but those who are poor should so they don't have to remember their suffering (Proverbs 30:1-7).  Here there is clearly two levels of ethics-- one for those who have to make just decisions for many and another for those who have not been able to care for themselves.

Smoking, drug use, sleeping in abandoned houses or parks, drinking outdoors and many other crimes are punished when found, but often the poor have no choice but to participate in these activities.  Why?  Because their life context is different from those who pass the laws.  What seems simple and basic ethics to the housed and privileged are often impossible for the marginalized.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dom Helder Camara

Bishop of Rio de Janiro, he believed that the power of the church should be used for the poor, and worked toward this end in Vatican II.  He led the Pact of the Catacombs, a group of priests devoted to the poor.  He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but the government of Brazil stood in his way.

His greatest work, however, were his poems in which he expressed his deeper life before God.  He wrote seven thousand poems in his life, and the far majority of them have not been published.  Here is a handful.

Become an expert
in the art
of discovering the good
in every person.
No one
is entirely bad.
Become an expert
in the art
of finding the truthful core
in views of every kind.
The human mind
abhors total error.

There are those
whose being 
is possession.
There are those
whose essence
is giving.

If you disagree with me,
if you have something to give me,
if you are sincere
and seek the truth
as best you may,
honestly, with modest care,
your thought is growth
to mine, correction,
you deepen my vision.

Hope without risk
is not hope
which is believing
in risky loving,
trusting others
in the dark
the blind leap
letting God take over.

When on judgement day
the angels call the artists in
they will be so proud
of their share
in God the Father's power
of creation,
that the Son
will find it hard
to judge them strictly
because poets especially
remind him of his Father.

isn't your creation wasteful?
Fruits never equal
the seedlings abundance.
Springs scatter water.
The sun gives out
enormous light.
May your bounty teach me
greatness of heart.
May your magnificence 
stop me being mean. 
Seeing you a prodigal
and open-handed giver,
let me unstintingly,
like a king's son,
like God's own.

Hear, O Lord
my special prayer
for my people,
the voiceless ones.
There are thousands 
and thousands
of human creatures
in the poor countries
and in the slums
of the rich countries
with no right
to raise their voices
no possibility 
of claiming
of protesting
however just
are the rights
they have to uphold.

-All poems taken from the volume Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings, most are from the original volume The Desert is Fertile.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jesus Godzilla

If your Jesus is untouched by lust or anger or fear, then your Jesus is too big.

If your Jesus cannot bear to be insulted or wrongly thought of, then your Jesus is too big.

If your Jesus dwells in a spiritual dimension and despises the physical, then your Jesus is too big.

If your Jesus is the controlling entity over all the world, and all events in it, good or bad, then your Jesus is too big.

If your Jesus is too powerful or holy to be imitated, then your Jesus is too big.

If you cannot walk on water or heal the sick or love your enemy, then your Jesus is too big.

If your Jesus is the same god who commanded nations and their children to be burned, then your Jesus is too big.

If your Jesus can support war and hated and prejudice, then your Jesus is too big.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Why did Jesus die?

Jesus didn't die to save us from breaking a petty law. Rather, he died to give us an option to live, apart from the "oppress or be oppressed" world we live in. He died to open up a new world-- a world of generosity, of mercy, where forgiveness actually works. He died to get rid of petty laws and vengeances, and replace them with lives of love and grace.
Most of all, he died to show us that we can give into oppression and win in the end. That surrender to death isn't the end of the story. Allowing an oppressor to step on us isn't what we should fear. Our greatest fear should be being forced to be hard-hearted and judgmental.

I believe in hell

I believe in hell. A real hell, not just a symbol. I believe that it is punishment for evildoers in this world. And I affirm that Jesus said that it will NOT be for people who believe the wrong things, the "wrong" religion or the "wrong" philosophy. It will be only for those who oppress the poor and marginalized and who judge the innocent.
Because if we don't see justice done in this world, we will see it done in the next.

The Gospel, as yet unheard

Modern evangelical theology is a form of Calvinism.  It claims that we were all born sinners-- drawing on the often false guilt of every child-- and that Jesus paid the punishment for our sin.  We believe (not follow, just have faith in) in Jesus, which allows us to access this payment.

Yep, I know that theology and it isn't biblical. There is no where in Scripture that says that every person who sins deserves hell. Even the scriptures that seem to say that everyone is a sinner has caveats, saying that they aren't for everyone.

What Scripture DOES say is that every person will be judged according to what thy have done, every deed, good or bad. It says that the world we live in, and those we are enslaved to make it difficult for us to live in the way we should, and easier to live lives of evil. Ether we live to get ahead, or we live desperate lives of poverty, which make us want to steal or do other desperate acts. Jesus' death creates a kingdom to escape this system of "bite or be bitten".

When scripture says to "believe" it is to believe in the Christ, the king. When we "believe" or a better translation is "to have faith in" a king, it means we place our allegiance in him, surrendering other allegiances. To "believe" in a king means to be a part of his kingdom, giving up on all other kingdoms, to follow his law, giving up on all other laws.

We are now in a kingdom that if we simply repent, we are forgiven. We are now in a kingdom in which the only law is to love. So there is no excuse for us to live otherwise, to live according to karma, we can... no must... live by grace.

And Jesus tells us that graceful, generous living is how we live eternity with him. It isn't a life lived according to a law, but a life of mercy, forgiveness and giving. That's how we escape the hell of karma, the hell of having to do evil. We give up on the system of this world, give up on the oppressions of this world, and surrender to acting out the grace that God had given us.

And the ones that God wants us to have the most mercy on is the poor, the needy, the innocent. Just like Jesus did.

And this is why, on the final day, the sheep are those who did acts of generosity to the poor, and the goats are those who refused to be generous. We show our fealty to God's kingdom by surrendering all we have to the needy.