Friday, May 11, 2012

Freeing myself from the mind of the oppressor

Last week I offered a few choice ideas from the book A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus by George W. Baldwin. At the age of 50 he gave up everything to live in Nicaragua at the time of the Iran-Contra war. He learned now the poor people there challenged their situation through what is known as Liberation Theology. Baldwin offers his own theology and doesn't say how well it matches the Liberation Theology described in numerous books.

In any culture (even in many institutions, including the Christian Church) there are Powers, systems that are in control. Most of the time these systems oppress those not in power. The Powers maintain their position through promoting the Mind of the Oppressor -- we're supposed to be in power. A good deal of that is to convince the oppressed of the rightness in being oppressed. A great deal of the culture with lessons that begin at a very young age is geared towards this Mind of the Oppressor. An example of this is patriotism. The Powers project their power through laws and judgment. Break our laws and you will be punished. Challenge our authority or disturb the order and you will be punished. These laws are enforced through violence, which can be physical, economic, mental, and spiritual. An example of spiritual violence is an insistence to submit to authority or risk losing your soul.

In sharp contrast, Jesus taught liberation and freedom. The goal was justice, not victory. One does not have to submit to the Mind of the Oppressor. Jesus taught grace. One can freely give and receive love. One does not have to earn it. Jesus taught non-violence because violence never brought the end of violence and never brought peace. The combination of liberation, grace, and non-violence allows the oppressed to defy the Powers and bring justice. It is strong enough to even liberate the oppressor.

According to Baldwin Jesus was an insurrectionist, out to liberate his people from the power of Rome and the Jewish authorities who had sold out to Rome. That is what got him killed. In this telling of the story Pentecost is the day when the disciples realized they could follow the example of Jesus and used his techniques to continue the insurrection. They built a community of justice.

In the way Baldwin tells it, Jesus did not have a divine component. He was as human as we are. That means we are just as capable of leading our own insurrections against the Powers of our time.

But what about Salvation? Baldwin says those ideas were developed by St. Paul. He started off persecuting early Christians, meaning he was acting as an oppressor. Paul did have some kind of mystical experience on the way to Damascus, which changed his thinking. But, Baldwin notes, Paul never met Jesus or watched Jesus in action. Paul didn't learn from the disciples (who didn't trust Paul) and didn't join the community the disciples were building. Through his mystical experience Paul fashioned his own theology of salvation that looks a great deal like maintaining the Mind of the Oppressor. Doubts? Consider Paul's command to "Submit to authority because leaders were placed in power by God." The movement that Paul started was eventually usurped by Emperor Constantine and the Christian teachings became a way of enforcing the Powers and the whole salvation issue became a way to distract the oppressed from turning from the true work of insurrection.

To most Christians (and especially Fundies) this would be labeled blasphemous. But they are speaking as oppressors. To me it makes sense. The question for me then is what is my role in the insurrection? What is my task in freeing myself and others from the Mind of the Oppressor? What should I be doing to bring about justice? I'll be pondering that for a while.

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