In what is quite common arguments to be found within the white church environment in South Africa, both the Belhar confession as well as the Kairos document is rejected because it “supports liberation theology, and therefore violence”. In an act of total hypocrisy white South Africans would make the claim of rejecting violence in toto, and therefore withdraw from supporting these so-called implicit justifications of violence. By describing this as an act of total hypocrisy I do not wish to claim that the non-violent position is impossible, but rather that we need to be skeptical of simple rejections of blatant violent acts by the oppressed.

As in many other cases, rereading Bosch might help us in our quest. On the issue of violence in liberation theology he writes

Third, there is the matter of violence. Support for violende is intrinsic to Marxism. Without condoning the violence of the status quo and Christians’ blessing of it (which is actually the bigger problem), one has to express concern about the support for revolutionary violence (which is actually the lesser problem, since it is really a response to the violence of the system) in some branches of liberation theology.

Transforming Mission, p441

It might be the most obvious insight ever, but we have developed an extensive set of tools to not face it: opposition to violence is primarily an opposition to the violence of the status quo. Any opposition to violence which condones the violence of the status quo is not an opposition to violence at all, but become just another hidden attempt at keeping the violence of the privileged in place. In herein obviously the total hypocrisy of white South Africans: the opposition to the support for revolutionary violence is an important Christian stance, but without an even stronger rejection and opposition to the violence of the status quo it becomes a hypocritical act.

However, the matter of violence contain a third aspect (and obviously many more, but at least this one I believe need to be lifted out). Apart from the revolutionary violence, the planned use of violence to call in a change in how the world is structured, there is the violence of the oppressed when the situation become unbearable. Is this not what Žižek call divine violence?

Divine violence should thus be conceived as divine in the precise sense of the old Latin motto vox populi, vox dei: not in the perverse sense of “we are doing it as mere instruments of the People’s Will,” but as the heroic assumption of the solitude of sovereign decision. It is adecision (to kill, to risk or lose one’s own life) made in absolute solitude, with no cover in the big Other. If it is extra-moral, it is not “immoral,” it does not give the agent licence just to kill with some kind of angelic innocence.When those outside the structured social field strike “blindly,” demanding and enacting immediate justice/vengeance, this is divine violence. Recall, a decade or so ago, the panic in Rio de Janeiro when crowds descended from the favelas into the rich part of the city and started looting and burning supermarkets. This was indeed divine violence … They were like biblical locusts, the divine punishment for men’s sinful ways.

Violence. Six sideways Reflections, p202

Is this then not the even bigger evil: that our rejection of the violence of the revolutionary without an even stronger opposition, and active dismantling of, the violence of the status quo, cause us to out of hand reject the violence of the oppressed. Those moments when those outside the structured social field strike “blindly,”. This we then describe as “criminal”*.

Is the true opposition to violence, and the truly theological stance, not inherently a focus on the violence of the status quo. Analyzing. Making public. Challenging. Not propagating the violent overthrow of the status quo, but recognizing that the appropriate response to both the revolutionary violence, as well as the divine violence of those outside the structured social field, is again a focus on the violence of the status quo.

* I don’t equate criminal violence with what Žižek call divine violence. Our response to criminal violence is something different. I simply point out that we use the description “criminal” broadly for all violence which challenge the status quo of the democracy.

Advertisements