“The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret; every year, without making a sound, three Hiroshima bombs explode over communities that have become accustomed to suffering with clenched teeth. This systematic violence is not apparent but is real and constantly increasing: its holocausts are not made known in the sensational press but in Food and Agricultural Organization statistics.”
-Open Veins of Latin America (Eduardo Galeano)
How, then, shall we live? Are we, the privileged (or, if you’re evangelical, “blessed”), responsible for the oppressed?
It seems the attitude of the majority of contemporary Western Christians is one that praises one’s self when he is generous with what he does not need.
(I will use the pronoun “we” to describe Western evangelical Christians so as not to distance myself from my own upbringing–as disgusted as I may be with the implications of Western theology/philosophy at times, I will not succumb to the temptation to disown my culture, but rather to own it and challenge it and progress it.)
We think that when we give we are doing good, do we not? But could it be that we are not only doing good, but doing what we are supposed to be doing? If this is true, by not giving, which I would venture is our default, we are doing evil. If giving is good and progressive, not giving is evil and destructive.
Before I advance farther down this road, allow me to define “giving.” I of course do not simply mean releasing monetary funds to another individual or organization, although that is a very visible and challenging symptom of a giving heart. I do mean compassion, authentic care, and a desire to help with time, mental energy, physical work, prayer, concern, as well as money. All these works stem out of a giving heart (although many can be duplicated by a guilty heart).
I in no way mean to guilt anyone into action. It is my belief that action is only valuable to Christ if done for Christ primarily and secondarily for the person receiving the action (not for personal gain or relief from conscience).
That being said, I do believe we are culpable and implicit when we do not take care of those who are oppressed. We are undeniably privileged. Again, this is not something to feel guilty over–unless you’re oppressing others directly for personal gain. It’s not our fault. However, we must acknowledge that the reason we are privileged is not because God loves us more than, for instance, Latin Americans.
We must reject the all-inclusive traditional American (I hate using that word only to describe those who were born in the United States of America, as nearly all of the Western Hemisphere is the Americas, but I will use it for clarity and brevity) narrative that claims Americans are more economically prosperous than 95% of the world because God has blessed us.
We must contrarily realize that the reality is we are more prosperous because we got here first, eliminated the native population, refused to share, and dominated without fear of God or man. That is true history and unless we approach our history with intellectual honesty, we will never deal with modern problems.
America is not wealthy because God has blessed us; we’re wealthy because we know how to make money better than anyone else and at any cost.
Commonly, I hear this response, or one similar: “Sure, we did some bad things in the past with the Indians and the blacks and such, but I didn’t personally do them, and they were a long time ago. We should live and let die, and keep going forward without favoring one person over another.”
That is similar to cutting off a man’s legs, getting a 100 meter head start, then yelling back, “hey, if you can’t keep up, that’s not my fault!”
Europeans, and more modernly, Americans, have historically plundered the Americas and relocated much of the wealth and resources to Europe, and more modernly, the United States. Then they have left Latin America on its own two nubs to attempt to stand on its own.
At this point, charity is necessary to atone and renew; not to get ahead spiritually. I use Latin America as a for-instance, but the economic impact of American greed and the “manifest destiny” principle has been felt worldwide.
This is why I think that donating a pair of legs to the man who had his legs chopped off by your ancestors is a necessity. If you do not, you are participating in and promulgating the very philosophy that led your ancestors to chop off the man’s legs: Aristotle’s evil concept of “natural slaves.”
“For those who see history as a competition, Latin America’s backwardness and poverty are merely the result of its failure. We lost; others won. But the winners happen to have won thanks to our losing; the history of Latin America’s underdevelopment is an integral part of the history of world capitalism’s development. Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others.” (Eduardo Galeano)
Surely, God is sufficient to permit or influence one people group to prosper without negatively impacting another, no?
Good question. One I ask myself frequently. While I certainly believe the previous statement to be true, I in the same manner believe that God has delegated many tasks to humanity. While God could create a world in which our actions do not affect others, the simple truth is that he has not. All I know for sure is that my greed (and often, my ignorance) will impact others. No man is an island.
Ever played Monopoly? Ever notice how you can’t win unless you ruin someone else’s chances?
If everyone had the enough to survive, no one would ever “win.” It is a game that forces you to put winning over another’s “existence”, and in this manner capitalism can become wildly oppressive.
Now, in Monopoly, there is a limited amount of resources whereas in the real world, with human ingenuity, resources and commodities can be created, so it is not a perfect analogy. However, it illustrates the point that when two people or businesses or countries go after one object (say, Europe versus the natives, with the object being land and resources), only one person will win.
We mustn’t fall into the coaxing trap of neo-conservative Christianity (in that order) that says that a free market is fair and that oppression does not exist simply because we do not see or understand it. I used to believe a free market regulated itself. That’s like saying government regulates itself. Sure, it does, eventually; but it also can commit many oppressive atrocities before self-regulation occurs. Also, the only way it can “self-regulate” is if you and I are participating in that regulation. “Laissez-faire” capitalism means the government does not intervene, but it does not mean that no one intervenes. If we don’t want a corrupt system (government) attempting to fix another corrupt system, the individual and the non-profits and the churches must recognize the problems and must involve themselves.
If you’re still with me, hopefully you realize there is a problem. Now what?
Do I have any solutions as of now? Not any that I could succinctly and practically translate into text.
Does it bother me every day? Yes.
Does that mean I’m doing good, simply because I’m bothered? No, and I don’t presume to be better than others due to my conscience. But I do believe recognition of a problem is the first step.
How, then, shall we live? I cannot answer that question in its entirety, but I can tell you the first steps: turn not a blind eye or a deaf ear to the pleas of the oppressed and refuse the cultural temptation to justify oppression.
Finally, let not your Heaven be built on another’s Hell.
Que vayas con Dios y su misericordia,
Greg Taylor Tanis