The Heart of a Heartless World


"For me, men are not divided into believers and atheists, but between oppressors and oppressed, between those who want to keep this unjust society and those who want to struggle for justice." – Frei Betto

The main task of Christians is to combat structural sin, whose primary form today is the heartless spiritual vacuum of globalized capital, sucking the life out of the poor to provide soul-destroying luxuries for the idle rich. Solidarity with the struggling masses is the primary expression of the love of God in a world such as ours. 

The Brazilian Catholic Student Movement made the following declaration in 1960: "We have to say, without ambiguity or hesitation, that capitalism, historically realized, deserves only the calm condemnation of Christian consciousness. Is it necessary to justify this? It will be enough to recall here some of the alienations of human nature characteristic of the concrete capitalist situation: reduction of human labor to the condition of a commodity; dictatorship of private property, not subordinated to the demands of the common good; abuses of economic power; unbridled competition on one side, and monopolistic practices of all kinds on the other; central motivation as the pursuit of profit. The humanity of the worker cannot remain, in Brazilian society, submissive to the tyranny of money and of cruel competition, in short to the mechanism of capitalism."

The Latin American bishops at Medellin in 1968 laid great stress on the process of conscientizicion, the growth in awareness of their social relations by rich and poor alike.  Growth in social conscience was identified as an element in salvific work of the Church.  The bishops stated, "The Christian quest for justice is a demand arising from biblical teaching.  All men are merely humble stewards of material goods.  In the search for salvation we must avoid the dualism which separates temporal tasks from the work of sanctification.  Although we are encompassed with imperfections, we are men of hope. We have faith that our love for Christ and our brethren will not only be the great force liberating us from injustice and oppression, but also the inspiration for social justice, understood as a whole of life and as an impulse toward the integral growth of our countries."

Conscientizicion provokes much reflection in one who was taught from an early age that Christian life consists in an ever-deepening sensitivity of conscience.  It suggests a constant struggle for greater depth of awareness, an inward growth that continually reflects on the spiritual implications of one’s inner and outer situation. 

Perhaps the best description of what this conscientizicion consists of is provided by Paulo Friere, who wrote with his characteristic directness, "Liberation, a human phenomenon, cannot be achieved by semihumans…The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift bestowed by the revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own conscientizacao…It is essential for the oppressed to realize that when they accept the struggle for humanization they also accept, from that moment their total responsibility for the struggle.  They must realize that they are fighting not merely for freedom from hunger, but for…freedom to create and to construct, to wonder and to venture. Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well-fed cog in the machine…It is not enough that men are not slaves; if social conditions further the existence of automatons, the result will not be love of life, but love of death." – The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

"Have you forgotten that Marx considered religion to be the opium of the people?" – the Brazilian torturers asked Fr. Frei Betto, the Dominican priest.

He answered: "It is the bourgeoisie which has turned religion into an opium of the people by preaching a God, lord of the heavens only, while taking possession of the earth for itself."  More can be found on this topic at nonviolentjesus.blogspot.com

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