Activist, What Do You See in the Night?/2
by Mark Chmiel
During a recent theological conversation with a friend in Louisville, I mentioned several thinkers and writers who had been very influential on me over these years. That exchange led to this concise collage….
For a long time during those frightful years I waited for a great voice to speak up in Rome. I, an unbeliever? Precisely. For I knew that the spirit would be lost if it did not utter a cry of condemnation when faced with force. It seems that the voice did speak up. But I assure you that millions of [men and women] like me did not hear it and that at that time believers and unbelievers alike shared a solitude that continued to spread as the days went by and the executions multiplied.
It has been explained to me since that the condemnation was indeed voiced. But that it was in the style of the encyclicals, which is not at all clear. The condemnation was voiced and it was not understood! Who could fail to feel where the true condemnation lies in this case and to see that this example by itself gives part of the reply, perhaps the whole reply, that you ask of me. What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could arise in the heart of the simplest [man or woman]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of [men and women] resolved to speak out clearly and to pay up personally.
No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.
I contend that the depth of any religious commitment should be judged by one’s commitment to justice for humanity, using the liberation activity of human beings as the lens through which one sees God. By this criterion both Martin [Luther King] and Malcolm [X] must be considered as deeply religious persons.
Theology is the art of nurturing the critical questions we need to be asking about the history we are making.
The question which is often put to me, “Do you believe in God?”, usually seems a superficial one. If it only means that there is an extra place in your head where God sits, then God is in no way an event which changes your whole life, an event from which, as Buber says of literal revelation, I do not emerge unchanged. We should really ask, “Do you live out God?” That would be in keeping with the reality of the experience.
I experience our language as broken, horribly corrupted. When the word “love” gets applied to a car, or the word “purity” to detergents, then these words have lost all meaning; they have been stolen. In this sense, all words among us that express feelings have sustained serious damage. This is especially true for the language of religion. “Jesus Christ is our redeemer” – this is destroyed, dead language. It means absolutely nothing, no one understands it; it is religious babble that, although available in staggering quantity, no longer says anything. This is what I mean when I say that language is broken.
For Latin American Christians, it becomes evident that the real denial of God is not atheism, but idolatry. Many who think they deny the existence of God do so because they reject the abuses of religion. The ones who really deny God are those who use God’s name to justify evil.
And God? Well, what about God?
Let’s make a distinction:
There are many Gods
The God of John D. Rockefeller….
I want you to set your eyes and your hearts on these people who are suffering so much — some from poverty and hunger, others from oppression and repression. Then (since I am a Jesuit), standing before this people thus crucified you must repeat St. Ignatius’ examination from the first week of the [Spiritual] Exercises. Ask yourselves: What have I done to crucify them? What do I do to uncrucify them? What must I do for this people to rise again?