Hayes family of South Africa

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Stephen Hayes

[ Article originally published in the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 1990 ]

From the point of view of Orthodox Christians, the various liberation theologies are branches of Western theology and there has therefore been very little discussion of the liberation theologies by Orthodox theologians. This is not because the subject matter that liberation theology deals with is not important, but because Orthodox Christians approach it in a different way. This approach, and the Orthodox Church's experience of liberation struggles, may be of some use, or at least of some interest, to Western Christians who are grappling with similar issues.

While Orthodox Christians have not developed a specific liberation theology, most of them have had a long experience of oppression and of participation in liberation struggles. As in South Africa, where black people have been oppressed for many years simply because they are black, so most Orthodox Christians in the world today have been oppressed for the last seventy years simply because they are Christian. Like black people in South Africa, they have been discriminated against in jobs, housing and education. Many of their leaders have spent many years in prison: they have been banned and banished, detained without trial, tortured and put to death. As Black Theologians in South Africa speak of "the black experience" as the experience of oppression, so for most Orthodox Christians in the world, to be Christian is to be oppressed.

Orthodox Christians are no strangers to liberation struggles either. After several hundred years of Turkish and Austrian oppression, Orthodox Christians were involved in liberation struggles in Greece, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Olivier Clement points out that in Greece liberation theology is the only aspect of Western Catholic theology that interests many theologians and activists who are otherwise systematically anti-Catholic. In Cyprus the struggle for liberation from British imperialism was led by Archbishop Makarios, who was exiled for several years. In the Near East many Orthodox Christians are involved in the Palestinian liberation struggle and are alienated by the support for Zionism that is so strong among some Western Protestants.

There are thus two ways of looking at the theology of liberation from an Orthodox point of view. One is to offer a critique of Western liberation theologies from an Orthodox perspective, and the other is to try to see what Orthodox theology has to say about liberation. In this essay I shall try to do both.

An Orthodox critique of Western liberation theologies

One problem with this approach is that Orthodox criticisms of Western liberation theologies are very often the same as its criticisms of Western theology in general. Most liberation theologies are shaped in a Western theological mould, and even when they are reacting against trends in Western theology, they are operating within the same theological categories and underlying assumptions.

Another problem is that there are many varieties of liberation theology. The so-called liberation theologians do not speak with one voice. In this essay I shall be concerned mainly with three broad varieties of liberation theology -- the Latin-American, with its concern for the poor, and Black Theology and prophetic theology in Southern Africa.

There are two characteristics of Western liberation theologies that are particularly alien to Orthodox thinking. One is the rejection by liberation theologies of the idea of a "universal" theology, and their insistence that theology must be "contextual", and the second, which is related to it, is the reverse typology that is characteristic of some liberation theology.

It is precisely the lack of a "universal" theology that makes the relations between Orthodox and Western churches difficult. The main reason that Orthodox churches participate in the ecumenical movement is their hope that it might be able to discover a "universal" theology that could possibly form the basis of Christian unity. Liberation theologians have pointed out that all theology is contextual, in that all theologians are influenced by the material conditions and culture of the society within which they live. Protestant theology, in particular, is contextual in this sense, "it has become ... fissiparous, lending itself to identification with nationalisms and political alignments, breeding 'local religion', 'British', or 'German' or 'my own' Christianity". The only "universal" characteristic of this theology arises from the chauvinism of those who hold it, which in turn is a result of the lack of awareness of other cultures and other contexts in which theologians operate. That theologians are influenced by the material conditions and the culture of the society in which they live is obvious, but this in itself has great dangers.

For Orthodox Christians, Reformed theology, for example, is seen as too contextual; in Reformed theology, the theology of a particular place and time, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands in the sixteenth century, and a particular theologian, Calvin, seems to have become normative. In South African universities where Reformed influence is strong (e.g. Unisa) the study of church history begins with the Protestant Reformation and works backwards and forwards from there. For Orthodoxy, Holy Tradition is regarded as normative, and while some periods are undoubtedly more important than others (such as the fourth century for Christology), Tradition is living, and is still developing today.

Clement distinguishes three currents of (Latin-American) liberation theology, and says that the representatives of one of them

... reverse Biblical typology in such a way that the Resurrection becomes an image or type of political and social liberation. They view class struggle as the prime mover of history and therefore look to some my thical "revolution" as the necessary prelude to accomplishing among mankind that unity which was in fact brought about in Christ and is offered both through the Eucharist and through the Church as a eucharistic community. By so doing, they set totalitarian Marxism back on i ts feet and, in place of authentic liberation, they prepare the way for the cruel chaos that now exists to be transformed into a thoroughgoing Marxist-Leninist dictatorship.
Clement is here concerned about a covert Marxism that subverts the core of Christian theologies and Christian values. He goes on to say, however, that
Christians should collaborate concretely with "open" Marxists by working for the liberation of the poor and oppressed, as well as by denouncing the short-sighted egotism of the leaders and fashioners of Western economic policy. This they can do by striving, together with such "open" Marxists, to recover and preserve the mystery of man by insisting on the absolute quality of the person, while making clear the emptiness of ideology and its inability to quench the spiritual thirst of the human soul".

The problem of the reverse typology is that it absolutizes the struggle of the moment and makes it normative, not only for the participants, but for generations to come. An example from Orthodox experience may serve to illustrate this: during the Greek liberation struggle, Greek bishops blessed the cannons of the freedom fighters and the shells that they were firing at the Turkish imperial forces. The bishops were excommunicated by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Now it is obvious that both the patriarch and the excommunicated bishops were influenced by the material and cultural conditions in which they lived. The patriarch lived in the capital of the empire whose yoke the freedom fighters were trying to throw off. He had a vested interest, in that the cannons would be aimed in his direction. In spite of this, the church has maintained that he was theologically correct. To bless the cannons absolutizes the present struggle and makes it normative. That patriarch was later hanged by the Turks, which shows that his action was not simply one of political subservience.

Black Power and Black Theology

In South Africa, Black Theology has been classified as a branch of liberation theology. South African black theology has some features in common with North American Black Theology and with South American liberation theology, but it has also been shaped by the South African situation. Whereas in North America Black Theology was associated with the Black Power movement, in South Africa it has largely been shaped by the Black Consciousness movement.

There are three related elements here -- Black Power, Black Consciousness and Black Theology. Black Power is primarily political. It is, in a sense, analogous to the Greek power used in the Greek liberation struggle against the Turks. If black people are powerless because they are black, as is undoubtedly true within the South African political system, then the political remedy must include the acquisition of power by the powerless; in other words, black power.

Black Consciousness, and Black Theology, which grew out of it, is something different. There are varieties of Black Consciousness, just as there are varieties of liberation theology. To some extent Black Consciousness is necessary as a counterbalance to the negative image of black people created by white oppression. The oppressed as well as the oppressors absorbed this negative image. But some advocates of Black Consciousness go beyond this, and if their view is accepted Black Consciousness appears to be aimed not simply at rectifying a political injustice, as black power is, but at an ontological view of blackness that must ultimately end up as racism. Makhathini, for example, speaks of the need of black people to be "de-denominationalised" by "instilling into them that they are first Black before they are Christian, and not vice versa".

Franz Fanon made the significant observation that one of the features of oppression is that the oppressed internalizes the image of the oppressor. Black Consciousness seems to be a part of this process. As race is important for the oppressor, so it becomes important for the oppressed. In 1976, the school children of Soweto were in revolt, and the issue that sparked of the revolt was language. They objected to being forced to study through the medium of Afrikaans, and at the back of it all was the gut feeling that the language of the oppressor in the mouth of the oppressed is the language of slaves. When we look at those who tried to force them, the present leaders of the Conservative Party, we can see a living illustration of Fanon's assertion, because seventy years earlier Alfred Milner had tried to force the Afrikaners to learn through the medium of English. Milner's image was internalized by the oppressed, and Andries Treurnicht and Ferdi Hartzenberg are Milner's avatars. Could Black Consciousness, or at least some varieties of it, be merely the beginning of the next cycle?

Perhaps there is something to be learned from the experience of Orthodox Christians in this regard. Though Orthodox involvement in liberation struggles did not change Orthodox theology, it did lead to an excessive ethnocentrism on the part of many Orthodox Christians. One result of this can be seen in North America, where there are nearly twenty competing Orthodox ecclesiastical jurisdictions, divided along ethnic lines. It can be seen in many Orthodox churches of the diaspora, which function more as ethnic chaplaincies than as churches. It can be seen in the kind of xenophobia that discourages people of different ethnic backgrounds who want to join the church, for fear that it might dilute the Greek or Serbian or Russian character of the church.

It was precisely because Orthodox theology was not contextual in the sense demanded by some Western liberation theologians that the church has been able to resist this tendency theologically, and so to avoid succumbing to the dangers completely. In 1872 a council at Constantinople, faced with an extreme example of such ethnocentrism, anathematized "phyletism" as a heresy. Orthodox Christians still practise phyletism, they still behave in racist ways; but they cannot say that those ways are based on Orthodox theology. For Orthodox theology, the reverse typology implicit in "contextual" theology, and the ontological identification of oppression and blackness in some forms of black consciousness and black theology, lead not only to the danger of phyletism, but to its theological justification.

The Kairos document and prophetic theology

The third variety of liberation theology I would like to touch on is what the Kairos document calls prophetic theology, which it contrasts with state theology and church theology. The Orthodox Church has had a long experience of state theology. The Byzantine Empire was an attempt to create a society moulded by Christian values, to "incarnate" Christianity in society. Most Orthodox theologians today regard it as a failure. In the West the experiment led to a kind of Nestorian dualism, with church and state being seen as two swords. In the East it was more analogous to Eutychian monophysitism, the apotheosis of the state. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Turks in the fifteenth century, the Russian Tsar Peter, the enemy of Orthodoxy, tried to model church-state relations on the Western Lutheran pattern, making the church subservient to the state. The kind of state theology criticized in the Kairos document is very similar to that which prevailed in Russia after Peter the Great.

In dealing with state theology, however, the Kairos document seems to imply that "good" states should be obeyed and "bad" states should not. This seems to accept one of the mistaken presuppositions that state theology is based on - that Romans 13:1-7 urges obedience to secular rulers. The Kairos document recognizes, quite correctly, that Revelation 13 describes the state as demonic. But both descriptions describe one and the same state. In Romans 13 St Paul urges that every soul should be "subject to" (not "obey") the "higher authorities", but in Ephesians 6 the same higher (in the "heavenlies") authorities are described as those we come into conflict with. Romans 13 and Revelation 13 are not describing two different states, one good and the other evil. As Caird says,

It must not be thought that John is writing off all civil government as an invention of the devil. Whatever Satan may claim, the truth is that "the Most High controls the sovereignty of the world and gives it to whom h e wills" (Dan. iv 17). In the war between God and Satan, between good and evil, the state is one of the defences established by God to contain the powers of evil within bounds, part of the order which God the Creator has established in the midst of chaos (cf. Rom xiii. 1-7). But when men worship the state, according to it the absolute loyalty and obedience that are due not to Caesar but to God, then the state goes over to the Enemy. What Satan calls from the abyss is not government, but that abuse of government, the omnicompetent state. It is thus misleading to say that the monster is Rome, for it is both more and less: more, because Rome is only its latest embodiment ; and less, because Rome is also, even among all the corruptions of idolatry, "God's agent of punishment, for r etribution on the offender" (Rom xiii. 4).
This offers no more comfort to proponents of "state theology" than does the critique offered by the Kairos document, but, even though it is articulated by a Western theologian, it comes closer to the Orthodox understanding of the matter.

In its critique of "church theology" the Kairos document makes the valid point that there can be no real peace without justice and repentance, and that for Christians, reconciliation cannot mean attempting to reconcile good with evil. But there is a further point that it does not make: in Christian theology, reconciliation takes place primarily between man and God, and following from this, between man and man, (that is, between persons) and not between ideologies, races, classes or political groups and alliances. Of course the Bible makes it clear that there can be no reconciliation without confrontation (Mt 5:21-26; Mt 18:15-21). It is a measure of how far we have strayed from the Bible that we prefer to avoid the person we have offended, or who has offended us, rather than to confront them, and that for many Christians today "confrontation" has become a dirty word. But Orthodox Christians would disagree with the use of the term "church theology" to describe this kind of aberration, and many would find it incomprehensible. For Orthodox Christians, the church is the Body of Christ, and "church theology" is the theology of Christ and his body. To speak disparagingly of "church theology" or to identify it with a theological aberration indicates that one rejects the body of Christ, and no longer sees oneself as a member of it. At this point many Orthodox Christians would say that the Kairos document represents the alienation and fragmentation they see as typical of much Western theology. But the Kairos document also speaks of the desire for the opposite when it says that "the Bible does not separate the human person from the world in which he or she lives, it does not separate the individual from the social or one's private from one's public life. God redeems the whole person as part of God's whole creation (Rom. 8:18-24). A truly biblical spirituality would penetrate into every aspect of human existence and would exclude nothing from God's redemptive will". This is something that Orthodox theologians could identify with, and is closer to what Orthodox Christians would call church theology. Perhaps this is where the "Southern" branch of Western theology could be coming closer to Eastern theology.

A problem in the prophetic theology of the Kairos document is that while it points out that there can be no genuine reconciliation without repentance it also appears to deny the possibility of repentance. It is easy, however, to criticize with hindsight. The Kairos document was drawn up at a time when repression in South Africa was worse than it had ever been, and when no end was in sight. Few could have foreseen the changes of a year or two later, when oppressive regimes, not only in Southern Africa, but in many other parts of the world, tumbled. The fact that the sky did not fall in Namibia, and the fate of the Ceaucescu regine in Romania, seem to have presented clear alternatives to the National Party regime in South Africa: either they could bow out gracefully, or they could go like Ceaucescu. There does seem to have been a genuine change of mind, which is the essence of repentance.

Orthodox theology of liberation

It should have become clear in the preceding section that it is a misnomer to speak of "an Orthodox theology of liberation", because the Orthodox Church sees theology as one, and in fact sees theology as the "universal" theology that Western liberation theologians find so distasteful. The most one can ask is "What does Orthodox theology have to say about liberation?"

There is a sense in which all Orthodox Christian theology is "liberation theology" because the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the centre, and are fundamentally liberating. Every genuine act of human liberation therefore becomes a type of the resurrection. It was soon after its isolation from the East that the Western theology of the atonement began to lose sight of the element of redemption, apolutrosis, liberation. Anselm's juridical view of the atonement, which came to dominate Western theology, led to the understanding of sin and evil as being primarily something God punishes us for, rather than as something God rescues us from. But if evil is something God rescues us from, then liberation is at the heart of the gospel.

There is a dual understanding of man's enslavement to evil, in the sense that the slavery is an act of free-will. Man freely chose evil, and thus freely chose slavery. The whole world is in the power of the evil one, by a free human choice. God created the world and put man in charge, and it was man who abdicated, and sold creation into the slavery of the evil one. God could have left us to stew in our own juice, to suffer the consequences of our own foolishness, but he didn't. In a sense, God did something even more foolish - he made his whole plan of rescue subject to man's decision. It was Mary who said "yes" to God, and who so became the Theotokos, the God-bearer, the mother of God. Just as Joshua's spies found a willing collaborator in Rahab (Josh 2) so God found in Mary a willing collaborator within the enemy camp.

South Africa today

Liberation theologians, especially those in Latin America, have often used, or been accused of using, Marxist tools of social analysis. Most Orthodox Christians have experienced the modern exponents of Marxism not as liberators, but as the "God-hating Soviets". Nevertheless there is at the core of Marx's analysis something that comes very close to the Orthodox understanding of the world.

At the heart of Marx's analysis lie two simple equations:

G --> M --> G


M --> G --> M

In the first equation, people produce Goods. One person may make shoes, and another may make bread. Shoes will not feed the cobbler, nor will bread clothe the baker. So the Goods are exchanged for Money, which in turn is exchanged for the Goods that are needed. Money is the medium of exchange, the means by which Goods are exchanged for other Goods at equivalent value. This is more convenient than direct barter, because it means that if the baker doesn't need shoes today, the cobbler does not need to go without bread -- she simply sells the shoes to someone else.

But in developed capitalist economies Marx observed a different dynamic at work. Someone who has money uses it to acquire goods to sell at a profit in order to acquire more money. Money, instead of being the means of exchange, the facilitator of the distribution of goods, becomes the goal, an end in itself.

Now this is not at all incompatible with the Orthodox understanding of creation. In the beginning, when God created man (male and female), he gave them dominion over the non-human creation. Man (male and female) is made in God's image, and God shares his image by sharing his dominion. The earth is given to humanity as a whole, not to particular groups or sections of humankind. But, as a consequence of the fall, this dominion, this image of God, is distorted. The creation is up for grabs, and individuals and groups and alliances compete with each other to get a bigger share. Not only so, but they also try to extend the dominion to people instead of things. Injustice, oppression and slavery are the result. So Orthodox Christians could agree with Marx, and would say that the exchange of the

Goods --> Money --> Goods

equation for the

Money --> Goods --> Money

one is a sign and manifestation of the fallenness of creation. When money, instead of being a means of exchange, becomes the end or goal of economic activity, it has lost its creatureliness, and its purpose. It becomes an idol, and in this sense capitalism is a system of idolatry, of Mammon-worship.

But Orthodox Christians would go beyond Marx, and would argue that what is wrong with us that can be solved by politics and economics is not all that is wrong with us. These are symptoms and secondary infections, they are not the root of the disease. Nevertheless, they are part of the disease, and they need to be taken seriously -- a lot more seriously than most Christians in South Africa have taken them up till now. As the Orthodox philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev says:

It was the industrialist capitalist period which subjected man to the power of economics and money, and it does not become its adepts to teach communists the evangelical truth that man does not live by bread alone. The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbours, for everybody, is a spiritual and religious question. Man does not live by bread alone, but he does live by bread and there should be b read for all. Society should be so organized that there is bread for all, and then it is that the spiritual quest ion will present itself before men in all its depth. It is not permissible to base a struggle for spiritual interests and for a spiritual renaissance on the fact that f or a considerable part of humanity bread will not be guaranteed. Such cynicism as this justly evokes an atheistic reaction and the denial of spirit. Christians ought to be permeated with a sense of the religious importance of the elementary needs of men, the vast masses of men , and not to despise these needs from the point of view of an exalted spirituality.
The recent (at the time of writing) unbanning of opposition political organizations, and the freeing of Nelson Mandela and others who have opposed the government have given rise to a new atmosphere of hope. There is hope that some of the intractable problems in South African society may soon be solved. For many whites there has already been a sense of liberation, the sense of a burden lifted. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the problem for which a solution seems within reach, the problem of black and white, is not the only problem. When the black-white problem has been solved by establishing a non-racial democracy, the real problem will be seen for the first time -- the problem of the haves and the have-nots. And that will be a lot more difficult to solve.

That problem is already beginning to surface, in the form of debates about "nationalization" versus "privatization". But in that debate, the churches have had nothing to say. Whether their theology has been "state" theology, "church" theology or "prophetic" theology (to use the categories of the Kairos document), they have done nothing to prepare Christians to consider the fundamental theological issues.

Until the 1970s there was as much nationalization in South Africa as there was in most social democratic countries in Europe. The railways, health services, roads and other significant parts of the infrastructure of the country were provided by the state. Some of these had originally been provided by private enterprise, but private enterprise did not have the resources or the ability to manage them efficiently, and, because they were seen to be important for economic development, the state took them over. There has been debate about nationalizing the mines for a long time, but that has not happened yet. Other sectors of the economy were operated by private enterprise, with or without the profit motive. Many schools, hospitals and clinics, for example, were run by churches, not for profit, but as a service, as part of their ministry of teaching and healing. In the 1950s most of the schools were nationalized, and in the 1970s most of the hospitals were nationalized, not for the benefit of the people, but for ideological control. These services deteriorated markedly, and have not recovered.

Capitalism existed, as an economic system. There is nothing intrinsically evil about capitalism, though, as Marx pointed out, it can become evil if it develops in certain ways, and it very often has become evil. Marxist socialism, however, does not have a better record. The problem is not in the economic system as such, but in the people who run it.

At the time Marx wrote, capitalism was not an ideology. It had its interpreters and advocates, but it never became an all-embracing ideology. But in the 1960s and 1970s, capitalism began to change. It began to have its share of "true believers". Ayn Rand wrote several novels glorifying capitalism, and two more specific works, Capitalism, the unknown ideal and The virtue of selfishness. Capitalism became a cult, and a far more anti-Christian one than socialism. In the 1970s the cult became more popular. It was taken up by politically influential people. In South Africa the Sunday Times began active proselytism. The churches, even if they were concerned about "reconciliation", "justice" or "liberation", said nothing.

In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who were both influenced by the new ideology, came to power in Britain and the USA. What about South Africa? The National Party had a very strong anti-capitalist heritage. From the 1920s, when it had made common cause with the socialists and communists under the slogan "Workers of the world unite and fight for a white South Africa", the National Party had regarded the sinister figure of Hoggenheimer as the symbol of the evil oppressor of Afrikanerdom. What changed? Firstly, the rise of Afrikaner capitalism gave many supporters of the National Party a vested interest in capitalism. Hoggenheimer became less of a villain. Then, when foreign military adventures and the perceived need for increasing repression of the opposition at home led many in the government to realize that it was running out of cash to pay for these, "privatization" seemed an attractive possibility. One could liquidate the assets of the country to raise the cash for foreign wars and civil repression, thus making a virtue (in the eyes of the free enterprisers at least) of necessity. When it was realized that even that wouldn't raise enough to maintain power indefinitely, a different motive came to the fore. Privatization would put the economic power into the hands of the capitalists who were the supporters of the National Party. The white man could retain a bigger share of the economic power, even if the government of the country were to be democratically elected.

Whatever the political motives of those in power, and whatever the changing ideologies, we need to examine this phenomenon from a Christian point of view. The Margo Commission into taxes led the government to make changes in the taxation system. What were the changes? Who would gain from them and who would suffer? The ones to gain would be the healthy, the wealthy and the powerful. The ones to suffer would be the sick, the poor, the widows and the orphans. Did the "church" theologians, or even the "liberation" theologians, point this out? No tax concessions for the sick. No tax concessions for life insurance of breadwinners. St James says "Religion that is undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27). The Margo Commission advocated the exact opposite.

Consider the matter of life insurance. If Christians consider it at all, it is usually along the lines of whether taking a life insurance policy is a sign of "lack of faith". If I take out a policy, doesn't it show that I'm not "trusting the Lord"? Yet in Acts chapter two we read that the early Christians shared their goods. Those who had surplus funds brought them to maintain the sick, the poor and the widows. Life insurance is the same thing, though on a larger scale. Those who have surplus funds contribute to a common pool from which widows and orphans are supported. Mutual life insurance associations are just that, and are an adaptation of the activity described in the first few chapters of Acts to the circumstances of an urban industrial society. Capitalist life assurance companies are a different matter. They are run for the benefit of their shareholders, and represent the Money --> Goods --> Money equation. Have churches ever helped their members to understand the difference?

The same applies to building societies. Building societies were part of a socialist movement, a cooperative venture of people helping one another to solve the housing problem. Until a few years ago, all building societies in South Africa were mutual building societies. Under the influence of the capitalist cult, the government changed the rules, and most of them changed from building societies into mortgage loan companies, from cooperative ventures into usurers. Did the churches, many of whom had money invested in the building societies, go along to the shareholders meetings to voice their protest? No, they pocketed the money they received, and kept quiet. Perhaps they thought it was "the Lord providing".

It may seem strange at this point to discuss building societies and life insurance, because these may seem remote from the "big issues", and because most of the poor and oppressed were not in a position to own their own homes or to take out life assurance policies. I mention them because, in their origins, mutual building societies and life assurance societies were self-help schemes to help the poor. The other day I received a leaflet announcing that a Christian organization was sponsoring a discussion of nationalization, and at first I was glad because it seemed to show a willingness to get to grips with an important issue. On second thoughts, however, I realized that it was an evasion. Such a discussion should have been organized years ago, on the issue of privatization. But privatization did not affect the interests of those in the church who had the power to organize discussions of this kind. The distinction between building societies and life assurance societies, and commercial companies, was not sufficiently important to the Christians with power, because our values are shaped by those of the world around us rather than by the gospel of the kingdom.

While we can indeed join in the rejoicing over the fall of tyranny in Eastern European countries, we should not fall into the trap of the capitalist cultists and rejoice at the "downfall of socialism". Many white people in South Africa have written letters to the newspapers wondering why the oppressed are waving red flags in Soweto and burning them in Bucharest. Don't the people of Soweto know that those flags symbolize a discredited economic system, and that "socialism has failed". But that is to miss the point. In Bucharest the red flag was the symbol of oppression. In South Africa the symbol of oppression is orange white and blue. But even more important, what has failed in Eastern Europe is not socialism, but state capitalism and a bureaucratic and centralized command economy; what is falling, both in Southern Africa and in Eastern Europe, is not an economic system, but military dictatorships, and they are falling partly because there are no longer the economic resources to sustain them. As Yannaras puts it, "the ruthless force of military occupation was required to subjugate the countries now known as the 'eastern block'... this enormous and agonizing price had to be paid, not to realize the marxist vision of social change, but to destroy it once and for all; to transform the 'great soviet fatherland' of the proletariat into a typically capitalist, imperialist superpower."

Berdyaev points out that there are different kinds of socialism, and that "socialism's most difficult problem is that of freedom. How can one combine the solution of the problem of bread for everyone, a problem on which human life itself depends, with the problem of freedom, on which human dignity depends? On the basis of materialism, the problem is insoluble, it can be solved only on the basis of religious socialism." Both capitalism and Marxist socialism are "materialist", and both lead to spiritual subjection. Both assert that man should be subject to economic powers, and the difference between them is merely denominational. For Marxists, the name of the deity is "the dialectical forces of history", while for free enterprisers it is "the free rein of the market mechanism". In the order of creation, these powers, like the rest of the non-human creation, were put under man's control. It is a sign of our fallen state that we seek to be controlled by them; in a sense, the non-human was to be humanized, but because of our spiritual weakness we have allowed these non-human powers to become inhuman. Peter indeed says that we should be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake (1 Pet 2:13), but Jesus the True Man, to whom the powers (including the economic powers) are subject (1 Pet 3:22) declared that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Human institutions, including economic ones, are to serve human beings, and not vice versa.

What is certain, as we face the future, is that because we are human and sinful we will succeed in twisting whatever political and economic systems replace the fallen ones into something that will become just as oppressive. We will continue to turn economic and political systems into cults and idols. We will continue to need a theology of liberation, because sinful man will continue to devise new forms of oppression. And it is at this point that Orthodox Christians would say that the reverse typology of much liberation theology is not merely inadequate, but one of the deceits of the evil one, because it causes us to drop our guard. "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (I Co 10:12). Any event of liberation now will be but partial and incomplete, and is a type of the greater liberation, when Christ returns and the kingdom of God is revealed in its fullness.


Stephen Hayes

Note 23 July 2006

In the body of the article, when it was originally published, I referred to the idea of the oppressed internalising the image of the oppressor, and attributed it largely to Franz Fanon. It would be more accurate to attribute it to Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educationist. I had read their works some 20 years before (when they were banned), and even in the early 1990s the books were not easy to find in South Africa to check the reference. The main reference should be to Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the oppressed.
Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is to create it) become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both. This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both (Freire 1998:26).

Another note

A problem with this particular Web version of this article is that the only tool immediately available to convert it from a word processing document to HTML for publication on the web was Microsoft Word, which unfortunately stripped all the footnotes, and in accordance with the house style of the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, all source citations and references were in footnotes. One day I hope to install Lotus Wordpro, which does a better job of HTML conversions.

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Steve Hayes

Created: 23 October 2006
Updated: 26 September 2013