Thursday, November 18, 2004

Recommended Reading: Torture and Eucharist

Torture is the act of an oppressive State to assume mastery and control over bodies. It is one part of the State’s liturgy of power, where participants are scripted into a drama of obedience to the sovereign claims of the governing authorities. Eucharist is the Church's response to torture, where bodies are given over to God and incorporated into the Church's liturgy of love and sacrifice. The Eucharistic ethic includes re-membering those bodies who have been "disappeared," silenced, imprisoned, tortured and murdered.

In Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Blackwell, 1998), William T. Cavanaugh describes the situation of the Catholic Church in Chile under the Pinochet regime, 1973-1990. The parallels with the situation in Zimbabwe are frightening.
  • The State banishes NGOs (non-governmental organizations) which monitor human rights abuses and offer relief to the victims of government corruption.
  • The State reduces the Church’s voice to "spiritual" things and tells the Church to leave politics to the politicians.
  • The State creates the conditions of disorder and then offers itself as a Savior for those very conditions. In effect, the State is both the menace and the protector.
  • The State destroys civic life and family life through its campaign of violence.
  • Then State, through intimidation and infiltration, corrupts the judicial system and law enforcement.
  • The State enacts a torture apparatus, both physical and mental, which seeks to destroy a person’s identity.
  • The State hijacks the education system to periodically offer "re-education" seminars and drill students on the "real" enemy and the "real" situation facing the nation.
  • The State removes all those mediating institutions which act as a buffer against the totalitarian claims of the State. In effect, the State works to create a society of individuals who are atomized and isolated from others who might share their pain and share their voice.
  • The governing authorities, fearing their loss of power, corrupt the electoral process to ensure their survival.
  • The corrupted States justifies victimizing its citizenry because of a past history of abuses. In effect, the oppressed become the unapologetic oppressors.
  • The State controls all media outlets (radio, print, television), removing any rival voices and feeding a steady stream of propaganda to the citizens.
These are just some of the parallels between Chile and Zimababwe. Cavanagh shows how the Catholic Church struggled to come to terms with this reality. The Church had to extricate itself from an uncritical position of support for the State. The Church "learned how to be oppressed." The Church, by virtue of being the Church, rivaled the idolatrous claims of the State and enacted the kingdom of Jesus by re-membering the broken, defending the defenseless and loving her enemies.

The book is essential reading for those considering possible responses to state-sponsored violence. It is both a thoughtful and relevant presentation of a political ecclesiology.