2011 is so far proving to be quite a year for social change. Tunisia began a popular revolution from a repressive government in what is now being called the Jasmine Revolution. Other nations throughout North Africa and the Middle East have followed in taking to the streets with popular movements and demonstrations and this past week we witnessed the amazing situation in Egypt where the 30 year rule of Hosni Mubarak finally came to an end. As I consider these momentous events I am reflect on the wisdom of Pope Benedict’s World Day of Peace Message where he offers a message of constructive peace through dialogue, understanding and the pursuit of religious liberty. The following article from the BBC gives me great hope that what we are witnessing in Egypt may be the fulfillment of the Pope’s hope and dreams for a constructive pursuit of peace.
While I share the excitement of the moment I am cautious of the possibility that violence never looms that far from social unrest. I am not only cautious of the possibility of violence in the places of North Africa and the Middle East but also the proclivity of violence here in our own nation. The Pope’s World Day of Peace messages have always challenged us to have an attitude that is open to the possibility of peace and nonviolence. As we approach lent in the next month I am spending my time reflecting on the difficult teachings of Jesus where he invites us to be radical peacemakers through the challenge of loving our enemies and turning the other cheek. I will be reflecting on these further when I consider the 1983 Peace Pastoral of the U.S. Bishops during the Lenten season.
But for now I would like to share the teachings of the renowned Bishop of Brazil, Helder Camara. In 1971 Bishop Camara published a small book that is worth reading for any Christian who would like to consider a reasonable and common sense approach to Jesus’ great challenge of being radical peacemakers. The Book is called “The Spiral of Violence” and you can download it by clicking on this link. Bishop Camara offers the theory of the spiral of violence by simply reminding us of the typical social trends throughout the world where violence begets violence.
This established violence, this violence No. 1, attracts violence No. 2, revolt, either of the oppressed themselves or of youth, firmly resolved to battle for a more just and human world.
He goes on to discuss how the epidemic of social violence continuous like a domino effect after the initial form of violence has taken place.
When conflict comes out into the streets, when violence No. 2 tries to resist violence No. 1, the authorities consider themselves obliged to preserve or re-establish public order, even if this means using force; this is violence No. 3. Sometimes they go even further, and this is becoming increasingly common: in order to obtain information, which may indeed be important to public security, the logic of violence leads them to use moral and physical torture—as though any information extracted through torture deserved the slightest attention!
The Solution for Bishop Camara is the authentic pursuit of justice on the root causes of the social issues which have generated the first form of violence. This violence can take many forms and two primary forms that always produce negative social effects are economic injustice and cultural discrimination. Bishop Camara challenges us to move away from unhealthy partisan disputes which are a social precondition for violence that in no way treats the real injustice that many of us face.
Everywhere, as well as an inert majority and an extreme left and extreme right who clash with one another in a shifting balance of violence and hatred, there are minorities who are well aware that violence is not the real answer to violence; that, if violence is met by violence, the world will fall into a spiral of violence; that the only true answer to violence is to have the courage to face the injustices which constitute violence No. 1.
The privileged and the authorities will come to understand that common sense obliges one to choose between bloody and armed violence, on the one hand, and on the other the violence of the peaceful: liberating moral pressure.
Let us consider the wisdom of Jesus challenge to be radical peacemakers with the helpful insights that Bishop Camara offers from his own lived experience and become instruments of liberating moral pressure.