“The so-called extremist right is directed and approved by the army. I recall a visit to the town of Gualan in the department of Zacapa. I went in there with a team of students from the National University to establish a new youth center. A week after the group was organized, its president received a death warning from the Mano Blanca (White Hand).
“I went alone to visit the head of the Mano Blanca and asked him why he was going to kill this lad. At first he denied sending the letter, but after a bit of discussion with him and his first assistant, the assistant said, ‘Well, I know he’s a Communist and so we’re going to kill him.’
‘How do you know?’ I asked.
“He said, ‘I know he’s a Communist because I heard him say he would give his life for the poor.’
“With such a definition of communism, we find many new names in the Communist ranks, including Christ’s.”
– Blasé Bonpane, a priest working in Guatemala, in THE WASHINGTON POST, February 4, 1968
Some people say Christ is God, and other people say Christ was a great man, but not divine. For the purposes of this column, it really doesn’t make any difference if Christ was God or man, or both. What we know is that His life is chronicled in the New Testament by four different “evangelists” – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In these Gospels, Christ’s actions and teachings are recounted in detail by four different men, and there are few discrepancies among the Gospels.
Christ was very clear about the matter of earthly riches. He asked, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Another time He said, store up not for yourselves treasures on earth, where dust and moth consume … On another occasion, He said, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Again, there is the New Testament story of a rich young man who wanted to live a holy life. Jesus said to him, obey the commandments. The rich young man replied that he had been obeying the commandments all his life, whereupon Jesus said, okay, then share all you have with the poor and come follow me. But, the rich young man could not bring himself to give up his earthly riches. And so he walked away, into anonymity and into oblivion. Again, Christ also said, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In many religious orders, when men and women decide to join these orders, they take vows of poverty. The vow is to maintain individual poverty. The order itself does not take such a vow, because it is understood that the order requires financial and material assets in order to carry out its mission of spreading the Word of God.
It would seem to me, based on my reading of the Gospels, that it would be a difficult thing for a very rich man who hoarded his wealth to also consider himself a big-time Christian. And yet, in this third millennium on planet earth, Christianity is the religion of voracious, neoliberal, laissez-faire capitalism. How we came from there in the New Testament to here in the Wall Street Journal, is an interesting story indeed, but also a most extended tale.
Many, many people talk Christ in the modern world, but few truly live Christ. This is the reality. Personally, I was raised to live Christ, but it is for sure that when I reached a certain age I began to focus on acquiring skills which would enable me to make a good living. I have Belizeans from my generation who pursued and achieved, in a linear manner, that youthful vision of acquiring skills and making a good living. I congratulate these Belizeans on their success, because they worked hard, and generally honestly, for that success.
At the same time they were getting what they wanted, however, they were losing some of what they had. They lost their easy camaraderie with the people from whom they came. In the words of Christ, they gained the world and lost their soul. In my column in the mid-week issue of this newspaper, I wrote critically of some Belizeans who had achieved financial success and were not contributing to their people. One of my friends said to me, in commenting on that column, these people will become angry at you. My response was, these are people who are already angry at me.
For a person who grew up poor, it is not easy to decide when you have acquired enough. Some people are so scarred by the poverty of their childhood and youth that they live in deathly fear of a return to poverty, and so they can never quite have enough.
But, even for those who are comfortable enough to believe they can afford to assist the less fortunate, there is not an automatic, guaranteed mechanism through which to transfer assistance. A man works hard to make his money, so if he decides to give twenty dollars to the cause of the less fortunate, he wants, ideally, for twenty dollars, no less, to reach the intended beneficiary of his assistance. He doesn’t want these “middle manager” types to divert or hijack the assistance, because that defeats the purpose. We have seen in the case of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti a few years ago, billions of dollars in donations came from all parts of the world. These donations did not all reach the suffering Haitian people. It is sad.
It is said that, it is in giving that we receive. People genuinely want to help other people. The effective mechanisms are not always there. So, when I make generalized criticisms about some Belizeans who appear selfish and heartless, I understand and appreciate that it was hard to make your money in the first place, and I also understand, keenly, that you don’t want to be “hustled.”
There are people who believe, as a matter of political philosophy, that the state should stay out of the way and allow Darwinian principles to prevail. Let the strong survive and flourish, in other words, and what happens to the poor and weak is what they deserve. This is considered the conservative view of society. The liberal view, on the other hand, calls for the state or government to protect the weak from the strong through welfare provisions, for example. And then there is the revolutionary view, which calls for the masses of the poor to demand what they need from the wealthy elite.
I suppose Jesus Christ would have been somewhere between the liberal and the revolutionary. I am absolutely positive that the Christ could never have been a conservative or a neoliberal. So then, if you are a conservative or a neoliberal, I propose that you cease to conceive of yourself as a Christian. Your way is not Christ’s way. You cannot possibly argue that to me that it is, because the evidence of the Gospels is clear. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Power to the people.