from the archive: charity as jihad

Kristina Kay Robinson

September13, 2002

THEO 1170

“Charity as Jihad”

Theology, according to Gustavo Gutierrez, is the critical reflection on historical praxis. Liberation Theology then calls for a critique of humankind and human practices as a whole. In order to be a truly charitable person you must be in a conflictual relationship with the dominant governments, ideologies, etc. of today’s world. In order for you to connect with the suffering of the oppressed, you must first disconnect yourself from the desire to be “successful”, as is defined by these dominant forces. Beginning a life of charity would require almost a kind of deprogramming. It calls for one to forfeit the prized “American Dream.” Living a life of charity would place you in constant conflict with the existing order, therefore you would have no desire to fulfill its ideals; nor do judge others against them.

The ability of people to connect their pain with the pain of the others is what makes charity, in it’s true sense, possible. Dominant political systems stand in the way of charity because they seek to divide the pain of humanity. These systems divide pain into camps and turn fellow human beings into people who can no longer empathize and in the worst cases enemies. Dominant systems break the link between human suffering and the suffering of Christ. For example ideology keeps those on both sides from seeing the equivalence in the loss of civilian life in America and Afghanistan or Palestine. Charity seeks to reconnect where the bond has been broken and preserve it where it has managed to survive. The truly Christian individual must spend their whole life in active opposition to this culture of dehumanization.

“The understanding of faith appears as an understanding not of simple affirmation-almost memorization of truths, but a commitment an overall attitude, a particular posture toward life”(Gutierrez 8).  These are the words of Gustavo Gutierrez on charity as it relates to the theology and our day-to-day lives. “Charity” in the traditional Western sense has always been an easy enough thing to do. How hard is it really for a people of plenty to give a little to those with nothing? Especially when this provides the haves with a peace of mind that they are “giving back”. This form of incomplete charity is plentiful enough in the United States. Still, among those who see that poverty and injustice still mark the lives of so many, they mistakenly believe that this is due to insufficient “giving” on the part of Americans. The problem with this belief is that it fails to see where the true lack in society is and also what the true nature of charity is.

Charity is not the simple, perfunctory act of “giving.” True charity is much harder to come by because it is much more taxing on the individual. Charity, as Gutierrez describes it, is the total gift of self to those you seek to help. It means linking the pain of the oppressed with your pain and ultimately the pain of Christ. Charity in this sense is what the oppressed lack as much as material contribution. People in today’s world seem to be on a mission to hoard as many material possessions as possible, while also keeping some connection to the divine. What many do not realize, or do realize but are unable to tear themselves from the dominant ideology, is that “communion with the Lord, inescapably means a life centered around a concrete and creative commitment to the service of others” (Gutierrez 9).

            Maintaining a connection to the suffering is something that is impossible to forsake if love (charity) is to serve others. By always being in the pursuit of personal prosperity we are acquiescing to a system of government which in order to function needs the existence of a permanent underclass. Our acquiescence is what prevents us from maintaining that connection. The world today faces a massive humanitarian crisis with the huge refugee problem in various nations of the world. But because we live in a society where we cannot even examine why it is that we have people who go without medical care, it is virtually impossible for us to see how the lives of Palestinian, Cambodian, Afghan, Rwandan etc. refugees, have implications in our own lives. Once we make that connection, we see that conditions in which dispossessed peoples live around the world has a direct effect on the way the poor in our country live. By funding apartheid like system to exist in Israel we create a culture of dehumanization around the world. This culture of dehumanizing those whom you wish to dominate creates a total lack of regard for human life. Which in the case of Israel and the United States leads to the loss of the lives of the oppressed as well as the degradation of the souls of the dominant.

            In many ways the church could be used to make this vital reconnection amongst the people but too often it is run for exactly the reasons the dominant orders are. Many churches today seem to be more about business than the uplifting of the poor, this in spite of Vatican II’s commitment to a “church of service not of power”(Gutierrez 7).  The money contributed often times goes to improving the physical aspect of the church itself as well as lining the minister’s pockets. There seems to be no real coalition on the part of churches Catholic or Protestant, each being run like independent city-states. As if the lives of their members are the most important. A lot of times missionary work among the poor is a form of religious blackmail. Help is given in return for a profession of faith. As far as the situation in the Holy Land, the supposed Christian leadership has done much to perpetuate that system of injustice. The literal word has been taken to justify the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of people. 

The coupling of a profit driven society with profit driven churches does little to help to transform the world in which we live. Transformation of the world begins with the transformation of individual hearts. And ends with those people having the internal, not monetary resources to join together. These people must also accept that they may never see the fulfillment of their goals and draw satisfaction and strength to persevere from one another.This kind of struggle, perseverance—this is a war for justice. What, in my faith we call—jihad.

* Gutierrez, Gustavo. Liberation Theology. 1972.

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Writer. Artist. Lover of the Beloved.

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