Resistance Ethics in a Time of Chaos
Rev. Jim Ryan
This is the third week of our exploration of the Experience of the Divine. To date we have seen that as this experience of the divine grows and deepens the longer we trust its presence. This experience necessarily leads to being aware and conscious of the divine. The grounding of our consciousness forms, informs, and transforms our conscience as it becomes compelled to act. This progression from experience to consciousness to action is what we might call the life-cycle of the divine within each one of us, certainly of those who believe. And it does take faith to make this cycle live.
Last week on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert those two well-known theologians, Stephen Colbert and Ricky Gervais, engaged in a discussion on the existence (or not) of God. Gervais, proclaiming to be an agnostic-atheist, made the case that in 1,000 years science will still exist but in 1,000 years who knows if the Sacred Texts of the various religions will still exist.
To that point, Colbert, a self-proclaimed Roman Catholic, abandoned his earlier point about that age-old bane of philosophers from the Greeks through St. Thomas Aquinas to present-day, namely, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He rather acceded the argument to Gervais and said, “Good point.”
If only Stephen had sat in on our discussions of the past two weeks he would understand that the Sacred Texts are actually secondary resources. In 1,000 years human experience of the divine will, arguably, still exist. One may be confident of this since it is within the nature of science itself to beg the question of “How was this stuff made?”
What the comedians-cum-theologians failed to take up was the state of chaos that characterizes the last two weeks of the executive branch of the United States government. Gervais’s science holds, in the face of chaos, the laws of thermodynamics. These laws hold that in a condition of chaos, over the long haul, a state of equilibrium will at last prevail. Further, the process of entropy shows that all disturbances relentlessly eke their way toward such stability. What Gervais’s science doesn’t give us is the evidence of outside forces at work to deliberately set chaos in motion. For that, apparently, we need White House staff.
Here is the stuff of our resistance. For, if our experience of the divine grounds our consciousness, forms our conscience in the mind of Christ, and compels us to act then such action becomes an Ethic of Resistance. As we look in horror in the eyes and into the broken hearts of refugees who already have been cleared by our government to come to this country only to see their hopes slammed shut by bombastic behaviors under the guise of “Executive Orders/Actions” we are compelled to act in resistance.
Underneath such circus behavior is a cruel and completely alienating view toward our society of laws. Up until now, when we disagree in government and in society we apply diverse views and argue them out, if need be, in a court of law. Internal to government, presumably, conversations that tend toward a particular policy wind their way through thoughtful considerations. But to act on fear, intimidation, and authoritarian power grabs as has happened over the past two weeks calls for resistance.
We have a powerful tradition of Resistance on which to draw. Even a brief walk through the hall of heroes re-introduces us to, as examples, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s stand against the Nazis, Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi against British colonialism, Gloria Steinham against institutionalized male domination and misogyny, and Harvey Milk against discrimination toward the gay community. These and more have provided us with the lessons of how to conduct an Ethic of Resistance. Here are a couple of thoughts from that tradition.
First, one must clarify what it is that one resists against. Do not respond to the bombast with its cruel and unnecessary repercussions with bombast in return. Do not go silent in the face of overwhelming force. It is certainly impossible to do everything, but it is more than possible to do one thing. A case in point, to reflect upon this commitment are the heroes known as the Madres de Mayo
These Mothers of the Disappeared of Argentina were active in their resistance in the 1980s to the death-dealing actions of the government of Argentina. Their own children had been disposed of – some by being flown out to sea and shoved out of airplanes, others tortured and dismembered and, as the mothers painfully and tragically described, disappeared. Here is one mother who was quoted by Jean Bethke Elshtain in her article, Antigone’s Daughters Reconsidered:
I did not get to bury my children. But I have risked my life to make public their suffering. Now, somehow, I must find the strength to go on living. I can do this because if I do not my children will have died twice, once at the hands of their tormenters and a second time from my silence. I cannot bring flowers, nor pray, nor visit the final resting places of my children. Like the Mothers, the Disappeared are everywhere, wherever a single person is abducted, tortured, or killed unjustly. We will endure beyond our lifetimes. This is our hope.”
One might say that this is an example of resistance that paints a picture that looks nothing like these past two weeks. But, this example of truth speaks to the experience of single individuals who are targeted by injustice, racial discrimination, and authoritarianism. This is what calls for our resistance – to clarify not only the evil deed but to glorify the good we must do in response.
Keep in mind, though, to clarify is not to simplify. That way leads to the authoritarian and misogynistic patterns that have emerged even within these two short weeks.
Once we clarify the positive response, we then must commit to persist. We find others and we do what makes the resistance become large – in protest, in phone calls, in letters, and yes, even in study. In such solidarity our experience of the divine widens and deepens. We see in each other that positive call to reach out, to accept the immigrant, to care for the widow and the orphan, the disabled and the disadvantaged. Persist because when you are on the outside you often must make noise to be heard.
In resisting and persisting in resistance it becomes also necessary to enjoy oneself. Our sisters and brothers who teach us from the history of resistance remind us that the hope by which we live is to be a buoy and a fortress of strength – especially in our weakness. In the words of the African American Spiritual, His Eye is On the Sparrow, we sing:
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
God’s eye is on the sparrow,
And I know God watches me.
The experience of the divine compels one to act. To resist and persist in one’s resistance is to live by hope because silence is not an option.