Oppressing is not freedom

The scandal of suggesting that oppressors need hope is built on the idea that oppressors already have what they want and are preventing others from getting it.  There’s a lot wrong with that assumption, and throughout my book Hope for the Oppressor, I show how something that seems so obvious is actually not necessarily true.

The subtitle of the book is “Discovering Freedom through Transformative Community.” Discovering something implies that it needs to be found, and so isn’t actually in place.  In other words, my argument is that while privileged, oppressors are not actually free.

Indeed, that’s the problem we’re facing, and why it’s not enough to just say, a la Bob Newhart, to just stop it.

Even though this isn’t enough, it sure feels good if you’re the one saying it.  That’s how a lot of ethical and social conversations are really framed. Really simple message once you see through the 1000s of words describing the problem, why it’s a problem, and why people are horrible if they disagree.

“Here’s your problem, you stop it!” We could save a lot of trees and e-ink if books had different titles but just this one sentence in it.

Everyone is telling each other to stop the things they don’t like, while ignoring their own dysfunction.  Meanwhile, anyone who has the slightest experience with psychology, or children, or humanity in general, knows that just saying “Stop it!” never actually works.

So either has to be more incisive in addressing the reasons for the behavior or just rely on threats to force action, “Stop it! Or I’ll bury you alive in a box!” Which is basically what government is all about.  Who gets to choose what gets stopped? What happens if they don’t stop it? Well, now we’re arguing about which political party is in charge. Even religious do this, if they’re able. After Constantine took power, it was a lot easier to force people to stop doing and believing things rather than listen, learn, and convince.  It didn’t really work.

To just say “stop it!” isn’t just psychologically unhelpful, it’s also not theologically helpful. There’s a teaching on human behavior in Christianity that says people are going to be awful to each other.  Even when they know they’re being awful to each other, let alone when they don’t realize what they’re doing is wrong.

Then people really are competing about who gets to be awful to whom. That’s a negative way of describing society, but it’s not inaccurate.  Our status is often defined by who we can be arrogant or dismissive with, and who we must be humble toward.  Even if life is full of troubles, at least we can treat a waiter or supermarket employee rudely, right?

In much liberation theology, it is stated that oppressors will never give up their power. That the only way oppressors will be liberated is by the oppressed rising up and changing society.  So we have revolutions of one kind or another, which only rarely actually results in widespread liberation.

Much of the time it just changes who is in power, who then has to be “liberated” by whoever lost the power.  Even if this isn’t objectively true, it sure seems to be true by those who are being treated badly.  Conflict continues, with no real reconciliation or transformation.

Saying that oppressors will never give up oppressing is admitting they are not actually free.  After all, there’s only a small number of actual sociopaths among us, so most people in oppressing circumstances may be aware of the dysfunction but are able to rationalize it away, or just ignore it, all while feeling compelled to keep feeding into cycles of privilege and abuse.  A cycle everyone using an Apple product, for instance, are very familiar with.

They’re not alone, of course. Oppressing is embedded at almost every level of our society. We might hate it, but we need it to keep going in this world.

Even people who make their living protesting oppression often do so from positions of power that depend on oppressing in order to be maintained. So politicians and academics deride structures of power while justifying their own status.  It’s those other people who need to change. Always those other people.

Oppressing is not unlike how an alcoholic can rationalize drinking even when aware of how destructive it has become. It may be destructive, but it’s fulfilling some demanding drive that cannot be ignored.

That’s why it’s not enough to stay, “Stop it!” And even if it feels good and right, it’s not really all that effective either. That’s more my point. It might be right to call out oppressing, make people feel guilty, and feel better about ourselves in the process. But if it doesn’t lead to transformation, then we’re really just playing the same game. Systems of dysfunction are often happy to have critics. The critics let out some steam and the systems keep doing what they’re doing. Everyone is still caught in the cycles.  Not really free.

If oppressors are not really free, then there’s something that is enslaving and controlling the apparent freedom. Lying to us all the while, like the snake in the garden, that this is a better way of life.

Rather than the promised life, that way resulted in separation. Rather than freedom from God, it resulted in isolation, difficulties, even death. That’s the cycle oppressors are still in. Privilege isn’t freedom.  As anyone who follows celebrity news knows full well.

Where is the way of real freedom? That’s what I’ll keep writing about in future posts.

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