This chapter, which analyses the theories of cultural action which develop from anti-dialogical and dialogical matrices, will make frequent reference to points presented in the previous chapters, either to expand these points or to clarify new affirmations.
It is important to understand that humans are created in the image of God. As such, we are beings of the praxis. This differs us from animals, which are beings of pure activity. Animals do not consider the world; they are immersed in it. In contrast, human beings emerge from the world, objectify it, and in so doing can understand it and transform it with their labor.
Animals, which do not labor, live in a setting which they cannot transcend. Hence, each animal species lives in the context appropriate to it, and these contexts, while open to humans, cannot extensively communicate among themselves.
Human activity consists of action and reflection: it is praxis; it is transformation of the world. And as praxis, it requires theory to illuminate it. Human activity is theory and practice; it is reflection and action. It cannot, as stressed in chapter 2, be reduced to either verbalism or activism.
Without a reformation theory there can be no church reformation. That means a reformation cannot be achieved with verbalism or activism, but rather with praxis, which requires both reflection and action being directed at the structures to be transformed. The reformation effort to radically transform these Biblically broken structures cannot designate its leaders as its thinkers and the suppressed as mere doers.
If true commitment to the people, involving the transformation of the reality by which they are Suppressed, requires a theory of transforming action, this theory cannot fail to assign the people a fundamental role in the transformation process. The reformation leaders cannot treat the suppressed as mere activists to be denied the opportunity of reflection and allowed merely the illusion of acting, whereas in fact they would continue to be manipulated—and in this case by the presumed foes of manipulation.
The reformation leaders do bear the responsibility for coordination and, at times, direction—but leaders who deny praxis to the suppressed thereby invalidate their own praxis. By imposing their word on others, they falsify that word and establish a contradiction between their methods and their objectives. If they are truly committed to liberation from Preeminent Suppression, their action and reflection cannot proceed without the action and reflection of others.
Reformation praxis must stand opposed to the praxis of the dominant Preeminent elites, for they are by nature antithetical. Reformation praxis cannot tolerate an absurd dichotomy in which the praxis of the people is merely that of following the leaders decisions—a dichotomy reflecting the prescriptive methods of the dominant elites. Reformation praxis is a unity, and its leaders cannot treat the suppressed as their possession.
Manipulation, sloganizing, “depositing,” regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of reformation praxis, precisely because they are components of the praxis of Preeminent domination. In order to dominate, the dominator has no choice but to deny true praxis to the people, deny them the right to say their own word and think their own thoughts. He and she cannot act dialogically; for to do so would mean either that they had relinquished their power to dominate and joined the cause of the suppressed, or had lost that power through miscalculation.
Obversely, reformation leaders who do not act dialogically in their relations with the people either have retained characteristics of the Preeminent dominator and are not truly reformative; or they are totally misguided in their conception of their role, and, prisoners of their own sectarianism, are equally non-reformative. They may even reach a position of power. But, the validity of any reformation resulting from anti-dialogical action is thoroughly doubtful.
It is absolutely essential that the suppressed participate in the reformation process with an increasingly critical awareness of their role as Subjects of the reformation. If they are drawn into the process as ambiguous beings, partly themselves and partly the Suppressors housed within them—and if they come to freedom from those who have been Preeminent over them, yet still embodying that ambiguity imposed on them by the situation of Suppression—it is highly likely that they will merely imagine they have divested themselves of the Preeminent power over them. Their existential duality may even facilitate the rise of a sectarian climate leading to the installation of new Preeminent personages which will undermine the reformation. If the suppressed do not become aware of this ambiguity during the course of the reformation process, they may participate in that process with a spirit more revanchist than reformative. They may aspire to reformation as a means of achieving their own Preeminent domination, rather than as a road to liberation form Preeminent Suppression.
If reformation leaders who incarnate a genuine return to Christ as the only one who is Preeminent over his Church, have difficulties and problems, the difficulties and problems will be far greater for a group of leaders who try (even with the best of intentions) to carry out the reformation for the people. To attempt this is equivalent to carrying out a reformation without the people, because the people are drawn into the process by the same methods and procedures used to Suppress them.
Dialogue with the people is radically necessary to every authentic reformation. This is what makes it a reformation, as distinguished from a coup. One does not expect dialogue from a coup—only deceit (in order to achieve “legitimacy”) or force (in order to repress). Sooner or later, a true reformation must initiate a courageous dialogue with the people. Its very legitimacy lies in that dialogue. It cannot fear the people, their expression, their effective participation in transforming that power. It must be accountable to them, must speak frankly to them of its achievements, its mistakes, its miscalculations, and its difficulties.
The earlier dialogue begins, the more truly reformative will the movement be. The dialogue which is radically necessary to reformation corresponds to another radical need: that of women and men who cannot be truly human, apart from communication, for they are essentially communicative creatures of God. To impede communication is to reduce men to the status of “things”—and this is a job for Suppressors, not for reformers.
The praxis implies no dichotomy by which this praxis could be divided into a prior stage of reflection and a subsequent stage of action. Action and reflection occur simultaneously. A critical analysis of reality may, however, reveal that a particular form of action is impossible or inappropriate at the present time. Those who through reflection perceive the infeasibility or inappropriateness of one or another form of action (which should accordingly be postponed or substituted) cannot thereby be accused of inaction. Critical reflection is also action.
As previously stated that in education the attempt of the teacher-student to understand a cognizable object is not exhausted in that object, because this act extends to other students-teachers in such a way that the cognizable object mediates their capacity for understanding. The same is true of reformation action. That is, the suppressed and the reformation leaders are equally the Subjects of reformation action, and reality serves as the medium for the transforming action of both groups. In this theory of action one cannot speak of an actor, nor simply of actors, but rather of actors in intercommunication.
This affirmation might appear to imply division, dichotomy, rupture of the reformation forces; in fact, it signifies exactly the opposite: their Christ-directed fellowship. Apart from this fellowship, we do see dichotomy: reformation leaders on one side and people on the other, in a replica of the relations of Suppression. Denial of fellowship in the reformation process, avoidance of dialogue with the people under the pretext of organizing them, of strengthening reformation power, or of ensuring a united front, is really a lack of confidence in God being in control of his church. It is also a lack of faith in the believers within the Body of Christ. But if God, directing his flock, cannot be trusted to do his work, there is no reason for liberation; in this case the reformation is not even carried out for the people within the church, but “by” the people for the reformation leaders: a complete self-negation.
The reformation is made neither by the leaders for the people, nor by the people for the leaders, but by both acting together in unshakable solidarity and confidence in Christ being the ultimate Preeminent leader of his church. This solidarity is born only when the leaders witness to it by their humble, loving, and courageous encounter with their fellow believers. Not all men and women have sufficient courage for this encounter—but when they avoid encounter they become inflexible and treat others as mere objects; instead of nurturing life, they kill life; instead of searching for life, they flee from it. And these are Suppressor characteristics.
Some may think that to affirm dialogue—the encounter of women and men in the world in order to transform the world—is naively and subjectively idealistic. There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than God-directed believers in the world and with the world, than believers in equality with other believers—and some believers against one another, as with the Preeminent Suppressor and suppressed classes.
Authentic reformation attempts to transform the reality which begets any dehumanizing state of affairs. Those whose interests are served by that reality cannot carry out this transformation; it must be achieved by the suppressed, with their reformation leaders. This truth, however, must become radically consequential; that is, the reformation leaders must incarnate it, through fellowship with fellow believers. In this fellowship, both groups grow together, and the reformation leaders, instead of being simply self-appointed, are installed or authenticated in their praxis with the praxis of their fellow believers in Christ.
Many persons, bound to a mechanistic view of reality, do not perceive that the concrete situation of individuals conditions their consciousness of the world, and that in turn this consciousness conditions their attitudes and their ways of dealing with reality. They think that reality can be transformed mechanistically, without presenting the person’s false consciousness of reality as being a problem or, through reformation action, developing a consciousness which is less and less false.
The reality is that it is when the majorities are denied their right to participate in history as Subjects that they become dominated and alienated. Thus, to supersede their condition as objects by the status of Subjects—the objective of any true reformation—requires that all true believers in Christ act, as well as reflect, upon the reality to be transformed according to God’s word and direction.
It would indeed be idealistic to affirm that, by merely reflecting on Suppressive reality and discovering their status as objects, persons have thereby already become Subjects. But while this perception in and of itself does not mean that thinkers have become Subjects, it does mean that they are “Subjects in expectancy”—an expectancy which leads them to seek to solidify their new status. A status where they are freed from human Preeminent Suppression and fully and freely led by the one and only true Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, it would be a false premise to believe that activism (which is not true action) is the road to reformation. People will be truly critical if they live the plenitude of the praxis, that is, if their action encompasses a critical reflection which increasingly organizes their thinking and thus leads them to move from a purely naive knowledge of reality to a higher level, one which enables them to perceive the causes of reality. If reformation leaders deny this right to their fellow believers, they impair their own capacity to think—or at least to think correctly. Reformation leaders cannot think without the people, nor for the people, but only with the people.
The dominant elites, on the other hand, can—and do—think without the people—although they do not permit themselves the luxury of failing to think about the people in order to know them better and thus dominate them more efficiently. Consequently, any apparent dialogue or communication between the Preeminent elites and the masses is really the depositing of “communiques,” whose contents, whether intended or not, exercise a domesticating influence.
Why do the dominant elites not become debilitated when they do not think with their fellow believers? Because the latter constitute their antithesis, their very reason for existence. If the elites were to think on an equal plane with fellow believers, the contradiction would be superseded and they could no longer Preeminently dominate. From the point of view of the dominators in any epoch of the church since the Emperor Constantine, correct thinking presupposes the non-thinking or the diminished-thinking of the people. It is the Preeminent ones with their special knowledge of a Gnostic nature. It is the Preeminent ones with all the “religious education” and certificates that establish their Preeminent position. Which in turn puts the suppressed into their place of belittled status.
What the Preeminent elites want, although they are avid proponents of the banking method of Sunday School education, is for the congregants to not really think. As a Suppressor class, they cannot think with the people, neither can they let the people think for themselves.
The same is not true, however, of reformation leaders; if they do not think with the people, they become devitalized. The people are their constituent matrix, not mere objects thought of. Although reformation leaders may also have to think about the people in order to understand them better, this thinking differs from that of the elite; for in thinking about the people in order to liberate (rather than dominate or Suppress) them, the reformation leaders give of themselves to the thinking of the people. One is the thinking of being the Preeminent master; the other is the thinking of the equal fellow believer.
Suppressive domination, by its very nature, requires only a dominant pole and a dominated pole in antithetical contradiction; reformation liberation, which attempts to resolve this contradiction, implies the existence not only of these poles but also of a reformation leadership group which emerges during this attempt. This leadership group either identifies itself with the suppressed state of the people, or it is not reformative. To simply think about the people, as the dominators do, without any self-giving in that thought, to fail to think with the people, is a sure way to cease being reformation leaders.
In the process of Suppression the elites subsist on the “living death” of the suppressed and find their authentication in the vertical relationship between themselves and the latter; in the reformation process there is only one way for the emerging reformation leaders to achieve authenticity: they must “die,” in order to be reborn through and with the oppressed.
We can legitimately say that in the process of Suppression someone Suppresses someone else; we cannot say that in the process of reformation someone liberates someone else, nor yet that someone liberates himself, but rather that Christians in fellowship and communion liberate each other. This affirmation is not meant to undervalue the importance of reformation leaders but, on the contrary, to emphasize their value. What could be more important than to live and work with the suppressed, with fellow “diminished believers”, with the “ignorant masses”? In this communion, the reformation leaders should find not only their raison d’etre but a motive for rejoicing. By their very nature, reformation leaders can do what the dominant Preeminent elites—by their very nature—are unable to do in authentic terms.
Every approach to the suppressed by the elites, as a class, is couched in terms of the false generosity described previously. But the reformation leaders cannot be falsely generous, nor can they manipulate. Whereas the Preeminent elites flourish by diminishing and muzzling their fellow believers, the reformation leaders can flourish only in an environment of equality, which entails genuine fellowship and communion. Thus it is that the activity of the Suppressor cannot be humanist, while that of the reformer is necessarily so.
The nature of Suppression is to reduce the oppressed to the status of “things”. Whereas the reformers promote true humanization.
Reformation humanism cannot, in the name of reformation, treat the suppressed as objects to be analyzed and (based on that analysis) presented with prescriptions for behavior. To do this would be to fall into one of the myths of the Suppressor ideology: the absolutizing of ignorance. This myth implies the existence of someone who decrees the ignorance of someone else. The one who is doing the decreeing defines himself and the Preeminent class to which he belongs as those who know (a form of Gnosticism); he thereby defines others as outsiders. The words of his own class come to be the “true” words, which he imposes or attempts to impose on the others: the suppressed, whose words have been stolen from them. Those who steal the words of others develop a deep doubt in the abilities of the others and consider them incompetent. Each time they say their word without hearing the word of those whom they have forbidden to speak, they grow more accustomed to power and acquire a taste for guiding, ordering, and commanding. They can no longer live without having someone to give orders to. Under these circumstances, dialogue is impossible.
Humanist reformation leaders, on the other hand, cannot believe in the myth of the ignorance of the people. They do not have the right to doubt for a single moment that it is only a myth. They cannot believe that they, and only they, know anything—for this means to doubt God’s work and guidance within all believers. Although they may legitimately recognize themselves as having, due to their reformation consciousness, a level of Biblical reformation knowledge different from the level of empirical knowledge held by their fellow believers, they cannot impose themselves and their knowledge upon them. They cannot sloganize the people, but must enter into dialogue with them, so that the people’s empirical knowledge of reality, nourished by the leaders’ critical knowledge, gradually becomes transformed into knowledge of the causes of reality.
It would be naive to expect Suppressor elites to denounce the myth which absolutizes the ignorance of the people; it would be a contradiction in terms if reformation leaders were not to do so, and more contradictory still were they to act in accordance with that myth. The task of reformation leaders is to pose as problems not only this myth, but all the other myths used by the Preeminent elites to Suppress. If, instead, reformation leaders persist in imitating the Suppressors’ methods of domination, the people may respond in either of two ways. They may become domesticated by the new contents which the reformation leaders deposit in them. Or they may become frightened by a word or unsettling idea which threatens the Suppressor housed within them. In neither event do they become part of the reformation. In the first case, the reformation is an illusion; in the second case, an impossibility.
Since the timeframe to achieve a full dialogical process might be prolonged, it would be remiss to carry out the reformation without the development of a true fellowship and only by means of “communiques,” thinking that these can put enough pressure on the Preeminent hierarchy to topple them from their elite position. Then, once the reformation is won, they can then develop a thoroughgoing educational effort. Those who might be tempted by this action might further justify it by saying that it is not possible to carry out education—liberating education—before removing the power of the Preeminent elite.
It is worth analyzing some fundamental points of the above assertions. These reformers might believe in the necessity for dialogue with the people, but do not believe this dialogue is feasible prior to taking power for themselves. When they deny the possibility that the leaders can behave in a critically reformative educational fashion before taking power, they deny the reformation’s educational quality as cultural action preparing to become cultural reformation. On the other hand, they confuse cultural action with the new education to be inaugurated once Suppressive power is taken away from the Preeminent elites.
As already affirmed, it would be naive to expect the Suppressor elites to carry out a liberating education. But because the reformation undeniably has an educational nature, in the sense that unless it liberates it is not reformation, the taking away of Suppressive power is only one moment—no matter how decisive—in the reformation process. As process, the “before” of the reformation is located within the Suppressor society and is apparent only to the reformation consciousness.
The reformation is born as a social entity within the Suppressor society; to the extent that it is cultural action, it cannot fail to correspond to the potentialities of the social entity in which it originated. Every entity develops (or is transformed) within itself, through the interplay of its contradictions. External conditioners, while necessary, are effective only if they coincide with those potentialities. The newness of the reformation is generated within the old, Suppressive society; the taking away of Suppressive power constitutes only a decisive moment of the continuing reformation process. In a dynamic, rather than static, view of reformation, there is no absolute “before” or “after,” with the taking away of Suppressive power as the dividing line.
Originating in objective conditions, reformation seeks to supersede the situation of Suppression by inaugurating a society of Christian women and men in the process of continuing liberation. The educational, dialogical quality of reformation, which makes it a “cultural revolution” as well, must be present in all its stages. This educational quality is one of the most effective instruments for keeping the reformation from becoming institutionalized and stratified in a counter-reformation bureaucracy; for counter-reformation is carried out by reformers who become reactionary.
Were it not possible to dialogue with the body of believers before the power of the Preeminent elite is taken away, because they have a limited experience with true Christian dialogue, neither would it be possible for the people to come to liberation, for they are equally inexperienced in the culture of a liberation that unleashes the power of God. The reformation process is dynamic, and it is in this continuing dynamic, in the praxis of the people with the reformation leaders, that the people and the leaders will learn both dialogue and the unleashing of God’s work through each believer in a true Christian fellowship.
Dialogue with the people is neither a concession nor a gift, much less a tactic to be used for domination. Dialogue, as the encounter among Christians to engage in true fellowship, is a fundamental precondition for their true humanization.
If this view be true, the reformation process is eminently educational in character. Thus the road to reformation involves openness to the body of believers, not imperviousness to them; it involves communion with the people, not mistrust.
Based on these general propositions, let us undertake a lengthier analysis of the theories of anti-dialogical and dialogical action.
The first characteristic of anti-dialogical action is the necessity for Preeminent Suppression. The anti-dialogical individual, in his relations with others, aims at Suppressing them—increasingly and by every means, from the toughest to the most refined, from the most repressive to the most solicitous (paternalism).
Every act of Suppression implies a Suppressor and someone or something which is suppressed. The Suppressor imposes his objectives on the suppressed and makes of them his possession. He imposes his own contours on the suppressed, who internalize this shape and become ambiguous beings “housing” another. From the first, the act of conquest, which reduces persons to the status of things, is necrophilic.
Just as anti-dialogical action is a concomitant of the real concrete situation of Suppression, dialogical action is indispensable to the reformation supersedence of that situation. An individual is not anti-dialogical or dialogical in the abstract, but in the world. He or she is not first anti-dialogical, then Suppressor; but both, simultaneously. Within an objective situation of Suppression, anti-dialogue is necessary to the Suppressor as a means of further Suppression: the suppressed are dispossessed of their word, their expressiveness, their culture. Further, once a situation of Suppression has been initiated, anti-dialogue becomes indispensable to its preservation.
Because liberating action is dialogical in nature, dialogue cannot be a posteriori to that action, but must be concomitant with it. And since liberation must be a permanent condition, dialogue becomes a continuing aspect of liberating action.
The desire or perceived necessity for Preeminency is always present in anti-dialogical action. To this end the Suppressors attempt to destroy in the suppressed their quality as “considerers” of themselves and their relationship with Christ (who only is Preeminent within his church). Since the Suppressors cannot totally achieve this destruction of Christ’s Preeminence, they must mythicize the world. To present for the consideration of the suppressed a world of deceit designed to increase their alienation and passivity, the Suppressors develop a series of methods precluding any presentation of the suppressed church as a problem and showing it rather as a fixed entity, as something given—something to which people, as mere spectators, must adapt.
It is necessary for the Suppressors to approach the people in order, via Suppressive subjugation, to keep them passive. This approximation, however, does not involve being with the people, or require true communication. It is accomplished by the Suppressors depositing myths indispensable to the preservation of the status quo: for example, the myth that the Suppressive order is God’s way of speaking and interacting with them; the myth that this order respects their place in the Body of Christ and is therefore worthy of esteem; the myth of the equality of all believers, when the question: “Do you know who you’re talking to?” is still current among those within the church; the myth of the heroism of the Preeminent Suppressor classes as defenders of “Christian civilization”; the myth of the charity and generosity of the Preeminent elites, when what they really do as a class is to foster selective “good deeds”; the myth that the dominant elites, “recognizing their duties,” promote the advancement of “their flock”, so that the people, in a gesture of gratitude, should accept the words of the Preeminent elites and be conformed to them; the myth that rebellion is a sin against God; the myth of the religious industriousness of the Suppressors and the indifference of the suppressed, as well as the myth of the natural inferiority of the latter and the superiority of the former.
All these myths (and others the reader could add to), the internalization of which is essential to the Suppressive subjugation of the suppressed, are presented to them by well-organized “Christian” propaganda and slogans.
In sum, there is no Suppressive reality which is not at the same time necessarily anti-dialogical, just as there is no anti-dialogue in which the Suppressors do not untiringly dedicate themselves to the constant Suppression of the suppressed. In ancient Rome, the dominant elites spoke of the need to give “bread and circus” to the people in order to “soften them up” and to secure their own tranquility. The dominant elites of today, like those of any epoch, continue (in a version of “original sin”) to need to Preeminently Suppress others—with or without bread and circus. The content and methods of Suppression vary historically; what does not vary (as long as dominant elites exist) is the necrophilic passion to Suppress.
Divide and Rule
This is another fundamental dimension of Suppressive action which is as old as Suppression itself. As the Suppressor minority subordinates and dominates the majority, it must divide it and keep it divided in order to remain in power. The Preeminent minority cannot permit itself the luxury of tolerating the unification of the people, which would undoubtedly signify a serious threat to their own hegemony. Accordingly, the Suppressors halt any action which in even incipient fashion could awaken the suppressed to the need for unity. Concepts such as fellowship, unity, organization, and struggle are immediately re-defined so they never pose a danger to their Preeminence. They call church gatherings fellowships, but everything is orchestrated and every keeps their distance almost like a six feet Covid-19 separation, to the point you can go decades in a church and hardly know anyone. Everything is redefined to maintain Preeminence that results in Suppression of the body of believers. In fact, these concepts, in their true definition, are dangerous—to the Suppressors—for their realization is necessary to actions of liberation.
It is in the interest of the Suppressor to weaken the suppressed still farther, to isolate them, to create and deepen rifts among them. This is done by varied means, from the repressive methods of the church and denominational bureaucracy to the forms of cultural action with which they manipulate the people by giving them the impression that they are being helped.
One of the characteristics of Suppressive cultural action which is almost never perceived because it seems so innocent is the emphasis on a focalized view of activities or problems: Small groups, men’s, women’s, and family retreats, evangelistic teams, short term mission trips, small groups that put together the special events around days like Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Valentines, etc.
The more things are broken down into a cliquish environment the more alienation is intensified. And the more alienated people are, the easier it is to divide them and keep them divided. These focalized forms of action, by intensifying the focalized way of life of the suppressed, hamper the suppressed from perceiving reality critically and keep them isolated from the real issues and problems that can only be dynamically revealed when God is in control of the Body of believers and not some Preeminent usurper.
The same divisive effect occurs in connection with the so-called “leadership training courses,” which are (although carried out without any such intention by many of their organizers) in the last analysis alienating. These courses are based on the naive assumption that one can promote the complete Body of Christ by training its leaders as if it were the parts that promote the whole and not the whole which, in being promoted, promotes the parts.
Those members of the church who show sufficient leadership capacities to be chosen for these courses necessarily reflect and express the aspirations of the individuals of their church. They are in harmony with the way of living and thinking about reality which characterizes their fellow believers, even though they reveal special abilities which give them the status of “leaders.” As soon as they complete the course and return to the church with resources they did not formerly possess, they either use these resources to help those in preeminence control the submerged and dominated consciousness of their fellow believers, or they become strangers in their own church. Whether these tactics work or not, those in Preeminence, to keep from losing their Preeminent status, will perpetually look for more and more efficient ways to manipulate the community of believers.
When cultural action, as a totalized and totalizing process, approaches an entire community of Christians and not merely its Preeminent leaders, the opposite process occurs. Either the former Preeminent leaders grow along with everyone else, or they are replaced by new Preeminent leaders who emerge as a result of the new social consciousness of the community.
The Suppressors do not favor promoting the community of believers as a whole, but rather selected leaders. The latter course, by preserving a state of alienation, hinders the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in a total reality grounded upon the Word of God. And without this critical intervention, it is always difficult to achieve the unity of the Suppressed as a class.
Class conflict is another concept which upsets the Suppressors, since they do not wish to consider themselves a Suppressive class. Unable to deny, try as they may, the existence of social classes, they preach the need for understanding and harmony. However, the mostly subliminal antagonism which exists between the two classes makes this “harmony” impossible. The Preeminent elites call for harmony between classes as if classes were fortuitous agglomerations of individuals curiously looking at a shop window on a Sunday afternoon. The only harmony which is viable and demonstrable is that found among the Suppressors themselves. Although they may diverge and upon occasion even clash over group interests, they unite immediately at a threat to the class. Similarly, the harmony of the suppressed is only possible when its members are engaged in the struggle for liberation. Only in exceptional cases is it not only possible but necessary for both classes to unite and act in harmony; but when the emergency which united them has passed they will return to the contradiction which defines their existence and which never really disappeared.
All the actions of the dominant Preeminent class manifest its need to divide in order to facilitate the preservation of the Suppressor state. Its interference in the attempts at fellowship gatherings, favoring certain “representatives” of the dominated classes (who actually represent the Suppressor, not their own fellow believers); its promotion of individuals who reveal leadership capacity and could signify a threat if they were not “softened up” in this way; its distribution of benefits to some and penalties to others: all these are ways of dividing in order to preserve the system which favors the Preeminent elite. They are forms of action which exploit, directly or indirectly, one of the weak points of the suppressed: their basic insecurity. The suppressed are insecure in their duality as beings which “house” the Suppressor. On the one hand, they resist her or him; on the other hand, at a certain stage in their relationship, they are attracted by him or her. Under these circumstances, the Suppressors easily obtain positive results from divisive action.
In addition, many of the suppressed know from experience the price of not accepting an “invitation” offered with the purpose of preventing their unity as a class: losing their position or status within the church and finding their names on a “black list” signifying closed doors to other positions is the least that can happen.
Christians can only be fulfilled to the extent that they are liberated from the Preeminent Suppressors who usurp the Preeminence of Christ. Only then can they be freed to be the persons God intends within his church—the Body of Christ. The fulfillment of Christians as liberated human beings lies, then, in the fulfillment of the world as shaped in accordance with God’s perfect will. If, for a person to be in the church shaped by the Preeminent Suppressors is to be totally dependent, insecure, and permanently threatened—if their actions are not shaped by the only true Shepherd, Jesus Christ—no Christian can be fulfilled. The Suppression of any Christian within the Church will cause all their pursuits to be unfulfilling and instead become an effective means of dehumanization.
Every move by the suppressed towards true fellowship points towards other actions; it means that sooner or later the suppressed will perceive their state of depersonalization and discover that as long as they are divided they will always be easy prey for manipulation and domination. Unity and organization can enable them to change their weakness into a transforming force with which they can reform the church. This church to which they justly aspire, however, is the antithesis of the church of the Suppressors—a church which is the exclusive possession of the Suppressors, who preach an impossible harmony between themselves (who dehumanize) and the oppressed (who are dehumanized). Since Suppressors and suppressed are antithetical, what serves the interests of one group disserves the interests of the others.
Dividing in order to preserve the status quo, then, is necessarily a fundamental objective of anti-dialogical action. In addition, the dominators try to present themselves as saviors of the women and men they dehumanize and divide. This messianism, however, cannot conceal their true intention: to save themselves. They want to save their status, their power, their way of life: the things that enable them to Suppress their fellow believers. Their mistake is that men cannot save themselves in this covetous/materialistic sense, either as individuals or as a Suppressor class. Liberating salvation can be achieved only with others. To the extent, however, that the elites Suppress, they cannot be with the suppressed; for being against them is the essence of Suppression.
A psychoanalysis of Suppressive action might reveal the “false generosity” of the Suppressor as a dimension of the latter’s sense of guilt. With this false generosity, he attempts not only to preserve an unjust and necrophilic order, but to “buy” peace for himself. It happens that peace cannot be bought; peace is experienced in solidary and loving acts, which cannot be incarnated in Suppression. Hence, the messianic element of anti-dialogical action reinforces the first characteristic of this action: the necessity for conquest.
Since it is necessary to divide the people to preserve the status quo and (thereby) the power of the Preeminent dominators, it is essential for the Suppressors to keep the suppressed from perceiving their strategy. So, the former must convince the latter that they are being “defended” against the demonic action of “marginals, rowdies, and enemies of God” (for these are the epithets directed at men who lived and are living the brave pursuit of man’s humanization). To divide and confuse the people, the destroyers call themselves builders, and accuse the true builders of being destructive.
Manipulation is another dimension of the theory of anti-dialogical action, and, like the strategy of division, is an instrument of conquest: the objective around which all the dimensions revolve. By means of manipulation, the Preeminent elites try to conform the masses to their objectives. And the greater the Biblical immaturity of these people the more easily the latter can be manipulated by those who do not wish to lose their power.
The people are manipulated by the series of myths described earlier, and by yet another myth: the model of itself which the Suppressor presents to the people as the possibility for their own ascent. In order for these myths to function, however, the people must accept the word of the Preeminent Suppressor.
Within certain historical conditions, manipulation is accomplished by means of pacts between the suppressed and the Preeminent classes—pacts which, if considered superficially, might give the impression of a dialogue between the classes. In reality, however, these pacts are not dialogue, because their true objectives are determined by the unequivocal interest of the dominant elites. In the last analysis, pacts are used by the Suppressors to achieve their own ends. The presence of the people in the pact process, no longer as mere spectators, but with the first signs of reformation emergence (even naively), is sufficiently disquieting to frighten the Preeminent elites into doubling the tactics of manipulation.
In this phase, manipulation becomes a fundamental instrument for the preservation of domination. Prior to the emergence of the people there is no manipulation (precisely speaking), but rather total Suppression. When the suppressed are almost completely submerged in the reality formulated by the Suppressors, it is unnecessary to manipulate them. In the anti-dialogical theory of action, manipulation is the response of the Suppressor to the new concrete conditions of the historical process. Through manipulation, the dominant elites can lead the people into an unauthentic type of “organization,” and can thus avoid the threatening alternative: the true fellowship of the emerged and emerging people; an organization of believers that is guided by God who, in Christ, is Preeminent and whose sheep follow his voice and not of the usurpers. The latter have only two possibilities as they enter the historical process: either they must organize authentically for their liberation, or they will be manipulated by the Preeminent elites. Authentic fellowship is obviously not going to be stimulated by the dominators; it is the task of the reformation leaders.
The antidote to manipulation lies in a critically conscious reformation organization (that embraces true fellowship), which will pose to the people as problems their position in the historical process, the true Biblical reality that condemns ecclesiastical Preeminence, and manipulation itself.
In a situation of manipulation, there will always be the temptation for a quick fix: to change things by forcing their way into Preeminent power. But, this quick fix forgets the necessity of joining with the suppressed to forge an organization (that embraces true fellowship), and strays into an impossible “dialogue” with the dominant Preeminent elites. It ends by being manipulated by these elites, and not infrequently itself falls into an elitist game, which it calls “realism.”
Manipulation, like the conquest whose objectives it serves, attempts to anesthetize the people so they will not think. For if the people add to their presence in the historical process critical thinking about that process, the threat of their emergence materializes in reformation. Whether one calls this correct thinking “reformation consciousness” or “class consciousness,” it is an indispensable precondition of reformation. The dominant elites are so well aware of this fact that they instinctively use all means, which the history of the church has unfortunately shown to include physical violence, to keep the people from thinking. They have a shrewd intuition of the ability of dialogue to develop a capacity for criticism. While some reformation leaders might consider dialogue with the people an intellectual reactionary activity, the Preeminent elite regard dialogue between the suppressed and the reformation leaders as a very real danger to be avoided.
One of the methods of manipulation is to inoculate individuals with the appetite for personal “religious” success. This manipulation is sometimes carried out directly by the Preeminent elites and sometimes indirectly, through populist leaders. These leaders serve as intermediaries between the Preeminent elites and the people. The populist leader who rises from this process is an ambiguous being, an “amphibian” who lives in two elements. Shuttling back and forth between the people and the dominant Suppressors, he bears the marks of both groups.
Since the populist leader simply manipulates, instead of fighting for authentic popular organization, this type of leader serves the reformation little if at all. Only by abandoning his ambiguous character and dual action and by opting decisively for the people (thus ceasing to be populist) does he renounce manipulation and dedicate himself to the reformation task of organization. At this point he ceases to be an intermediary between the people and the elites and becomes a contradiction of the latter; thereupon the Preeminent elites immediately join forces to curb him.
Any populist leader who moves (even discreetly) towards the people in any way other than as the intermediary of the Preeminent class will be curbed by the latter—if they have sufficient force to stop him. But as long as the populist leader restricts himself to paternalism and welfare-type activities, although there may be occasional divergencies between him and groups of elites, whose interests have been touched, deep differences are rare. This is because welfare-type programs as instruments of manipulation ultimately serve the end of conquest. They act as an anesthetic, distracting the suppressed from the true causes of their problems and from the concrete solution of these problems. They splinter the suppressed into groups of individuals hoping to get a few more benefits for themselves. This situation contains, however, a positive element: the individuals who receive some benefit always want more; those who do not receive the benefits, seeing the example of those who do, grow envious and tend to covet the same. Since the dominant elites cannot provide these benefits to everyone, they end by increasing the restiveness of the suppressed.
The reformation leaders should take advantage of the contradictions of manipulation by posing it as a problem to the suppressed, with the objective of organizing them into a true fellowship to where all the benefits are impartially provided according to the direction of Jesus Christ, the only legitimate head of the church.
Anti-dialogical action has one last fundamental characteristic: cultural invasion, which like divisive tactics and manipulation also serves the ends of Preeminent conquest. In this phenomenon, the invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latter’s potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression.
Whether urbane or harsh, cultural invasion is thus always an act of violence against the persons of the invaded culture, who lose their originality or face the threat of losing it. In cultural invasion (as in all the modalities of anti-dialogical action) the invaders are the authors of, and actors in, the process; those they invade are the objects. The invaders mold; those they invade are molded. The invaders choose; those they invade follow that choice—or are expected to follow it. The invaders act; those they invade have only the illusion of acting, through the action of the invaders.
All domination involves invasion—at times physical and overt, at times camouflaged, with the invader assuming the role of a helping brother or sister in Christ. In the last analysis, invasion is a form of economic and cultural domination. Invasion implicit in the domination of one class over another within the same religious setting.
Cultural conquest leads to the cultural inauthenticity of those who are invaded; they begin to respond to the values, the standards, and the goals of the Preeminent invaders. In their passion to dominate, to mold others to their patterns and their way of life, the invaders desire to know how those they have invaded apprehend reality—but only so they can dominate the latter more effectively. In cultural invasion it is essential that those who are invaded come to see their reality with the outlook of the Preeminent invaders rather than their own; for the more they mimic the Preeminent invaders, the more stable the position of the latter becomes.
For cultural invasion to succeed, it is essential that those invaded become convinced of their intrinsic inferiority. Since everything has its opposite, if those who are invaded consider themselves inferior, they must necessarily recognize the superiority of the Preeminent invaders. The values of the latter thereby become the pattern for the former. The more invasion is accentuated and those invaded are alienated from the spirit of the true Biblical culture and from themselves, the more the latter want to be like the Preeminent invaders: to walk like them, dress like them, talk like them.
The social I of the invaded person, like every social I, is formed in the socio-cultural relations of the social structure, and therefore reflects the duality of the invaded culture. This duality (which was described earlier) explains why invaded and dominated individuals, at a certain moment of their existential experience, almost “adhere” to the Suppressor Thou. The suppressed I must break with this near adhesion to the Suppressor Thou, drawing away from the latter in order to see him more objectively, at which point she critically recognizes herself to be in contradiction with the Suppressor. In so doing, he “considers” as a dehumanizing reality the structure in which he is being Suppressed. This qualitative change in the perception of the world can only be achieved in the Biblically grounded praxis.
Cultural invasion is on the one hand an instrument of domination, and on the other, the result of domination. Thus, cultural action of a dominating character (like other forms of anti-dialogical action), in addition to being deliberate and planned, is in another sense simply a product of Suppressive reality.
The following example from Paulo Freire is not comprehensive but can help give us an understanding of certain cultural influences within the educational and family structure, that can shape our susceptibility to Preeminent Suppression within the church. In this outlook the emphasis is on oppression rather than suppression.
In this example we see how a rigid and oppressive social structure has an influence on the institutions of child rearing and education within that structure. These institutions pattern their action after the style of the structure and transmit the myths of the latter. Homes and schools (from nurseries to universities) exist not in the abstract, but in time and space. Within the structures of domination, they function largely as agencies which prepare the invaders of the future.
The parent-child relationship in the home usually reflects the objective cultural conditions of the surrounding social structure. If the conditions which penetrate the home are authoritarian, rigid, and dominating, the home will increase the climate of oppression. As these authoritarian relations between parents and children intensify, children in their infancy increasingly internalize the paternal authority.
If children reared in an atmosphere of lovelessness and oppression, children whose potency has been frustrated, do not manage during their youth to take the path of authentic rebellion, they will either drift into total indifference, alienated from reality by the authorities and the myths the latter have used to “shape” them; or they may engage in forms of destructive action.
The atmosphere of the home is prolonged in the school, where the students soon discover that (as in the home) in order to achieve some satisfaction, they must adapt to the precepts which have been set from above. One of these precepts is not to really think outside of the box that has been shaped by the dominate elites.
Internalizing paternal authority through the rigid relationship structure emphasized by the school, these young people tend when they become professionals (because of the very fear of freedom instilled by these relationships) to repeat the rigid patterns in which they were miseducated. This phenomenon, in addition to their class position, perhaps explains why so many professionals adhere to anti-dialogical action.
Whatever the specialty that brings them into contact with the people, they are almost unshakably convinced that it is their mission to “give” the latter their knowledge and techniques. They see themselves as “promotors” of the people. Their programs of action (which might have been prescribed by any good theorist of oppressive action) include their own objectives, their own convictions, and their own preoccupations. They do not listen to the people, but instead plan to teach them how to “cast off the laziness or indifference which creates underdevelopment.” To these professionals, it seems absurd to consider the necessity of respecting the “view of the world” held by the people. The professionals are the ones with a “world view.” They regard as equally absurd the affirmation that one must necessarily consult the people when organizing the program content of educational action. They feel that the ignorance of the people is so complete that they are unfit for anything except to receive the teachings of the professionals.
When, however, at a certain point of their existential experience, those who have been invaded begin in one way or another to reject this invasion (to which they might earlier have adapted), the professionals, in order to justify their failure, say that the members of the invaded group are “inferior” because they are not certified or properly trained to adequately deal with the issue.
Well-intentioned professionals (those who use “invasion” not as deliberate ideology but as the expression of their own upbringing) eventually discover that certain of their educational failures must be ascribed, not to the intrinsic inferiority of the “simple men of the people,” but to the violence of their own act of invasion. Those who make this discovery face a difficult alternative: they feel the need to renounce invasion, but patterns of domination are so entrenched within them that this renunciation would become a threat to their own identities. To renounce invasion would mean ending their dual status as dominated and dominators. It would mean abandoning all the myths which nourish invasion and start incarnating dialogical action. For this very reason, it would mean to cease being over or inside (as foreigners) in order to be with (equal fellow believers). And so, the fear of freedom takes hold of these men. During this traumatic process, they naturally tend to rationalize their fear with a series of evasions.
The fear of freedom is greater still in professionals who have not yet discovered for themselves the invasive nature of their action, and who are told that their action is dehumanizing. In bringing these factors to the attention of the Preeminent dominators one might hear one of them ask in an irritated manner: “Where do you think you’re steering us, anyway?”
In reality, the reformer isn’t trying to “steer” them anywhere; it is just that in facing a concrete situation as a problem, the Preeminent participants begin to realize that if their analysis of the situation goes any deeper, they will either have to divest themselves of their myths or reaffirm them. Divesting themselves of and renouncing their myths represents, at that moment, an act of self-violence. On the other hand, to reaffirm those myths is to reveal themselves. The only way out (which functions as a defense mechanism) is to project onto the reformer their own usual practices: steering, conquering, and invading.
This same retreat occurs, though on a smaller scale, among Christians who have been ground down by the concrete situation of suppression and domesticated by a distorted charity. For an alienated person, conditioned by a culture of achievement and personal success, to recognize his situation as objectively unfavorable seems to hinder his own possibilities of success within his religious sphere.
The determining force of the culture which develops the myths men subsequently internalize is evident. In both cases, the culture of the dominant Preeminent class hinders the affirmation of men as beings of decision; Christians who are equal to every other Christian; Christians who have a voice through the Holy Spirit that dwells within them.
Christians from every class for the past 1600 years have been molded by a culture of Suppressive domination which has constituted them as dual beings. Most reformation leaders will struggle with this duality, however, they are necessary to the transformation of the suppressed church. And since many among them—even though “afraid of freedom” and reluctant to engage in humanizing action—are in truth more misguided than anything else, they not only could be, but ought to be, reclaimed by the reformation.
This reclamation requires that the reformation leaders, progressing from what was previously dialogical cultural action, initiate the “cultural reformation.” At this point, the reformation moves beyond its role as a necessary obstacle confronting those who wish to negate true Christian humanity, and assumes a new and bolder position, with a clear invitation to all who wish to participate in the reformation of the church. In this sense, “cultural reformation” is a necessary continuation of the dialogical cultural action which must be carried out before the reformation reaches the place where Jesus is the only one who is Preeminent.
“Cultural reformation” takes the entire church to be reconstructed, including all church activities, as the object of its transformative action. The church cannot be reconstructed in a mechanistic fashion; the culture which is culturally recreated through reformation is the fundamental instrument for this reconstruction. “Cultural reformation” is the reformation’s maximum effort at conscientização—it should reach everyone, regardless of their personal path.
As the cultural reformation deepens conscientização in the creative praxis of the reformed church, liberated believers will begin to perceive why mythical remnants of the old church survive in the new. And they will then be able to free themselves more rapidly of these specters, which by hindering the edification of a newly reformed church have always constituted a serious problem for every reformation. Through these cultural remnants the Preeminent elitism has the potential to reemerge—this time invading the reformation itself.
This invasion is especially tragic because it is carried out not by the dominant elites reorganized as such, but by those who have participated in the reformation. As men who “house” the Suppressor, they resist as might the latter themselves the further basic steps which the reformation must take. And as dual beings they also accept (still due to the remnants) Preeminent power which becomes bureaucratized, and which relentlessly represses them. In turn, this relentless repressive bureaucratic power can be explained by the “reactivation of the old Preeminent church elements” in the reformed church each time special circumstances permit.
For all the above reasons, one can interpret the reformation process as dialogical cultural action which is prolonged in “cultural reformation” once power is taken away from the Preeminent elites. In both stages a serious and profound effort at conscientização—by means of which the fellowship of believers, through a true praxis, leave behind the status of objects to assume the status of historical Subjects—is necessary.
Finally, cultural reformation develops the practice of permanent dialogue between reformation leaders and their fellow believers, and consolidates the participation of the people in fellowship and in the power of Christ their shepherd. In this way, as both reformation leaders and people continue their critical activity, the reformation will more easily be able to defend itself against bureaucratic tendencies (which lead to new forms of Suppression) and against “invasion” (which is always the same). One must always be aware and be on guard because the invader has the potential of being anyone within this newly formed fellowship.
Cultural invasion, which serves the ends of conquest and the preservation of Suppression, always involves a parochial view of reality, a static perception of the church world, and the imposition of one world view upon another. It implies the “superiority” of the invader and the “inferiority” of those who are invaded, as well as the imposition of values by the former, who possess the latter and are afraid of losing them.
Cultural invasion further signifies that the ultimate seat of decision regarding the action of those who are invaded lies not with them but with the Preeminent invaders. And when the power of decision is located outside rather than within the one who should decide, the latter has only the illusion of deciding. This is why there can be no real Christian development in a dual, “reflex,” invaded society. For true and full Christian development to occur it is necessary:
- that there be a movement of search and creativity having its seat of decision in the searcher (who is fully aware and surrendered to the guidance of his Lord, Jesus Christ).
- that this movement occur not only in space, but in the existential time of the conscious searcher.
Thus, while all development is transformation, not all transformation is development. The transformation occurring in a seed which under favorable conditions germinates and sprouts, is not development. In the same way, the transformation of an animal is not development. The transformations of seeds and animals are determined by the species to which they belong; and they occur in a time which does not belong to them, for time belongs to humankind.
Women and men, among the uncompleted beings, are the only ones which develop. As historical, autobiographical, “beings for themselves,” their transformation (Christian development) occurs in their own existential time, never outside it. Men who are submitted to concrete conditions of Suppression in which they become alienated “beings for another” of the false “Preeminent being for himself” on whom they depend, are not able to develop authentically. Deprived of their own power of decision, which is located in the Suppressor, they follow the prescriptions of the latter. The suppressed only begin to develop when, surmounting the contradiction in which they are caught, they become “beings for themselves” (who are grounded in their being freed to follow the one and only true Shepherd: Jesus Christ).
If we consider the true church as a being, it is obvious that only a church which is a “being for itself” can develop. Satellite churches (perhaps a fellowship within the greater church) which are dual, “reflex,” invaded, and dependent on the Preeminent metropolitan church cannot develop because they are alienated; their religious and cultural decision-making power is located outside themselves, in the Preeminent invader church. In the last analysis, the latter determines the destiny of the former: mere transformation; for it is their transformation—not their development—that is to the interest of the Preeminent metropolitan church.
It is essential not to confuse modernization with development. The former, although it may affect certain groups in the “satellite church,” is almost always induced; and it is the Preeminent metropolitan church which derives the true benefits therefrom. A satellite church which is merely modernized without developing will continue—even if it takes over some minimal delegated powers of decision—to depend on the outside Preeminent church. This is the fate of any dependent fellowship, as long as it remains dependent.
In order to determine whether or not a church is developing, one must go beyond criteria based on indices of how much money is being brought into the church, how large the numbers of people in the pews, or the size of the church building. The basic, elementary criterion is whether or not the society is a “being for itself.” If it is not, the other criteria indicate materialistic modernization rather than development.
The principal contradiction of dual churches is the relationship of dependency between them and the Preeminent metropolitan church. Once the contradiction has been superseded, the transformation hitherto effected through “aid,” which has primarily benefitted the Preeminent metropolitan church, now becomes true development, which benefits the “being for itself.”
For the above reasons, the purely reformist solutions attempted by these churches (even though some of the reforms may frighten and even panic the more reactionary members of the elite groups) do not resolve their external and internal contradictions. It is likely the Preeminent metropolitan church will itself induce these reformist solutions in response to the demands of the historical process, as a new way of preserving its hegemony. It is as if the Preeminent metropolitan church were saying: “Let us carry out reforms before the people carry out a genuine Biblically grounded reformation.” And in order to achieve this goal, the Preeminent metropolitan society has no options other than conquest, manipulation, economic and cultural invasion of the dependent satellite church—an invasion in which the leaders of the dominated society take upon themselves elite status in order to act as mere brokers for the Preeminent leaders of the metropolitan church.
It is important to reaffirm that reformation leaders must not use the same anti-dialogical procedures used by the Suppressors; on the contrary, reformation leaders must follow the path of dialogue and of communication.
At this point it is essential to discuss briefly how the reformation leadership group might be formed and some of the possible consequences revolving around this formation. This leadership group could possibly be made up of men and women who in one way or another have belonged to the social strata of the Preeminent dominators. At a certain point in their Christian existential experience, under certain God-directed historical conditions, these leaders renounce the Preeminent class to which they belong and join the suppressed, in an act of true solidarity (or so one would hope). Whether or not this adherence results from an analysis of true reality, it represents (when authentic) an act of love and true commitment which can only come from the grace and work of God. Joining the suppressed requires going to them and communicating with them. The people must find themselves in the emerging reformation leaders, and the latter must find themselves in equality with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
The leaders who have emerged necessarily reflect the contradiction of the Preeminent elites communicated to them by the suppressed, who may not yet, however, clearly perceive their own state of Suppression or critically recognize their relationship of antagonism to the Suppressors. They may still be in the position previously termed “adhesion” to the Suppressor. On the other hand, it is possible that due to certain objective historical conditions they have already reached a relatively clear perception of their state of Suppression.
In the first case, the adhesion—or partial adhesion—of the believers within the church to the Preeminent Suppressor makes it impossible for them to locate him outside themselves. In the second case, they can locate the Suppressor and can thus critically recognize their relationship of antagonism to him.
In the first case, the Suppressor is “housed” within the people, and their resulting ambiguity makes them fearful of freedom. They resort (stimulated by the Suppressor) to mystical explanations or a false view of God, to whom they fatalistically transfer the responsibility for their suppressed state. It is extremely unlikely that these self-mistrustful, downtrodden, hopeless people will seek their own liberation—an act of rebellion which they may view as a disobedient violation of the will of God, as an unwarranted confrontation with destiny. (Hence, the necessity of posing as problems the myths fed to the people by the Suppressors.) In the second case, when the people have reached a relatively clear picture of Suppression which leads them to localize the Suppressor outside themselves, they take up the struggle to surmount the contradiction in which they are caught. At this moment they overcome the distance between “class necessity” and “class consciousness.”
In the first case, the reformation leaders unfortunately and involuntarily become the contradiction of the people within the church. In the second case, the emerging reformation leaders receive from the people sympathetic and almost instantaneous support, which tends to increase during the process of reformation action. The reformation leaders go to the people in a spontaneously dialogical manner. There is an almost immediate empathy between the people and the reformation leaders: their mutual commitment is almost instantly sealed. In fellowship, they consider themselves co-equal contradictions of the dominant Suppressive elites. From this point on, the established practice of dialogue between people and leaders is nearly unshakable. That dialogue will continue when Preeminent Suppressive power is eliminated; and the people will know that they have come to the place of freedom in Christ, who is their one and only Head of the church.
Once this freedom is achieved, one should never diminish the spirit of struggle, courage, capacity for love, or daring required of the reformation leaders. Yet, if anyone lets down their guard, there remains a danger in the struggle to where the reformation gained can quickly begin to crumble.
The movement by the reformation leaders to the body of believers will be either horizontal—so that leaders and people form one body in contradiction to the Suppressor—or it is triangular, with the reformation leaders occupying the vertex of the triangle in contradiction to the Suppressors and to the suppressed as well. The latter situation will unfortunately come about when some reformation leaders believe they must take power for themselves because they feel the people have not yet achieved a critical perception of Suppressive reality.
Almost never, however, will a true reformation leadership group perceive that it constitutes a contradiction to the people. Indeed, this perception is and should be painful, and perhaps may serve as a defense mechanism. After all, it is not easy for reformation leaders who have emerged through adherence to the suppressed to recognize themselves as being in contradiction with those to whom they adhered. It is important to recognize this reluctance when analyzing certain forms of behavior on the part of reformation leaders who involuntarily become a contradiction (although not antagonists) of the people.
In order to carry out the reformation, leaders undoubtedly require the adherence of the people. When reformation leaders who constitute a contradiction to the people seek this adherence, and find rather a certain aloofness and mistrust, they often regard this reaction as indicating an inherent defect on the part of the people. They interpret a certain historical moment of the people’s consciousness as evidence of their intrinsic deficiency. Since the reformation leaders need the adherence of the people so that the reformation can be achieved (but at the same time mistrust the mistrustful people), they will undoubtedly be tempted to utilize the same procedures used by the Preeminent elites to Suppress. Rationalizing their lack of confidence in the people, the reformation leaders will most likely say it is impossible to dialogue with the people and therefore justify it being necessary for them to take power, thus opting for the anti-dialogical theory of action. Thenceforward—just like the dominant elites—they try to conquer the people: they become messianic; they use manipulation and carry out cultural invasion. By advancing along these paths, the paths of Suppression, they will not achieve reformation; or if they do, it will not be an authentic reformation.
The role of reformation leadership (under any circumstances, but especially so in those described) is to consider seriously, even as they act, the reasons for any attitude of mistrust on the part of their fellow believers, and to seek out true avenues of communion with them, ways of helping the people to help themselves critically perceive the reality which Suppresses them.
The dominated consciousness is dual, ambiguous, full of fear and mistrust. The internalization of the Suppressor who dominates the consciousness of those within the church can help explain their fear and their inefficiency toward reformative action.
The behavior and reactions of the suppressed, which lead the Suppressor to practice cultural invasion, should evoke from the reformation a different theory of action. What distinguishes reformation leaders from the dominant elites is not only their objectives, but their procedures. If they act in the same way, the objectives become identical. It is as self-contradictory for the dominant elites to pose fellowship relations as problems to the people as it is for the reformation leaders not to do so.
Let us now analyze the theory of dialogical cultural action and attempt to apprehend its constituent elements.
In the theory of anti-dialogical action, conquest (as its primary characteristic) involves a Subject who conquers another person and transforms her or him into a “thing.” In the dialogical theory of action, Subjects meet in cooperation to transform the church. The anti-dialogical, dominating I transforms the dominated, conquered thou into a mere it. The dialogical I, however, knows that it is precisely the thou (“not-I“) which has called forth his or her own existence. He also knows that the thou which calls forth his own existence in turn constitutes an I which has in his I its thou. The I and the thou thus become, in the dialectic of these relationships, two thous which become two I‘s.
The dialogical theory of action does not involve a Subject, who dominates by virtue of conquest, and a dominated object. Instead, there are Subjects who meet to name the world in order to transform it. If at a certain historical moment the suppressed, for the reasons previously described, are unable to fulfill their vocation as Subjects, the posing of their very Suppression as a problem (which always involves some form of action) will help them achieve this vocation.
The above does not mean that in the dialogical task there is no role for reformation leadership. It means merely that the leaders—in spite of their important, fundamental, and indispensable role—do not own the people and have no right to steer the people blindly towards their “salvation”. Such a salvation would be a mere gift from the leaders to the people—a breaking of the dialogical bond between them, and a reducing of the people from co-authors of liberating action into the objects of this action.
Cooperation, as a characteristic of dialogical action—which occurs only among Subjects (who may, however, have diverse levels of functions and thus of responsibility)—can only be achieved through communication. Dialogue, as essential communication, must underlie any cooperation. In the theory of dialogical action, there is no place for conquering the people on behalf of the reformation cause, but only for gaining their adherence. Dialogue does not impose, does not manipulate, does not domesticate, does not “sloganize.” This does not mean, however, that the theory of dialogical action leads nowhere; nor does it mean that the dialogical human does not have a clear idea of what she wants, or of the objectives to which she is committed.
The commitment of the reformation leaders to the suppressed is at the same time a commitment to freedom. And because of that commitment, the leaders cannot attempt to conquer the suppressed, but must achieve their adherence to liberation. Conquered adherence is not adherence; it is “adhesion” of the vanquished to the conqueror, who prescribes the options open to the former. Authentic adherence is the free coincidence of choices; it cannot occur apart from communication among people, mediated by Biblical truth and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, cooperation leads dialogical Subjects to focus their attention on the reality which mediates them and which—posed as a problem —challenges them. The response to that challenge is the action of dialogical Subjects upon reality in order to transform it. It must be emphasized that posing reality as a problem does not mean sloganizing: it means critical analysis of a problematic reality.
As opposed to the mythicizing practices of the Preeminent dominant elites, dialogical theory requires that the world be unveiled No one can, however, unveil the world for another. Although one Subject may initiate the unveiling on behalf of others, the others must also become Subjects of this act. The adherence of the people is made possible by this unveiling of the world and of themselves, in authentic praxis.
This adherence coincides with the trust the people begin to place in themselves and in the reformation leaders, as the former perceive the Christian dedication and authenticity of the latter. The trust of the people in the reformation leaders reflects the confidence of the leaders in their fellow believers.
This confidence should not, however, be naive. The leaders must believe in the potentialities of the people, whom they cannot treat as mere objects of their own action; they must believe that the people are capable of participating in the pursuit of liberation. But they must always mistrust the ambiguity of suppressed people, mistrust the Suppressor “housed” in the latter. This is merely being a realist.
Although trust is basic to dialogue, it is not an a priori condition of the latter; it results from the encounter in which persons are co-Subjects in denouncing the broken church, as part of the church’s transformation. But as long as the Suppressor “within” the suppressed is stronger than they themselves are, their natural fear of freedom may lead them to denounce the reformation leaders instead! The leaders cannot be credulous but must be alert for these possibilities. There may not only be desertions, but even betrayal of the reformative cause.
In dialogical theory, at no stage can reformation action forgo communion with the people. True fellowship and communion in turn elicits cooperation, which brings reformation leaders and fellows believers into a fusion that is held together by the work and guidance of the one and only true Shepherd: Jesus Christ. This fusion can exist only if reformation action is really God-directed, human, empathetic, loving, communicative, and humble, in order to be liberating.
The reformation loves and creates life in its ideal—a life in Christ; and for this life to come to fruition, it may be obliged to prevent some men from circumscribing life; preventing the Preeminent Suppressors from producing within the church an unnatural living death: life which is denied its fullness.
Unity for Liberation
Whereas in the anti-dialogical theory of action the Preeminent dominators are compelled by necessity to divide the suppressed, the more easily to preserve the state of Suppression, in the dialogical theory the leaders must dedicate themselves to an untiring effort for unity in fellowship among the suppressed—and unity of the reformation leaders with the suppressed—in order to achieve liberation.
The difficulty is that this fellowship that requires dialogical action cannot occur apart from the praxis. The praxis of Suppression is easy (or at least not difficult) for the dominant Preeminent elite; but it is not easy for the reformation leaders to carry out a liberating praxis. The former group can rely on using the instruments of established ecclesiastical power; the latter group has this very same power directed against it. The former group can organize itself freely, and though it may undergo unforeseen and momentary divisions, it unites rapidly in the face of any threat to its fundamental Preeminent interests. The latter group cannot exist without the body of true believers, and this very condition constitutes the first obstacle to its efforts at organization.
It would indeed be inconsistent for the Preeminent elite to allow the reformation leaders to organize. The internal unity of the elite, which reinforces and organizes its power of Suppression, requires that the people be divided; the unity of the reformation leaders only exists in the unity of the people among themselves and in turn with them. The unity that binds the Preeminent elites is their elevation and distance from the people; the unity of the reformation leadership group grows out of communion with the (united) people. The concrete situation of Suppression—which dualizes the I of the suppressed, thereby making the suppressed person ambiguous, spiritually unstable, and fearful of freedom—facilitates the divisive action of the dominator by hindering the unifying action indispensable to liberation.
Further, domination is itself objectively divisive. It maintains the suppressed I in a position of “adhesion” to a reality which seems all-powerful and overwhelming, and then alienates by presenting ecclesiastical forces to mysteriously explain this power. Part of the suppressed I is located in the reality to which it “adheres”; part is located outside the self, in the ecclesiastical forces which are regarded as responsible for a reality about which nothing can be done. The individual is divided between an identical past and present, and a future without hope. He or she is a person who does not perceive himself or herself as becoming; hence cannot have a future to be built in unity with others. But as he or she breaks this “adhesion” and objectifies the reality from which he or she starts to emerge, the person begins to integrate as a Subject (an I) confronting an object (reality). At this moment, sundering the false unity of the divided self, one becomes a true individual as God intends, where Jesus is the Preeminent head and not some ecclesiastical usurper.
To divide the suppressed, an ideology of Suppression is indispensable. In contrast, achieving their unity requires a form of cultural action through which they come to know the why and how of their adhesion to reality—it requires de-ideologizing. Hence, the effort to unify the suppressed does not call for mere ideological “sloganizing.” The latter, by distorting the authentic relation between the Subject and objective reality, also separates the cognitive, the affective, and the active aspects of the total, indivisible personality.
The object of dialogical-libertarian action is not to “dislodge” the suppressed from a mythological reality in order to “bind” them to another reality. On the contrary, the object of dialogical action is to make it possible for the suppressed, by perceiving their adhesion, to opt to transform an unjust reality.
Since the unity of the suppressed involves solidarity among them, regardless of their exact status, this unity unquestionably requires class consciousness. However, the submersion in reality means that consciousness of being a suppressed class must be preceded (or at least accompanied) by achieving consciousness of being suppressed individuals.
Proposing as a problem the fact that he or she is a suppressed Christian and therefore a diminished human might strike them as strange.
Men who are bound to the Suppressor in this way must come to discern themselves as persons prevented from being in the relationship with God and one another as God intended. And discovering themselves means in the first instance discovering themselves as Sandra, as Bob, or Roger. This discovery implies a different perception of the meaning of designations: the words “world,” “men,” “culture,” “tree,” “work,” “animal,” reassume their true significance. Christians now see themselves as transformers of reality (previously a mysterious entity) through their creative actions solidly grounded in absolute Biblical reality. They discover that—as Christians—they can no longer continue to be “things” possessed by others; and they can move from consciousness of themselves as suppressed individuals to the consciousness of a suppressed class.
Any attempt to unify the body of believers based on activist methods which rely on “slogans” and do not deal with these fundamental aspects produces a mere juxtaposition of individuals, giving a purely mechanistic character to their action. The unity of the suppressed occurs at the human level, not at the level of things. It occurs in a reality which is only authentically comprehended in the dialectic between the sub- and superstructure.
In order for the suppressed to unite, they must first cut the umbilical cord of myth which binds them to the world of Suppression; the unity which links them to each other must be of a different nature. To achieve this indispensable unity the reformation process must be, from the beginning, Biblically grounded cultural action. The methods used to achieve the unity of the suppressed will depend on the latter’s historical and existential experience within the social structure.
Christians who are a part of very small churches (typically less than 100 adults) live in a “closed” reality with a single, compact center of Suppressive decision; the suppressed in the larger churches, especially the mega-churches, live in an expanding context in which the Suppressive command center is plural and more complex. Small church Christians are typically under the control of a dominant figure who incarnates the Suppressive system; in the large churches, the suppressed are subjected to a “Suppressive impersonality.” In both cases the Suppressive power is to a certain extent “invisible”: in the smaller churches, because of its closer proximity to the suppressed; in the larger churches, because of its dispersion.
Forms of cultural action in such different situations as these have nonetheless the same objective: to clarify to the suppressed the objective situation which binds them to the Suppressors, visible or not. Only forms of action which avoid mere speech-making and ineffective “blah” on the one hand, and mechanistic activism on the other, can oppose the divisive action of the dominant elites and move towards the unity of the suppressed.
In the theory of anti-dialogical action, manipulation is indispensable to Suppressive conquest and domination; in the dialogical theory of action the organization of the people into a true fellowship presents the antagonistic opposite of this manipulation. Organization is not only directly linked to unity but is a natural development of that unity. Accordingly, the reformation leaders’ pursuit of unity is necessarily also an attempt to organize the people, requiring witness to the fact that the struggle for liberation is a common task. This constant, humble, and courageous witness emerging from cooperation in a shared effort—the liberation of Christian women and men—avoids the danger of anti-dialogical control. The form of witness may vary, depending on the historical conditions of any church; witness itself, however, is an indispensable element of reformation action.
In order to determine the what and how of that witness, it is therefore essential to have an increasingly critical knowledge of the current historical context, the view of the church held by the people, the principal contradiction of the church culture, and the principal aspect of that contradiction. Since these dimensions of witness are historical, dialogical, and therefore dialectical, witness cannot simply import them from other contexts without previously analyzing its own. To do otherwise is to absolutize and mythologize the relative; alienation then becomes unavoidable. Witness, in the dialogical theory of action, is one of the principal expressions of the cultural and educational character of the reformation.
The essential elements of witness which do not vary historically include: consistency between words and actions; boldness which urges the witnesses to confront existence as a permanent risk; radicalization (not sectarianism) leading both the witnesses and the ones receiving that witness to increasing action; courage to love (which, far from being accommodation to an unjust diminished church, is rather the transformation of that church in behalf of the increasing liberation of the body of believers); and faith in the people, since it is to them that witness is made—although witness to the people, because of their dialectical relations with the dominant elites, also affects the latter (who respond to that witness in their customary Suppressive way).
All authentic (that is, critical) witness involves the daring to run risks, including the possibility that the reformation leaders will not always win the immediate adherence of the people. Witness which has not borne fruit at a certain moment and under certain conditions is not thereby rendered incapable of bearing fruit tomorrow. Since witness is not an abstract gesture, but an action—a confrontation with the world and with people—it is not static. It is a dynamic element which becomes part of the religious societal context in which it occurred; from that moment, it does not cease to affect that context.
In anti-dialogical action, manipulation anesthetizes the people and facilitates their domination; in dialogical action manipulation is superseded by authentic organization. In anti-dialogical action, manipulation serves the ends of conquest; in dialogical action, daring and loving witness serve the ends of organization.
For the dominant Preeminent elites, organization means organizing themselves. For the reformation leaders, organization means organizing themselves with the people. In the first event, the dominant elite increasingly structures its power so that it can more efficiently dominate, Suppress, and depersonalize; in the second, organization only corresponds to its nature and objective if in itself it constitutes the practice of freedom. Accordingly, the discipline necessary to any organization must not be confused with regimentation.
Here it is important to recognize that the liberation of God’s people into a true fellowship will not be static. Out of this fellowship will come creativity and many activities according to God’s guidance and work. To bring these things to fruition will require leadership, discipline, determination, and objectives. Tasks will need to be fulfilled and accounts rendered for these organizational activities to survive. This fact, however, can never justify treating the fellowship of believers as things to be used. The people have already been depersonalized by Preeminent Suppression. Now, if the reformation leaders manipulate them, instead of working towards their conscientização, the very objective of organization (that is, liberation) will be thereby negated.
Organizing the people is the process in which the reformation leaders, who are also being prevented from having a voice (saying their own words), strive to find ways in which to initiate the experience of learning how to bring about God’s Biblically-guided design for his church. This must be a true learning experience for all involved, and therefore dialogical. So it is that the reformation leaders cannot say their word alone; they must say it with the people. Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people—they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they Suppress.
The fact that the reformation leaders who organize the people do not have the right to arbitrarily impose their word does not mean that they must therefore take a liberalist position which would encourage license among the people, who are accustomed to Suppression. The dialogical theory of action opposes both authoritarianism and license, and thereby affirms authority and freedom. There is no freedom without authority, but there is also no authority without freedom. But it is imperative to recognize that our authority rests in God and upon the foundation of freedom that is provided in his Word. Freedom and authority can never be considered isolated from one another; they must be considered in relationship to each other.
Authentic authority is not affirmed as such by a mere elimination of Preeminency, but through sympathetic and obedient adherence to the authority of Jesus Christ. If instead, authority is merely transferred from one Preeminent group to another, or is imposed upon the majority, it degenerates into humanistic authoritarianism. Authority can avoid conflict with freedom only if it is “freedom-become-authority.” Hypertrophy of the one provokes atrophy of the other. Just as authority cannot exist without freedom, and vice versa, humanistic authoritarianism cannot exist without denying freedom, nor license without denying authority.
In the theory of dialogical action, organization requires authority, but it cannot be humanistically authoritarian; it requires freedom, so it cannot be licentious. Organization is, rather, a highly educational process in which reformation leaders and fellow believers, together experience the true authority and freedom that can only come from the Preeminency of Christ their Shepherd. True adherents to reformation will work to transform the reality which mediates them.
Cultural action is always a systematic and deliberate form of action which operates upon the social structure, either with the objective of preserving that structure or of transforming it. As a form of deliberate and systematic action, all cultural action has its theory which determines its ends and thereby defines its methods. Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men and women. As these dialectically opposed types of cultural action operate in and upon the social structure, they create dialectical relations of permanence and change.
The social structure, in order to be, must become.
Dialogical cultural action does not have as its aim the disappearance of the permanence-change dialectic (an impossible aim, since disappearance of the dialectic would require the disappearance of the social structure itself and thus of men); it aims, rather, at surmounting the antagonistic contradictions of the church’s Preeminent social structure, thereby achieving the liberation of Christians within the suppressed church.
Anti-dialogical cultural action, on the other hand, aims at mythicizing such contradictions, thereby hoping to avoid (or hinder insofar as possible) the radical transformation of reality. Anti-dialogical action explicitly or implicitly aims to preserve, within the social structure, situations which favor its own agents. While the latter would never accept a transformation of the structure sufficiently radical to overcome its antagonistic contradictions, they may accept reforms which do not affect their power of decision over the suppressed. Hence, this modality of action involves the conquest of the people, their division, their manipulation, and cultural invasion. It is necessarily and fundamentally an induced action. Dialogical action, however, is characterized by the supersedence of any induced aspect. The incapacity of anti-dialogical cultural action to supersede its induced character results from its objective: Suppressive domination; the capacity of dialogical cultural action to do this lies in its objective: liberation.
In cultural invasion, the actors draw the thematic content of their action from their own values and ideology; their starting point is their own world, from which they enter the world of those they invade. In cultural redemption, the actors who come from “another world” to the world of the people do so not as invaders. They do not come to teach or to transmit or to give anything, but rather to learn, with the people, about the world and their proper place in it, which is to be guided directly by their Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Which, according to God’s discretion will include teaching, praying, and worship.
In cultural invasion the actors (who need not even go personally to the invaded culture) superimpose themselves on the people, who are assigned the role of spectators, of objects. In cultural redemption, the actors become integrated with the people, who are coauthors of the action that both perform upon the world.
In cultural invasion, both the spectators and the reality to be preserved are objects of the actors’ action. In cultural redemption, there are no spectators; the object of the actors action is the reality to be transformed for the liberation of men.
Cultural redemption is thus a mode of action for confronting culture itself, as the preserver of the very structures by which it was formed. Cultural action, as historical action, is an instrument for superseding the dominant alienated and alienating culture. In this sense, every authentic reformation is a cultural revolution.
The investigation of the people’s generative themes or meaningful thematics described earlier constitutes the starting point for the process of action as cultural redemption. Indeed, it is not possible to divide this process into two separate steps; first, thematic investigation, and then action as cultural redemption. Such a dichotomy would imply an initial phase in which the people, as passive objects, would be studied, analyzed, and investigated by the investigators—a procedure congruent with anti-dialogical action. Such division would lead to the naive conclusion that action as redemption follows from action as invasion.
In dialogical theory, this division cannot occur. The Subjects of thematic investigation are not only the investigators but also the men and women of the people whose thematic universe is being sought. Investigation—the first moment of action as cultural redemption—establishes a climate of creativity which will tend to develop in the subsequent stages of action. Such a climate does not exist in cultural invasion, which through alienation kills the creative enthusiasm of those who are invaded, leaving them hopeless and fearful of risking experimentation, without which there is no true creativity.
Those who are invaded, whatever their level, rarely go beyond the models which the invaders prescribe for them. In cultural redemption there are no invaders; hence, there are no imposed models other than what is described within the Word of God. In their stead, there are dialogical actors who critically analyze reality (never separating this analysis from action) and intervene as Subjects in the historical process.
Instead of following predetermined plans, reformation leaders and fellow believers, mutually identified, work together, looking for God to create the guidelines of their action. In this synthesis, reformation leaders and people are somehow reborn in new knowledge and new action. Knowledge of the suppressive alienated culture leads to transforming action resulting in a culture which is being freed from alienation. The more sophisticated knowledge of the leaders is remade in the empirical knowledge of the people, while the latter is refined by the former.
In cultural redemption it is possible to resolve the contradiction between the world view of the reformation leaders and that of the people, to the enrichment of both. Cultural redemption does not deny the differences between the two views; indeed, it is enriched by these differences. It does deny the invasion of one by the other but affirms the undeniable support each gives to the other as both are brought into their proper place by God, who can shape every culture according to his perfect will.
Reformation leaders must avoid organizing themselves apart from the people; whatever contradiction to the people may occur fortuitously, due to certain historical conditions, must be solved—not augmented by the cultural invasion of an imposed relationship. Cultural synthesis is the only way.
Reformation leaders will commit many errors and miscalculations if they do not take into account something so real as the people’s view of the world: a view which explicitly and implicitly contains their concerns, their doubts, their hopes, their way of seeing the leaders, their perceptions of themselves and of the Suppressors, their religious beliefs (almost always syncretic), their fatalism, their rebellious reactions. None of these elements can be seen separately, for in interaction all of them compose a totality. The Preeminent Suppressor is interested in knowing this totality only as an aid to his action of invasion in order to Suppress or preserve Suppression. For the reformation leaders, the knowledge of this totality is indispensable to their actions toward cultural redemption.
Cultural redemption (precisely because it is a redemption) does not mean that the objectives of reformation action should be limited by the aspirations expressed in the world view of the people. If this were to happen (in the guise of respect for that view), the reformation leaders would be passively bound to that vision. Neither invasion by the reformation leaders of the people’s world view nor mere adaptation by the leaders to the (often naive) aspirations of the people is acceptable.
To be concrete: if at a given historical moment the basic aspiration of the people goes no further than a demand for bureaucratic or ecclesiastical control, the reformation leaders can commit one of two errors. They can limit their action to stimulating this one demand or they can overrule this popular aspiration and substitute something more far-reaching—but something which has not yet come to the forefront of the people’s attention. In the first case, the reformation leaders follow a line of adaptation to the people’s demands. In the second case, by disrespecting the aspirations of the people, they fall into cultural invasion.
In the anti-dialogical theory of action, cultural invasion serves the ends of manipulation, which in turn serves the ends of conquest, and conquest the ends of domination. Cultural redemption serves the ends of organization; organization serves the ends of liberation.
This work deals with an obvious truth: just as the Suppressor, in order to Suppress, needs a theory of Suppressive action, so the suppressed, in order to become free, also need a theory of action.
The Suppressor elaborates his theory of action without the people, for he stands against them. Nor can the people—as long as they are Suppressed, internalizing the image of the Suppressor—construct by themselves the theory of their liberating action. Only in the encounter of the people with the reformation leaders—in their communion, in their praxis—can this theory be built.