Sunday, March 23, 2014

Desmond Tutu Said It Better Than I Can

More Sundays than not, I should send Krista Tippett a thank you note because listening to her program, most weeks, she could provide me with a fantastic topic to write on.   She and her guests do most of the work for me.  

Today it is the great, living, saint, Bishop Desmond Tutu who has provided the strongest possible evidence to support one of the things I write on over and over again,  that political freedom comes from a complete conviction that the metaphysical truths of inherent rights, equality and the moral obligation to respect those.   I will add something else now because I have come to really believe it, that unless you believe those are an endowment of human beings by the grace of God, your belief in them will be insufficient to carry through to making them manifest in society and in politics.   His example is as concrete in anything else in human experience, human experience, itself.

Ms. Tippett: Right. You had spiritual companions.

Archbishop Tutu: Yes. They are more than that. I mean, they are people who helped to form me. And then discovering that the Bible could be such dynamite. I subsequently used to say if these white people had intended keeping us under they shouldn't have given us the Bible. Because, whoa, I mean, it's almost as if it is written specifically just for your situation. I mean, the many parts of it that were so germane, so utterly to the point for us …

Ms. Tippett: Can you recall one of those early discoveries as the Bible as dynamite? Some teaching that you suddenly saw as so relevant?

Archbishop Tutu: Well, it's actually right the very first thing. I mean, when you discover that apartheid sought to mislead people into believing that what gave value to human beings was a biological irrelevance, really, skin color or ethnicity, and you saw how the scriptures say it is because we are created in the image of God, that each one of us is a God-carrier. No matter what our physical circumstances may be, no matter how awful, no matter how deprived you could be, it doesn't take away from you this intrinsic worth. One saw just how significant it was.

Although I was a bishop, I was working now for the Southern Council of Churches and had a small parish in Soweto. Most of my parishioners were domestic workers, not people who are very well educated. But I would say to them, "You know, mama, when they ask who are you" — you see, the white employer most frequently didn't use the person's name. They said the person's name was too difficult. And so most Africans, women would be called "Annie" and most black men really, you were "boy." And I would say to them, "When they ask who are you, you say, 'Me? I'm a God-carrier. I'm God's partner. I'm created in the image of God.'" And you could see those dear old ladies as they walked out of church on that occasion as if they were on cloud nine. You know, they walked with their backs slightly straighter. And, yeah, it was amazing.

Ms. Tippett: I think much of the world, and this has to do with my profession of journalism as well …

Archbishop Tutu: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: … experienced the events in South Africa, those decades leading up to the end of apartheid, primarily as political happenings. But there was a great religious drama at the heart of it, right?

Archbishop Tutu: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: So on the one hand, the church, the Dutch Reform Church, the primary church in South Africa, sanctioned and sustained apartheid to near the end. And also, as you say, there was this parallel drama going on of religion, theology, the Bible becoming a great force of liberation.

Archbishop Tutu: Well, one of the wonderful things was how in fact we had this interfaith cooperation — Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus. And now, when you hear people speak disparagingly about, say, Islam, you say they've forgotten the men that that faith inspired people to great acts of courage.

Ms. Tippett: And that coalition, those friendships, were they building in those latter decades of the 20th century?

Archbishop Tutu: You discovered the thing you were fighting against was too big for divided churches, for divided religious community. And each of the different faith communities realized some of the very significant central teachings about the worth of a human being, about the unacceptability of injustice and oppression. Many times, actually, it was quite exhilarating. It was fun.

And, because I've got a lot to learn,  here is what he says about the limits and problems of living with mere political freedom when society isn't structured to maximize the reality that all people are made in the image of God.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I like that. I wonder also, is it right you were 63 years old when you voted for the first time? What was that like?

Archbishop Tutu: How do you describe falling in love? I mean, people asked then when we voted for the first time. It was an incredible experience. For you, going to the poll box is really a political act. For us, it was a religious act. It was a spiritual experience because, you know, you walked into the polling booth one person with all of the history of oppression and injustice and all the baggage that we were carrying and you walk and you make your mark and you put the ballot into the box and you emerge on the other side. And you are a different person. You are transfigured. Now you actually count in your own country. You — hey, I mean, it really was a cloud nine experience. We were transformed from ciphers into persons.

Ms. Tippett: You know, one thing that I feel also runs throughout your writing is how freedom in terms of politics, I mean, this freedom to vote, is absolutely something you demanded and needed to demand, and yet you also knew people across the years who were free while they were imprisoned. And there's also this specter now of people who are politically free but not free in, I don't know, maybe the deepest Christian sense, for example.

Archbishop Tutu: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: So I wonder if you'd reflect a little bit on what you've learned about the limits of politics.

Archbishop Tutu: Well, you know, I mean, you've got prepositions. The preposition "from" — you are free from and then you are free for. We have gone to being free from, which turns out to be one of the slightly easier things to get to do, although it took so long.

Ms. Tippett: Yes.

Archbishop Tutu: The being free for, I tell you, is tough. You know?

Ms. Tippett: So what is the freedom for what that you now wish for, for your people?

Archbishop Tutu: I think many of us were involved. I often say you know what? We didn't struggle in order just to change the complexion of those who sit in the Union Buildings. The Union Buildings are something like your capitol and so on. Yeah. It wasn't to change the complexion; it was to change the quality of our community, society. That we wanted to see a society that was a compassionate society, a caring society, a society where you might not necessarily be madly rich but you knew that you counted. I don't think that we've got — yeah. I mean, we've got a number of the things, sort of material political things, not all of them. I mean, we have levels of poverty at home that are unacceptable. There's the crime, there's disease. We still do not, I think, have the kind of place where you say I really am proud to be here. I know that even when I don't have a big bank balance I count, I matter. What we have found is that original sin actually doesn't know very much about racial discrimination. Original sin infects all of us. I mean, when you see how so soon people have become corrupt, it leaves you feeling sad.

Just about everything he said was abundantly worth pointing out,  you will certainly get something important from listening to the podcast and reading the transcript of his entire interview.   It helps a lot to read the transcript.

Ok, one more point because at least a dozen times this week I've encountered what blog atheists believe is their ace up their sleeve,  you know, their disproof of God that mentions Zeus, Odin, etc. 

Archbishop Tutu: Yes. Do you really think that God would say, "Dalai Lama, you really are a great guy, man. What a shame you're not a Christian."?

Archbishop Tutu: I somehow don't think so. I think God is just thrilled because no faith, not even the Christian faith, can ever encompass God or even be able to communicate who God is. Only God can do that.

1 comment:

  1. "I think God is just thrilled because no faith, not even the Christian faith, can ever encompass God or even be able to communicate who God is. Only God can do that."

    Very Gandhian! All these non-violent types are so damned inclusive.