This month we look at the World Council of Churches' Conference on racism and at a theologian's controversial approach to spiritual independence. And we review an analysis of the women's movement in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
Our kingdom come
Race: No Peace Without Justice
by Barbara Rogers
WCC (pbk) US: $5.75/UK: £2.50/ Switz SFr 9.90
Taking Leave of God
by Don Cupitt
UK: SCM Press (pbk) £4.95 US: Crossroad Publishing Co.
Barbara Rogers' book is written as a defence of the World Council of Churches' Programme to Combat Racism. Intense criticism has been aroused by the grants to groups engaged in a violent struggle for liberation, especially in Zimbabwe, Namibia and the Republic of South Africa
Race:No Peace Without Justice reports on the W.C.C.'s response to the outraged reactions from some Western countries. Regional meetings in various continents culminated in an International Consultation in 1980 held in the Netherlands.
Dispossesion and death: racism takes its toll. The scape from the Ogaden was too strenuous for this little child. She was dead before her mother reached the refugee camp.
Photo: Arild Vollan/UNICEF
The consultation process identified racism as a geiger counter picks up radiation. The untouchables of India are oppressed by their fellow countrymen who are racially different from them. Palestinians are the victims of the Jews. Indians in the Americas, Aborigines in Australia, migrant workers almost worldwide, provide further instances. 'The enormous variety of situations presented. . . made it impossible to see the flaw as located anywhere other than in human nature itself.' One group is always ready to use its power to exploit a weaker section of the human family: an ugly thing wherever it occurs.
Miss Rogers is quick to identify and to condemn. But inducing guilt is seldom an adequate remedy. Having reported the facts as they emerge from round the world, her final indignation is reserved for the Western participants in the Netherland congress. She feels that they both mystified and alienated the delegates from the developing countries by introducing into the discussion dimensions of the Soviet-West tension. Having gone some considerable way to acknowledging the past failures of the colonial powers, they wanted an equally critical look to be taken at the record of Russia. (Clearly the shadow of Afghanistan loomed over the conferences.)
Immediately Miss Rogers is hostile. And her book is likely to lose its apologetic force precisely because she lets her prejudices take over. The fundamental issue is how we can listen to one another, making dialogue possible. It is the dilemma of the dedicated prophet. Denunciation comes so easily. Yet a radical change of consciousness is achieved only when people learn things for themselves, not when they are driven into them.
The same dilemma underlies Taking Leave of God. Don Cupitt too is arguing for liberation. The individual must find his own way of life, coming clear not only of subservience to a tradition but also of dependence on God. When the worshippers are the 'fans' and God is the 'star', all good is projected outwards onto the cult figures and the support group opt out of the real engagement with living. We have got to be godlike, he argues, not abandon everything to a supposed almighty saviour who will rescue us in our helplessness.
People should live without fear of death, not because they believe that there is a God who will put things right but because they accept they will die, and they can live with that truth. Don Cupitt wants to kick away the crutches of dependent religious belief so that people can stand on their own feet. That, he believes, is what they want to do.
His argument is a serious one, well worth considering, although cries of protest have already greeted his book. Both books have important things to say. The tone of voice in which they say them will close many ears and that is itself evidence of the fundamental antagonism which needs to be overcome if the human race is to turn from powerstruggle to co-operation.
Michael Hare Duke
Slaves of Slaves
by the Latin American & Caribbean Women's Collective
Zed Press (pbk) UK: £4.50/US: $8.50
What course should the women's movement take in those countries where even the men are slaves? That's the question posed in Slaves of Slaves, an analysis of the special character and purpose of the women's movement in Latin America and the Caribbean. Part One offers a general introduction to its history and current position. Part Two consists of 14 essays which rely heavily on first-person accounts of women's experiences.
It is here that the book really comes alive. A typical day in a peasant woman's life in El Salvador is described here by a doctor. 'The woman gets up at 3.30 or 4 in the morning to light the fire for cooking the maize. Then she pounds it on a stone, feeds the animals, prepares the meal and washes the clothes. At midday she takes most of the meal to her husband, and while he eats she ploughs the fields or wields a scythe and generally carries on with whatever her husband was doing. Afterwards she goes home, feeds the children and eats what little is left. She is probably beaten, frequently pregnant and suffers many miscarriages.'
Latin American woman is a victim of poverty and of machismo 'an expression - sometimes at the level of caricature - of the patriarchal system'. And, if politically active, she is a target for manipulation, repression and torture. Even in Cuba, 15 years after the revolution, very few women stand for or are elected to political office. And when a cross-section of Cuban men were asked why they avoided doing their share of the housework, they replied that it was women's work. At the other end of the scale there is the well-publicised but everchilling evidence of rape and torture in countries such as Chile and Uruguay.
The authors are wary of attempts to graft Western feminist attitudes and approaches onto their movement, which have evolved differently. The 'wages for housework' campaign, for example, is seen as irrelevant or even profoundly reactionary in a Latin American context. If successful, they argue, such a campaign would merely reinforce the patriarchal family and accentuate the commercialization of all relationships which occurs under capitalist regimes.
The book's authors come from a wide range of backgrounds, but share a common theoretical approach. They address themselves to the perennial dilemma of radical feminism - which matters most. sisterhood or the class struggle - and they plump firmly for the latter. Working men and women have to fight together for their conditions to improve.