One thing I found to be particularly interesting while reading Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the extent that biblical themes permeate the work. After some further research on Google I found out that Freire was himself Christian, so this should come as no surprise!
Freire writes of his model of education that “problem-posing education is revolutionary futurity. Hence it is prophetic (and, as such, hopeful). Hence, it corresponds to the historical nature of humankind” (57). This is a nod to the prophets of the OT who looked to and hoped for a new future in contradiction to the present. Problem-posing education seeks to identify the unhuman in the present and confront it with a human future.
A few pages on, Freire writes, “To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming” (61). “The naming of the world … is an act of creation and re-creation” (62). Perhaps here Adam’s naming of the animals in Gen 2:19-22 lies in the background. “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field” (NRSV). From the beginning, reality for the biblical author has a human stamp permitted by God. This is related to the command for human beings to be stewards over the earth. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28). In this tradition, Freire would see naming as the ongoing task of transforming the world from one of oppression to one of humanity.
Another interesting aspect of Freire’s argument is found in the biblical virtues necessary for a liberating pedagogy. First there is love. “If I do not love the world–if I do not love life–if I do not love people–I cannot enter into dialogue” (63). The teacher’s dialogue with the students is impossible without the teacher loving both the students and the world, in the vision for a human world. Next there is humility. “How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?” (63). It is such a humility that underpins the the dialogical nature of the teacher-student relationship, as opposed to one that sees the teacher as master. Then there is faith, though here the atheistic form of Freire’s project becomes especially clear. “Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human” (63). The faith of the prophets in the grace and sovereignty of Yahweh is secularised so that it is human beings alone who bring about this change.
Next there is hope. This is worth quoting at length. “Hope is rooted in men’s incompletion, from which they move out in constant search…. Hopelessness is a form of silence, of denying the world and fleeing from it. The dehumanization resulting from an unjust order is not a cause for despair but for hope, leading to the incessant pursuit of the humanity denied by injustice. Hope, however, does not consist in crossing one’s arms and waiting. As long as I fight, I am moved by hope; and if I fight with hope, then I can wait” (64-65). The apolitical hope of the churches, epitomising flight from the world, is here radicalised and more in line with its biblical origins, hope for a new world that changes the way people act in the present. Such an outlook has much in common with that of Moltmann’s 1964 Theology of Hope.
In addition to the four biblical virtues of love, humility, faith, and hope, Freire adds a fifth, though perhaps owing more to the Enlightenment as a reaction to the Christian tradition than to the Bible itself. This is critical thinking, which, in contrast to “naïve thinking,” sees the world in terms of its capacity for change, rather than seeking to accommodate the human thinker to the world as it currently stands, and participates in this change. And though I think this departs somewhat from Freire’s biblical trajectory, it should be of utmost importance for theologians, seeking a mind that is shaped by and to Christ, and one that ever seeks to see the world as his and act upon this perception.
While Freire’s work is seems to be aimed at a more general audience, one that is not necessarily Christian, it adapts the biblical tradition in provocative and stimulating ways. Freire should be commended by theology especially for translating a biblical vision of human flourishing into a Marxist context. Nor should this be too readily dismissed by theologians but carefully considered for the aspects of the biblical tradition that are all too easily overlooked in an introspective churchly context.
This post follows my last on the first chapter of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I found the following chapters to be a bit more dense terminologically and would need to do a slower reread for some deeper reflections. Nonetheless, here are some of the little things I noticed.
In the second chapter, Freire turns to the subject of pedagogy. Here, he contrasts the “banking model” of teaching with the “problem-posing” one. The former is defined, above all, by analogy with banking. “The teaching talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable…. The outstanding characteristic of this narrative education, then, is the sonority of words, not their transforming power. ‘Four times four is sixteen; the capital of Pará is Belém.’ The student records, memorizes, and repeats these phrases without perceiving what four times four really means, or realizing the true significance of ‘capital’ in the affirmation ‘the capital of Pará is Belém,’ that is, what Belém means for Pará and what Pará means for Brazil” (44). In this model, the student memorises and files away knowledge of a static world. Yet the status quo of the oppressor’s world is thereby sustained. Moreover, the teacher acts as a master of knowledge, reinforcing the student’s passive role in society, one determined to maintain society as it currently stands.
In contrast, “problem-posing” education perceives the world as it really is, open to development and thus a to a teleologically humane society. “Whereas the banking method directly or indirectly reinforces men’s fatalistic perception of their situation, the problem-posing method presents this very situation to them as a problem” (58).
This also requires the teacher to enter into the world of the oppressed and perceive it with them. “The students–no longer docile listeners–are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher. The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own” (54). Interestingly, when I did my primary school teaching degree in 2008-2010, I remember being exposed to similar ideas, where the old model of master and pupil did not adequately meet the needs of today’s learners. The teacher was to be seen less in their role as conveyor and more in their role as facilitator of knowledge. I found such a philosophy exciting and, implemented rightly, certainly more engaging for students when on my placements. One thing that I am unsure if Freire adequately addresses, however, especially in regard to today’s context, is the ongoing need for expert knowledge in education, say, for example, in scientific research. The results of such research can sometimes be fruitfully engaged in a critical manner by those with little or no formal scientific training, though there are also clear dangers, such as in the anti-vax movement or creationism.
Central to the alternative that is problem-posing education is that such an education has a real relationship to the needs to those who are participating in it. Here, that is the oppressed becoming aware of their situation and how it might be addressed, an awareness that arises in dialogue with the educator. “In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process; in transformation” (56, emphasis original).
Also of note here is Freire’s understanding of the intimate relationship between reflection an praxis. “There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world” (60). Against the word of transformation, two alternatives present themselves. “When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating ‘blah.'” (60). Here is envisioned the type of reflection that no longer has any interest in transformation. But the other extreme is also damaging. “If action is emphasized exclusively, to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism. The latter–action for action’s sake–negates the true praxis and makes dialogue impossible” (61). In any case, where reflection becomes the main concern or is marginalised altogether, the possibility of transformative action suffers.
This point receives an interesting development at a later stage in the text. “The revolutionary effort to transform these structures radically cannot designate its leaders as thinkers and the oppressed as mere doers. If true commitment to the people, involving the transformation of the reality by which they are oppressed, requires a theory of transforming action, this theory cannot fail to assign to the people a fundamental role in the transformation process. The leaders cannot treat the oppressed as mere activists to be denied the opportunity of reflection and allowed merely the illusion of action” (99). That is, to neatly divide tasks being reflecting and doing is to overlook their basic and necessary unity. Freire is especially concerned here to steer away from a division of labour that mirrors that of oppressor society, so that the oppressed are again the labourers for realising the leaders’ ideas.
This week I’ve been in Perth, Australia for a theology conference (more on that soon). Today, though, I picked up Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (trans. Myra Bergman Ramos; Penguin Classics, 2017; original Portuguese in 1968) for the first time and read the opening chapter with interest. Here are some quotes and comments.
Early on in the work, Freire warns against the oppressed themselves becoming oppressors. This is a false liberation. “Sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity … become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both” (18). “The very structure of their [the oppressed] thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors” (19). That is, this path is taken when the oppressed derive their understanding of what it means to be human from the lives of their oppressors, rather than thinking creatively beyond this to a new life without oppression.
Initially apparently in contradiction to this, Freire makes a provocative claim. “Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation?” (29). As I understand it, Freire seems to be saying that the oppressed should not share their oppressors’ vision of humanity, their ends, but sharing their humanity as it is acted out, their means, is different, even inevitable. I think this claim is both helpful and harmful. First, it is helpful because it rightly places the responsibility for violence with the perpetrators. The violence of those who respond in violence from a position of relative powerlessness should never be equated with that of their overlords. Second, however, I think both that this in danger of denying the real agency that oppressed people exercise, sometimes in choosing not to replicate the violence of their oppressors, and that Freire’s implicit distinction between means and ends seems to be somewhat confused. Surely if the truly human is not oppressive then the means of getting their should not be either? That is, the oppression needs to stop being replicated at some point in the chain; otherwise it is eternal.
Perhaps, though, Freire does not here imagine a replication of the same kind of violence employed by the oppressors. “As the oppressed, fighting to be human, take away the oppressors’ power to dominate and suppress, they restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of oppression” (30). Maybe this is what Freire meant by reciprocal violence, maybe not.
Freire’s comments on the new humanity (or humanity under construction?) of the oppressors are especially notable, anticipating similar comments (though in regard to quite different circumstances) made today in conversations around privilege. “But even when the contradiction is resolved authentically by a new situation established by the liberated labourers, the former oppressors do not feel liberated. On the contrary, they genuinely consider themselves to be oppressed. Conditioned by the experience of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression. Formerly, they could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel, and hear Beethoven; while millions did not eat, had no clothes or shoes, neither studied or traveled, much less listened to Beethoven. Any restriction on this way of life … appears to the former oppressors as a profound violation of their individual rights–although they had no respect for the millions who suffered and died of hunger, pain, sorrow, and despair. For the oppressors, ‘human beings’ refers only to themselves; other people are ‘things.’ For the oppressors, there exists only one right: their right to live in peace, over against the right … of the oppressed to survival. And they make this concession only because the existence of the oppressed is necessary to their own existence” (31-32).
Just how insurmountable oppression might appear is powerfully illustrated by an anecdote Freire provides. “A sociologist friend of mine tells of a group of armed peasants in a Latin American country who recently took over a latifundium. For tactical reasons, they planned to hold the landowner as a hostage. But not one peasant had the courage to guard him; his very presence was terrifying. It is also possible that the act of opposing the boss provoked guilt feelings. In truth, the boss was ‘inside’ him” (38). The surmounting of oppression requires not just an overhaul of external circumstances but psychological revolution as well.
As I continued reading Freire, however, I began to notice a particularly problematic aspect of his argumentation. The initial claim that the oppressed might become the oppressor aside, I found Freire’s framework to be a bit too simplistic, almost reducible to a dualism. There are two classes of people, those who oppress and those who are oppressed. While this might be broadly true of the Latin American situation he was addressing, even there his analysis has its shortcomings. Take this section from an interview he quotes in the book, for example: “The peasant is a dependent. He can’t say what he wants. Before he discovers his dependence, he suffers. He lets off steam at home, where he shouts at his children, beats them, and despairs. He complains about his wife and thinks everything is dreadful…. Lots of times, the peasant gives vent to his sorrows by drinking” (39). Certainly, the situation of this peasant’s family is not helped by that of his own, his dependence on his boss for a livelihood. But neither should domestic violence and other evils be seen against an exclusively economic horizon, where other factors such as racism, patriarchy, colonialism, ableism etc. intersect to form ever new oppressions.
To conclude, a short theological comment. This chapter should be of especial interest to Christians, notably where the church can reduce salvation to “personal relationship with God,” largely overlooking the deeply material and structural factors that hamper human beings from living as truly human. Where the church overlooks its mission to join in with the oppressed breaking their chains (and not just having an inner experience), it understates the power and love of God, who is currently at work in remaking human beings into the truly human, yes from the inside but on the outside too. On the other hand, Christians need to exercise a healthy suspicion of the truly human being achieved outside of new creation. Yes, it should be striven for. Yes, we are to join with those seeking their liberation and believe alongside them for a better future. But, no, we should never accept anything short of kingdom come and the person of Christ as the realisation of the truly human.
.@AklCouncil venues shouldn't be used to stir up ethnic or religious tensions. Views that divide rather than unite are repugnant and I have made my views on this very clear. Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux will not be speaking at any Council venues.
Elsewhere he elaborated, “I’m not going to aid and abet people who spout racist nonsense by providing them with a venue.” And, “I find it offensive that they attack people on the basis of their faith and ethnicity and they set out deliberately to provoke them.” That is, the duo’s platform tends to target vulnerable, non-white groups, in expressing such as opposition to Islam and immigration.
We must not let racist hate speech be normalised in our society, or foster an environment where the views of white supremacists are part of the mainstream discourse. In doing so, we will plant the seeds of division, hate and violence in Aotearoa, that flourish in America under Trump.
Of the handful of racist incidents my family has encountered since migrating here, one that stands out in my mind is a man approaching my mother, a visibly Muslim woman wearing hijab, and towering over her tiny 5’2 frame to say “we don’t need your kind here, go back to where you came from”.
We were in a West Auckland supermarket and this was not long after 9/11. How many incendiary YouTube videos or speeches by alt-right mouthpieces like Southern would that man have needed to watch to embolden him enough to have perhaps taken it a step further: next time maybe pull off my mother’s hijab (as is happening in parts of the US) or assault her?
Meanwhile, here it is claimed that Goff was not involved in the cancellation at all. Auckland Live provided an alternative rationale for the cancellation:
Cancellation: Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern Live at Bruce Mason Centre. For all further enquiries, please contact Axiomatic Events. pic.twitter.com/FMGfOa4fvF
This “security concerns” are allegedly due to a statement from Auckland Peace Action: “We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community in Aotearoa who are opposing these fascists. If they come here, we will confront them on the streets. If they come, we will blockade entry to their speaking venue.” Because of the opposition, the NZ part of the duo’s tour has been cancelled, as they have been unable to book an alternative venue in time.
Who are They?
Lauren Southern is a far-right political activist who identifies as a libertarian and ran for parliament in Canada. She made news last year when she was involved with actions of Génération identitare, an anti-immigration group, in obstructing asylum seekers off the coast of Italy. Saziah Bashir puts it rightly when she says that “Southern believes – and was acting on her belief – that women and children fleeing a war should drown at sea rather than be allowed to set foot in a Western country.” Southern’s 2016 book is entitled, Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants, and Islam Screwed My Generation. Earlier this year she was barred from entering the UK on the grounds that her presence there would not be “conducive to the public good.” Specifically, Southern claimed that her being denied entry was due to her involvement in displaying fliers in Luton, England, in February, with slogans such as “Allah is a gay god.” And while I think it’s important to hold conversations about discrimination of LGBT+ people in any community, seen in the context of Southern’s wider anti-Islam, anti-feminist, and anti-LGBT+ platform, her actions were clearly intended to stir up hate for Muslims. This is all the more clear in that Southern did not seek out working alongside Muslims who are already working for change within their communities.
Stefan Molyneux is also a far-right figure who has been involved in radio and writing. Jessica Roy recalls his 2014 statements on the relationship between women and violence:
Molyneux said that because 90% of a child’s brain is formed by the experiences it has before the age of 5, and women have “an almost universal control over childhood,” violence exists in the world because of the way women treat children.
“If we could just get people to be nice to their babies for five years straight, that would be it for war, drug abuse, addiction, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases,” he said. “Almost all would be completely eliminated, because they all arise from dysfunctional early childhood experiences, which are all run by women.”
According to Stuart Hayashi, Molyneux has also been subject to allegations in regard to his cult-like operations: “Despite later denials to the contrary, online videos document Molyneux telling these fans that if their parents do not support anarchy, it means that their parents do not love them and ought to be disowned completely. A number of young fans have followed this advice and joined Molyneux’s cause, pledging their lives and money to him” [links original, two dead now]. Hayashi continues, noting Molyneux’s later further descent into racist pseudoscience, where “what race you are strongly influences your IQ number, and your IQ number strongly influences how economically successful or criminally violent you are.” Molyneux proceeds to rank the “races” according to their IQs, later speaking of the “low-IQ, rapey people from north Africa.” See the rest of Hayashi’s post for the pseudoscientific nature of these claims. Not only are they pseudoscientific though, but comments like these provide an apparently rational ground for state and public hate, discrimination, and violence.
In the interests of the public good, the council rightly denied the two speaking at one of their venues. People who want to hear them will find their own way to do so anyway. As the following will demonstrate, this is hardly an issue of free speech.
Interestingly, decrying the cancellation of the duo’s speaking night in Auckland overlooks their own complicity in rejecting freedom of expression. As Brian Rudman points out,
[The] promoter, Axiomatic Media Pty Ltd “reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone.” Then to make doubly sure only like-minded groupies attend, it adds “if someone is deemed to be a risk or disturbance and is asked to leave who has already entered the event, they shall not be entitled to any refund.”
In other words, even for organiser, Australian Christian fundamentalist, Dave Pellowe, who is now calling for lovers of free speech “to stand up and fight back, before it is taken away for ever,” such rights are not absolute. Not when he’s hiring the hall for his Alt-Right circus act at any rate.
So that’s what “healthy debate” looks like.
Not long after Goff’s tweets, the Free Speech Coalition was formed by Don Brash and raised $50,000 in the space of a day in order to sue Auckland City Council. Brash states, “I think Phil Goff was entirely wrong to say taxpayer or ratepayer funded facilities cannot be used by people whose views he disagrees with.”
It’s hard to get people to give money to worthy causes. Climate change. Poverty. Fuel taxes. There are so many issues, and we’re all stretched thin. But this week we’ve found out there’s still one cause that can compel hordes of mostly rich, white people to enthusiastically part with large sums of cash: making sure racists can book council facilities.
Similar sentiments to those of Donnell were expressed by Marama Davidson on Facebook, after she received death and rape threats (so much for freedom of expression) after expressing support for Goff’s decision to cancel the event:
She references Bob Jones’s defamation case against Renae Maihi and another against Leone Pihama. It seems the coalition are chiefly interested in supporting those whose values more closely resemble their own. Importantly, Davidson connects freedom of speech to “freedom to be,” that is, the rights of blacks in the US, transgender people everywhere, and Māori in NZ to be on their own terms, no longer facing state and public discrimination and oppression. In contrast to the coalition, Davidson recognises the inconsistency in supporting an abstract notion of free speech outside of a concretely free society.
I’m currently reading through Moltmann’s The Politics of Discipleship and Discipleship in Politics (Cascade, 2006). Moltmann’s essays in this volume were originally available in English in Following Jesus Christ in the World Today (now open access), and republished in On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics. Here they are paired with response essays from various Mennonite scholars, a newer response-to-the-responses from Moltmann, and Moltmann’s later essay, “Peacemaking and Dragonslaying in Christianity.” I remember reading Moltmann elsewhere (though I’m not quite sure where, probably pre-CG) on exceptions to pacifism. He then stated that something along the lines of how pacifist Christians shouldn’t be paternalistic in speaking to Christians in other situations who use violence to achieve their ends. A similar idea comes through in his response-to-the-responses (first published 1984 I think). This issue has likely been treated in greater detail elsewhere by other thinkers, though I’m sharing this here as I appreciate Moltmann’s uncertainty here and the side of him that it reveals:
Tom Finger returned with another question, … which really embarrasses me. It is the question of violence in exceptional situations. My answer reveals my personal dilemma. In 1943 at age 17 I was inducted into the German army. I watched the destruction of my home city Hamburg in the “fire storm” in July, 1943, in which more than 70,000 people died. I survived only as by a miracle. In 1945 I was fortunately taken prisoner by the English. In 1948 I returned to Germany. My generation was pitchforked into the war after the war was lost; we were to die because Hitler wanted to live a little longer and to make Auschwitz possible. When I returned, I swore two things to myself: (1) Never again war and never again service in a war and (2) if I should ever have the opportunity to eliminate a tyrant and mass murderer like Hitler, I would do it. In this line, I have participated in the peace movements against the arming of West Germany and against nuclear armament and against the stationing of Pershing 2 in West Germany.
But I have always simultaneously admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who took part in the active resistance to Hitler and who gave his life in that cause. I also have great understanding for the Christians in Nicaragua, who have joined the Sadinista Liberation Front, in order to end the crimes of the dictator Somoza. I know both of these decisions in a sense contradict a pure ethic of nonviolence. But I would ask my Mennonite friends to comprehend my dilemma from the bitter experiences of my life. I do not represent the “just war” teaching. I also do not advocate a justification of the murder of tyrants. But I know that there are situations in life in which one must resist and become guilty, in order to save human lives. Perhaps Bonhoeffer was right when he spoke of a conscious assumption of guilt in such cases. My generation in Germany became guilty because we did nothing to hinder the mass murder of the Jews. “Auschwitz” remains our mark of Cain.
I just read this today. It’s helpful for clarifying some of the key differences Moltmann sees between himself and his contemporaries:
Political theology is not the same as ‘progressive’ theology, whether this be liberal Protestant theology or modernist Catholic theology. The differences and conflicts between the conservative Protestant Wolfhart Pannenberg and myself, or between the political theologian Johann Baptist Metz and the progressive post-modernist Hans Küng, are obvious. These others have never taken part in our initiatives and conflicts. On the contrary, they have often fought against us. Liberal theology was, and still is, the theology of the established middle classes. Political theology has its Protestant roots in Karl Barth’s anti-bourgeois theology, and in the experiences of the Confessing Church in its resistance to National Socialism. In the early peace movement of the 1950s, we always looked in vain for Bultmann and his liberal followers. As I see it, political theology is the true dialectical theology: a theology of contradiction and hope, of negation of the negative, and the utopia of the positive.
God for a Secular Society, 57.
Note that Küng is a close friend of Moltmann’s, and the two have worked together on various projects, notably various editions of Concilium. For the personal side, see the index and relevant sections in Moltmann’s autobiography. Also helpful here is Moltmann’s “Personal Recollections of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” trans. by Steffen Lösel, ed. by Jeania Ree Moore, Theology Today 72:1 (2015): 11-14. Finally, David Congdon’s The Mission of Demythologizing, the best currently available secondary work on Bultmann, has a section on Moltmann’s relationship to Bultmann and his critique of Bultmann’s politics (see the index). While I don’t agree with Congdon’s attempted defence of Bultmann’s politics, the short exposition is helpful.