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Victory in respecting personality
on July 25, 2007
I tracked down Jesus and the Disinherited after reading Richard Lischer's fine study of Martin Luther King Jr, Preacher King. Howard Thurman, I had learned, was an influence on Martin Luther King Jr. A scholarly Christian reflecting on the African-American experience, he preached non-violence long before it was fashionable. As the back cover states, this is "an influential book whose message helped shape the civil rights movement and changed our nation's history for ever."
Thurman compares the situation of African-Americans to that of the Jews in the time of Jesus. He analyzes the psychological effects of oppression on individuals. He describes the strategies oppressed people adopt for survival based on fear, deception and hate. Fear teaches our body to avoid confrontation with a member of the dominant community, we use double talk so as not to attract negative attention, and our only possible response becomes hatred which keeps us from moral disintegration.
Jesus' call to love enemies was revolutionary. Genuine love must be a mutual recognition of the dominant and oppressed communities as human beings. Genuine love at an individual level (I hate all Asians, but this person I know to be a human being) may lead to an exceptionalism which does not remove the deep hatred of the others collectively.
Thurman concludes, "What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs against the wall? ... They must recognize fear, deception, hatred, each for what it is. Once having done this, they must learn how to destroy these or to render themselves immune to their domination." (p. 108)
The power of this book derives from Thurman's own experience of oppression and his analysis of Jesus' own experience of minority. It is not betrayal to love our enemies; it is a victory when the dominant and oppressed communities respect each other as equals.