Filed under: Autobiographical, Ideas, Latinos, Philosophy, Politics | Tags: Authoritarianism, Autobiographical, Christ, Kaibil, Liberation Theology, Slavoj Zizek, Theology
A comment of Slavoj Žižek’s at his talk in Cambridge a few weeks ago brought to mind a harrowing memory.
In an aside during a meandering, though no less interesting lecture (tangentially related to his new book The Monstrosity of Christ), Žižek mentioned CIA documents from Latin America noting that liberation theology was perceived as a greater threat than communism.
On the one hand, such an assertion seems entirely unsurprising. Liberation theology threatened the legitimacy of Empire, Church, and State alike, to the point that officials at the highest levels of the Catholic Church ardently labored to suppress it, in an apparent collusion with neo-liberal and authoritarian interests (with a few exceptions). The State, with imperial support, did the less savory work, carrying out the infamous atrocities on laity and clergy alike. That much is well-known.
On the other hand, his comment brought to mind a discussion with my stepfather during Christmas of 1998. In the 70s and early 80s he had spent time in Guatemala as an officer, training and fighting alongside the most lethal of Latin America’s elite forces: the Kaibiles.** To note his fervent anti-communist almost goes without saying. To his mind, a liberationist eucharist would probably have resembled the scene below.
During my last year of undergraduate education and my first years of graduate stuidies in philosophy, I was enthralled by Catholicism and struggled with the idea of becoming a Jesuit. That I attended Jesuit institutions during those years only made my questioning more palpable and immediate to me at the time.
On my first night back from Boston for winter break, my step-father and I stood by the Christmas tree in the modest Calabasas apartment he and my mother shared with my younger brother. Within five minutes of our conversation he asked me, “So, are you still thinking about becoming a Jesuit priest?”
“Well, I’m still not sure. I’ve thought about it, but…”
“You know, some of those Jesuits died with AK-47s in their hands…”
I couldn’t adequately, nor quickly, respond at the time. From what I knew about my stepfather, I could only sense that he would not have hesitated to deal a fatal shot were I a cleric at the other end of his rifle muzzle. Žižek’s comment only made that episode almost eleven years ago that much more vivid- and chilling. Perhaps the most monstrous fantasy of Christ an authoritarian could imagine was one whose wrath was directed at the oppressors of the poor or the abusers of power who did a shabby job of justice.
** Since the end of the nearly four-decade civil war in Guatemala, the Kaibil have come upon relatively slim times. Still in existence, their numbers have been curtailed to some extent, but their fate has mirrored the fortunes of post-dictatorial Latin America. Active Kaibil continue to work in various capacities: mired in the fight against drug trafficking, taking on projects against “juvenile delinquency”, and taking part in UN peacekeeping and combat missions. Some ex-Kaibiles have found work leveraging their skills as security or muscle for narco cartels, recruited into groups such as Los Zetas. Still others have entered into private security industry as mercenaries. Spanish-language video reportage of the Kaibil are available here, here, and here.