Posts Tagged ‘oppression’

I have been reading The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire.  Freire has an impressive resume.  Brazilian educator and theorist.  Influential in teaching adults to read.  That is until literacy was considered threatening to the current regime.  He was then jailed and exiled.  While in exile he became a Harvard professor.  He later served the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

In Pedagogy, he makes a case (I think correctly) that the marks of dehumanization are left on those whose humanization has been stolen as well as on those who have stolen it.  He goes on to say that the oppressed must not seek to regain humanity by becoming oppressors of the oppressors.  Instead they should seek to restore the humanity of both groups.  “Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.”

Freire shares fascinating theory.  He was a fascinating man.  Yet, his theory relies on the ability of people to arise above the struggle on their own.  As long as the struggle involves two parties, in this case oppressed and oppressors, it is a struggle dependent on enlightened humans.  One dependent on the “power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed.”  I propose that a better starting place for conversation about the oppressed and oppressors is the Old Testament book of Exodus.  Admittedly, even there, as long as the struggle involves two parties it is a hopeless situation.

Exodus shares its own story of oppression.  Israel is oppressed in Egypt by Pharaoh.  But Exodus wants us to be aware that this story of oppression is not only about Pharaoh and Israel.  Exodus introduces Yahweh into the struggle.  In fact, the real action is between Pharaoh and Yahweh.

The sin of Pharaoh is that he obeys no law but his own.  In spite of the fact that Moses has reported again and again the words of Yahweh, Pharaoh is convinced that the political drama in Egypt would be determined only by himself and Israel.  As if Yahweh is not a character to be dealt with.

In Exodus, we receive God’s special name.  We are also introduced to the people of Israel and the Law.  And we get a strong theology of presence.  John I Durham suggests that two themes naturally extend from this fact.  In fact, Durham goes on to suggest that a broad summary of the structure in Exodus looks like this; part one – rescue, and part two – response.

In part one of Exodus we encounter this story where Israel looks like easy prey for Pharaoh and his army.  After chapters of Yahweh’s intervention, Pharaoh still does not see that a third-party has been a part of this drama.  But the sea that looked like a trap, a barrier that prevented any hope of escape, opened up and became the route of rescue.  Exodus wants us to know that God is full of surprise.  Like Pharaoh we may make calculations of how things will work out, like Israel we may think that some things may never be worked out.  But then, something unexpected happens.

A look at the role of each of these players in the narrative is telling.  Pharaoh chased after the sons of Israel seemingly forgetting why he allowed them to go free, “What is this that we have done, that we have let Israel go?” Israel became frightened, even asking “is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  After reading Exodus we should be prompted to ask if there is a little Pharaoh in all of us.  We might also ask if there is a little Israel in all of us.  Like both Pharaoh and Israel we tend to forget that there is another player in this drama.

But it is the action of the Lord that becomes the dominant part of the story “the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians.”


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