Just returned from 2 weeks in Uganda and Rwanda (more on that in subsequent posts). During interminable transit time to and from Kigali I read Alan Paton’s “Cry, The Beloved Country.” Missed reading that as a student and after last year’s trip to South Africa, I needed to read it. Without giving away too much of the story, one of the characters in the book is going through his son’s papers after his murder. His son had been an activist against the then mistreatment of Black Africans in South Africa. One of the papers said this:
The truth is that our Christian civilization is riddled through and through with dilemma. We believe in the brother of man, but we do not want it in South Africa. We believe that God endows men with diverse gifts, and that human life depends for its fullness on their employment and enjoyment, but we are afraid to explore this belief too deeply. We believe in help for the underdog, but we want him to say under. And we are therefore compelled, in order to preserve our belief that we are Christian, to ascribe to Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, our own human intentions, and to say that because he created white and black, He gives the Divine Approval to any human action that is designed to keep black men from advancement.
The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of high assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions. (p. 187-8)
This quote struck me so not because of the focus on Black/White relations but because it also fits other ways we struggle to respond to the “underdog.” We want to feel pity but rarely do we want to give up the power to enable the underdog to be one of us. For “other” to be one of us, we would have to cede power and that creates anxiety.
If you haven’t read the book for a while or never did, I commend it to you.