This is taken from a conversation I am having in the comment section of my post on Zizek, Hauerwas and Chocolate Laxatives. I wanted to move it here because I thought it might stir some interesting conversation on its own. If you want to see the entire context check out the other post.
Cavanaugh has an interesting section in Torture and Eucharist where he makes use of and then critiques Boff’s and Sobrino’s accounts of martyrdom. He likes that they want to expand the definition of martyrdom, but dislikes the fact that (1.) they base their definition on “abstract principles” of love and justice, (2.) seem to valorize the intentions of the individual martyr’s, and (3.) include those who die while participating in violence. In contrast, Cavanaugh thinks that martyrdom should be based on whether or not the community of which the martyrs were a part is able to recognize the body of Christ in the martyrs death. (TandE, 60-64).
I do think it is problematic to base notions of martyrdom on the individual’s intentions if that is really what Boff and Sobrino do. I don’t, however, agree with the other critiques.
First, they are not using abstract principles, but rather the love and justice revealed in Christ. This seems to be a common rhetorical move by those in the RO movement and I am not sure that it is always warranted, although at times it maybe. Second, and this comes back to my constant nagging about context, I am not sure that Cavanaugh is in a social location in which he can tell Boff and Sobrino that those they wish to recognize as martyrs cannot be such because of the violence they participated in.
Zizek will help us here.
In his book on violence Zizek makes a distinction between subjective and objective violence. Subjective violence is the violence carried out by individual agents in their social interaction and existence, their ontic realities. This would be the violence carried out by those who Boff and Sobrino wish to recognize as martyres. Objective violence is the violence of the overall structural determination of social realities. For Zizek this is the blind drive of Capital, the Real, which determines all of lives. (11-13). As he says, “the highest form of ideology [resides in] overlooking this Real of spectrality and in pretending directly to address “real people with their real worries”.
It seems to me that for Cavanaugh to write from the center of Empire, or one of, if not the, polestars of capital’s exploitative and speculative profit and tell those on the periphery, those who are not on the recieving end of historical-economic exploitation, but rather on the dominated side of the oppressive global regime is analogous to white middle-class men in America telling Malcolm X that his methods are inappropriate. Martin Luther King Jr. could tell Malcolm X his methods where inappropriate (that is if Malcolm X were a Christian) but white middle-class men could not. So, Cavanaugh’s social location disqualifies him, or at least limits his voice radically, from making such judgments. This is the case whether he wrote these words in Chile or the US. Either way he was being funded out of the center of empire and would return to the comfort and security that this very empire made possible. This is also true even though Cavanaugh is a member of the same Church. In so far as Cavanaugh’s life is made possible by the suffering of the communities of Boff and Sobrino, he is not living in Eucharistic solidarity with them and cannot challenge their notions so flippantly under the guise that he has a better a position from which to descern what is and what is not Christ’s work in the world.
Put simply, while, as I have said before, I am incredibly hesitant to condone violence of any sort, when we recognize that the Church’s life in the West has been based upon the objective violence perpetuated against those in the global South–whether through empire and colonial oppression or the less obvious, but possibly more insidious, post-colonial, neo-liberal exploitation under the guise of “development”–we must stand in silence and awe before those whom we have subjected and listen deeply, carefully and incredibly humbly before we pronounce judgement on their subjective violence.