Friday, June 28, 2013

Teresa Forcades: "The dynamic of capitalism is creating hells, places of extreme exploitation"

By Javier Rada (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Mensual de 20minutos
July 2013

Montserrat is a bewitching mountain. An impossible sculpture that rises steep in originality, creating unusual, shocking, modern structures (despite the geological millenia) like a daring modern sculptor. Located in the bowels of Catalonia, the mountain could have sculpted Teresa Forcades' spirit.

Sister Teresa is a Benedictine nun who lives in the San Benet monastery in the foothills of Montserrat. Her message also creates a landscape of unheard of, shocking, daring structures that seem impossible or contradictory, but gain ascetic sense before her open and curious gaze.

She's been called the revolutionary, anti-capitalist, red, independent, rebellious nun...they're just words, descriptions and even platitudes, like calling the great rock magic. She defines herself as close to the anarchist ideal, drinks of Christian Socratism, "the one that doesn't remove reason." She defends the essence of the Gospel, that of Christ expelling the powerful merchants from the Temple.

She's a medical doctor, a theologian, and a doctor in Public Health. She became known for her Internet videos denouncing the bluff about influenza A. Since then, she has changed her small monastic community through political activity, unafraid of confrontation or pressure from murky interests. A nun launching a message of revolution and rupture, promoting assemblies and a "constitutional process." An almost cloistered woman who talks a blue streak, jokes, and doesn't dodge questions, even when they get into the sore spots of her Church.

She has just created new media commotion by proposing a constitutional process in Catalonia, with economist and activist Arcadi Oliveres. They are demanding the commitment of much of the citizenry to "subverting the system" -- capitalism and the cannibalistic increase in sacrilegious destitution. They're calling for expropriating banks and power companies, for rescuing democracy which has been usurped by the financial alliance. She says this in an austere monastic room in which two chairs and a side table stand in as Benedictine witnesses to the originality of this woman who is as firm as this holy mountain.

What's this constitutional process you're pushing?

It's a proposal to change the rules of the game. To talk about the constitutional process is to realize that this growing precarity in which we're living in our society and these cutbacks of rights and freedoms can't be solved in the current framework. Therefore, we separate ourselves from people who think the problem is just some corrupt politicians or bad management. That's not the problem; even if the politicians weren't corrupt and there wasn't bad management, the framework that determines the rules of the game is a framework that allows an alliance between political power and economic power to exist. And, either we separate that or we keep going along this route and the only thing it will cause is an increase in the Gini index, which economists use to measure the distance between rich and poor.

Your message is disruptive...

Obviously.

Don't you think capitalism can be reformed?

No, no way, because capitalism isn't the defender of freedom and therefore isn't a defender of private initiative. If capitalism would defend freedom, I wouldn't have any problem with it. I like private initiative. I don't imagine an ideal society controlled by a central committee. My ideal society personally would tend towards anarchism, but not a violent anarchism, not an anarchism unable to structure society, but a society in which broader and broader spaces of freedom are created for everyone. And this has to do with Christian anthropology. I believe God made us and that He made us in His image, which means in freedom and with the ability to love, and He made us with talents that are different for everyone. Living means being aware of your potential and putting it into practice, and society must create the conditions for that to be possible.

Isn't there a contradiction between God and anarchy?

There's a passage in the Book of the Prophets, in the Book of Samuel, where the people of Israel say to the prophet, "Tell God we want a king." To which God responds, "No. Tell them no. If they put in a king, the first thing he'll do is take their daughters as concubines and send their sons to make war, he'll take some of their crops -- the best they have -- and keep it. Tell them they don't need a king, that they already have me, that I'm God and they don't need anyone over them." So there's a current that I feel is mine, which is favorable to this individual freedom and opposed to all paraphernalia.

Your Church doesn't seem to have paid too much attention to you...

In the Roman Apostolic Church we have structures right now through which it's hard to see and make transparent this simplicity of the Gospels. Let's hope we get them off us the sooner the better because the Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, shortly before he died, said that in the Church we've had a 200 year lag.

The Church hierarchy lost that original message of Christ along the way...

I think there are many people, both in the hierarchy and the grassroots, who have lost it, but there are also other people, including in the hierarchy, who have kept it such as Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga, who is fighting to the end, and Samuel Ruiz, the [late] bishop of Chiapas, who wrote about his experience and it's impressive. So I don't think it's a question of bishops or non-bishops, but of becoming aware, standing up, getting into the Gospel with all simplicity and seriousness, and naturally that leads you to the side of the poorest people, of course.

The last shall be first...

The Gospel doesn't run away from confrontation. The Mother of God herself, in the Magnificat prayer, says she's happy because God has lifted up the lowly. If the Mother of God hadn't said it, they'd say it was a Communist song and every evening, in all the churches in the world, in all the monasteries, they would call us Communists. We pray for the Lord to put down the mighty and exalt the lowly. If it hadn't been the message of the Mother of God, they'd say, "May the Lord bring us all to happiness." Well, the Mother of God didn't say that. I think this is the way to achieve happiness; to get to Her, those above have to come down and those below, rise; we don't all have to come down or all have to rise.

I understand there's a struggle of ideas in the Church just as there is in current society...

There has always been. Every reform movement from within the Church has had opposition; Jesus even had it with his disciples. One didn't have it clearly; he thought this had to work from top to bottom and not the other way around because otherwise, it would be a failure. And that one, Judas, betrayed him. This tension has existed from the beginning. Both in society and in the Church, and even within me, there's this dialectical interpretation that's not exclusive to Marxism. Yo look at reality and see that there's a dialectic, and you become aware of the confrontation, and that you have to choose freely.

The current trend seems to be based on shock, the constant proclamation of the apocalypse..

I think this has to be countered with great calm, and looking at history, and seeing what happened in the medieval era, or in the absolute monarchies. So therefore, out with apocalypse! It's true that in the world in general there's an increased percentage of hunger, and it's dramatic ...

Including in Spain itself...

In Catalonia and in Spain, yes, and one shouldn't make a simplistic or falsely positive analysis. The situation is hard, but the answer isn't paralysis but precisely, and without precipitation, the urge that among us all we can build the alternative. And what's certain, what has happened throughout history, is that the most significant factor that has stopped a revolution or social change has been the ideological one. Tanks and forces of repression aren't enough.

Religion has also played a role in this ideological process...

Yes, I think it's played both parts. It's had this role of opiate of the people, and it still has it when it argues that reality is complex and that what we have to do is favor everybody, as if this confrontation didn't exist. We must be conscious of that. But it has also influenced the feminist movement, and the liberation movements. Look at Martin Luther King, or Gandhi, with his own religion but also inspired by the Gospel as he himself said during his time in prison. Even Marx was inspired by people who had a religious base. I think that religion is the most subversive force. What happens is that I'm also aware it can be manipulated.

Do you think of yourself as a nun of the new century?

I think I'm 21st century because when I speak, I don't try to adapt my message to what others are interested in, but I express my own concerns. I've tried to answer them, and when I do, I meet people who tell me that it concerns them too. And that's why I feel I'm part of the current world.

It must be a complicated balance living in a cloistered monastery and at the same time raising a media frenzy down the mountain...

I have to give credit to my community and my abbess, because if they didn't give me their support, I wouldn't be able to do this while being a nun, I'd have to leave and it would be another approach. When I say they support me, I don't mean they all think alike. For example, there was a community meeting when I wrote about abortion and there was a letter from Rome asking for an explanation of what was written which I gave, expressing my opinion, and passed on to the community. When the community read it, the abbess called me and told me they had discussed it and they told me that half the community disagreed and the other half didn't understand it. But -- and this is the point -- they all agreed that they wanted a world, a Church, and a community in which people could say what they think. And that's perfect.

It's striking that you say it's a space of feminist liberation...

It has been for me. The monastery has been a space of freedom. And, above all, if you compare it with the other two places I was before entering it, which were the hospital and the university. Everyone knows that in those sites there are sacred cows, people whose opinion is worth more than that of others, and you learn not to confront them. In a monastery like the one where I am, this happens much less than in a university, and that's very important in daily life. And the real diversity must be pointed out. There might be nuns who are right-wing or anti-feminist -- which there are -- and there's room for everyone, and that's a richness.

What role have the "indignados" [the "outraged ones"] played in this step you've taken?

Their influence has been undeniable. Because, as I said, forces of repression aren't enough. The blindfold must fall from the eyes, and in this the indignados have been the undeniable pioneers, and most of the people have said they're right. And not just taking off the blindfold but also because of the methodology -- who is the leader of the indignados? Why does there have to be a leader? And they tell them this isn't serious. And the other is? This insistence, this stubbornness, and these alternative methodologies, and the rotations, I think they will be very significant. And now in the constitutional process, one of the great challenges is thinking not just about the content, which is clear in the manifesto. It's one thing to say "expropriation of the bank" and another, how? We not only have a challenge at the level of deepening content but also at the level of organization, how to conceive among all through assemblies where the most citizens are included, new institutions. What's certain is that those we have aren't working.

Do you think it's a global process? We're seeing revolts in Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Greece...

I think so.

It seems like the citizens of the world are tired of being subjects and are demanding to be just that...citizens.

I think it's related to '89, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, since these fallacies of totalitarianism don't stand anymore, because there always has to be an enemy to allow this culture of shock to be maintained, that keeps you from looking at reality objectively and peacefully. When the wall fell, neoliberal globalization emerged, and they tried to create that enemy too, and it worked for a time, with the clash of cultures that Huntington talks about. But we are in a time when that enemy isn't credible. The Latin American countries have been pioneers with the Bolivarian revolution, and it's very interesting to analyze that while these countries have shaken off much of that foreign debt, much of it has crossed over here. In southern Europe, we have a neocolonial relationship with the north. Here, I'm applying the thesis of Rosa Luxemburg, who said in her time that capitalism, because of its own dynamic, must create hells, must create places of extreme exploitation.

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