The theology of death
With the election of an Argentine pope, one with very suspicious ties to the bloody dictatorship that ruled in that country in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, I thought it a good idea to re-publish here my translation from Página 12 of an article by Rubén Dri, who was a progressive priest during the time of the “Dirty War” and now one of the foremost left theorists in Argentina working on theorizing concerning popular movements.
On December 23rd, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo concluded their ethical trial of the Church’s complicity in the crimes of the military dictatorship. It was emphasized that the trial was not against the whole Church, nor against faith or Christianity itself. The only thing on trial was the part of the Church that collaborated with the military dictatorship. It was stated again that there was a progressive Church as well whose activists were persecuted, kidnapped, jailed, tortured, and “disappeared”, as was the case with many activists. In the trial, various concepts of a true Theology of Evil were exposed that have not been noticed until now, but were subjects of my book, Theology and Domination. Many expressed to me surprise and horror at such concepts. Therefore, I believe it necessary to reproduce here some of these ideas, along with some perspective from the point of view of the present moment. This will shine some light on the monstrous deeds that are coming back into the public eye thanks to the trials of those who are most responsible for this genocide.
The crimes of the military dictatorship were driven by a determined mysticism of the “Christian soldier” that was coherently propagated by military chaplains and Military Bishops of the Armed Forces between the years 1976 and 1983. The concept of the “presence of God in the soldier” that the Military Bishop Victorio Bonamín defended in 1976 is the same idea that is present in the idea that members of the Argentine military were “soldiers of the Gospel” as the Military Bishop José Medina stated in 1982.
Bonamín and Medina are both devoted exponents of the concept of the Christian soldier. But the most authoritative voice in this matter is perhaps that of the present Military Bishop and President of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina, Adolfo Tortolo. His ideas on the subject are quite stark, and permit one to understand the “mystical fury” of some members of the military like Videla [The military dictator of Argentina from 1976 to 1981. Translator’s note.] “The Christian takes into his hands – like the man who lives out his priestly vocation – the gift of natural life and offers it to God by destroying or immolating oneself in recognition of the infinite majesty of God and as proof of his complete self-surrender to the Ideal. This leads us to the altar of sacrifice for the Ideal whose root is God: to serve our country to the point of dying for it.”
We now have the concepts that will be the basis for the mysticism of the Christian soldier, capable of killing or dying: the “Infinite Majesty of God”, God Almighty who demands destruction or immolation. God is an Ideal who feeds off of the destruction of human life. He needs blood. From God is derived the Country that turns out to be a divine incarnation. And the Country lives only from sacrifice and destruction.
“Love of one’s country is sacred… Christ loved his country then dominated by Rome. He dignified and sanctified in this way the dignity of the Country. Everyone should love their country loyally and faithfully; this is doubly the case for the Christian. If to die for one’s country is sweet for any man of good will, it is even sweeter for the Christian who contemplates the universe in the light of faith, and the light of faith looks towards the Ideal of the Country. This love for one’s country should be found to a heroic and eminent degree in those who make up the Armed Forces of the Nation.” A love of an Ideal that is “heroic and eminent” can be terrible. It can lead to a fury of destruction that is “beyond good and evil”.
The military hierarch continues:
“The vocation of the soldier is characterized by permanent risk. This risk is transformed and nurtured by Spiritual Fortitude. In the Armed Forces, there should exist a clear and decisive vocation to death at the heart of the Military Ideal. This condition is the ‘sine qua non’ for living out the heroic sense of life and is only brought forth in the blood that creates heroes.” “Spiritual Fortitude”, that is to say, the mysticism that upholds the theological legitimacy of the Military Chaplaincy, “nurtures and transforms” the “permanent risk” of soldiers, the playing always on the cusp of death that is their vocation, since the Military Ideal’s vocation is death. There is present the Church with its theology of death to spiritually sustain the knights of death.
But the Military Bishop doesn’t just bury himself in the profound mysticism of death: “The hero is made from personal renunciation, from greatness of soul, from integral faith, far from any forced servitude. The hero is to be ranked right below the saint – without forgetting that the saint is also a hero – even if he is a humble and silent one.” The text speaks for itself. The hero, that is, the soldier, comes right after the saint, that is to say, the priest, in dignity, without forgetting that every saint or priest is also a hero or a soldier: saint and soldier, Cross and Sword, Church and State. The priest or man of the Church is a saint-hero and the soldier is a hero-saint, two sides of the same coin, with the saint being primary but only through the strength of the hero.
Then comes the disturbing conclusion: “The shedding of blood is not necessary for making a hero. All that is necessary is to face one’s terrible daily duties without leaving aside in one’s mind the path that will demand the shedding of blood.” I don’t think anything more needs to be said. Here in all of its tragic implications is the essence of the Theology of Domination that is crudely manifested as the Theology of Death. This theology sustained the spirits of the soldiers who believed that the only way to return to the idyllic times of the perfect union of Cross and Sword was through genocide.
The Theology of Domination, found in its most developed version in the Theology of Death developed by the Military Episcopate with its corresponding mysticism of the Christian soldier, should also be applied to military chaplains whose vocation was defined by Bonamín as being, “to spiritually and doctrinally form cadets and soldiers”. Bishop Antonio Plaza, in his first days as the incendiary chaplain of the Buenos Aires police force, assured that the Church would offer “spiritual fortitude” to the police squads and their families “to strengthen them in a time of adversity”.
The military chaplains along with the members of the Armed Forces and police, in clandestine centers of interrogation, in their relationships with military families, were the Cross joined to the Sword, the spirit that gave life to the matter, the sacred giving meaning to the profane, that is, the kidnappings, the tortures, and the “disappearances”. In effect, as a consequence of the mysticism derived from the contemplation of the majestic God who seeks sacrifice and destruction, the chaplain Mackinnon could pray to God asking that, “our uniform have no other stain than that of our blood or the blood of another shed for the just cause; since this blood does not stain, but rather dignifies.”
This Ideal fostered the efficacy of the clandestine centers of interrogation and torture. There are testimonies concerning the existence of interrogators who were part of the Cursillo movement. We even know of the existence of one brigade that had the name, “Colores”, a Cursillo hymn, whose head, also nicknamed “Colores”, was known for how much he enjoyed torturing people. There were soldiers in these centers who wore rosaries; torturers who considered themselves Crusaders, inquisitors, or emissaries sent by God to wage war on devils; torturers who interrogated victims concerning their faith and, of course, the “Western and Christian values” for which they fought.