Justice and Class Struggle: A Challenge for Process Theology

by George V. Pixley

George V. Pixley, the son of Baptist missionaries, did his elementary and secondary education at Colegio Bautista, Managua, Nicaragua. He has a Ph.D. in Biblical studies from the University of Chicago and since 1963 has been Professor of Old Testament at Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 159-175, Vol. 4, Number 3, Fall, 1974. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Process theology’s task is to gain sensitivity to God’s voice in the cry of our downtrodden brothers. Our response to this cry may be rendered more intelligent if we understand the call within the framework of a good metaphysical system.

True religion, according to the Biblical literature, is elusive. No sacred institution can assure its presence. A persistent problem is the tendency of the Word of God to harden into a parody of itself; the prohibition of images in the decalogue is, according to the Deuteronomic commentator (Dt. 4), laid down lest Israel be lulled into a false security and fail to respond to the Living God who was revealed at Sinai only in the commanding voice. The great prophets attacked the practice of a revealed religion which had become a hollow worship distasteful to Yahweh. Jesus carried out a continuous struggle against the rigid piety of the Pharisees. Paul fought a religion which substituted security based on revealed law for trust in the Living God.

This is the same insight which, at a more abstract level, Whitehead identified under the name of Adventure: even the good when merely repeated becomes relative evil to be surpassed. God cannot be identified with any achievement, no matter how worthy -- the Law, Mount Zion, the Temple, the Church. All become relativized by his surpassing creativity. In posing the issue in this manner, we have made a general principle out of something which confronts us rather as a concrete demand of God within the situations in which we must live out our humanity. For the living of the hour such abstractions are helpful clarifications, but hardly sufficient guidance for realizing our richest human potential. This, which theology treats as the Word of the Living God, is experienced by us in a vague but compelling form as religious insight. To know God in the most important sense is to respond affirmatively to this call. Conceptual clarification is secondary to the lived experience.

It has been my experience in the past three or four years to have become persuaded that God is calling his people to a revolutionary effort, at least in Latin America. In attempting to be faithful to that call, I have also learned from bitter experience that the weight of religion stood for working within a capitalist system which stands under the judgment of God. These are bold affirmations, I know. I do not pretend that the call of God for our lives as persons and groups of persons can be proved beyond risk. I expect Whiteheadians, however, to understand the concreteness of the divine lure and the place of adventure in life. The divine call must be felt and heard in the inward parts. And yet it is not a merely private matter. The task of the preacher is to fill it out and make it plausible. In the carrying out of the function of preaching, Biblical interpretation, sociological analysis, and metaphysical thinking all play their part. It is a matter of personal confession that Whitehead’s metaphysics, via process theology, the Marxist analysis of capitalism, via Latin American social analysis, and Biblical study, via the theology of liberation, have jointly served to flesh out a vision of reality in which the divine call to socialist revolution has been confirmed and rendered fully compelling. Thus, in the task of theological reflection and in that of preaching, scientific analysis and religious insight confirm each other.

If I am not mistaken in my conviction that God is today urging his people to a class struggle against capitalists and their institutions for the sake of a new man in a new society, then Christian theology is faced with the challenge of showing how it accounts for this revolutionary thrust in God. In what follows I propose to examine the challenge as it is posed to process theology and to suggest the direction of a response. In a first section of this paper I shall point to a persistent strain in Biblical thought which identifies Yahweh as God in the fact that he hears the cry of the oppressed for salvation, whereas the gods of the nations are deaf. Conversely, to know Yahweh is to identify with him in responding to the cry of the oppressed. In a second section I shall briefly examine the dynamics of monopoly capitalism in Latin America which account for much of the oppression there today and which determine the shape of our response to the cry of the oppressed today. These two steps will serve to flesh out the religious insight and to pose the questions for process theology which will be the subject of the third and final section of the paper.

I. Yahweh, He Who Hears the Oppressed1

At all periods of Biblical history and in diverse strata of the Biblical materials we find the affirmation that what characterizes Yahweh in disfunction from the objects of men’s worship which are mere vanity is his ability to hear the cry of the oppressed and to save him from his oppressor. The issue is dramatized in an ancient psalm which is heavy with mythological imagery:

God presides in the divine council,

in the midst of the gods adjudicates.

"How long will you defend the unjust,

and show partiality to the wicked?

Defend the weak and the fatherless,

vindicate the afflicted and the poor.

Rescue the weak and the poor,

from the grip of the wicked rescue them."

Without knowledge and without understanding

they wander about in darkness

All the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I had thought, "You are gods,

all of you sons of the Most High;

Yet you shall die as men do,

and fall like any prince.

Arise, 0 God, govern the earth,

rule over all the nations yourself!

Ps. 822

The gods of the nations (cf. Dt. 32: 8-9, LXX) are here exposed by Yahweh as unworthy of their divine position because they have neglected the duties characteristic of God, to save the poor from the hands of the wicked. The implication is clear, that he alone is truly God who frees the poor man from his oppressor.

In a statement which comes as close as any in the Bible to being a doctrine of the nature of God, the Deuteronomists make much the same point:

For Yahweh your God is God of Gods and Lord of Lords, a great god, mighty and awesome, who is not partial, nor does He take bribes. He gives judgment for the orphan and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (Dt. 10:17-18)

It is this conviction that Yahweh is recognized by his intervention on behalf of the poor that explains the denunciations in the Jeremiah traditions of the falsehood of Judaite faith.3 For prophets to speak words of peace in the name of Yahweh to a people who practice injustice is to speak a lie, for it is not Yahweh who has sent them (Jer. 6:14; 23:16-17; 28:7-9). For the people to ignore justice and oppress the alien, and then to turn to the temple of Yahweh for salvation is to trust in a lie rather than in the true God of Israel (Jer. 7:1-15). True religion, according to the Jeremiah tradition, is quite simply to know Yahweh: "Therefore, let him who boasts boast of this, to understand and know me, that I am Yahweh who executes mercy, judgment and justice on earth, for in these things I take pleasure, says Yahweh" (Jer. 9:23).

If Yahweh is truly God in that he executes justice and commands justice, then conversely, to know God is to practice mercy and judgment, an equivalence which is established in the book of Hosea (Hos. 4:1-2; 6:4; 12:6; 2:21-22). Jeremiah makes the same point in contrasting Jehoiachim with Josiah:

Did not your father eat and drink,

and do justice and righteousness?

Then it was well with him.

He judged the cause of the poor and needy;

then it was well.

Is not this to know me? says the Lord.

Jer. 22:15-16 (RSV)

The same equivalence between exercising justice and mercy and the knowledge of God is manifest in Jesus’ vision of the judgment of the nations by the Son of Man (Matt. 25:31-46). And, faithful to the same Biblical understanding of the knowledge of God, we read in I John, "no one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (4:12), and "If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar" (4:20).

In the Gospel of John we again find the matter of the recognition of the true God, which we have observed in Jeremiah. Jesus and the Father, according to this evangelist, are one, and this identity will be recognized by means of the works which Jesus performs, powerful works of mercy and justice (Jn. 10:37-38; 14:8-11). For Jews who know from the scriptures who God is, therefore, there can be no excuse for failing to recognize his presence in the deeds and person of Jesus.

The apostolic age also faced the problem of believers who knew the language of religion, but whose faith was exposed as a lie by the unrighteousness of their conduct:

Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and perform many wonders in your name?" Then I shall declare to them, "Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness." (Matt. 7:21-23)4

Conversely, the apostle Paul recognized that there were Gentiles who, even without the religious instruction of the Bible, showed their knowledge of God by their justice (Rom. 1:21; 2:6-8). They acknowledge the God of Israel, even though they do not know his name, just as truly as other Christians deny him when, according to the Q tradition, they perform wonders in the name of Jesus while practicing lawlessness. True religion is known by its deeds of justice; false religion, exposed by injustice.

What is the origin of this strain within the Bible which identifies Yahweh as the God who does justice and who is known only in obedience to his call to do justice? The answer lies at hand. The exodus story provides the paradigm for the knowledge of Yahweh in the Bible. At the origin of the Biblical faith lies the experience of the merciful judgment of Yahweh which freed the slaves who were to become the people of Israel. According to the foundation story of Israelite existence, the Hebrew slaves cried out in their oppression in Egypt, Yahweh heard their cries on account of their exactors, and he saved them by casting Pharaoh and his army into the sea. By this story, Yahweh was known in Israel from very ancient times as the true God in that he saves the poor who cry to him against their enemies. The antiquity and centrality of this paradigm explains the persistence of the strain in Biblical theology which we have observed, in spite of the obvious pressures on the part of all the establishments to quiet it or subvert it.5

The religious insight of the exodus story works itself into the Biblical tradition in many ways. In the Covenant Code, we see its presence in the following law:

You shall not wrong or oppress an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not oppress any widow or fatherless child. If you should oppress him, when he cries out to me, I will most certainly hear his cry, and will be angered and I will kill you by the sword, so that your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Ex. 22:20-23)

This law generalizes the exodus paradigm and points to the real possibility that the judgment of Yahweh might be turned against Israel. The J-writer in the Pentateuch seems aware of the potential trouble of affirming that Yahweh is God because he saves the poor from his oppressor while also affirming that Yahweh is God of Israel. His answer is shown most clearly in his introduction to the saga about the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As Yahweh goes down to investigate the cries which arise from these cities, Abraham intervenes to question him on the mercy of his judgment (Gen. 18:16-33). Abraham’s intervention is in keeping with Israel’s vocation to "keep the way of Yahweh, to execute justice and judgment" (Gen. 18:19). Amos is dealing with the same tension -- between a national god and the God who executes judgment for the oppressed -- when he speaks to Israel of the saving acts of mercy which Yahweh performed for the Philistines and the Syrians (Amos 9:7). At a later time, within a different intellectual tradition, the author of Job poses in a dramatic fashion the difficulty of believing in a god like the Yahweh of the exodus. What is at issue in Job’s suffering is the truth of God. Is God to answer the cries of his miserable creature or is he to be his tormentor?

In different ways, both the Psalms and the prophets show a vision of God based on the exodus paradigm. To our Western understanding it has always been an obstacle how mercy 6 and justice are so often quoted as poetic parallels, but if we had taken seriously the insight of the exodus this would be no paradox. Salvation is brought to Israel through the judgment of Yahweh. That judgment upon the Egyptians is a saving judgment because by means of it the slaves were enabled to escape into the desert. The exodus was a merciful judgment. If one accepts, as do both the prophets and the psalmists, that there are fundamental conflicts of interests at the roots of the poor man’s suffering, it becomes clear that the appeal for peace is an ideological cover unless it is the result of judgment. Both prophets and psalmists expect the love of God to be manifested through his just judgments, which will restore peace to his people.

In the hymns of the Psalter, Yahweh is praised because he comes to judge the world (Ps. 96:10-13; 98:8-9). Concretely, this judgment means the exaltation of the poor who cry out to God and the casting to the ground of their oppressors:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is Yahweh his God,

Maker of heaven and earth,

the sea and all that is in them,

Who keeps truth forever,

and does justice to the downtrodden,

Who gives bread to the starving,

Yahweh frees the prisoners.

Yahweh protects the aliens,

the fatherless and the widow he upholds,

but the way of evildoers he makes crooked.

Ps. 140:5-7, 9.

In the psalms of the individual in disgrace, it is this faith that Yahweh hears the pleas of the needy which establishes the confidence of the supplicant in his victory over his tormentors (Ps. 6:8-11; 9:9-11, 16-17; 17:8-15; 37:9-15; etc.). Considering that the temple was an official place of religion, it is surprising how much of this recognition of the true character of Yahweh has been preserved in these prayers for humble persons who need salvation from the wicked. Officially, of course, the king himself was supposed to be the protector of the weak against the powerful (Ps. 72).

The motif of the judgment of Yahweh which casts down the powerful from their thrones in order to save the poor is well known from the Song of Hannah (I Sam. 2:1-10). This is the model for the psalm of thanksgiving which Luke has preserved among the birth traditions:

He has shown strength with his arm,

he has scattered the proud in the imagination

of their hearts,

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and exalted those of low degree;

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent empty away.

Lk. 1:51-53.

Throughout Luke’s version of the gospel we find a great stress on this understanding of God’s judgment as an inversion of stations, with the joyful exaltation of the poor. The beggar Lazarus is given a place of honor, while his rich "benefactor" is cast into Hades (Lk. 16:19-31). Luke’s version of the beatitudes is startlingly clear on this point: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God . . . . But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Lk. 6:20, 24). In order to gain the kingdom the rich must give away their goods (Lk. 12:33; 14:33), for "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Lk. 18:25). Luke alone tells the story of the rich Zacchaeus who followed this hard counsel of Jesus (Lk. 19:1-10).7 This inversion of fortunes is not as arbitrary as it appears at first sight. If, as the prophets assumed, the rich became rich by stealing from the poor and cheating them in business and if Yahweh is truly God because he hears the cries of the oppressed, then the judgment which will usher in the kingdom of God must surely mean at least this: that the poor will be saved from the exactions of their tormentors.

The centrality of Yahweh’s judgment in the prophetic texts of the Bible is well known and need not be fully documented here. The day of Yahweh’s judgment, a joyous day in the exodus texts and in the Psalms, has been turned into a day of lamentation and distress by a people of Israel who have turned into the oppressors of the poor in their midst (Amos 2:6-8; 5:18-20, 21-24; Isa. 2:12-22; 3:13-15; Zeph. 2:1-3). Religion is no protection from the wrath of a just God, who demands mercy and not sacrifice (Hos. 6:6; Isa. 1:10-17). When, with Isaiah and his successors, a messianic king is announced as the coming savior, his first task must be to execute justice and mercy, that is, to save the poor from the oppression of the rich and the powerful (Isa. 9:1-6; 11:1-9; 32:1-8; Mic. 5:1-7; Jer. 23:5-6). In the apocalyptic developments reflected in the books of Ezekiel, Joel, and Daniel, the judgment takes shape as a great battle in which Yahweh will rescue his people from the hands of the powerful empires which have held them in bondage. When the New Testament confesses that Jesus is the Christ, this means, among other things, that he is to be the instrument of the saving judgment of God (Acts 10:42). In the synoptic tradition Jesus is identified with the Son of Man who will execute the judgment of God in order to bring to fruition the kingdom of God for those who confess him and wait for justice in hope (Matt. 10:32-33; Lk. 12:8-9; Matt. 25:31-46; Mk. 8:34-9:1). The God who is Judge in the New Testament, the God who appoints his Christ to carry out his judgment, is the same Yahweh who showed himself as God by hearing the cries of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.

But, the knowledge of God is unfortunately viciated in Old Testament apocalyptic and in much of the New Testament by the removal of God’s judgment from historical process. This is just another way of subverting the religious insight of the Bible, reducing judgment to a sort of transcendent verdict of conscience with no material consequence and making incomprehensible the mercy and love of God’s judgment. Whitehead’s clarification of the nature of reality as process can help us solve this problem. Once this simple fact is recognized, there can be no truly final judgment. The finality of any event is its passing into the continuing process. Events perish in order to provide the ground for new events. The end of a living subject is relevant to it only as an anticipation of the objective role it will play after it has had its day. In such a world it does indeed make sense to speak of saving judgments. The disfunction of evil forces which block the way to human fulfillment is a means of salvation. It is logical confusion rooted in rebellion against the Living God to place the judgment outside of history, somehow "after" all process.

If Yahweh is indeed distinguished from the false gods by his intervention at the cries of the oppressed, we can and must believe in a kingdom of Justice. And, believing even against the power of injustice built into our legal, economic, and political structures, we are called to act justly and mercifully in hope. But good motives are not enough. Our actions must respond to the need of the oppressed, in an objectively relevant manner. For that purpose, religious insight must be supplemented by social analysis.

II. The Call to Revolution

If God is not much concerned about religion as a separate sphere of private or public life and if he is present where the needy cry out for help, then as Christians we cannot fail to take most seriously the analysis of the concrete social situation in which we find ourselves. The Living God calls us to obedience in the particular ways relevant to saving justice for the poor of our particular situation. Latin America is the context within which I have heard the call to revolution. God being one, and the monopoly capitalism of our time also being one, I have no doubt that a similar call is relevant to the United States scene, but I am not able to address myself to that subject. My concern is briefly to spell out the relevant aspects of the Latin American scene in order to pose the implications for a Christian process theology.8

During the 1950s and the early 1960s progress and development were the key words of hope in Latin America. The bankruptcy of the traditional economies built on the supply of agricultural staples was apparent. Behind protective tariffs, industries were being built to supply consumers with substitutes for imported goods. The eagerness of the United States to share in this development though a series of aid programs, from Truman’s Point Four to Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, seemed promising. However, by the late sixties it was transparently clear that progress and development were false gods. The progress and development of the national bourgeoisie was being bought at the cost of a lost independence, the increasing misery of the masses whose traditional means of survival were destroyed by cheap, factory-made goods, and a tightening of military repression against the consequent popular unrest.

Until the Second World War Latin America was integrated into the world capitalist economy largely as a producer of agricultural goods. This agricultural base was brought into being and sustained by a capitalist market system, but the production itself had not yet been shaped by capitalism and resembled rather the feudal order of medieval Europe.9 The peasants lived in villages on the haciendas under the protective paternalism of the landed families. The value of their labor was absorbed by capitalist centers in faraway lands, but they were hardly touched by the modem way of life. Artisans made a living by supplying these villages with shoes, saddles, clothes, hoes, and similar goods. But the modernization of agriculture and the introduction of cheap, factory-made articles converted both peasant and artisan into economically marginal elements. They were forced to migrate to the large cities where their function in the emerging capitalist relations of production was to keep salaries depressed in the factories (Marx’s industrial reserve army) and to supply domestic labor to the bourgeoisie. State-administered welfare kept them alive and, most importantly, integrated them into the political system.

National industry, in spite of its inflationary consequences, seemed for a time to offer the bourgeoisie a viable path to development. It proved a false hope. Modern capitalism is monopoly capitalism. It requires immense concentrations of capital. These enormous concentrations can control prices largely at will and can also sustain a technological development which drives out smaller capital. Tariff barriers are an insufficient protection. The aid programs tendered by the rich countries had to be accepted in order to maintain the welfare programs required for political survival, but their cost was a backbreaking indebtedness. Often aid was channeled by the donor into the infrastructure for foreign investment and conditioned on the purchase of goods produced by the metropolis so that a rational development policy based on local needs became impossible." Inflation was a requirement merely for survival. But it also drove local capital Out of the country and brought in large-scale foreign investment to the "rescue." Local industries were bought up and became subsidiaries of multinational corporations.

The investment which is being made by the worldwide capitalist concerns in Latin America is in dependent industries. The dominant modern industries which set the tone for the world system are retained in the U.S., where the large investments required are safest and where the high cost of skilled labor is not a problem because of the limited proportion of labor required by these advanced industries. The dependence is accentuated by immigration laws in the metropolis designed to attract scientists, doctors, and engineers from the fringes of the system. It is highly profitable to great capital to establish marginal industries which are labor-intensive and technologically obsolete in Latin America. Here they produce with tariff protection goods for an unsophisticated market and provide in turn a market in machinery and modem consumer goods for the home industry.

It has been made profitable for local industrialists to accept this dependence. They have effectively displaced the old landed families in power. The urban working class is no threat to their privilege in this arrangement. The laborers find themselves with no options. The presence of large masses of unemployed persons in the cities makes aggressive labor demands impossible and keeps their wages depressed. Yet they are relatively better off than their unemployed parents and cousins and normally contribute a share of their income to assisting poor relations, a system of family welfare which is a basic component of Latin American economies.

Nevertheless, the marginal population produced and needed by the system builds up political pressures. The attempts by the metropolitan centers and their local representatives to induce population control and the growing importance of military "aid" to suppress the large marginal elements point to the instability of the present system and its lack of satisfactory options for the Latin American societies. It is only the increased power of the military forces which is holding back a revolutionary resolution of the dilemma. The dynamic at work is that first thoroughly exposed by Marx. The private ownership of the means of production leads to a growing accumulation of surplus value in the hands of the few. Capitalism lives from and reproduces a class society in which the few live off the labor of the many. Capital requires growth. And it can only grow by creating and maintaining a large population who can only survive by selling the only salable item allowed them, their labor force. The instability of the system caused by its voracious appetite for growth is easier to observe today on the periphery of the system than in the metropolis. So is its class structure. It is easier in the wealthier metropolis to conceal the exploitation of one class by another behind the smokescreen of the seemingly objective demands of the economy. At the periphery the pressures are greater and the violence of the exploitation more patent, as we have recently been able to witness in Chile.

Capitalism has developed significantly since Marx’s discoveries. Today the role of the colonies has shifted from that of supplying raw materials to that of absorbing surplus investment. The concentration of capital has produced an unexpectedly durable system of monopoly capitalism, which is no longer subject to the pressures of price competition that at earlier stages led to ever declining rates of profit. Most importantly, there is today one worldwide capitalist system. The appearance of many states with conflicts among their national bourgeoisie serves only to paper over the reality of a worldwide class struggle. At the center of the system the class structure is difficult to perceive because of the vast accumulation of wealth being constantly increased by the labor on the fringes of the system. Here also the workers in the dominant industrial sectors are well organized and do not feel exploited. To have the only organized portion of the labor force heavily committed to the system is a great asset to the giant corporations, well worth the inconveniences of collective bargaining. The capitalist system has proved quite resourceful as well at dividing and pacifying the more oppressed sectors of the working class in its midst. Racism, among other devices, has proved an effective divisive tool. And, increasingly, the burden of exploitation is passed to the colonial periphery of the system.

In Latin America it is now clear that development within the capitalist system is a dead-end street. Only by opting out of the system and appropriating the means of production for the common good can there be any hope in a Latin American society of accumulating the necessary wealth to permit rational development. The national bourgeoisie have been exposed as an illusory hope for development. They have too much stake in the system to share its benefits and, further, lack effective control of an accumulation which is mostly sucked out toward the metropolis. The exposure of the "enlightened" bourgeoisie of Chile’s Christian Democratic Party as a counterrevolutionary force should leave no doubts. There is only one viable route for us, and that is out!

In such a situation characterized by the exploitation of the many by the few, one of the fundamental tools of oppression is, today as in the days of Amos, religion. The appeal to Christian love and reconciliation is in this context as false as the appeal of the prophets of Jeremiah’s time to peace. Such a religion falls under the strictures of James 2:14-17 or I John 3:17. "But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?" For a rich man who lives from the labor of his poor brother, love will only become possible as a result of justice. As in the Bible, mercy and justice collapse into one. In our capitalist society justice can only mean consciously assuming the class struggle, the reality of which establishment social science would deny and capitalist advertising would undercut. For a Christian of integrity living in a class society, socialism is the only viable option. Only by overcoming the class structure of society will love and reconciliation become just, And there is no way to overcome the class structure produced by capitalist production except to assume the class struggle of those exploited by the system. The logic of this situation has been thoroughly explored by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire:11 no one liberates himself. No one liberates anybody else. Men liberate themselves in community. Not only will those who profit from the system not give freedom and dignity voluntarily to those whom they oppress -- they cannot do so. Freedom cannot be given. Freedom is achieved by exercising it. Freedom and justice will only become possible when the poor join forces with revolutionary courage against the forces of oppression within their countries and without.

In this context God comes to man as a call to give up his dreams of personal salvation and join the people in their struggle for a common salvation. The Biblical paradigm is the Christ, who though he was rich, for our sakes became poor that through his poverty we might be made rich (II Cor. 8:9). This Christ paradigm is more fully elaborated in Philippians 2:5-11.12 It rests in part on the life of Jesus. He left his home and his position in order to join the despised among his people and asked the same of those who would follow him. There is a basic sociological and religious insight here. Poverty is no blessing in itself, but it is the way to salvation because only the poor and oppressed are in a position to lead us all out of a predatory form of being rich to a genuinely human kind of wealth. The Christ who emptied himself in order that he might rule jointly with the little ones is a religious paradigm worthy of the Yahweh of the Bible. As illustrated by the story of the rich man who came to Jesus seeking eternal life (Mk. 10:17-27 par.), the rich must find their salvation and escape from the judgment to come by giving up their wealth (which they or their parents acquired by robbing the poor) and joining the struggle for liberation. Paradoxically, the paradigm is also true for the oppressed masses. They are indeed the only revolutionary potential in our society. And yet, in actual fact, workers and peasants are often a reactionary weight. This happens because individual ambition leads men and women to seek escape from their misery and improve their lot the quick way. The rags to riches tales are kept before the people by the mass media to kindle their ambition. The poor man, too, must by a deliberate act of the will affirm his class identity and consciously assume the class struggle before he will be able to realize his revolutionary potential. Thus for all, rich and poor, there is but one route to full humanity, the way of the Christ.

In the light of such support from Biblical study and the analysis of the dynamics of capitalism, the call of the Living God to revolutionary commitment cannot be silenced.

At the end of this section on social analysis, a comment on the contribution of process philosophy to our reading of social reality seems pertinent. Marxists sometimes speak of socialism as if it were the culmination and end of history. But historical process cannot reach its fulfillment by ceasing to be history. Becoming, satisfied and ended, becomes the object for new becoming. Social ideals succeed one another, and the immanent creativity excludes a permanent resting in any social achievement regardless of its worth. Does this not mean that socialism is then reduced to one ideal alongside others? For two reasons socialism is not so relativized. (1) Marx showed that the dynamics of capitalism were self-destructive. It is true that he underestimated the role of imperialism and even more that he did not foresee the resourcefulness of monopoly capitalism in handling the problems of (a) the progressive reduction of profit margins (which has, in effect, been eliminated), (b) instability and insufficiency of the realization of capital (in the 1860s who could have foreseen the mushrooming of military consumption in the twentieth century?), and (c) the excess of labor. Yet, in somewhat new forms, the so-called contradictions of capitalism subsist. Capitalism carries in its womb the seeds of industrial socialism. (2) The other reason why socialism is not relativized is that the one true God is a God who hears the cries of the oppressed and will not put off forever his judgment of their cause. He cannot wink at a situation in which the few accumulate at an accelerating rate the fruit of the labors of the many. And socialism is simply the just alternative to a class society.

Socialism has, of course, shown its possibilities of perversion, its particular weakness being the cancer of bureaucracy. However, at our stage of material development, there is no retreating to an agrarian society, and socialism is the only just route out of a class society. The alternatives available within socialism are only hinted at by the various forms it has taken in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia of the spring of 1968, and China. Thus, adventure is surely richly possible within a socialist framework. And a process philosopher has no excuse for clinging to a reactionary defense of capitalism. Of course, revolution will not cure all our ills. Death, disease, envy, and even the oppression of man by man will continue to plague us. New ideals will still call for new projects. All of these considerations forbid any romanticizing of revolution. And yet, a just God will execute judgment on a society built on the exploitation of the labor of the poor, and he calls us now to join him in today’s revolutionary task.

III. The Challenge to Process Theology

Can a process theology account for the just God of the Bible who is, if I am not mistaken in my exposition up to this point, now calling his people in Latin America to revolution? That is the most basic question a Christian revolutionary can put to a theologian who aspires to do process theology.

The question can be narrowed down. Can Whitehead’s metaphysical scheme allow for such a God? It is in this narrower form that I wish to pose the question here.

According to Whitehead, metaphysics or speculative philosophy is the elaboration of a system of ideas capable of interpreting any element of experience whatsoever (PR 4). Metaphysics can deal, therefore, with God’s participation in any event whatsoever. Whiteheadian metaphysics holds that God provides the organizing initial aim for any occasion of becoming. Metaphysical statements are, however, highly abstract, and they do not tell us what ideal for creativity God proposes to any particular instance of becoming. Such concrete knowledge of God is for any such occasion, even a human occasion of experience, largely unconscious, because it is the organizing center of the concrescing activity. It is felt rather than known. In the Whiteheadian interpretation of reality, these initial aims proposed by God are not capricious nor due to inscrutable divine purposes for his creatures, but are relevant aims toward maximizing the intensity of experience which is possible from the particular perspective of each concrescing occasion. With this general understanding of God’s participation in becoming, it should be possible to make some statements of less than metaphysical generality which have to do with God’s aims for particular sorts of occasions. The topic of the justice of God would be relevant exclusively or primarily to his aims for human occasions of becoming. For this reason, the justice of God need not be posed at the level of metaphysical discourse, even when we believe that it is decisive for all human experience of God.

But, does Whitehead’s metaphysics allow for the centrality of justice in God’s dealings with men? According to Whitehead, all reality is ultimately explicable in terms of those drops of experience which he calls actual entities. The enduring objects which populate our common sense world -- trees, dogs, children, and books -- are interpreted as societies or nexuses of occasions. God’s aims are always and only aims for actual occasions. "His tenderness is directed towards each actual occasion, as it arises. Thus God’s purpose in the creative advance is the evocation of intensities. The evocation of societies is purely subsidiary to this absolute end" (PR 161). Human persons are in this metaphysical system understood as highly complex structured societies. That the whole society should maintain itself has the sole purpose of providing an environment which will make possible the extraordinary intensities of experience of its regnant occasions. However, there is tension between the aims of the subordinate occasions and the occasions of the regnant society. Eventually, the outcome of this tension is the death of the person and the freeing of the subordinate societies to seek new routes towards intensity.

In our ordinary language, justice is applicable to the relations among persons and the societies made up of persons. Both persons and societies have a derivative value in this metaphysical scheme, for it is only actual occasions of experience which have value in themselves. The fact that a society -- using the terms in its common sense meaning -- has no value for itself does not mean that it can have no life of its own. The society has value as it contributes to the intensities of the persons who make it up. Its status is thus analogous to that of a plant, which has no regnant occasion and yet does have a structure which is the necessary environment for the intensities achieved by its member occasions. If the trunk were cut, the leaves would dry up. It is this mode of existence of a society which justifies the disciplines of sociology and economics. On Whitehead’s terms it is thus possible to deal with the dynamics of capitalism without personifying the society or recognizing in it any value in itself.

We have said that capitalist society produces a structure of antagonistic classes. And we have said that God calls us to assume that class struggle consciously and voluntarily in order to overcome class society. Capitalism is a contingent historical reality, and no amount of metaphysical thought can of itself clarify its nature. God’s aims for occasions of experience determined by that capitalist environment must, obviously, also be of less than metaphysical generality. It is by sociological and religious insight that we deal with these areas of our experience. In understanding these areas of experience, what we ask of metaphysics is illumination concerning general principles. Pertinent to our present topic is the discussion of conflicting aims.

At the common sense level we are all aware of the reality of conflicting aims. Sometimes one man’s gain appears to be another’s loss, as when two suitors seek the same girl. The case is even more dramatic in the use which living societies make of each other for food. In the case of microbes which feed on humans, a society with limited potential for intensity of experience may achieve a measure of endurance by destroying societies of occasions which form the necessary environment for dominant human occasions of greater potential intensity of experience. On Whitehead’s view it seems that we must suppose God to offer aims to different occasions which are mutually inhibitory. For God provides for each occasion the aim at the greatest intensity of experience for that occasion. Each bacterial occasion of experience concresces around the aim at satisfaction provided by God for it. By achieving its aim it may reduce the total intensity available in the human body.

In a first approximation one would expect that in a human society built on class antagonism various aims at intensity would often be in conflict. At this gross level one would expect the level of divine frustration to be high in proportion to the ratio of those who are able to achieve more or less satisfactory goals to those who are not. In this rough quantitative way we could see God taking the side of the oppressed masses against their exploiters in order to enhance his richness of experience. But this is a very un-Whiteheadian kind of calculus. For value is not measured by the repetition of sameness, but by the adventure of novelty, even apart from its capacity for endurance.

Are we left then with the doctrine that the low level of intensity achieved by the thousands of Athenian slaves was compensated by the brilliance of a Plato, whose leisure they made possible? I think not. Whitehead’s scheme has other resources. Part of the enjoyment of an occasion is its contribution to future occasions of experience -- more exactly, its anticipation of that contribution. In conscious human experience this becomes a very significant factor, so much so that we hold a human person accountable for the consequences of his acts and do not do the same for microbes. At this level the consciousness of the global system of societal relations enters into the value of some of its constituent occasions. At this point God proposes aims at intensities of experience which take into account the aims of societies. In this indirect fashion God proposes aims for societies.13

In point of fact one of the greatest obstacles to revolution is the lack of a class consciousness on the part of the exploited sectors of a society. Each person has a limited vision of the impact of his actions, seeing himself as an individual who could on his own overcome his misery. This competitive spirit then exposes the working class collectively to exploitation. Insofar as God can evoke in the poor man an intelligent love for his class brothers, he will achieve an intensity of experience otherwise not possible, as he enjoys by anticipation his role in the creation of a new, non-exploitative wealth.

If the emergence of a revolutionary class consciousness is such a miracle among the oppressed of society, the position of the oppressors is even more difficult. The paradigm of the Christ is more obviously relevant, but so is the pull of the achievement of satisfaction on the basis of class privilege and at the expense of the oppressed. From the viewpoint of Whitehead’s metaphysics God will not propose to any occasion an aim at less than its own greatest potential intensity. The initial aim is for the richest unification of the world possible from the particular perspective of that emerging occasion. If the Christ paradigm offers salvation to the rich via his identification with the oppressed masses in their struggle for justice, this route must really mean a greater enrichment of experience for that rich man than, let us say, the enjoyment of good books and music which the continued leisure of the upper class could have afforded him. If the Christian story is true, it is indeed by losing our lives that we gain them (Luke 17:33). For the rich man, his choice of a direction in life is a choice between the good life of the enjoyment of privilege and the better life, for him, of the enjoyment of the class struggle for the destruction of class privileges and the creation of a society in which wealth will not mean privilege. Truly, the just man must live by faith, confident in the coming of the kingdom of liberty. In that assurance, and as part of the class struggle toward its realization, he will achieve a richness of enjoyment otherwise unavailable to him.

In this fashion, accepting the framework of Whitehead’s metaphysics, it is possible to account for the justice of God which is basic to Biblical religion. God does not have aims for societies. His aim for concrescing occasions is always intensity of experience from that particular perspective. And yet, with the emergence of consciousness at the level of regnant human occasions, the struggle for justice becomes ingredient in the achievement of the richest harmony of experience attainable.

The Biblical theme of the judgment of a just God who hears the cries of the oppressed poses another problem for Whiteheadian philosophy. The revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system of exploitation will not be able to achieve its goals without the elimination of those exploiters who resist the revolution with tooth and claw. For the Bible this is not a problem. After lesser measures had failed to persuade the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go, God slaughtered the first-born and destroyed the army of the king. The New Testament also announces the wrath of God against the doers of wickedness. But in the Whiteheadian scheme, God does not intervene in the emergence of novelty in the world by physical necessity but by means of the creative lure of the initial aim (cf. Ford, PPCT 287-304). God persuades, he does not coerce. If we use this interpretive scheme, we would have to conclude that God did not slay the first-born of the Egyptians. Nothing would stand in the way of the suggestion, however, that it was he who incited the Hebrews to that project. This is not an attempt to solve the historical problem. It is only a way of saying that even if God does not literally free the oppressed from their tormentors, he very well may within the Whiteheadian frame of reference still free them by inciting them to set aside narrower immediate satisfactions for the richer satisfactions of the struggle for a new society. In this sense, Yahweh does indeed cast the mighty from their thrones.

I think that these observations will suffice to show that it is possible within the framework of the metaphysical system of Whitehead to take account of the only true God of Biblical religion, Yahweh who listens to the cries of the oppressed. A revolutionary process theology is possible.

It must be admitted, at the very least, that Whitehead’s own philosophical investigations of culture and civilization, if not counterrevolutionary, are open to appropriation for counterrevolutionary purposes. Whitehead proposed five cultural aims as the measure of civilized life: Truth, Beauty, Art, Adventure, and Peace.14 As we would say in Spanish, Justice shines by its absence. I believe that a careful investigation of the class structure of our capitalist society would persuade us that Peace is not attainable at the human level of experience without Justice. I also believe that, in spite of Whitehead’s reluctance to concede privileged status to human occasions of experience, the introduction of the wide range of conscious anticipation of the future which humanity represents in comparison to lesser types of existence also introduces justice as a characteristic of the specially human aim at harmonious beauty. In order to undercut the latent counterrevolutionary tendencies of Whitehead’s philosophy, any Christian process theology must include Justice among the fundamental cultural aims. In the Biblical tradition, justice is the identifying characteristic of Yahweh and the first prerequisite for a peaceable society.15 A philosophy which does any less is inadequate to our religious insight and will prove counterrevolutionary in its consequences. There is, so far as I can see, no reason why Whitehead’s philosophy would not be enriched by adding Justice to its cultural aims.

In conclusion, metaphysics cannot tell us the most important things we need to know about God in order to be saved. For these, we must be sensitive to his voice in the cry of our downtrodden brothers. Once having heard the particular call of God for our situation, our task is to be obedient. This obedient response may be rendered more intelligent if we understand the call within the framework of a good metaphysical system. This clarification is the task of the process theology we seek.



PPCT -- Process Philosophy and Christian Thought. Eds. Delwin Brown, Ralph F. James, Jr., and Gene Reeves. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.



1 In identifying this strain in the Biblical literature, I gladly acknowledge my profound debt to José Porfirio Miranda. Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1974).

2 This translation is that of Mitchell Dahood. Psalms II (The Anchor Bible; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968), p. 268. On the basis of its archaic language, Dahood considers it a very ancient psalm, probably pre-monarchial.

3. The Jeremianic theme of idolatry as falsehood has been recently explored by Thomas W. Overholt, The Falsehood of Idolatry: A Study In the Theology of the Book of Jeremiah (Studies In Biblical Theology; Naperville: Allenson, 1970).

4 This saying is part of the Q tradition. Luke’s most interesting variant is the word "injustice" for Matthew’s "lawlessness" Lk. 13:27). This clearly lies closer to the Biblical strain we are pursuing than Matthew’s version of the saying. It is probable, however, that Matthew reflects the Q tradition more faithfully on this point. We shall have occasion to comment further on Luke’s point of view respecting the justice of God.

5 The most dangerous, because the most subtle, subversion of this strain was the covenant theology, first made prominent by the reform of Josiah. According to the covenant theology, Yahweh intervenes to save (or to judge) Israel because of a special commitment to this people and not because it is in his character to hear the cries of the oppressed against their exactors. We still have to do with covenant theology in our day.

6 The LXX translates hesed regularly by eleos, "mercy." The accuracy of this translation was called into question lately by scholars impressed with the central role of the covenant in the religion of Israel. Now, it seems again on its way toward vindication. See H. J. Stoebe, article on hesed, Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, ed. E. Jenni and C. Westermann (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1971).

7 This theme in the Gospel of Luke is explored by Guillermo Hirata V., Pobres y ricos. Estudio exegética sobre el Evangelio de Lucas (México: Secretadiado Social Mexicano, 1972), to which I am indebted.

8 I am aware of my limitations in economic thinking. Nevertheless, the essential contours of the economics of capitalism seem well established, and the specifics of Latin American capitalism are in the process of clarification, even for non-economists. The foundation for all understanding of capitalism is, of course, Karl Man’s three-volume study Das Capital. For the analysis of capitalism in Latin America, among the abundant recent literature, I am especially indebted to two books by Theotonio dos Santos, Dependencia económica y camblo revolucionario en América Latina (Caracas: Editorial Nueva Izquierda, 1970), and La crisis norteamericana y América Latina (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Periferia, 1972), and the study by Anibal Quijano, Redefinición de la dependencia y proceso de marginalización en América Latina (mimeographed monograph of the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, n.d.). For understanding the complementary dynamics within the United States, I have found especially useful the joint work of Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966).

9 On this question, see the lively debate among A. C. Frank, R. Puiggros, and E. Laclau, América Latina: Feudalismo o capitalismo? (Medellin: Editorial La Oveja Negra, 1972).

10 The role of "aid" from the metropolitan centers of capitalism in assisting capitalist investment in its penetration of the poor societies of the world is explored by Denis Goulet and Michael Hudson, The Myth of Aid: The Hidden Agenda of the Development Reports (New York: IDOC, 1971).

11 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, tr. Myra B. Ramos (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971).

12 I have discussed the Christ paradigm extensively in connection with the Philippians text in "El mito de Jesus el Cristo: Un ejercicio de hermenéutica biblica," Cuadernos de Teologia (Buenos Aires), 1/2-3 (December, 1971), 20-52.

13 The question of the aims of societies has occupied George Allan (PPCT 464-74). He proposes a rather direct analogy between the aims of occasions and those of societies. This proposal undercuts some basic process insights. His treatment of "Croce and Whitehead on Concrescence," (PS 2:95-111) is more valuable, for there he sees that dialectical thought applies to concrescence but not to change. More work needs to be done to clarify this area of process philosophy.

14 AI, part IV. The whole subject has received careful treatment by David L. Hall, The Civilization of Experience: A Whiteheadian Theory of Culture (New York: Fordham University Press, 1973).

15 I have explored the Biblical relation between peace and justice in "La paz: Aporte bíblico a Un tema de actualidad," Revista Biblica (Buenos Aires), 35 (1973), 297-313.