Thursday, April 29, 2010

Old Testament Social Justice Texts

In connection with the previous posts, I think it's interesting to frame some of Cuarón's truth-telling concerns in Children of Men next to some of the concerns of the God of Israel in the Old Testament. These are hard images I'm pulling from the film; likewise, the OT texts are forceful in addressing injustice towards the outsider, poor, widow, orphan, etc. These texts still speak to us today, in a very different way than do the images. The images raise awareness of injustice; the texts directly enlist us to address the injustice and threaten judgment on those who ignore the call.

Children of Men - Cuarón (2006)

"You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry." — Exodus 22:21-23

"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." — Leviticus 19:33-34

"For scoundrels are found among my people; they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap; they catch human beings. Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this?" — Jeremiah 5: 26-29

"And I said: Listen, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Should you not know justice?— you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron. Then they will cry to the Lord, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time, because they have acted wickedly. Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry 'Peace' when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths." — Micah 3:3-5

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am." — Isaiah 58: 6-9


I do not share these texts to say, oh, in light of the injustices perpetrated by those participating in the ruling narrative in the film, that this is a reason for their infertility. Some sort of divine justice. I don't want to go there. To claim that natural disasters, for instance, are the result of God's wrath is a dangerous move. I am, however, wanting to present the alternative narrative that God would have structure our society. It is a narrative that reminds Israel of its time of slavery in Egypt. It is a narrative that would have Israel show care and grace towards the outsider among them.

I am also wanting to point again to the incisiveness of the film in holding up a mirror to the injustices of the present. The film shows us that these Old Testament social justice texts are for us as well. We have to carefully consider, for example, our immigration laws. We have to show caution in how we interrogate those we would label our enemy. We should be careful in labeling people as "terrorist" and "illegal immigrant." We must not let fear rule the way we treat others. The disasters of Abu Ghraib, My Lai, and Dachau are not natural disasters. They are unnatural, horrific events that reveal the worst of which humanity is capable. The potential for another of these disasters is always there, and we cannot allow ourselves to become unmoored in history such that we forget. The Old Testament social justice texts won't allow us to forget.

In America, unless we have Native American blood, we should remember that our forefathers immigrated here, many of them leaving behind harsh circumstances and coming to America with little or nothing of value to their names. This land is not our land. This land is for everyone. We would be wise to heed the truthful speech of the prophets and the film, to show care and concern for those unfortunate among us (or even those not among us). It will be a better world if we do. There would be less violence and hatred. There would be more compassion, more peace, more of a hint of God's fullness erupting in the world. I want to live in that world.

I don't mean to get preachy; it's hard not to get wound up with these matters. God grant us the grace to feel moved to loving, truthful speech and action.

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