Our greatest threat is not pandemic, but “pandemonium”. Among the meanings that appear in the Grande Dicionário Houaiss of Portuguese is the following: pandemonium is an “association of people to practice evil or to promote disorder and confusion”
Author: Frei Betto | email@example.com
July 15, 2020 00:07:24
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
The Brazilian news program prioritizes the advance of the pandemic and the ineffectiveness of the federal, state and municipal governments. Allegations of corruption, such as the purchase of overcharged respirators and misappropriation of public funds, follow one another. What each of us fears most, even those who for reasons of survival are forced to disregard confinement, is contracting the virus in a lethal way.
Is it true that our greatest threat of genocide is COVID-19?
I don’t think so. Our greatest threat is not pandemic, but “pandemonium”. Among the meanings that appear in the Grande Dicionário Houaiss of Portuguese is the following: pandemonium is an “association of people to practice evil or promote disorder and confusion”.
The main evil that threatens the Brazilian nation today is the government of Bolsonaro, who suffers from thanatomania, an obsession with death. A person suffering from phallic obsession embodied in weapons, who defends torture and exalts torturers and paramilitaries, certainly does not feel the slightest concern for the growing number of victims of the pandemic, whether 60 000 or 600 000, because she is psychologically blocked from warning the other. He only manages to see himself and the extent of himself, as his children.
It is the syndrome of depersonalization, a disorder that leads to insensitivity and makes feelings just work in the head, that is, one reasons about them without managing to experience them.
A person who likes to shoot so much and brags about his good aim doesn’t have to care about a wave of lethality, as long as he doesn’t get it. Since he cannot follow through on his manifest desire to “kill 30,000”, as he has said, he is pleased to see the number of dead multiplied daily by the COVID-19.
His only concern is that the pandemic will seriously affect the economy and, consequently, his chances of re-election, which psychologically can be understood as perpetuation. He acts as if he were invulnerable. He escaped an alleged stabbing attack, so it will not be a “crack” that will bring him down. That is why he does not respect confinement or social isolation, goes out on the streets without a mask, does not avoid crowds and does not care about personal detachment.
It is this sense of impunity and immunity that must have crossed Nero’s mind when he saw Rome devoured by fire. Hugging his lyre, he was convinced that the fire would not reach his palace.
More serious than the virus is this government negligence. Because, in addition to thousands of deaths from the pandemic, it produces victims of the economy: the 13 million unemployed and the 120 million Brazilians, of the 150 million over 16 years of age who earn less than two minimum wages a month. That’s not counting those who will be affected by the recession caused by COVID-19.
The “pandemonium” virus spreads the specter of symbolic death, by giving free rein to police violence and the arms trade; undermining culture and respect for human rights; weakening education; and encouraging deforestation and the invasion of indigenous lands.
This “pandemonium” virus, which lives in the Alvorada Palace and has been carrying out its lethal work since the Planalto, is the most serious threat to democracy and the Brazilian nation.
By Frei Betto
Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo. Known as Frei Betto. Dominican Friar. Known internationally as a liberation theologian. Author of 60 books in various literary genres – novels, essays, detective stories, memoirs, children’s and young people’s books, and religious books. In two occasions – in 1985 and 2005 – he was awarded the Jabuti, the most important literary prize in the country. In 1986, he was elected Intellectual of the Year by the Brazilian Writers Union. He is an advisor to social movements, to the Basic Ecclesial Communities and to the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement, and has been actively involved in Brazil’s political life for the past 50 years. He is the author of the book “Fidel and Religion”.
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
I was detained under the military dictatorship. During my four years in prison, I was locked up in isolation cells in the DOPS in Porto Alegre and the capital of São Paulo, and also in the state of São Paulo, at the headquarters of the PM, at the ROTA Battalion, at the State Penitentiary, both in Carandirú and in Presidente Venceslau.
Therefore, I share ten pieces of advice to be able to better endure this period of forced confinement due to the pandemic:
1. Keep body and mind together. Keeping your body confined to your home and your mind focused there, outside can cause depression.
2. Create a routine. Don’t stay in your pajamas all day, as if you were sick. Set a schedule of activities: Physical exercise, especially aerobics (to stimulate the respiratory system), reading, rearranging cupboards, cleaning the house, cooking, researching on the internet, etc.
3. Don’t stay on the TV or computer all day. Diversify your occupations. Don’t ban the passenger who stays all day at the station without having the slightest idea of the train schedule.
4. Use the phone to call relatives and friends, especially the elderly, the vulnerable and those who live alone. Entertain them, it will be good for them and for you.
5. Engage in manual labor: repair appliances, put together puzzles, sew, cook, etc.
6. Play games. If you are in the company of others, set a time of day to play chess, checkers, cards, etc.
7. Keep a quarantine diary. Even if it is without any intention of others reading, do it for yourself. Putting ideas and feelings on paper or on the computer is deeply therapeutic.
8. If there are children or other adults in the house, share household chores with them. Establish a schedule of activities, with common times and free time for each.
9. Meditate. Even if you are not religious, learn to meditate, because it cleanses the mind, retains the imagination, prevents anxiety and relieves tension. Spend at least 30 minutes a day in meditation.
Don’t be convinced that the pandemic will stop quickly or last for months. Act as if the period of confinement will last a long time. In prison, there is nothing worse than the lawyer guaranteeing the client that he will be released in two or three months. That triggers an exhausting expectation. So, prepare yourself for a long journey into your own home.
Frei Betto is a writer, author of “Cartas da prisão” (Letters from the Prison), among other books.
1] Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS), a police body which, among other functions, had the police intelligence service. It acted during the dictatorship also with illegal arrests, repression, torture and extermination of people.
2] Tobias de Aguiar Ostensive Rounds (ROTA) is an elite and shock troop of the General Command of the Military Police (PM) of the State of São Paulo. During the dictatorship, he formed the Death Squads
Jesus Christ, Revolutionary
Frei Betto: Now, I’d like to hear your views on somebody else, somebody much more important, much more universal, and also much more discussed and much more loved than the pope. What are your views on Jesus Christ the person?
Fidel Castro: Well, I’ve already told you the story of my education and my contacts with religion, with the church. Jesus Christ was one of the most familiar names to me, practically ever since I can remember — at home, at school, and throughout my childhood and adolescence. Since then, in my revolutionary life — even though, as I told you, I never really acquired religious faith — all my efforts, my attention, and my life have been devoted to the development of a political faith, which l reached through my own convictions. I couldn’t really develop a religious concept on my own, but I did develop political and revolutionary convictions in that way, and I never saw any contradiction in the political and revolutionary sphere between the ideas I upheld and the idea of that symbol, that extraordinary figure that had been so familiar to me ever since I could remember. Rather, I concentrated on the revolutionary aspects of Christian doctrine and Christ’s thinking. Throughout the years, I have had several opportunities to express the coherence that exists between Christian and revolutionary thought.
“I’ve cited many examples; sometimes I’ve used Christ’s words: “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.” I’ve heard various people, including a priest, say that Christ wasn’t referring to the small needle we know now, because it’s impossible for a camel to go through the eye of that kind of needle. Rather, it meant something else; it had to be interpreted differently.
Frei Betto: Some biblical scholars take, it to mean the narrow corners in Jerusalem, Palestine, and the heart of Beirut, for it was very difficult for the camels to turn those corners. Why doesn’t anybody question how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? That’s unquestionable. Comandante, from the theological point of view, it doesn’t mean that Jesus discriminated against the rich; it means that Jesus opted for the poor. That is, in a society characterized by social inequalities, God decided to assume the likeness of Jesus; he could have been born in Rome, to a family of emperors; he could have been born to a Jewish landowner’s family; he could have been born to the middle strata of parishioners. Instead, he chose to be born among the poor, as the son of a carpenter — one who certainly worked on the construction of the Brasilia of his time, the city of Tiberias, built as a tribute to Emperor Tiberius Caesar in whose reign Jesus Lived. It’s interesting that Tiberias is on the banks of the Lake of Gennesaret, where Jesus spent most of his life and carried out most of his activities. In the Gospels, he doesn’t visit that city even once.
So, what do we say? We say that Jesus unconditionally opted for the poor. He spoke to everyone, both rich and poor, but from a specific social stand, from the social stand of the interests of the poor. He didn’t speak in a neutral, universalist, abstract way; rather, he reflected the interests of the oppressed strata of the times. If a rich man wanted to have a place next to Jesus, he had to opt for the poor. There isn’t a single example in all the Gospels of Jesus’ welcoming a rich man beside him without first making him commit himself to help the poor.
I can cite three examples: first, that of a rich young man who was a saint because he observed all the Commandments, but in the end Jesus said that the man had to do one more thing: go and sell what he had, and give to the poor before he could follow him. I believe that many priests today would say, “Look, If you observe all the Commandments, come with us; stay here next to us; and in time you’ll improve!” But since Jesus was a little more radical than we are, he told the man, “You go honor your commitment to the poor and then come.”
The second example is that of the rich man whose home Jesus visited. Jesus had no prejudices but he was consistent so he went to Zacchaeus’s home not to praise his ceramics, which may have come from Persia, or his Egyptian figurines, but rather to tell him that he was a thief because he’d stolen from the poor. And Zacchaeus, who wanted to be at peace with him, said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” That is, the practice of justice was the basic requirement for following Jesus.
The third example is the preaching of John the Baptist, who prepared for Jesus’ coming. His preaching began with the practice of justice. The people who wanted to be converted didn’t ask what they should believe; they asked what they should do and John replied, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”
The universality of Jesus’ preaching must also be explained; it is a universality that derives from an option and a very specific social and political stand: the cause of the poor.
Fidel Castro: I’ve been listening to you with great interest, because there’s a lot of substance in what you’ve said, However, I could make a mathematical objection: a rich man could never give back four times what he’d stolen, because everything a rich man has must have been stolen. If he didn’t steal it himself, it must have been stolen by his parents or grandparents, so it’s impossible — if everything he has is stolen — for him to return fourfold what he’s stolen, for he’d probably have to steal four times as much again to keep that promise.
Frei Betto: You’re repeating something that St. Ambrose said in the early centuries.
Fidel Castro: I’m glad to have coincided with him. So what do I think? It may be a bad translation of the Bible; maybe the translators are to blame, because they didn’t take into account the meaning of the eye of a needle, I realize that many of the phrases in the Bible are related to that environment, to the society and customs of the times; but I don’t know how this could be proved in this case. Anyway, somebody well versed in religion, somebody well versed in languages, must have interpreted, with quite some grounds, that it was the eye of the needle that everybody knows about in our language, because we don’t know of any other, for the people in Spanish-speaking countries don’t knew the first thing about camels, even though we do have an idea of what camels are.
In any case I liked the interpretation that the translators gave to that phrase, as I understood it, and I also believe the interpretation is absolutely in keeping and is consistent with all the other things that Christ preached. First of all, as you said, Christ didn’t choose the rich to preach the doctrine; he chose 12 poor and ignorant workers — that is, he chose the proletariat of the times or modest self-employed workers, some of whom were fishermen. They were poor people, very poor, without exception, as you said.
At times I’ve referred to Christ’s miracles and have said, “Well, Christ multiplied the fish and loaves to feed the people. That is precisely what we want to do with the revolution and socialism: multiply the fish and the loaves to feed the people; multiply the schools, teachers, hospitals, and doctors; multiply the factories, the fields under cultivation, and the jobs; multiply industrial and agricultural productivity; and multiply the research centers and the number of scientific research projects for the same purpose.” At times I’ve referred to the parable of the rich man who employed several workers: he paid some of them one denarius for a full day’s work; to others he paid one denarius for half a day’s work; and to yet others he paid one denarius for half an afternoon’s work. The parable implies a criticism of those who didn’t agree with that distribution. I believe that it is precisely a communist formula; it goes beyond what we say in socialism, because in socialism each should be paid according to his capacity and work, while the communist formula is to give to each according to his needs. To pay a denarius to each one who worked that day implies a distribution more in keeping with needs, a typically communist formula.
Also, I believe that many of the passages of the preachings of Christ, such as the Sermon on the Mount, cannot be given any interpretation other than what you call the option for the poor. When Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” it is obvious that Christ didn’t offer the kingdom of heaven to the rich; he really offered it to the poor, and I don’t think that the preaching of Christ is also a case of mistaken translation or interpretation. believe that Karl Marx could have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount.
Frei Betto: In St. Luke’s version, not only are the poor blessed, but the rich are damned.
Fidel Castro: I don’t know if the phrase is in any of the versions of that preaching. You say that it’s St. Luke’s version. The one I recall doesn’t damn the rich.
Frei Betto: That’s the St. Matthew one, which is better known.
Fidel Castro: Maybe that’s the one that was more convenient at the time, to bring us up in a more conservative spirit. You said something profound: that the difficulty lies in understanding how a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven, if you consider many of the things that go with the mentality of the rich: insensitivity, selfishness, lack of solidarity, and even the sins of the rich in all spheres. I really believe that what a rich man had to do to be a good Christian and reach the kingdom of heaven was expressed clearly. It was stated repeatedly in Christ’s preachings.
You should also take into consideration that we read many books of history and literature – some written by laymen and others by clergymen – that reflected the martyrdom of the Christians in the early centuries. Everybody’s had the opportunity to learn about those events, and I think that one of the things the church felt most proud of during the years when I was a student – I remember this clearly was the martyrology of the early years and throughout the history of the church.
Fidel & Religion: Conversations with Frei Betto on Marxism & Liberation Theology; Castro Talks on Religion and Revolution with Frei Betto. Introduction by Harvey Cox. Simon and Schuster (1987), pp. 267-271