Acts of Faith: Lessons from Las Casas

“El entendimiento conoce voluntariamente cuando aquello que conoce no se le manifiesta inmediatamente como verdadero, siendo entonces necesario un previo raciocinio para que pueda aceptar que se trata en el caso de una cosa verdadera[…] procediendo de una cosa conocida a otra desconocida por medio del curso de la razon […] El entendimiento es el principio del acto humano que contiene la raiz de la libertad […] Efectivamente, la razón toda de la libertad depende del modo de ser del conocimiento, porque en tanto quiere la voluntad en cuanto el entendimiento entiende.” (Las Casas, 1942: 81-82).

“Por el contrario, Las Casas se propone un doble acto de fe: a) en el Otro como otro (porque si no se afirma la igual dignidad del Otro y se cree en su interpelación no hay posibilidad de acuerdo racional ético), y b) en la pretensión de la aceptación por el Otro de la propuesta de una nueva doctrina, lo que exige por parte del Otro también un acto de fe.” (Dussel, 2008: 175)

A few weeks ago Br. Larry suggested that we write blog posts on NYT’s 1619 Project. As you can tell, basically nobody has done it, which I’m so sorry for – oops. Sorry, Br. Larry. But I’m finally doing it. I will admit that I was overwhelmed about it. I didn’t think I would be able to write about it at all, and hopefully everyone would forget the prompt was even issued, and then we’d just – move on. Because I don’t know how to write about the brutality and genocide of slavery. I am so terribly afraid of doing the great injustice of America even more injustice, even if through a singular blog post in this little corner of the Internet.

Then I heard Jess’ sermon last week. She talked about how a mustard seed size of faith can uproot a mulberry tree and how doubt and fear are the opposite of faith and how the world is a terrible and awful place and it makes us feel small, but how the next generation of leaders, especially faithful and interfaithful leaders, is working hard every day to recognize the dignity and wellbeing of all people. And I thought: Damn Jess, how did you know I was putting off this blog post??

Then, also, I read a lot of Las Casas and Dussel for one of my Spanish classes. Las Casas says that understanding is the human action at the root of all liberty. Dussel says that this understanding is constituted by a “double act of faith,” and that Las Casas is the first criticism of Modernity and also perhaps the first real Modern philosopher.  It was Las Casas, after all, who grew up in a world that relied, both culturally and economically, on the commodification of humans. A capitalist society built on the exploitation of land and labor. And it was also Las Casas who took a critical look at his reality and chose to reject it. Talking about privilege is uncomfortable and hard and that takes faith too, because what you know does not manifest immediately as what is true. Las Casas had the radical faith to step into a world unknown because the known world is unforgivable. And, when you are in a position of power, it is a radical grace that allows you to grant all others equal dignity.

Implicitly, Las Casas suggests that truth and knowledge are two very different things. By extrapolation, I believe that to understand the real significance of one’s knowledge is a means to truth. Yet the threads of eugenicism woven into the very fabric of our society, the enormous brutality and violence born of a persistent and foundational racism, feel too great to be countered by the ‘double act of faith’ that Las Casas proposes. It’s my mustard seed size faith staring at a mulberry tree. It is through daily actions that faith allows me to step forward, foster understanding, reject the pieces of reality that I do not see fit to accept. The act of decolonization relies on the refusal of the status quo. The process of liberation relies on the construction of understanding.

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