Any conversation on “love”- romantic or otherwise- is to necessarily (and often unknowingly) be a conversation on State, church and industry. Yet, love is a subtle, weaponisable element adopted by structures such as these to preserve compliance and moneyed control. A random listicle on “14 ways to show love to the less fortunate on Valentine’s Day” reminded me of a comparison I’ve often made using the following two people.
The first is the “Red Bishop of Brazil” Hélder Câmara. He was born in 1909 in Brazil and would go on to serve as a Catholic archbishop in Brazil up until his death in 1990. Câmara stood out as being an outspoken anti-capitalist Catholic against what was conventional Catholicism at the time- nicknamed the “Red Bishop” or the “Socialist Priest”. Throughout history, the Church (or whichever religious establishment) in predominantly Christian countries had always worked with the State representative- it had presented the State as benevolent and furthered its interests, getting benefits in return.
Câmara would become the person marking a radical transition of the Catholic Church from a State ally in Brazil to one that opposed the military government of Brazil and pushed back against the government over education, economic and agrarian reforms. The traditional Catholic Church in Brazil had invariably sided with the government. Câmara would become an integral part of what is called the “Catholic Left”- a surprising merger of Leftist thought and religious faith. Religions, throughout history, have always approached the human being as a sinner in want of redemption- Within Catholicism (or any religious faith for that matter)- the predominant idea has always been that god is an “emancipator” and that bad things happen to people as a result of their sins. Therefore, to alleviate oneself from poverty, the Church throughout history had always preached religious servitude and blind faith.
Câmara broke through this by organising Brazil’s poor and slum-dwellers into looking to Christian faith not as a source of emancipation but as a source of strength to rally for structural change against systems that kept them poor. Essentially, Câmara preached that the poor and hungry are so not for their sins but for structural, capitalistic state failures- a solution god cannot solve but can help them understand. Therefore, in Câmara’s Catholicism was the idea that to be religious was to structurally demand change instead of repenting and hoping for an abstract miracle awarded by god in return for faith. Câmara’s outlook towards prevailing notions of Christianity and State control can be summed up in one of his most famous quotes- “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist”.
Further, Câmara famously declared in an interview that while being a proponent of non-violence, he supported violent tactics when necessary. Câmara would go on to denounce the “materialisation” of Christianity, denouncing words like “excellency” or “eminence” and replacing expensive Christian crosses with wooden ones. Câmara became the front-runner of the Liberation Theology- a form of socialist religiousness that arose in revolutionary Latin America.
Meanwhile, in a different part of the world, another religious figure would be using the same Catholicism to go on to become a celebrated figure of peace and love- only to become a front for money laundering and deathbed conversions that went uncorrected by the West due to the apolitical, conservative white benevolent subservient identity of “Mother”- Mother Teresa. Over the years, Mother Teresa would go on to brag about her deathbed conversions, using poverty and sickness among a developing population to spread the only message- that those that aren’t Christian are suffering due to their non-Christianity and only to come to Jesus would mean that they were “cleaned”.
The Missionaries of Charity, as set up by Teresa, did not even feature among the top 200 large charities in Calcutta, let alone anywhere else. This is worse, when you think of the level of international money and recognition that the Missionaries had- with no trace as to where the money went. The Missionaries refused to show their books. People were fine with that. Yet, Mother Teresa continues to be a revered image of peace and charity in the West- predominantly as a result of preserving the West’s white image- Teresa was supportive of the Duvalier dynastic rule in Haiti, receiving money and awards in return. Christopher Hitchens would famously call Teresa a “friend of poverty, not of the poor”.
Teresa would denounce abortion in her Nobel Acceptance Speech, to a standing ovation. A single sentence that sums up the religious fetishisation of poverty from that very speech is- “He was covered with maggots; his face was the only place that was clean. And yet that man, when we brought him to our home for the dying, he said just one sentence: I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, love and care, and he died beautifully”. Câmara was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but the Brazilian government and Catholic strongholds lobbied against him getting it. Yet, Mother Teresa would get it years later- for the sole reason that she wasn’t a threat and did not demand reforms- only blind faith. The world couldn’t stop talking about how much Mother Teresa loved the poor.
“Love”- which by any other name is often a charitable handout, celebrity exhibitionism, populist political doles or empty rhetoric wrapped in a heart shaped card- represents a kind of fuzzy warmth that is as easy to stereotype as it is to weaponise, the veritable “let them eat cake, if they don’t have bread” version of the average human emotion.
Yashoroop Poopa Dey is a graduate of political economy from King’s College, London. Currently, he involved in a variety of ventures related to copy-writing and creative authorship