“Deliver us from Total”, “Warm hearts, not pipelines”. This week, a handful of activists blocked a Total station in Paris to protest against the international firm’s oil project in Uganda and Tanzania. Activists? Yes, but of a particular kind: a rabbi, an emeritus bishop, a pastor, an imam and a Buddhist monk (1), from the GreenFaith coordination (movement of faith on ecology) and from the “interconvictional” branch of ‘Extinction Rebellion (XR-Spi), international movement against climate change. Religious promoters of disobedience punch? Will we now see cassocks and Roman collars throwing soup on paintings in museums or blocking highway entrances?
For those responsible for this event, there is no doubt: the battle for the planet is also a spiritual battle. Pope Francis, in the encyclical Laudato si’, does not say anything else. The transition to which we are called is not only a matter of science and economics, but also of culture and values. It is no coincidence that the vocabulary of ecologists borrows so much from religious vocabulary (conversion, saving the planet, apocalypse, etc.).
To tell the truth, this “mixing of genres” is unusual only in France. In the Anglo-Saxon world, religious leaders have long been involved in this type of “happening”. And conversely, it is not a dirty word for an American environmental activist to summon spiritual forces, where French environmentalists remain concerned with secularism. We have thus seen rabbis in New York illegally occupying the premises of the BlackRock pension fund, before being taken away unceremoniously by the police! In Great Britain too, GreenFaith mobilizes the Anglican bishops on its actions. After all, the Bible is full of “disobedients”, whether we think of Isaiah who walks naked, Jeremiah who wears a yoke… Not to mention all those who followed this tradition, Martin Luther King, Gandhi or Rosa Parks…
In this sense, radicalism is part of the Christian tradition. With a limit, for Christians: disobedience is always peaceful. No question, therefore, of resorting to violence. However, is it relevant, in a democracy where everyone can express themselves, to carry out actions outside the law? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to use the possibilities provided in the political system to act? Without a doubt. But on the one hand, these religious figures and movements also engage in more traditional forms of political advocacy. On the other hand, disobedience is the last resort when all possibilities of discussion have been exhausted, which is the case for Total.
Still, the radicalism assumed by these religious groups is divisive. A sting operation against a large company has the disadvantage of designating a “big bad guy”, without leaving too much room for nuance. It risks putting all Total employees in the same bag, hurting, reinforcing antagonisms.
Doubtless we should not stop at disobedience, but make this disobedience an instrument to pose the discussion. In the Gospel of Mark, we see the woman with blood loss touching the garment of Jesus, when she is impure and, according to the law of Leviticus, does not have the right to do so. Jesus does not take offense, but makes his gesture public, to force all people to change their point of view and move lines and mentalities. Transgression cannot have the last word. It is only the beginning of the dialogue.