Thursday, October 29, 2009

Injustice and the lords of the (Olympic) rings

In light of the looming approach of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and the imminent Olympic torch relay beginning in our fair city tomorrow, I have been thinking about injustice. (By the way, I don't think this post is for the faint of heart... There are lots of links, and I encourage you to check them out.)
I'm sure some of you wonder at the juxtaposition of the Olympics and injustice, but I will get there in a moment.

Some of my friends believe the best and right way to respond to something you disagree strongly with is peaceably, without force or violence. They believe that is the Jesus way.
I have other friends who are activists, very willing to use whatever means necessary to oppose what they see as wrong. They believe active evil requires active resistance in response.
I'm not sure where I put myself on this. I haven't studied it, but at the same time I'm not sure how willing I am to either put my neck on the line, or get involved in civil disobedience. I don't see myself as a pacifist, but neither do I see myself as a subversive rebel.
I suppose it would make a difference if I felt strongly enough about the issue. I have marched in a few parades (fun, but perhaps not too effective). Would I be willing to be arrested for my beliefs? I don't know.
The third group of people I perceive are those who go along with the status quo, and don't see the evil in the particular situation. Many Christians appear to be in this camp. For one reason or another, they are quite content to support the activity in question, even if there are suspicious undertones.
This third response is easy. It doesn't require standing out as against something. For them it may well be the best thing to do, and it isn't my purpose to be the voice of God to tell them they are wrong. (I would just encourage them to not be naive or unaware.)

Ok. Now for the Olympics.
In a very general sense, and on the surface, it probably seems like the Olympics are promoting positive things like sportsmanship and international cooperation. I expect the hope is that they rise above politics, nationalism, prejudice, greed and other ills of society. I hope that each new location starts out with those ideals in mind.
However, over the years we have definitely seen things to the contrary. Enormous debt for the host country is normal. Decisions are based on greed and political gain over the value of the athletes themselves. Some countries, specific sports and certain athletes have become notorious for increasing their chances of winning in a decidedly unsportsmanlike manner (Can you say 'performance-enhancing drugs'?)

As a citizen of British Columbia, in a city near to Vancouver (and home of the provincial government), I have seen and heard unending stories of how politics, money and injustice have once again hijacked what might otherwise be a nice way to spend a couple weeks in mid-winter, watching the best athletes in the world.
A group called produced a video (Resist 2010: Eight Reasons to Oppose the 2010 Winter Olympics) to express 8 reasons why the 2010 Olympics should not take place. (This provides plenty of occasion to discuss how it might be appropriate to resist—peaceably, actively, forcefully).
These 8 reasons they give are:
--colonialism and imperialism
--no Olympics on stolen land (unsurrendered First Nations territory)
--ecological destruction
--homelessness and poverty
--impact on women
--2010 police state
--public debt
--corporate invasion

Money being spent by the rich on the rich, but the poor and homeless being treated even worse than before. “This is taxpayers’ money, our money. We don’t know exactly how much is being spent. But by our incomplete tally and with another year to go until the Games, it’s more than $6,000,000,000.
Yesterday, the city of Vancouver announced that they will begin ridding the streets of homeless individuals to prepare for the 2010 Winter Olympics starting in February 2010.
Curtailment of free speech:
The city passed the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bylaw in June to restrict the distribution and exhibition of unapproved advertising material and signs in any Olympic area during the Games.
Free tickets for politicians, but no help for former Olympians:
Gary Reed has broken records running for Canada at the Olympics, but the proud Canadian athlete can't catch a break scoring tickets to the 2010 games. "
More reading from an indigenous point of view
Interesting insight on where the idea of the torch relay first began (Hitler in 1936):

I know what I feel about the Olympics, but I'm still having to dig deep to figure out what my response should be. I know I'm not supporting the torch relay tomorrow, and I'll probably join some anti-Olympic marches at some point, but as far as being peaceable or forceful, I don't know. I don't expect I'll blow anything up or hurt anybody, but what would Jesus do?
When do you 'turn the other cheek' (Matthew 5:39) and when do you 'kick over the tables of the loan sharks' (Matthew 21:12)?
How much 'activism' is appropriate, and how much is too much?

I'd like to hear your thoughts—not just what you might have been taught to think, but what really echoes the heart of God against injustice. (I think it's time we started searching and thinking for ourselves, and not just repeating the things we have heard others say, but that's for a different post.)


ron cole said...

I'm boycotting them, I won't watch any of the events on TV. I will speak against them, march against them. Really it's an injsutice to so so much of the world. It's perverse, the amount of money spent for a 2 week event, somehwere in the neighborhood of 7 billion dollars. It's the manefesto of the empire and corporations. I think we demonstrate peacefully, and offer an alternative of how to spend 7 billion dollars that would impact, and cahnge the world more effectively. We offer someting that would reveal the redemptive imagination of Jesus, and the Kingdom. OK, I think you've gathered I'm not fond of the olympics. As a friend said to me I.O.C...International Organized Crime. It really is a crime.

Al said...

I think it's interesting how things like the Olympics are the big elephant in the room, but hardly anyone wants to talk about it. So, our politicians think they are supported by a large majority of the citizens, and blunder on
Thanks for your comments, Ron. I was beginning to think people are scared of the IOC or the Integrated Security Unit (also known in less complimentary terms).

Luke said...

wow! never thought of it like that. i agree with the three camps and would point you to MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail as he rights to other religious leaders who were on the fence and in camp three.

i'll have to check out the links, i did read the Hitler one.. of course ;-) very interesting.

Al said...

Thanks, Luke, for leading me to that incredibly powerful manifesto against injustice. As a Canadian, I am not as aware of the specific writings of Dr. King, and I appreciate you bringing it to my attention. I have taken the liberty to quote a number of things I feel that are appropriate to pretty much any fight against injustice—of which the Olympics is only one.
Martin Luther King: Letter from Birmingham jail (
A few things to note: Dr. Martin Luther King's fight was specifically against racial discrimination in the US. So, although much of what he says translates well into any arena where injustice is being fought, it's origins are in the struggle for racial equality.
His particular take on direct action was to be nonviolent. I recognize that not all of my friends limit themselves in this way, but the principles Dr. King stands on are appropriate for either form of direct action.
He was, first of all, a preacher, so some of his biggest disappointments were with the white church. In many ways, similar things could be said about the church's inaction in our day, but the points he raises go beyond the church to society as a whole.
Now for a few quotes:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
“Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. ...groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all" .
“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Al said...

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
“Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.
“...injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
“We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence.
“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?
“...few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.
“In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
“If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.”

Luke said...


glad you got so much from it. i'm still going slowly through your links and i'm overwhelmed by the awesomeness. thanks for bringing so much i haven't considered. fantastic!

Some Dude said...

I have never heard about this opposition to the Olympics, probably because I live in the US.

I really don't know much about the history of the relationship between the government of Canada and the native peoples, so I guess I can't comment on that.

The point about homelessness and poverty sounds reasonable to me. I have heard about homeless people being rounded up in other Olympic cities to make the city look better, and this is unfair.

I would also be a little wary of the increased police presence that comes with the Olympic Games.

The point on the impact on women seems pretty weak, though. I think the video said that the Olympic Games attract crimes, such as prostitution. Unfortunately, things like this can happen when millions of people assemble in one city. However, that does not mean the Olympics specifically are responsible for an increase in prostitution and human trafficking. I would consider this an argument for stronger enforcement of laws rather than against the Olympics.

Al said...

I agree, SD. I think the point about women seemed weak to me as well.
I expect both the US and Canada have been negligent (and worse) in our treatment of First Nation peoples, although I do not know too much about things in the US, We have heard lots about racism in the US against blacks, but not much about anyone else. Here in Canada, we struggle with racism against First Nations. Our governments have negotiated treaties with some FN, but many others have been in negotiation for years and nothing is settled. Meanwhile, we act as if all of the land is ours to play with.

Thanks for your input!


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