A Dream of a "Robbery-Free Society"

by Ahn Jae-Woong


Our observation is that Asia still has a long way to go in terms of improving facilities to meet the basic human needs of all of her people. It is obvious that these problems are there for us to tackle. However, our tendency is to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the pleas of the suffering people, an attitude which is well described in the famous parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke 10:25-37. We are accustomed to easy living and do not care to get involved. Similarly, the priest and the Levite went over, looked at the victimized person and walked on without helping.

A Dream of a "Robbery-Free Society"

Through this Bible story, we learn that exactly the same thing happens in our workplaces. In this story, the robbers are portrayed as people who attacked and stripped and beat up the traveler, leaving him half-dead. Who are the robbers today? Who are the ones always attacking the people? Who are the ones constantly stripping the people? Who are the ones beating up the people? Who are the ones inhumanely leaving half-dead half of the world’s population? Such robberies are common features in our community. Therefore, as URMers it is imperative that we initiate campaigns for a "robbery-free society" so that all peoples may live together without fear and worries. We need courage to build up a "robbery-free society" where peoples will be protected from external robbers - the transnational corporations (TNCs) -and internal robbers - the elites of authoritarian repressive regimes.

Kim Chi-Ha, a radical prominent poet in Korea, once wrote a sensational poem entitled Five Bandits. He gained great popularity among the people when this poem appeared in the monthly magazine The Sasangge (Korean for The World of Ideas) in May 1970. His courageous poetic metaphor uses the technique of bold exaggeration and caricature to sharply criticize the corruption of Korean society under military elitist rule. The Five Bandits represented a tycoon, an assemblyman, a government official, a general and a minister. He ridicules the privileged class as the ill-gotten people in our societies. His typical satirical writing style was amazingly popular during the oppressive authoritarian regime of the late Park Chung-Hee.

Kim Chi-Ha paid a high price for the poem he wrote. He underwent torture and interrogation, imprisonment and trials and was stripped of his civil rights. His health was badly affected and his body tremendously weakened. However, his spirit grew stronger, and his inspiration to fight on knew no bounds. He continuously produced more excellent poetry for the people. Among his famous resistance poems are:

  • Yellow Land (1970)

  • The Gold-Crowned Jesus (1971) - a play

  • Copper Yi Sunsin (1971)

  • Groundless Rumor (1972)

  • Cry of the People (1974)

  • Torture Road (1974)

  • Declaration of Conscience (1975)

These and his other writings helped inspire the Korean people in their struggle for democratization during the 1970s.

The Five Bandits must remind us of our own situations in Asia. As long as these Five Bandits are allowed to continue exploiting and manipulating the people in our societies, we will continue to live without freedom wherever we may be. How then do we establish a "robbery-free society"? We need to constantly ask ourselves this question.

The first thing we have to do is to respect all the laws. The laws are supposed to protect the basic rights of the common people. Robbers, however, like the Five Bandits, are breaking the laws for their own convenience and to promote their own self- interests. In Burma, for example, the military-minded people are breaking the laws to maintain their rule in spite of the landslide victory of the opposition party over the military in the 1990 elections. The military regime is still holding power although that power is illegitimately gotten.

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus taught, "Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets." He clearly explained. "I have not come to do away with them but to make their teachings come true." The original nature of the law should be strictly observed in order that we might be able to build a "robbery-free society."

In the case of natural law, if the law is imposed by the authorities as a convenient means of control, then our moral duty is to reject the law rather than to obey it. The law is no longer valid because the motive for the law is not for the protection and security of the people. Therefore, we need to think again what Jesus taught us concerning the law. According to Jesus’ teaching, all human-made laws are derived for the common good of the people. Obedience to such a system of good-intentioned laws may enable us to achieve a "robbery-free society."

A second point we need to remember is that moral conduct should be reinforced in our daily lives. Morality is the central beauty of all human beings. It is what makes humankind different from other living creatures. Should anyone break the moral law, the whole community becomes negatively affected. In relation to moral conduct, the Ten Commandments - the divinely given law - would serve as a good set of teachings by which we can live. Perhaps if every single person tried to follow the teachings of the Ten Commandments as a way of life, our dream of a "robber-free society" might be realized.

Thirdly, we have to uphold justice as a criteria for the creation of a "robbery-free society." St. Augustine in the City of God described a society without justice as being composed of a band of robbers. Augustine’s own words are: "What is a State but a robber-band?" The whole issue of justice is related to the harmony of equality and peace in our day-to-day life. Reinhold Niebuhr also reminds us: "If you want peace, work for justice." Hence, justice and peace are interchangeable for the benefit of the human community. This is the course to pursue if we are to achieve such a state in our life.

Fourthly, we have to ensure that minimum security is given to everyone so that they may have sufficient resources to live without robbing each other. This assurance of personal and social security must be pursued in every aspect of our lives for our own protection as well as to guarantee security for others. We are all seeking different types of security through religious practices, moral conduct, a system of education and common ethical norms. However, our societies continue to be filled with robbers. Therefore, as URMers, we should take immediate action to work for the creation of a "robber-free society." This should be a permanent task of URM work.

Finally, we have to care for each other to the extent that none of the victimized neighbors in our community will be abandoned. For such a vocation, it is of utmost importance that we possess a genuine capacity to have pity on the victimized in our society so that we might allow ourselves to care for them. These people are not only victims of "robbers" but also victims of an "uncaring- unloving-enough" society. These victims are composed of the homeless people, AIDS patients, refugees, the boat people, orphans and child laborers, prostitutes and countless other marginalized peoples.

As long as such categories of people still exist in our society, it is not possible for us to call ourselves "Christians." Therefore, we have an urgent task before us. We are called as followers of Jesus Christ to participate in God’s salvific work through sharing our Christian love and care so that the wounded in our human community may experience total recovery. This involves more than a touch-and-go, one-time experience. It involves a lifelong commitment and dedication. From the example of the Good Samaritan, we can see that this task of loving and caring for the victimized involves our total commitment to a process of rescue from a critical situation. Let us be reminded of Jesus’ words: "You go then and do the same" - the same as what the Good Samaritan did.

URM Tasks

As a result of the Consultation on the Theological/Ideological Basis of URM in Asia held in Bangkok, Thailand, URM directions have become clearer. A careful examination of the position paper that has been produced will confirm that. Although the following statements may seem to center along the same trend of thought, let me highlight some of these URM thrusts to refresh our memories.

• URM is promoting and supporting the peoples movement so that all the sectoral groups may be empowered.

• URM is participating and working together with the grassroots so that strong solidarity networking can be formed to work for democratization and humanization.

• URM is responding and challenging in conflict situations so that a just society might be established in each particular context.

• URM is cooperating with and encouraging each other in relation to other ecumenical organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) so that social change might be hastened.

• URM is developing and promoting younger leadership within URM groups so that each one may be enabled to independently handle relevant issues in their given workplaces.

• URM is searching for and articulating alternative ideological and theological perspectives so that new paradigms may be found.

• URM is compiling and producing more resources so that new challenges on the "people’s agenda" may be consistently dealt with.

• URM is concentrating on finding new visions and strategies so that URM tasks may be sharpened in each given situation.

• URM is analyzing and investigating mass media and social systems so as to liberate people from being captive to ideological indoctrination.

As a concluding remark, I wish to express my special thanks to all of you for your continued encouragement for our work in the past. I wish also to thank the ecumenical leaders, including our supporting agencies, for their continued support of URM work in Asia.

(Ed. Note: The following excerpted report was presented at the annual Christian Conference of Asia-Urban Rural Mission [CCA-URM] Program Committee Meeting held in February 1992 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.)