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  • Occupy Religion:Theology of the Multitude and Interreligious Dialogue
  • Joerg Rieger

One of the big questions for the present is how to bring the different liberation movements together. The different liberation theologies, as is well known, have addressed various forms of oppression along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, and other factors. What is it that brings us together without erasing our differences? This question has important implications for interreligious dialogue, as we shall see.

In our book Occupy Religion Kwok Pui-lan and I use the term “multitude” to reflect on unity and difference.1 This term, made prominent by political scientists and philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri,2 has deep roots in our theological traditions. Several decades ago, Korean Minjung theology noted the prominence of the notion of the multitude (this is how the term minjung can be translated into English) in the Bible. In the Gospels, the so-called ochlos (the Greek term for the masses or the common people) does not describe only the ones who are the recipients of Jesus’ transformative ministry; the ochlos also describes the participants in it and the agents of change. In addition, our Latin American colleagues have highlighted the importance of Greek term laos in the biblical traditions, which is also used to designate the common people rather than the elites.

There is a distinct difference between the Greek notions of democracy and laocracy or ochlocracy. Democracy describes the rule of the demos, which is constituted by the elite citizens of a city-state. Lower-class citizens, women, and slaves are not part of this rule. Laocracy and ochlocracy, on the other hand, describe the rule of the common people, including the proverbial “least of these” of which Jesus speaks frequently. These common people include all those who have been and are being marginalized on the basis of their gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class. In the ministry of Jesus, which is informed by the ministry of Moses, Miriam, Hannah, and the prophets, the common people are organized and become agents. God values their diverse contributions to life. In the world of laocracy and ochlocracy, there are different ways of being productive in the community, and all of them are acknowledged and needed. As Hardt and Negri remind us, the multitude is not the uniform entity of what has often [End Page 167] been called “the people” in various nationalisms or fascisms. Neither is the multitude the undifferentiated mass or the mob.3

What brings the various liberation movements together, therefore, is not uniformity or a request to surrender difference. What brings us together is “deep solidarity,” the recognition that we are all in the same boat under the conditions of global capitalism.4 This insight is related to the topic of class, which has consistently been pushed underground in the United States but which has recently reemerged in the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The now-familiar notion of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent is a reminder that the majority of people are benefitting less and less from the neoliberal market economy. This includes even members of the middle class, as they have seen their retirement accounts dwindle, their job security take ever-more severe hits, their benefits erode, and their political power fade. Furthermore, the aspects of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity are closely linked to class, as they all increase the disadvantages of people in the neoliberal market economy, thus boosting the reality of deep solidarity. Deep solidarity ties together members of the 99 percent across the lines of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity, and it thrives on difference, as they can now work together and make use of their various opportunities and gifts.

Deep solidarity differs from conventional ideas of solidarity, which were often based on the idea that those who are privileged place themselves on the side of those without privilege. While it is still possible for members of the 1 percent to place themselves on the side of the 99 percent, the majority of us are now part of the 99 percent, and thus belong to classes that have something to gain from liberation. Class struggle, as...