I’ve been reading a lot of liberation theology for my comps coming up all too soon. I have a special place in my heart for liberation theology, and it has left its mark on me. However, sometimes I have my quibbles, especially when some liberation theology seems further away from other schools of thought than it needs to be. Often I find the distance is due to both sides.
Still, I got to thinking today about how important the self-asserted subject is for many of the liberation theologies I’ve read. The theology needs a philosophical notion of a subject that can assert itself so as to stand against the oppression. While I have my sympathies, particularly with the concern to give people a confidence to stand against oppression directed toward them, I am concerned with the self-asserted subject.
Now this does not mean I want to get away from the subject entirely (heres to looking at you Ben), yet we are also not our own ground. I have suspicions that we have, in the Christian tradition, something already that fits the logical place where the self-asserted subject stands, but also is more congruent with Christian theology that constitues the subject. Here I am thinking of martyrdom.
Here we have people in the Christian community who have ‘run the race’ and are ‘cheering us on’, but have also stood against oppression, evil, etc. Here we have an assertion of the Gospel, which does have material implications that liberation theology has rightly pointed out and ran with, but we don’t have the same philosophical problems and categorical trappings.
I want to be explicit that I am quite aware about a host of concerns with the emphasis on martyrdom as a fetishizing of death, focuses on the extreme, etc. However, we cannot forget about martyrdom, but we also must handle it with great care. I can think of little worse than ignoring or co-opting the martyrdom of family. The turn to martyrdom is for myself informed by anabaptist sensibilities. After all, we could call it by another name: witness. Therefore I see martyrdom on something of a continuum of witness: it shows an assertion of truth and commitment to God in a certain way. There are other ways of showing commitment and faith, but, and here is a key importance, there is very little distance, if any at times, between martyrdom and oppression. An analogy won’t be needed here to tie assertion, oppression, and witness together because there already is categorical space for the nexus through Christian lives in history.