liberation

The Future of Liberation Theology Conference

I am still unsure how to talk about my dissertation and work for publication on this blog, hence the continued silence. In more simple terms: I’m working, but not sure how to talk about it without shooting myself in the foot.

And speaking of work…

At Union, the USQR (the Union Seminary Quarterly Review) is holding a conference on February 24th, titled “The Future of Liberation Theology.” For their description, see below.

I’ll be presenting a paper there, titled “Getting Back to Idolatry Critique: Establishing the Ground for Idolatry Critique in the Triune Gift Economy.”

If you’re in or around NYC, I’m sure they would like people to come. If not, the presentations––assuming they are up to par, of course––will be published in the USQR.

“The Future of Liberation Theology” Conference Details:
Goal of Conference:
The aim of this interdisciplinary graduate student conference is to imagine and explore the future of liberation theology and related liberationist discourses over the course of a one-day graduate conference at Union Theological Seminary, which has served as a location from which many liberationist projects have emerged over the past 40 years. This conference seeks to combine the voices of graduate students working in theology, ethics, scripture, philosophy, religious studies, homiletics as well as other disciplines with the voices of professional academics of multiple generations who contribute to liberationist discourses. In an effort to document this collaborative discussion, the Union Seminary Quarterly Review will publish student and professor presentations, as well as other documents from the conference.

Summary of Problematic:
Liberation theology and related discourses are frequently spoken of in the past tense. This is apparent despite the ongoing proliferation of liberationist projects within and outside the religious academy, and also the continued existence of the impetus for past liberation theologies—the material suffering of persons and nature under human social systems. How might the varied liberationist projects of the past inform contemporary efforts within and outside the academy to confront the various crises humans face today? How, if at all, has the context for engaging such crises changed since the advent of liberation theology? What is at the root of the shift away from liberation theology in the religious academy? In what ways might contemporary discourses on culture, society and the psyche inform contemporary liberationist projects? How do liberation theologies of the past and present inform religious scholarship as a whole? What is the future of liberation theology?

Evening Plenary Panel:
Professors Andrea Smith, Eboni Marshall, Ivan Petrella, Patrick Cheng, and more respond to and engage student presentations and community conversations of the day.

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capitalism, liberation, political theology

The Aim of Political Theology

The aim of political theology is not knowledge of capitalism, but rather knowledge of its determined position and status within capitalist social relations. A liberative theology cannot do the work of other disciplines. Instead, the truth of theology lies elsewhere: in the truthfulness of its knowledge of God

Peter Scott, Theology, Ideology and Liberation, 175.

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immigrant, liberation, poverty, power

Colbert’s Logic for Focusing on Immigration Reform

I’m sure you all saw the tape of Colbert addressing the congressional hearing on immigration. However, what seems less known is the answer Colbert gives for why he is focusing on the issue of immigrant workers. His answer is obviously not from the character that he has constructed. This is Colbert without the mask, and his answer is excellent. Here is something I can rarely say of public figures, much less celebrities: I’m proud of Colbert and his work to live out his identification with Jesus.

COLBERT: [Takes a pause of two or three beats to think before answering, dropping character] I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come in and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still ask them to come here, and at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me, and um… You know, “whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers,” and these seemed like the least of my brothers, right now. A lot of people are “least brothers” right now, with the economy so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that. But migrant workers suffer, and have no rights.

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capitalism, faith, liberation, quote

Idolatry, Capitalism, and Liberation

It is no accident that today the centrality and importance of the problem of idolatry have been discovered in Latin America. Idolatry is part of our deepest experience when we live, express, and communicate our faith in the God of Jesus Christ, in the present situation of extreme oppression on our continent. We live in a profoundly idolatrous world–economically, socially, politically, culturo-ideologically, and religiously. We live crushed under the idols of an oppressive and unjust system. To live the demands of faith in this context is not simply a ‘pious’ or personal act; it necessarily entails a radical confrontation with that system. Idolatry is a question of politics and a question of faith. If capitalism were atheistic, it is possible that our faith would not have this subversive strength within a practice of political liberation. But capitalism is idolatrous rather than atheistic, which poses a political and theological problem at the same time, especially within the context of Latin American capitalism.

The biblical message against idolatry reaches us very directly and deeply. It is a message that interprets our reality with no major exegetical complications. However, today we are living through a new situation, one that did not exist in biblical times, making this anti-idolatry proclamation even more pressing and radical. This new reality is the praxis of liberation, with all its political, organic, and theoretical complexities. In biblical times, the possibility of a radical and conscious transformation of the economic and political structure of an idolatrous system did not yet exist. Today the possibility exists.

Christians who adopt the praxis of liberation also adopt the anti-idolatry proclamation of the Bible within a different historical context. This is not only a reinterpretation within a ‘hermeneutical circle’ (an expression we should eliminate), but rather a ‘hermeneutical leap’ into a new historical situation. In this new situation, faith and the revelation of God in history are more critical and radical than they were in biblical times.

Pablo Richard, “Biblical Theology of Confrontation with Idols” in The Idols of Death and the God of Life: A Theology, 24. Edited by Pablo Richard.

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Cornel West, James Cone, liberation

Cornel West Interview James Cone (AAR 2009)

For those of you who weren’t able to make it to Cornel West interviewing James Cone at the Montreal AAR gathering (btw, was overall a good gathering), or simply want to see another great interview of Cone, see this:

AAR has the video posted here: http://www.aarweb.org/Meetings/Videos/2009Montreal/2009_A8-203.asp. It sure took them a long time to get it up — I’ve been wanting to post it here for many months.

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insanity, James Cone, liberation, race

Setting Straight the Insanity of Glenn Beck on James Cone and Black Liberation Theology

Well, I’ve got my piece up at The Other Journal titled: “‘Everyone in This Room is Now Dumber for Having Listened to [Him]’: Setting Straight the Insanity of Glenn Beck on James Cone and Black Liberation Theology.” I like it. I think other people should read it.

Also, I should probably note here that the tone is rather caustic. And some may find it rather off-putting. I attempted a line that is difficult to walk, and perhaps failed. How do you not legitimize Beck and his project, but still address the narrative he helps push that permeates society? How do you show that Beck is not learned — cannot speak well, nor well read — in this discourse? And perhaps most importantly, how does one not give into gentle language that would avoid showing the ugliness of what Beck has done? But on the other hand, how does one avoid becoming like Beck who seems to love name calling?

I determined that my first priority was truth-telling: to appear a bit crazy in an insane world may be the most sane thing someone could do. I ought not sugar coat the issues at hand, and I should keep a sharp edge. So I decided to follow the master, Terry Eagleton in his review of Dawkins. Now, I am not under the delusion that I have Eagleton’s mastery of the English language, or wit. Still, the method seemed apt. The poverty and ugliness of Beck’s work, and the popular narrative he is working within, has to first be exposed for the falsehood it is.

And so, I do not see this piece as simply character assassination or preaching to the choir, after all, I tried to keep the pejorative comments directed in how Beck stumbles, rather than Beck his person. This piece, instead, is aimed at achieving a moment of clarity, even if it is fleeting. This piece is also designed to give James Cone a fair hearing. And it would not be wrong to read this piece much more about Cone’s project and evangelicalism’s need to reckon with race, than Beck himself.

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insanity, James Cone, liberation, obama

A Cautionary Tale: No Beck, You Aren’t Intelligently Addressing James Cone

Edit: For more than what is below, see my essay at The Other Journal: “Everyone in This Room is Now Dumber for Having Listened to [Him]” : Setting Straight the Insanity of Glenn Beck on James Cone and Black Liberation Theology.

I have found that Glenn Beck is often best left ignored. What helpful things he says are derivative and rare. However, he has again stepped well beyond his competency and this time directly into an interest of mine: liberation theology, specifically James Cone. I find it fitting that Terry Eagleton’s assessment of Richard Dawkins describes Beck as well: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”

Beck asserts in the video below that he is trying to give a reasoned, measured, and intelligent narrative and analysis on liberation theology. However, this is patently false. He does not give an accurate narrative and analysis of Black Liberation theology. It seems that intelligence is a luxury that Beck has yet to buy. What he does do is make numerous, broken connections that simply do not follow — one would not be wrong to question his synaptic connections as well.

Lets get a few things straight: Beck here is constructing a narrative that seeks to be a revealed secret — a secret given to his listeners, who are also the oppressed faithful that keep true to the geist of the state. The progressives are the enemy, therefore, in Beck’s mind, it is his duty to inform his following about the secret machinations of the forces that seek destruction of his way of life. It does not seem far that Beck may see himself as a prophet dispensing revelation. In reality, he functions far more like a gnostic with their theology of secrets.

Beck’s narrative has a central ideology: his first concern is the continuation of the “republic.” His hermeneutical lens begins with the state. This he established in the first few minutes of at the beginning of the show and maintained it to the end — and the key point here is that if anyone is guilty of politicizing religion for explicitly American political ends (for the Republicans-Right Libertarians), it is Glenn Beck: his starting point is first the concern for the nation. He has instrumentalized theology for politics against Obama. While he says his point is all about God, and that people shouldn’t make it about race, the point of his entire rant is to make a political jab. He has done the exact opposite of what is good political theology. It is because of the sort of thing that Glenn Beck is doing that political theology has a bad name to so many.

Lets also get some other things straight: Beck is making sophomoric mistakes left and right. Mistakes that no knowledgeable person would make. Or to put it another way, his mistakes are so fundamental, it is like looking down the barrel of a gun to see if it is loaded. Cone is not the founder of liberation theology, and nor is he the founder of black liberation theology — Cone is simply one of the early, major voices. Also, black liberation theology is not something that could be tied to the Catholicism’s economic liberation theology in Latin and South America until very recently. For quite a few years, black liberation theology and Latin and South American liberation theology were at odds because they perceived different problems, thought the other group couldn’t deal with the ‘real’ issue, and as a result, it took awhile to reconcile the two. Hell, Cone and Gutierrez did not converse about their projects while both were at Union Theological Seminary decades ago. For Beck to make the connection that they informed each other early on, and conflate the two at times, is profoundly ignorant — as it is profoundly ignorant to relate the rantings of an angry man outside of the voting booth, the weather underground, and Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad to Cone’s work. Beck cannot be taken seriously much like a two-year old sitting in the cockpit would not be mistaken for piloting the plane.

As for the moment of victory on the cross — which Beck harps on — for Cone the cross is of course victory in a way, but victory in weakness, which Beck clearly doesn’t get. It isn’t about victimhood. Cone actually spends much time on the cross; indeed, Cone is very suspicious of rushing too quickly to the resurrection, because the weakness is key. Beck clearly hasn’t read Cone well — or he simply is not being honest here. Cone is not represented faithfully by Beck in the same way that Amway’s commercials cover up the corporation’s pyramid architecture. The notion of blackness for Cone is quite specific — he doesn’t mean simply black skin because we’re also talking about ontology — never mind that Beck is drawing from a decontextualized text to warp beyond recognition the point that Cone is making. And then there is the whole issue that the relationship between the oppressor and oppressed isn’t the binary that Beck makes it out to be. Indeed the binary exists, but it exists because it is a reality and liberation theology seeks to save both oppressed and oppressor from the violation of their humanity: in doing violence, the oppressor are harming themselves as much as they are harming the oppressed. Liberation theology seeks to heal the dysfunctional relationship, not re-establish it. This Beck clearly did not get — the notion that salvation extends to relationships seems beyond him. Also, to complicate the binary further, no one is simply always an oppressor or always oppressed. For a guy who rants about context, Beck certainly didn’t read Cone in context.

The rest of the show is characterized by the same pitiful misreading: that Cone has no concept of grace; salvation should only, ever understood as highly individualistic; Cone is a marxist; the Bible has no concept of making just the social reality; Beck has no concept of structural evil; liberation is obsessed with the victim so as to grab power; liberation theology and philosophy are synonymous; etc. All wrong. All painfully false. One should certainly wonder if Beck is familiar with the prophets denouncing the economic system (called Mammon), the years of jubilee, Jesus and the early church on sharing, etc. Beck isn’t worth the time to keep analyzing — I’ve got better things to do. My point here is to show how impoverished Beck is in simply the first segment of his show. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on — his narrative and analysis are just as true as The Da Vinci Code.

In conclusion, Glenn Beck has not been honest. He has tried to smear Cone like he has tried to smear other people. Beck traffics in attempting to create guilt by association. This should not surprise anyone. This was far from well reasoned, measured, and intelligent. If he submitted this in a class where I am the instructor, he would get a failing grade for not engaging well with the source material (too limited in scope), not displaying an accurate understanding of Cone’s over all project, and cheap and incorrect criticism. He has not demonstrated a grasp of Cone’s thought and not engaged it well. This is simply a hit job. It is propaganda. For a guy who sees Hitler everywhere but himself, he oddly follows the same tactics. In light of this, Beck should be likened to a puppet, and the question then is, who is up to their shoulder inside him?

If you really want to know what Cone’s project is about, watch his interview with Bill Moyers.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ivan Petrella, liberation, market

Bonhoeffer, Liberation Theology, and Neoliberalism

Here a central difference with liberation theology is revealed. Bonhoeffer is blind to the idolatry under which he is about to be executed because it falls within the realm of political ideology and so lies outside theology’s traditional areas of concern. Liberation theology, instead, takes Bonhoeffer’s critique of religion a step further to the critique of idolatry in the world; it thus does not speak of an irreligious world but of idolatries found in the world that are masked by an understanding of modernity as secular. A by now classic example of the unmasking of idolatry within a supposedly secular discourse is the liberationist critique of neoliberalism best articulated by Jung Mo Sung. Neoliberalism has its own vision of paradise; Francis Fukuyama stresses that technological developments make possible the unlimited accumulation of wealth and thus the satisfaction of ever more desires; neoliberalism demands faith; for Milton Friedman critics of the market lack faith in market liberty; neoliberalism has its own version of original sin; for Friederich Hayek the greatest of economic sins is the pretension of knowledge that lies behind market intervention, the belief that government knows how to allocate resources better than the free market; neoliberalism demands sacrifice; insofar as the market is the one and only path toward the development of human kind then the suffering of those excluded from the market are but the necessary sacrifices required for the progress of humanity as a whole. Neoliberalism is theology disguised as social science.

From Ivan Petrella’s Beyond Liberation Theology: A Polemic, 127. So far this book has proven rather interesting.

I also recommend another book of Petrella’s, The Future of Liberation Theology: An Argument and Manifesto.

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book review, liberation, Oscar Romero

Romero’s Pastorals and Other Statements

A Review of:
Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements
(Orbis Books, 1985)

The Volume
Voice of the Voiceless has a plurality of voices, but central to all of them are the concerns of Archbishop Oscar Romero. As a volume, the work functions as an introduction to Romero and his thought, while at the same time attempting to situate and legitimate him within Catholic tradition. Ignacio Martín-Baró introduces Romero and his historical context in a brief essay, but it is the justifying theological work of Jon Sobrino that gives the volume its dual purpose. In thirty pages, Sobrino, an established liberation theologian in his own right, gave “A Theologian’s View of Oscar Romero” that placed the martyr and his liberation theology strongly within Catholic orthodoxy. The importance of Sobrino’s work should not be underestimated. A fellow theologian’s evaluation is important, but this essay goes beyond such an endeavor; Sobrino wrote a justification to not only keep Romero and his work remembered, but that Romero’s legacy is the proper outworking of Catholic orthodoxy. Within the institution, a perfectly orthodox Archbishop lived and died for the Gospel – a liberation theology that made primary the preferential option for the poor. Thus, within fifty-one pages, and before the reader even begins the pastoral letters, instead of made voiceless by critics, Romero’s legacy is a challenging voice.

Romero’s four pastorals do fit within their genre as pastoral letters written to all. The first is both an introduction by Romero and a meditation on the Easter church. The second expanded on “The Easter Church” as the body of Christ in relation to the world. Written after Romero’s trip to Rome and his encouraging meeting with Paul VI, the third builds further upon church interaction with the world, specifically outlining a rubric for engagement with political organizations. The fourth, and last pastoral, introduces and interprets Puebla for the Salvadorians. The fourth is also in a line of continuity with the previous pastorals, serving as the most detailed outline for an ecclesiological politics.

Following the pastorals in the volume is a small selection of Romero’s other theological work: to Georgetown, acknowledging the honorary doctorate and calling for solidarity; to the National Council of Churches, outlining the backbone of a liberative ecclesiology in the face of violence; to Louvain, a political theology from the preferential option for the poor; a letter to then President Carter, calling him to cease sending weapons and training to El Salvador; and his last homily, stopped short by an assassin’s bullet.

Theological Themes
Romero begins his grounding of the church with the Easter story: “I wanted to dwell on the circumstances, both liturgical and actual, of lent, passiontide, and Easter that marked that ‘moment of replacement’” (115). As the church is formed by the foundation of the Christological passion and divine hope, it is the body of Christ today in the world and maintains the same Christological mission (65-69, 73-75). By remembering the Christological work of the cross and resurrection, and making such a memory singularly formative by way of scripture and tradition for the ecclesial community, the church embodies the life of Christ (57, 69-73).

After establishing the incarnational quality of the church, Romero can then properly situate the church politically, and indeed he does. While the church is not a political organization per se, it does have a political theology and life (78, 95-99). As the church is incarnated with the poor and seeks the justice of God’s rule, the political implications inherent to seeking the gospel in a broken world moves the church into an active push for liberation from oppression: the preferential option for the poor (71, 179-185). However, Romero lifts the voice of the poor without ignoring the rich. Romero does recognize the dialogical relationship between the oppressor and oppressed; he does not ignore the elite or oppressor, but rather notes that in the holistic liberation of the poor, the oppressor is rehabilitated as well as they are called into solidarity with the oppressed (66, 74, 97-99, 141-142).

Romero condemns idolatry, specifically the absolution of wealth and private property, of national security, and of organizations (122, 133-136, 173). It is this greed and idolatrous identification that generates disunity and oppression, so as to create a wealthy and powerful life for a few at the expense of many. Romero then challenges the status quo as he calls for structural change as he confronts the idolatry.

Romero, following the logical outcome of his Christological and ecclesial liberation theology, also condemns most forms of violence. He specifically notes institutional violence, arbitrary state violence, violence from the extreme right, and terrorist violence that work to the status quo and its idolatry (106-108, 142-144). He does make allowances for special circumstances, like certain forms of insurrectional violence and defense (108-109, 144-145). Romero more than once emphasizes a strong and resilient pacifism in the face of violence (110, 145).

Within such a Christological, ecclesiological politic, Romero addresses Christian involvement in political organization. While he respects the autonomy of the political sphere, he makes a careful categorical distinction between faith and politics and set limits on types of political involvement and in what direction that involvement may run (100-105): Christian political involvement must be “consonant with their faith” (101) – a faith that Romero argues is rooted in an Easter church.

Critique
Certainly this volume is not an all-encompassing systematic work; however, that is not the point of Romero’s work. Rather, he wrote a constructive backbone and the interconnections that a systematician craves, came as he lived it daily. Simply, this work under Romero did not academically mature, but it did reach a full maturity in actuality. The rudiments were constructed, as shown above, for a theopolitical, Christological life for the church. It was this foundation rightly set, in the right memory of the Easter story, that pushed towards a liberative orthopraxy and allowed for an ending (or perhaps beginning) in martyrdom. Christologically and ecclesiologically, Romero’s political theology reached maturity because Romero was mature in his faith and how he executed his office as Archbishop in continuity with tradition and official teaching. This is the argument that Sobrino makes in the introduction of the volume: this liberative theology lives because of its Christological nature and how it impressed itself upon Romero in his life and teaching.

The largest problem with the volume is the great magnitude to which it is historically determined. Even the theological moves that Romero makes, within his context, are largely conditioned by their culture, time, and geographical location. While the United States certainly still functions as a colonial power, and there are a multitude of conflicts all too similar to El Salvador during Romero’s work, Romero often can function as an example and encouragement, rather than speaking in guiding detail about another, later conflict. The response by the Vatican to liberation theology since Romero makes it also difficult to reach back to Romero in many ways. Sadly, this volume mentions nothing of the hierarchical obstruction.

Nevertheless, Romero’s voice is not gone, and neither are his theological moves, to both I am very sympathetic. Thankfully, his foundation for a political theology still seems viable. Indeed, the structure of Romero’s fundamental, political theology is a strong position for those carrying on in political theology. I find it coherent, convincing, and usable still. In fact, the built in flexibility inherent to Romero’s simple but nuanced theology gives him a piercing clarity into other theological projects; Romero can be joined to numerous other theologies without a great deal of trouble. I have previously used his work in just such a way.

I found this volume very helpful and if I were to introduce a person or a class to Romero or political theology (or a theology for social engagement), this is a book I would use. I might even begin with this book.

As an introduction, I do wish it ended with a small story about Romero’s assassination. For an introduction to Romero, one hundred and seventy pages after the essay on his life might have been too far from Romero’s last homily at the end of the book, but as someone familiar to his story, I thought it very fitting that the volume ended with his words. All in all I am very positive about this book. The largest complaint I have is that it could use an update.

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liberation, Oscar Romero, political theology

Romero on Theopolitics

The Political Dimension of the Faith
This has been a brief sketch of the situation, and of the stance, of the church in El Salvador. The political dimension of the faith is nothing other than the church’s response to the demands made upon it by the de facto socio-political world in which it exists. What we have rediscovered is that this demand is a fundamental one for the faith, and that the church cannot ignore it. That is not to say that the church should regard itself as a political institution entering into competition with other political institutions, or that it has its own political processes. Nor, much less, is it to say that our church seeks political leadership. I am talking of something more profound, something more in keeping with the gospel. I am talking about an authentic option for the poor, of becoming incarnate in their world, of proclaiming the good news to them, of giving them hope, of encouraging them to engage in a liberating praxis, of defending their cause and of sharing their fate.

The church’s option for the poor explains the political dimension of the faith in its fundamentals and in its basic outline. Because the church has opted for the truly poor, not for the fictitiously poor, because it has opted for those who really are oppressed and repressed, the church lives in a political world, and it fulfills itself as church also through politics. It cannot be otherwise if the church, like Jesus, is to turn itself toward the poor.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastorals and Other Statements, 182-183.

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liberation, Oscar Romero

Someone Actually Did It — Romero is on Youtube

Someone put Romero in its entirety up on Youtube. I got this in dvd last spring, and I had wished then that I could show it to everyone. I suppose this is the closest I can come to such an urge, so watch the videos below and then go buy a copy of it and show it to more people.

My favorite parts are: the funeral mass in video 4; Romero, pacifistically and in his vestments, confronting the army, who have over taken the church, so he may “take care of the Eucharist” in video 7; and Romero’s address to the country and the army at the beginning of video 11. Basically, when Romero speaks and acts, people should listen. He was amazing, and an orthodox Catholic to boot. I have a few quotes below from the videos, but make sure to watch the videos themselves, they contain much that the words cannot convey.

Oh, and one more thing, this is why we protest the School of Americas. It was by the hands of people we train that the poor die and those like Romero who lived in solidarity with the oppressed.

From video 4:

Romero: If this were an ordinary funeral, I would speak of my friendship with Father Grande. At crucial moments in my life, he was always there, close to me. And those times will never be forgotten. But this is a moment to gather from these deaths a message for all of us who remain on pilgrimage. The liberation that Father Grande preached was a liberation rooted in faith. And because it is so often misunderstood, for it, Father Rutilio Grande died. Who knows, perhaps the murders are listening to these words? So we want to tell you, murderous brethren, that we love you and that we ask for repentance in your hearts.

From video 11:

Romero: I’d like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same People. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think instead in the words of God, “Thou shalt not kill!” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the Law of God. In His name and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much, and whose laments cry out to heaven: I implore you! I beg you! I order you! Stop the repression.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

Video 5

Video 6

Video 7

Video 8

Video 9

Video 10

Video 11

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death, liberation, science

Moving Towards the Comedy of Death

I was thinking the other day about problematic questions in the future for theology, and I found myself fixated on the combination of human and machine (as well as technological advancement on the whole) and the theological issues this may bring up. I wondered if a creation theology could extend to machine, but that seemed like a dead end now, not all that interesting yet, and problematic as hell. What is significant and interesting is how technology does and will function.

Cultural imagination has always played an important of a role in technological development, if at the very least, fueling imagination. Today, cyberpunk” — which includes stories and adaptations from Phillip K. Dick (and perhaps Asimov, but he did write much earlier), movies like The Matrix, and across the Pacific with the likes of Akira and Ghost in the Shell — and various other lesser known incarnations of cyberpunk seem to rule today’s mind by shaping the language of discourse around the future. Albeit, generally not a spectacular language (after all, the TV and Movie medium limits it a great deal), but at least some of the themes are important. Themes center around a dystopic future, common existential crises, and science and technology gone mad or bad to name a few. Aftermath and survival seem to be the name of the game, despite the use or integration of technology and humanity. Life is still complex and in so many ways. It hasn’t improved, oppressive structures still exist.

What interests me isn’t about the ethics of machine and humanity, its about, or against, a spirituality or faith and a way of being that incorporates soteriological machinations toward always being. Immortality is a common theme, and often even the protagonist seeks to go beyond human limits to achieve a personal, extended life or perceived “justice.” As for the real, future individual applications, they will obviously necessitate a case by case basis, for at times technology can be a legitimate improvement (i.e. wheel chair), however, the grand scheme of our creation — our technological leaps — is about saving us? Well that is a theological, anthropological narrative we must always critique.

And now for a funny story, which I promise is entirely relevant. A fellow student recently came exasperated to the information desk in the library. I along with two other fellow theology PhD students were staffing it at the time. The distressed student began with, “They’re building a dooms day device and next week they’ll switch it on!” He was referencing the large hadron collider. Now, trying to be sensitive to his needs, we all bust out laughing, or at least giggling, because we just couldn’t get over the irony of humanity blowing itself to pieces with what it hails as salvation and exploration. Granted, some of us knew a bit more about CERN and the LHC to know that most likely a black hole would not form to de-atomize our existence. And so our theological answers? 1. Go email a physicist. We’re at a University, I’m pretty sure they exist here. Still. But hurry, or they might not! 2. A Barthian notion of God’s redemption and hesed was explained. 3. In light of impending doom, and perhaps eschatological fulfillment, how will we actively continue to participate in the building of the basiliea before the new creation? How will we continue, or begin to help people based on this still relevant kingdom hope? He didn’t quite like this so much. The focus on the local, instead of litigation, and the notion that we cannot control fellow human beings seemed a bit much.

However, this is exactly what Christianity can give us in spades, the ability to laugh when faced with our death — a liberation in the acceptance of our limits. This isn’t liberation from death, but the acknowledgment of our finitude and that it is okay to be a creature. However, it does not stop there, otherwise this theology would be insensitive to what it ought to take seriously, the suffering of others. And this leads me into a follow up post in the near future about the very core of Christian existence: “The comedy of death.”

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justice, liberation

Justice Defined

This is part of a study in theological language, the rest of the posts can be found here.

Justice is a word often used in theological circles, well, mostly in liberation theology circles. Still, it crops up elsewhere as well, albeit, less frequent than it ought to. Also, I’m partially unsatisfied with justice as it is commonly used. It seems to be used in a number of ways: first, one’s rights or freedom have been blocked and seeking justice is the struggle for the recognition of said given rights; second, a notion of retribution or punitive — eye for an eye, lawsuit for malpractice, or lethal injection for murder with revenge at heart; third, setting aright relationships, or to the blind and objective judgment of lady justice in America, the scales are made even.

When it came to freedom, I argued that any notion of freedom is tied to a community, and what freedom really seems to mean, is is the space and power provided by the Christian community (and God) to be and do the things your Christian community (and God) needs or asks of you. (Or said in a way that mangles the English language: the action that a community pushes its adherents towards.) One is free to do something means that one is allowed to do something without the societal backlash from its community, because it is what the community wants. However, an American definition of freedom often relies on specific ideas of justice. When freedom is hindered, it is considered just for the freedom to be restored — freedom for pleasure and happiness.

However, when it comes to a definition of justice, understood by a Christian, justice is different. For one, rights language is unnecessary. A creation theology is more expansive and deeper than any rights language within the Christian community. Other shifts in justice also happen when freedom is understood from a Christological perspective. Freedom ceases to be empowerment for happiness — in our case, room made for the commodification and fetishizing of anything the market can lay hold of, like revenge — and becomes a complex salvation. In a word, liberation. Lastly, lady justice cannot and should not be a substitute for the crucified God. In the gospels, scales are used in the temple, the temple that Jesus overthrew. And in contrast, the salvation of Jesus is universal and not limited to those who can pay with coin. Jesus wasn’t also objective like so often our institutions claim to be (i.e. Justice, Science, Journalism), rather, Jesus advocated for people, preached the basileia, and died doing just that. So, of all the definitions above, justice may mean that we may need to fight for the recognition of one’s humanity for specific human beings (as opposed to using rights language), but that still falls underneath a better definition: setting aright relationships. This definition liberation theology affirms when it seeks to rehabilitate both the oppressor and oppressed.

Notably, if justice is truly putting people back into right, healthy relationships — if justice is holistic, then the government cannot fulfill true justice. Neither can certain institutions maintain a just understanding. Take for instance the less than freemarket market running amok as it created the housing/mortgage crisis. Even with some regulations, the “market” (as if it is a nebulous and uncontrollable force, which is just flat wrong) gave/pushed predatory loans. The most that seems to have happened so far is that the big lending banks got a boost from the government to keep them from folding, and now there is a new bill for some who did get hurt. At best, this is working with scales again. “We put everything back together again (presumably), so no harm, no foul, right?” Clearly there is nothing wrong with the system itself.

Now, I am myself sympathetic to the old time Social Gospel, I really am. However, despite the good it did do, it would not have worked without the ecclesial grounding from which the need for care came from. Dorrien insists that the Social Gospel movement should be referred to as the Third Great Awakening. I’m all for laws protecting people from harming children, yet, I do not think we can confuse the move towards using laws to curb evil by aligning self-interest with doing good, with a holistic salvation of Christological justice. The justice of Jesus, setting the possibility of righting relationships is grounded in the rule of God. God doesn’t weigh the misdeeds, but rather she redeems the people and their dysfunctional relationships. Redemption and new creation are the paradigms through which justice is done. Quite simply, the problems with the government, the market, the old time social gospel, and even some liberation theologies, is that they are not substantial enough. They are too narrow. Justice, holistic justice, cannot be achieved. But in the church, the communal body founded around the memory of Christ, redemption and new creation, found in the in-breaking of the basileia, is the entire idea.

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feminism, liberation, Union Theological Seminary

An Experiential Introduction to Feminism: A Feminist Send-Off

Recent theological feminism, in the last 40 or so years, has made a lot of headway. In academic circles, it is quite reputable — not for all, but certainly by many its critiques are heard, even if there is disagreement at some level. Others seem to misunderstand, perhaps through not reading well, and still others seem to write feminism off without giving it a chance, concluding often that it is guilty by association. However, in the end, this is mostly theological discussion. And ironically, while feminism attempts to address a tangible reality, such discussion can be both connected and disconnected from the very real world. Especially for a guy, one for whom perhaps the reality that women face daily, may seem invisible.

A good experience, one that makes visible the invisible, can immediately help connect what feminist speak of to one’s own reality. Simply, experiencing what seemed non-existent (cognitive dissonance) is tremendously helpful when in dialogue with all sorts of liberation theology, and specifically feminist theology. Importantly, I do not speak of merely the negative experience that feminism critiques. Like many other theologies, to begin to truly grasp said theology, one must also experience its imagination.

This latter type of experience, the vision of feminist theology attempts to construct or add, I experienced at Union’s graduation. It was terrific. And no, there was no “spiked” kool-aid to drink from.

Nurturing is the theological term. Womb-like is my personal description. The place was packed. The fact that the robes were bright red and, over the course of the ceremony, it got hotter, only helped drive the aesthetic. The sense of leaving the nurturing surroundings — a birthing if you will — permeated the air, but it was not with dreariness. Before entering the chapel, it was the faculty literally cheering us on as we entered. During the course of speeches (which were few and generally short) and awards, many a time there were interruptions of hearty, even throaty, cheers. Celebration was welcomed. In fact, I have rarely felt more accepted, and thus rarely more at home, than during the graduation. Passion was not restrained, but channeled. Love was not withheld. Joy was over flowing. Relationships were recalled and cemented. So this is what it is like to feel empowered: to be helped, to be given tools, to be told your incalculable worth as a human being, and encouraged as one moves out into the vast New York City and the world. It was in a word, liberative.

I thought back to Union’s and Yale’s Vagina Monologues. Yale wore all black with something like a red flower — an accent of red amidst a sea of classiness in the bright, white colonial chapel and each woman’s little black dress. At Union, it was full on bright red from head to toe. It was unabashed passion, ranging from softness to throaty roars. However, at the same time Union embodied the ability to not treat males or the sense of what it is to be male, wrongly. Feminism isn’t the attempt to break down maleness, its about the inclusion of both — both that come from a gender-full God.

The graduation ceremony was not specifically feminist, in the sense that one could point to a detail and claim its heritage, but the mark that feminism has left, and continues to leave on theology, clearly was consciously or unconsciously in the back of the minds of the planners and moderators.

I am now firmly a believer that for theological discussion we must pay more attention to the actual vision and tangible fulfillment of its imagination to really engage the theology. This feminist graduation will live with me for years and I fully expect to look back on it and smile. I certainly do now.

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