Freedom Not Yet: Liberation and the Next World Order (New Slant: Religion, Politics, Ontology)
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And thus Voegeli, a good American political theorist, looks to the Founders for moral inspiration—even though they, in many ways, assumed the Christian morality they sought to inculcate and preserve with their political theory. Voegeli : William James, it seems, has become the central figure in our discussion.
This development should not surprise. The argument James made in Pragmatism is worth quoting more fully:. Ptolemaic astronomy, Euclidean space, Aristotelian logic, scholastic metaphysics, were expedient for centuries, but human experience has boiled over those limits, and we now call these things only relatively true, or true within those borders of experience. They may have been truth-processes for the actors in them.
They are not so for one who knows the later revelations of the story. In the century since this argument appeared, critics have vigorously disputed it. Does it cease to be true if it becomes inexpedient, or become less true whenever it is found to be less expedient? We see this problem more clearly in the second argument against James. And for what purposes? Sanford :. In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it. The proof is in the pudding, and nowhere else. Contending that blacks had no rights whites were bound to respect may have been expedient for the South or white Americans for a time, but rejecting that proposition would have been expedient for more people over a longer time.
Not even the most strenuous interpretation of Dred Scott could maintain that Taney cared about, or sought to effect, less suffering and more equality. Anti-foundationalists can endorse social reforms only by appending their idiosyncratic personal preferences to the anti-foundationalist enterprise. These values represent the consensus position among the most enlightened thinkers.
Roger Taney, for example, found perpetual slavery so expedient as to assert that its beneficiaries included those who were enslaved. James says we must live today by what truth we can get today, and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood. If the proposition that all men are created equal is detached from its roots in hoary notions like human nature, then we may anticipate moving onward and upward to a superior understanding, one which would hold that some men are not created equal. Bell , which held that a Virginia statute requiring the compulsory sterilization of the intellectually disabled did not violate their constitutional rights.
Those movements are hard to understood, however, if we view them as animated by the belief that human equality was true only insofar as it was expedient. In that case, the various social movements Hartman celebrates were naively or cynically invoking principles of justice while actually engaged in the pursuit of power.
The rhetoric about the nation becoming fairer was window dressing to help a particular demographic group become stronger. And since the right is only what is expedient, any and all who found the prospect of additional advantages for previously marginalized groups inexpedient would qualify as faithful anti-foundationalists when opposing, by any means necessary, the social movements Hartman applauds. I disagree with Andrew Hartman more than with Joseph Bottum, so I can respond to the latter quasi-concisely.
His account of how capitalism, democracy, and Protestantism checked and balanced one another, to the benefit of the republic, is highly persuasive:. Democracy grants some participation in national identity, an outlet for the anxious desire of citizens to take part in history, but it always leans toward vulgarity and shortsightedness. Capitalism gives us other freedoms and outlets for ambition, but it, too, always threatens to topple over, eroding the virtues it needed for its own flourishing. Meanwhile, religion provides meaning and narrative, a channel for the hunger of human beings to reach beyond the vanities of the world, but it tilts, in turn, toward hegemony and conformity.
Through most of American history, these three legs of democracy, capitalism, and religion accommodated one another and, at the same time, pushed hard against one another. Anxious carefully assesses the social gospel put forward a century ago. But was the weakness of the three-legged stool a possibility built into it? Democracy or, more generally, the spirit of equality and capitalism or, more generally, the spirit of liberty are always locked in a tense, complicated relationship. A third force that tempers each, and tempers their competition, is highly desirable.
For the French Revolution it was fraternity. But not sturdy enough, Bottum makes clear. We could respond by trying to hold the republic together while waiting for the next Great Awakening, or by seeing if a two-legged stool can be rendered unexpectedly stable. Perhaps liberty and equality proved so strong that any religion would have been unable to moderate or withstand them.
If that particular third leg was both indispensable and irreplaceable, then the American experiment will not succeed and cannot survive.
Arriving at that conclusion requires patriots to think about what should come next, and how the transition to it can be kept minimally traumatic. This should not be the sort of consumer society promoted by U. The false ideal of human life promoted by capitalist affluence of the rich at the expense of the majority is one of individualism, lack of solidarity with others, ethno- centrism and racism, the idolatry of the nation-state, and the exploita- tion of others. In this society the social should predominate over the political, building communitarian relations which overcome excessive inequalities.
Such societies are neither that of capitalism individualist consumerism nor of Marxist collectivism, but forms of democratic socialism that build solidarity and mutual help.
Politically these would be societies freed from all forms of international imperialism and dependency, and in control of their own resources. These societies would also cultivate popular culture, and they would be both more contemplative and more communicative. The new humanity of such societies would be one that cultivated relations of love and solidarity with others, with special concern for those still left out or marginalized. While Ellacuria did not expect such societ- ies to appear in perfected form in history, they should become the social ideal, the ideal toward which societies should aspire and seek to build by continual practical steps Ellacuria, g Her parents entertained the typical hopes of immigrant parents for marriages to successful men of their own ethnic backgrounds for their three daugh- ters.
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But Gebara was attracted to study and repelled by these social hopes of her parents. At the age of twenty-two, having graduated from the University of Sao Paulo in philosophy, Gebara decided to join the religious order of Notre Dame, Canoneses of St. Gebara joined this order seeking liberation from the demands of her family and a place where she could cultivate her desires for study and for work for social justice.
But she was also deeply affected by the strong opposition of her parents to this decision. Thus early she experienced her own desires for liberation set in conflict with those she loved Gebara, In the s Gebara studied philosophy and religious studies at Louvain University in Belgium, receiving a Ph. She taught for six- teen years in the Theological Institute in Recife, Brazil, which prepared pastoral leaders through a liberation methodology that required immer- sion in the daily life of the poor.
In the eighties Gebara began to read feminist theory and theology of Europe and North America, overcoming the claims of her male colleagues that feminist thought was irrelevant for Latin Americans. She increasingly realized that feminism did not simply add an additional oppressed subject to liberation theology, but challenged the whole paradigm of classical Christian theology based on hierarchical dualisms of mind over body, spirit over matter, identi- fied with male over female.
Her male colleagues, who had accepted her when she taught from male books and with a male approach to theol- ogy, became uncomfortable with her as she began to ask these radically new questions Gebara, ; b In when the progressive bishop, Helder Camera, who spon- sored the Theological Institute in Recife, retired, the new conserva- tive bishop closed the institute and fired its faculty. Gebara lost this regular employment, but also realized that her ability to work in this setting had come to an end.
She took up residence in a slum neighbor- hood in Camaragible in northern Brazil, working with poor women and children. At the same time she also began to travel for lectures and short courses to the United States, Canada, and Europe. In she fell into a conflict with the Brazilian hierarchy and the Vatican, after Catholicism — 29 an interview was published in the popular magazine VEJA in which she supported the legalization of abortion based on her experience of the sufferings of poor women with many pregnancies that they could not afford.
While not directly approving abortion, she suggested that it could be a lesser of evils in such hardship cases. The church, she believed, should be more tolerant of the needs of poor women in such cases. She returned to her old university of Louvain where she did a second Ph. She continues to work closely with this group and to shape her own ecofeminist theological reflection in books and articles. In an interview in Gebara traced the development of feminist theology in Latin America in the previous twenty years We discovered our oppression in the Bible, in theology, in our churches.
We began to discover the submerged femi- nine expressions for God in the Bible. Women were thought of as having distinct, perhaps even superior, moral insights and ways of being, compared to men. Gebara sees herself and some others as pioneering a third and more radical stage in feminist theology. All the hierarchical dualisms that have shaped cosmology, epistemology, and ethics need to be overcome. Gebara sees all theologies, including feminist theologies, as aris- ing from distinct contexts and needing to own these contexts, speak- ing both within and yet not limited to their particularities.
Theology serves a need to dismantle the false universalities of white male West- ern elites, and yet it also points from each of our particular contexts to what connects us all, as humans who are earth creatures and members of one cosmos. She speaks as a privileged Bra z ilian woman who is white, educated, and middle-class, but one who has chosen to identify with the poorest Brazilians of the Northeast who are mostly mixtures of blacks, whites, and indigenous. Today one is often overwhelmed with the sheer pervasiveness of systemic and particular evils.
By contrast, goodness often seems very occa- sional and fragile. The northeast of Brazil where Gebara has chosen to live and work is a region of violent contrasts of wealth and poverty shaped by cen- turies of colonialism and now by capitalism. There are the few with great power, while the majority are powerless; the few with vast land- holding and wealth, the many poor and landless.
The noise of her neighborhood is both the noise pollution of a dysfunctional modern industrialism, such as cars and trucks without mufflers, and the noisy responses of the poor who dwell in this area, the loud radios and quarreling voices of those living in crowded condi- tions. The garbage is the waste discarded by the poor who lack proper sanitation. For Gebara, women are coming to theological voice at a unique time when history is irrupting in their lives and they are becoming aware of being historical agents, ft is also a time when the histori- cal systems of domination built by humans over millennia, both in the church and in society, with their religious and philosophical jus- tifications, are coming apart and revealing themselves as unjust and destructive.
Women theologians must dare to see through the succes- sive layers of distortion that justify this oppressive system in our the- ologies and sciences and to reflect critically on our inherited symbols in the context of our real questions from our everyday experiences. Christian women must overcome the timidity and feelings of guilt in which they have been socialized by patriarchal culture. But, for Gebara, these relations go beyond the human; they include our relations with nature, with plants and animals, air, water, and earth, and with the cosmos as a total context for all rela- tions.
We ourselves, as the thinking part of the universe, are imagining and creating systems of interpretation. For Gebara, God is that which sustains all of life and is the source of our ever renewed hopes in the midst of disappointment. And it is always we as humans who are inter- preting this reality which sustains our life and hope.
Gebara has particularly focused on the Trinity in her work of deconstructing and reconstructing Christian symbols Rather the Trinity is a symbolic expression of the basic dynamic of life itself as a process of vital interrelational creativity. Life as interrelational creativity exists on every level of reality. As cosmos it reveals itself as the whole process of cosmic unfolding and interrelating of planets and galaxies.
As earth it shows itself as the dynamic interrelational process of life unfolding in the biosphere. We must overcome the tendencies to set up one kind of difference as the universal and best and make all the others inferior. Rather we need to celebrate all of this diversity of human plurality of race and culture, affirming their mutuality with each other in one human earth community.
Interper- sonal society and each person herself exists in a dynamic of creativ- ity, plurality, and interdependency, of diversity and communion. This dynamic of life in vital interrelationality is the meaning of goodness and beauty. But, for Gebara, this also raises the question of evil. What are the roots of evil and how is it reproduced? For Gebara, the nature of the life process is intrinsically limited and fragile. Life is reproduced in a process of both pain and joy, of birth and death and new birth b; Evil in the sense of tragedy is a natural part of life and inseparable from it.
But humans are also threatened by this tragedy of finitude, these oppositions of diversity, life, and death. Women, other races, other cultures, and the earth itself are then made into victims Catholicism — 33 of this urge to control and secure life by one group, who are then able to secure power and uniformity against difference, vulnerability, and death. Women particularly have been victimized because as birth- givers they are imagined to represent the vulnerability of the life pro- cess in its threatening power and difference from men.
Thereby they reduce women, other racial and ethnic groups, and the earth to subjugation and exploitation. In this way the dynamic interrelationship of differ- ences is distorted into extreme imbalances of power and powerless- ness, domination and violation, wealth and poverty b We live at a time when this system of distortion has reached a crisis point, threatening to destroy planetary life itself.
Such distorted rela- tionships of power and subjugation are the meanings of evil in the sense of sin; i. Humans need to struggle to overcome this destructive evil, for the sake of both interhuman justice and the defense of life. For Gebara, religion plays an ambiguous role in this construction of a system of evil, in the sense of sin.
Most religions have justified this urge to control and dominate by the powerful. The idea of a pow- erful invulnerable patriarchal God reflects this desire of elite men to control life immortally and to escape death. The powerless, on the other hand, create countermyths of great Saviors who will defeat the oppressors by righteous violence and bring about a permanent state of bliss without death. Such messianic countermyths, including the utopias promoted by some spokesmen of liberation theology, tend to reproduce the system of violence.
The Jews produced messianic hopes to counteract the oppres- sion they suffered from the great empires of the Mediterranean world, but they did so in a way that enshrined violence and revenge. Jesus, Gebara believes, was a different kind of prophetic figure who sought to break through this reproduction of the cycle of violence. While tak- ing the side of the victims, he also called the privileged to join with the poor in a community of mutual service and celebration. The domi- nant system of both political power and religious privilege rejected his message and sought to silence him by killing him.
His followers, however, also betrayed him by turning his vision of shared community 34 — Rosemary Radford Ruether into a new warrior Savior myth upon whom a new system of imperial power could be built Gebara, b For Gebara, feminist theology should reject absolutes of all kinds. Feminist theologians should imagine neither a paradise of the begin- ning when there was no death or vulnerability, nor a paradise of the future when there will be no more death or vulnerability.
We all need to withdraw from these projections and come to terms with the frag- ile and ambiguous nature of life always mixed with pain and death. Rather than seeking to flee to a future Reign of God freed from all evil, we need to learn to share with each other our fragile good and vulner- able joys and sorrows in a way that is truly mutual.
This does not mean accepting the system of oppression as it is; we need to do what we can in our limited ways to dismantle the great systems of domination and exploitation, but not with the illusion that all pain and finitude will thereby disappear. Rather, to lessen unjust imbalances of power is at the same time to accept those limits of life which are always fraught with tragedy, as well as with joy and renewed hope.
We can then recognize that the fragile fruit of the tree of life is indeed lovely and good for discernment. We can eat this fruit with relish, making it a part of our bodies and hearts. This is the real and possible redemption of life on earth. But it is real and possible only when we put aside the impossible redemptions of final conquest of all limits in a realm of immortal life untouched by sorrow, vulnerability, and finitude. This difference is partly due to new situations in Latin America where poverty and violence are no less threatening, but experienced as more global and faceless.
Yet with all their differences there are many similarities between them. Both are voices that need to be probed deeply and respectfully in the ongoing quest for a life-giving theology and community. Crucial for the understand- ing of any liberation theology is that, unlike most other forms of theol- ogy, liberation theologies do not have their beginnings with great ideas developed in the academy or in the mind or on the desk of one or the other great theological thinker.
Liberation theologies are linked to movements of liberation and to the theological questions that arise out of the struggles of these movements; key questions in these struggles concern how God and the communities of faith relate to the oppressed. Viewing liberation theology from a broader perspective that includes other religions and other Christian denominations will therefore lead to a more appropriate understanding of the phenomenon.
In this chap- ter, we wih look at Protestant contributions and developments. In fact, these different liberation theologies emerged at the same time and independently of each other. African American liberation theology, resisting oppression along the lines of race, was in the making at the same time.
James Cone, an African American theologian in the United States related to the African Methodist Epis- copal tradition, hit upon the notion of liberation theology in his own context and began to use the term in his publications. At their first international meeting in the United States, Latin American theologians challenged feminist and African American theologians in the United States with neglecting matters of economics and class, feminist theologians chal- lenged male liberation theologians with neglecting the important mat- ters of gender, and African American theologians challenged everyone else with neglecting the issues of race.
If liberation theology did not develop out of one center, as a great idea or a unified theological school that made its way from the top down, it represents a new way of doing theology that is richer and more interesting than much of what otherwise goes on in the field. Protestantism — 37 The View from the Underside Modern theology, especially in its Protestant forms, has generated a new openness for the context of theological reflection, beginning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Rather than thinking about God in Godself, modern theology self-consciously seeks to explore God in relation to humanity, to the world, to history, and to the major events of the time. In contrast, liberation theologies investigate how God relates to the large parts of humanity on whose backs the success stories of the modern world are built but who are rarely acknowledged by those in power. Here, new theological questions emerge. How does God relate to those parts of the world which are exploited and subdued? How does God relate not only to dominant history that is recorded in the history books but also to the histories of the excluded, the histories of minorities, of women, of workers, and of people living in pov- erty?
Rather than searching for the correspondence between God and the often rehearsed achievements of modernity, an approach which has usually led to the sanctification of the status quo in one way or another, liberation theologies are concerned about the ruptures and breaks and the forms of sin manifested in them.
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Without addressing how God differs from the powers that be and without addressing the reality of sin, no real change will take place. Although in this con- text the most fundamental question is not whether liberation theolo- gies are Protestant or Roman Catholic, and perhaps not even whether they are Christian or non-Christian, the different traditions and reli- gions have contributed their own insights to liberation theology.
Even though most of the authors discussed below do not parade their denominational identity as Protestants — often this information is not even given in their publications and the reader has to guess — several 38 — Joerg Rieger key elements of Protestant Christianity can be observed in different shapes and forms. For instance, these authors share the basic insight of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century that reform is an ongoing process and can never be finished ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda est.
Protestant liberation theologians deal with the church and its tradition in a critical and self-critical fashion. This critique of the church often involves an emphasis on the sovereignty of God, who challenges not only the world but also the church. In this spirit, the view from the underside is tied to a new awareness of God as it develops in particular situations of oppression and suffering.
In Latin America, for instance, liberation theologies emerged in close encounters with the reality of widespread unemployment and poverty and with the systemic causes of economic oppression. Theo- logically, it was understood that those structures of economic injustice which maintain and even enlarge the gap between rich and poor are not just part of a social crisis but are part of a theological crisis as well because they separate us not only from our neighbors but also from God. Together with their Roman Catholic colleagues, Protestant liberation theologians like Rubem Alves in Brazil a Presbyterian and Jose Miguez Bonino in Argentina a Methodist came to realize in the late s and early s that large systemic structures of eco- nomic injustice cannot be corrected by well-meaning efforts of either charity or economic development; as Protestants, they later went on to develop specific insights into how the Protestant traditions had become part of these overarching problems, exploring how Protes- tantism might contribute to liberation.
Economically, things have gotten worse, not better, for many people in Latin America, and so the task of liberation theology is far from being concluded. In a completely different setting, African American theologians in the United States realized that long after slavery was abolished their people were still not free.
Even well-meaning efforts to become color- blind are no longer an option in a situation where oppression is inex- tricably related to the color line; neglecting the differences of race Protestantism — 39 will only make things worse. In this situation, black theology drew, among other things, on the Christian religious traditions of the slaves, such as the spirituals and gospel music, which were tied in their own ways to Protestant expressions of the Christian faith.
Hopkins an American Baptist. Feminist theologians, liberation theologians in their own right, have reminded us of the ongoing discrepancy between the place of men and women in church and society. Well-meaning efforts to integrate women into the world created by men will not change this situation. One of the pioneers in the Protestant camp, Letty M. Wom- anist and mujerista theologians — women writing from the perspective of African American and Hispanic communities some prefer the self- classification Latina feminist — have subsequently developed feminist analysis further, adding the unsettling experiences of close encounters with issues of race and class, since minority women often suffer from various forms of oppression.
Mirroring the demographic profile of those communities in the United States, womanist theologians such as Delores Williams a Presbyterian tend to be Protestant and the major- ity of Latina feminist and mujerista theologians are Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, there are a number of Protestant Latina feminist theolo- gians as well, including Daisy L. Machado Disciples of Christ and Loida I. Martell-Otero American Baptist.
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In the United States, they point out, Hispanic Americans are often marginal- ized on grounds of different cultural practices and racial difference. The standard North American image of the melting pot leaves no room 40 — Joerg Rieger for appreciating difference. In response, Hispanic Protestant theolo- gians have stressed the validity of a diverse set of Hispanic experi- ences and cultures and have shown how these perspectives from the margins contribute to a broader understanding of Christianity, God, and the world, promoting community in diversity.
The liberating power of God will become manifest when the barriers between the sacred and the profane are transcended from the underside of Asian life. The various options of liberation theologies for the margins and the excluded demonstrate the ongoing development of Christian tradition. God and the Option for the Excluded All liberation theologies maintain deliberate options for people at the margins.
Unfortunately, it has often been overlooked that this and other preferential options are inextricably related to the theological heritage of the church. Thus, we need to take a closer look at the following questions: What is the basis of such options? What motivates theologians to go against the grain of church and society and opt for those who are commonly overlooked by the powers that be? And, does a preferential option for people at the margins comply Protestantism — 41 with our commonsense understanding of fairness?
Does an option for people at the margins mean that liberation theologies have nothing to say for those who are not marginalized? In response to the first set of questions it must be pointed out that all liberation theologians agree in their own ways that opting for the poor and excluded is based on particular understandings of the nature and work of God. To be sure, such options are not primarily based on political or ideological assumptions or on pragmatic assessments but on theological reflection.
Here we are at the very heart of the various theologies of liberation. The point of departure of liberation theology is not primarily social ethics like for instance the moral appeal not to forget those who are neglected or general political or economic assumptions about the common good; the point of departure and the very heart of the enterprise is a new vision of God.
While Roman Catholics and Protestants agree on this issue, the Protestant emphasis on the work of God more so than on the church seems to have led to an even more pronounced emphasis on the role of God. Not debating that the term orthopraxis might be helpful in other contexts such as Latin America, Herzog never uses the term in his own North American Protestant setting since it would send the wrong message.
In this vision the marginalized have a special place. From a liberation perspective the question of the existence of God has always been of lesser interest than the ques- tion of who God is and what God is doing. The feminist experience of God, not unlike the experience of God in most liberation theologies, grows out of encounters with God in the tensions of life and in new encounters with God that include those who have been marginalized in society and church.
Unlike private property owners, people in situations of severe pressure do not own the resources to overcome their problems; the power to make a differ- ence comes to them from the outside, from Godself. In agreement with other approaches to theology of liberation, His- panic theology maintains that the fundamental theological question Protestantism — 43 is what God we affirm. Once again, the role of God is central in the process of liberation — and Protestant liberation theologians point to the many passages in the Bible where God is at work, particularly with those who live in situations where the pressure is greatest.
In light of this intense focus on God in Protestant liberation the- ologies, the problem with the second set of questions above becomes clearer and thus the response can be brief. In the encounter with God and those who suffer, abstract notions of fairness will no longer do. God is not a machine which distributes goods and services according 44 — Joerg Rieger to predetermined input; rather, God establishes particular relationships with humanity.
Even where humans hurt each other and push large groups of people into oblivion, as has happened many times in history, God does not abandon those who get hurt but draws them into special relationships. But the relationship takes on different forms. In addition, since the powerful tend to defy relationship with people who are different, their own relationships with God are easily distorted.
In this situation efforts to restore relationships with the marginalized might help those in power to find a way back into a more productive communion with God as well. Liberation theology thus challenges all of theology to examine whether it opens up the worth of other persons. Respect for God as Other is closely connected with respect for others. Postmodemity, to name only one example, is presenting us with new challenges.
The plural- ism and multiculturalism of a postmodern culture, for instance, while indeed creating some space for those who are different, paradoxically also tends to further render invisible those on the margins. Likewise, contemporary efforts to support the less fortunate often end up using them for their own purposes and ultimately exploiting them. Even though powerful organizations like the International Monetary Lund and the World Bank now claim their own options for the poor, power hardly shifts to the poor; and control remains rooted firmly in the hands of the traditional leadership group.
The contemporary task of liberation theology is to identify these power differentials and to address them in ways that lead to alternative dis- tributions of power. Since the problems addressed by liberation theologies are not limited to individual denominations, strong webs of solidarity have crossed denominational lines. In Latin America, for instance, both Protestants and Roman Catholics have collaborated in the work of liberation theology. In the United States, both Roman Catholics and Protestants have collaborated in black and Hispanic the- ologies; likewise, both Catholics and Protestants have collaborated in feminist theologies.
Ecumenical collaboration — the kind of thing that has often been tedious and time-consuming for mainline theologies and churches — has come naturally and organically in many of these projects.
Freedom Not Yet: Liberation and the Next World Order (New Slant: Religion Politics Ontology)
This might well be taken as an encouraging sign that theol- ogy from below is in a position to lead us beyond the special interest formations of the colonial histories of the modern world that have often affected denominational interests as well. Nevertheless, denominational identity remains part of the strug- gle — depending in part on the context of the struggling groups and their theological resources, and in part on the challenges to be addressed.
One such challenge can be found in the contemporary manifestations of empire promoted by the administration of George W. Bush, as it self-consciously promotes what it considers to be Evangelical values. As a result, in the United States, Protestant theologians have been at the forefront of the critique of empire. Kwok Pui-lan, an Episcopalian theologian from Hong Kong who teaches in the United States, has called attention to the mostly hidden 46 — Joerg Rieger colonial heritage of modern theology as a whole; Kwok thus develops a project that seeks to decolonize Christianity and provides alterna- tives inspired by feminist traditions.
Tinker Lutheran have rewritten Christian theology from a Native American perspective that brings together the classical loci of theology such as the doctrines of God, Jesus Christ, and salvation with Native Ameri- can faith expressions. In this way, they have provided an alternative to the still prevalent — albeit often in unreflected fashion — colonial approaches to theology.
That this challenge is seen at times even in the midst of the worlds of the oppressors is a powerful witness to the fact that liberation theologies should never be considered the special inter- est theologies of the oppressed and marginalized alone. Ulrich Duch- row, a German Lutheran theologian, has noted one of the key issues of Protestant liberation theology: oppression is not merely a social issue but an issue that is at the heart of the very faith of the church.
The World Alliance of Presbyterian Churches has addressed the need for liberation as a matter of a status confessionis, i. In this perspective, liberation theologies are seen as little more than Protestantism — 47 an ever expanding set of special interest theologies, at best relevant to specific groups of people, at worst just another outgrowth of the postmodern proliferation of pluralism and relativism. Liberation theologies thus are seen as catering primarily to the interest of specific groups of different ethnic, gender, or class origins: African Americans, Hispanics, women, poor people, gays and lesbians, and those who feel the need to advocate for them, now each can have their very own theology.
This view tends to give permission for the rest of theology to go on with business as usual: why not have theologies for middle-class white people, for suburban congregations, or for mem- bers of country clubs as well? This sort of diversity, however, has little to do with the dynamics that created the theologies of liberation.
Their themes were developed not in relation to the special and limited interests of self-contained groups but in connection to the kind of deep suffering and pain that cannot be limited to specific groups and that has nothing to do with special interest. While most strongly felt at the margins and the periph- eries, the deep suffering and pain expressed in liberation theologies also affects the centers; once this is clear, liberation theologies can no longer be written off as special interest.
Just the opposite: libera- tion theologies seek to understand the deep roots of the common pre- dicaments in which both the marginalized and those in power share, without neglecting the obvious differences. Unlike the various perspectives of privilege which feel they can afford to tend exclusively to their own context, the view from the underside of suffering always reflects the whole body. Ultimately suffering cannot be limited to one member alone.
Liberation theolo- gies thus search for the best interests of all, seeking the liberation of both oppressors and oppressed by paying attention to where the pain is greatest. If this is seen, the rest of theology can no longer continue with business as usual. All of theology needs to join efforts in listening to manifestations of the common pain.
Liberation theologies are therefore not special interest theologies but address the common good from new angles, which now include the underside of history and new visions of God. In this perspective the context of theology is not what is immediately obvious or clos- est to home; as 1 have stated elsewhere, context is that which hurts 48 — Joerg Rieger Rieger, a: In taking another look at the underside of history, liberation theologies are able to notice certain aspects of real- ity that conventional contextual theologies and of course those the- ologies that fail to address matters of context will never see.
This does not mean that conventional contextual theologies are completely unaware of suffering, pain, and structures of oppression. But they tend to see those structures as exceptions, anomalies, merely deviations from the normal course of things. Liberation theologies, on the other hand, understand that suffering, pain, and oppression are not merely accidental but point to a deeper truth about the dominant context itself. Conflicts and tensions do not appear out of nowhere but are produced by the powers that be, and as such point to their unconscious truth which must be constantly repressed in order to preserve the way things are Rieger, b The true nature of the contextual reality of the underside is not immediately self-evident, surprisingly not even to those who live there.
It takes some effort to understand that reality, and to find out what is really going on. Gutierrez has insisted with good reason that even the poor might make the option for the poor. Otherwise they too will miss the deeper implications of their own reality. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, liberation theologies need to add more lay- ers to their current understanding of context in terms of the underside of history.
What are the concerns of people on the underside now? What progress has been made in the last thirty years? What are the setbacks? What difference do globalization processes make? There is a certain degree of consensus among liberation theologians that eco- nomic challenges will have to be analyzed more closely in relation to all forms of oppression. Despite claims to uni- versality, the approaches developed in the centers of theology shape up as special interest theologies if they pay no attention to the deeper malaise which affects us all, oppressors and oppressed alike.
We need to realize that, rather than addressing the special interests of one group only, the suffering of people at the margins points to an important part of reality in which, even though often repressed and made invisible, we all participate. Liberation theologies are therefore not special inter- est theologies but pose a challenge to all of theology. Protestantism — 49 Implications At this point the process of theological reflection changes profoundly. Theology as a whole benefits from listening more closely to voices on the underside. Theology is freed from its long-term captivity to the context of the modern middle class and from traditionalist appeals to the biblical and traditional texts of the church that forget about the suf- fering and pain of people on the underside.
Liberation theologies serve as a reminder that theology cannot escape the pervasive narcissism of the modern and postmodern worlds without developing genuine respect for God, a project inextricably tied up with developing genu- ine respect for other persons as well. Theology indeed begins with the relationship of God, humanity, and the world, as modern Protestant theology has taught us so well.
But this relationship needs to be broadened so as to include those who are left out, those who fall through the cracks in a world that prides itself on moving closer together in global connectedness. Liberation theologies thus serve as an invitation to search for new encounters with God in places where theologians and church people hardly bother to look — Protestant liberation theologies face particular challenges in this regard, due to the history of modern Protestant theology.
At a time when theology is becoming more and more a matter of life and death — the poor become poorer, the rich become richer, and thirty thousand children are dying every day from preventable causes — new relationships with God and with humanity need to be built, from the bottom up. Where is God? This question will only make a difference if it no longer avoids the reality of dying children. Published: 2nd December In the biblical narrative, the Published: 24th November An argument, based in Christian theology and critical social theory, that money is the religion of the contemporary world: economic valuation has trumped moral evaluation Published: 22nd June