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Friday, September 6, 2013

Christianity: Force for Liberation

  photo TheologyLiberation_zps7e7e7172.jpg
 Liberation Theology Cross from Latin America

This morning the comment section was visited by a Frederik Froth who seems to beleive the atheist propaganda that Chrstianity can only be repressive.


Frederick Froth said...
Then of course there were the old style traditionalist Christian true believers who were very enthusiastic about Hitler and how he was prepared to deal with the Jews and anyone with whom he disagreed - all the genuine free-thinkers and non-conformists.
www.nobeliefs.com/nazis.htm

Plus why not check out what the catholic Croats did to the Serbs,
the Jews and almost everyone who was not a catholic and/or refused to "convert". All done with the nudge-nudge wink-wink approval and "blessing" of the vatican and the then pope. And how Anton Pavelic and his murderous hench-men were given safe refuge in the vatican and thence safe passage to South America - so too with many other nazi war criminals.
He seems also to buy into the propaganda that Hitler was a Chrsitain and that Nazism is somehow in tune with Christianity. While I must admit, shamefully, that a good many Christian minds these days have been brain washed by the right wing, history shows us that Christianity has also been a powerful force for liberation.


Modern atheist "wisdom" leads our atheist counterparts to contend that religion is dark and evil; God is a big meanie, and they try to stick Christianity with every social ill one can imagine, from cold breakfast to nuclear war. Some of their favorites include slavery, war, social oppression. These are suppossedly condoned in the Bible. What these great thinkers and paradigms of social insight have missed is the fact that Christianity has always been a major force for liberation and social reform. This has been true since Moses led the Israelites out of Slavery in Egypt (this became a powerful metaphor for slaves in America). In the early centuries of Christianity Christians such as Olympia, Deaconess of Constantinople spent their family fortunes to buy slaves so they could free them; they would rescue abandoned infants form under bridges (the ancient world's version of modern day abortion clinics). We know that the civil rights movement was largely motivated by the Bible. Civil rights workers tapped into an old tradition, very much at the core of the abolition movement, that found the Bible not a source of oppression but of encouragement and liberation. They did not call the major Civil rights organization "The Southern Christian Leadership Conference" for nothing! The major figure in the Civil Rights movement was not a minister for nothing. The link between the Bible and liberation goes way back, in the history of liberalism (first abolition group in America, Pheobe Palmer and the Methodist Woman's Association--same people did the first Women's Suffrage group in America) but also in the history of American social justice. But have we forgotten the Baragan brothers? Christianity and the Bible were a big influence upon the anti-war movement in the 60s as well. In fact we can find historically that Christianity has influenced and led to reform, revolution, and radical movements throughout history.


  photo walterrauschenbusch_zps9fdab00f.jpg
 Walter Rauschenbusch: Social Gospel
Theologian who avidly supported labor movement
early 20th century New York.

From Joachim of Flora and his thirteenth century revolt of the poor, to sixteenth century peasant revolts in south Germany, to the folks at Lo Chambo (who hid Jews from the Nazis and some of them died doing that--where Camus stayed when the wrote his great novel Le Peste--but I'm sure Avaols would find that of no intrinsic value, being literature and all.) The Ranters, the Levelers, The Diggers, the Quakers --all were revolutionaries or social activists inspired by the bible. Read he Journal of John Woolman to see how this major voice in the early abolition movement was inspired by the Bible. Also consult William Wilburforce, and the abolitionists of the early nineteenth century as well.

Avalos's arguments are themselves totally irrelevant, because he ignores liberation theology as though it doesn't exist. I was a seminary student and (if I do say so myself) a very active political activist in the Central America Solidarity Movement of the 80s. I can tell you liberation theology was a major movement of the day, and the Bible was a source of its inspiration. Liberation historians demonstrate that the Christian left is very old, and it has been involved in every movement in every time period including the beginning of Imperial Christianity, when Olympia the Deaconess gave away her family fortune to free slaves (Constantinople of the 300s). Most people begin to date liberation theology with the radical priests of the `60s. If they know the history of the modern movement, they begin with CLAMB and Christians for Socialism in the `50s. If they are really historically minded, they start with A Theology for the Social Gospel, by Walter Rauschenbusch. But, Rauschenbusch, while he could be viewed as a forerunner, and while he called himself a "Christian Socialist," may really represent the end of an older tradition of Christians in the labor movement of the late 19th century (his work was written in 1917). Those who came before him, in the labor movement, represent a vast movement of religiously minded reformers with antecedents in the Second Great Awakening, much of which Hudson documents. (Winthrop S. Hudson, Religion In America: A Historical Account of the Development of American Religious Life. Second ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1965, 1973, 310-315.). Enrique Dussel uncovers a long history, far more indepth than we have time for here.





  photo camilo-torres.jpg

Father Camilo Torres Restrepo was a Colombian socialist, 
Roman Catholic priest, 
a predecessor of liberation theology and a member of the 
National Liberation Army guerrilla organisation. 1966 Wikipedia

The point is that the "religious left", including all forms of Christian socialism, and left-leaning social reformers, is very old and represents a whole world unto itself. It is well worth learning, and demonstrates the irony and tragedy of the current climate in the academy, a climate in which academics would rather feed their urge to bash religion rather than create a dialogue with thinkers who have access to a vast tradition they themselves know little about. (History and the Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1976). Another excellent source is Smith's book on revivalism (Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War. Baltimore, London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957, 129-80.)

While many conservative readers of the CADRE may feel that they have another side to the issues of the Central America movement, one thing we can both agree upon, weather for good or ill: a large part of the support given the FSLN (National Sandinist Liberation Front--the "Frente", the dreaded "Sandinistas") and those who took part as Nicaraguans in that movement, drew their inspiration from their Christian faith.

For a strong sense of the crucial nature of religion to the struggle in Latin America see Penny Lernoux's book, (Penny Lernoux, Cry of The People. Penguin Books, 1982. 29-30). Let us remember priests such as Father Camillio Torres, who was the first priest, but not the last, to take up arms in the struggle. He died in Colombia in 1966. His example sparked much interest in liberation movements throughout Latin America. For a look at religious involvement in the Nicaraguan revolution in particular, see Margaret Randal, Sandino's Daughters: Testimonies of Nicaraguan Women in Struggle. (Vancouver, Toronto: New Star books, 1981.) The example of Thomas Borge in Nicaragua, the FSLN Minster of Interior, is awe-inspiring in that he confronted the torturer who tortured him and killed his wife. He forgave the man and let him live because Borge had become a Christian and read in the Bible to turn the other cheek and forgive. Nothing is more touching than the letter he wrote to Father Ernesto Cardinal about his new found faith. Borge was the leader of the FSLN, the "Sandinistas" in Nicaragua. He was one of the first to help start the Sandinista party. Some might argue that his commitment to religious belief was mere propaganda; but, while he was yet a guerrilla on the run in the mountains, he sent for a priest (Ernesto Cardinal, later to become a member of the Sandinista party). He wished to discuss religion with the priest. The simple note he sent is one of the most moving documents of the Latin American struggle.

"I knew a God who joyfully rang the church bells and dressed up when General Somoza visited León... a God who forgave the heavy sins of the rich... I slew that God without mercy within my conscience. It would seem, however, that God does not wish to die. In the jungles of Colombia there has been a new Bethlehem. Camilio Torres told us before dying, or perhaps told us in dying. Father I await you..."

The priest made his way through the mountains to talk with the revolutionary, and the Nicaraguan revolution kicked in the womb. (Andrew Reding, Christianity and Revolution: Tomás Borge's Theology of Life. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1987.) Liberation Theology was spreading to South Korea and all of Asia as the Berlin wall came down. (see James H. Cone, Minjung Theology: People as the Subjects of History. ed. by the Commission on Theological Concerns of the Christian Conference of Asia. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1981)

I have no problem with finding more scholars to read more ancient texts that are now being ignored. The study of the Bible is not forcing anyone away form such study. Dr. Avalos himself could have chosen to spend his time studying these texts--then we would be enlightened by his brilliant scholarship!

People are ignorant of the Bible; we need more scholars to teach it. Ignoring the Bible is not the answer. The Bible is not all there is to the Christian tradition. Christianity is a living tradition, with many sources, not the least of which is one's own inner life. The inner life consists of prayer, but also intellectual understanding, literacy, and not just how to read the labels of aspirin bottles but an understanding that there is a world of letters. I cannot abide academics who hate the world of letters. This is the essence of the one-dimensionalizing tendencies of atheism and reductionism that the PC crowd have taken up--and Avalos is their spokesperson. They want to further one-dimensionality at the expense of Western culture. The Bible is at the heart of Western culture. Avalos wants to persuade us that Biblical values are ancient-world and thus foreign to us, but they are the heart of our culture. All of our modern values are the grandchildren of Biblical values. Democracy; autonomy; selfhood; the individual; basic human rights; humane treatment of the poor; worker's rights; even modern science--it all comes out of the Christian tradition.

Arnold J. Toynbee observed that Christianity freed humans from the cyclical understanding of time. Christianity made “history” in the modern sense possible. Ancient paganism, the texts with which Avalos wants to replace Biblical studies, would not have allowed us progress in history, or even a modern concept of history at all; they were focused upon the eternal return of the god/goddess from winter to spring. The same things over and over again. But Jesus died and rose once for all, and then we venture forward in time toward an eschatological horizon. There will be no end of history. History will continually sublate itself until the final and once for all return of Christ.

We can make progress. But we can only make progress if we remember who we are and where we came from. We cannot abandon the inner, the world of books and letters, our ability to think, faith in God, or our understanding of culture as it was and as it will be. This makes the Bible far more relevant than anything, and it means that people with Ph.D's in Biblical studies have an awesome responsibility: a responsibility to promote the world of letters, not to abort it. One is called to teach, not to persuade the student to give up learning. We need to learn more about the Bible. We need to talk up the Bible, we need to educate people on it, and we need to help students develop their own little worlds lined with books so they can understand the interrelationship between the Bible and the culture. I fear this is something for which many of our modern teachers are not equipped.


Notes on Sources


1 Matthew L. Lamb, Solidarity with Victims: Toward a Theology of Social Transformation. New York: Crossroad, 1982, 122.

 2 Barry Katz, Marcuse and The Art of Liberation: An Intellectual Biography.Verso, 1982, 200.

 3 A. Daniel Frankforter, A History of The Christian Movement: The Development of Christian Institutions. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1978, 170. See Also, Karl Marx and Frederick Engles,The Communist Manifesto . New York: International Publishers Co. inc. 1948, 1984 ed. 33. Granted, Marx didn't think much of "Christian Socialism" in the middle ages, which he called ":Feudal Socialism." "Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist tinge. Has not Christianity declaimed against private property...? Christian socialism is but the Holy Water with which the priest consecrates the heart burnings of the aristocrat." Granted, history was waiting for Marx to come and introduce true socialism. But, the socialism of the middle ages was more diverse than that. It existed in the monasteries as a monastic form, along side early capitalism, but it also existed among the peasants and in revolutionary form. And there were thinkers, such as Joachim of Flora who led a peasant revolt to bring on the end of times.

4 Enrique Dussel, History and the Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll New York: Orbis books, 1976. Dussel uncovers a long history, far more indepth than we have time for here. The point being, the "religious left," including all forms of Christian socialism, and left leaning social reformers, is very old and represents a whole world unto itself. It is well worth learning, and demonstrates the irony and tragedy of the current climate in the academy, a climate in which academics would rather feed their urge to bash religion rather than create a dialogue with thinkers who have access to a vast tradition they themselves know little about.

 5 Winthrop S. Hudson, Religion In America: A Historical Account of the Development of American Religious Life. Second ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1965, 1973, 310-315. Most people begin to date liberation theology with the radical priests of the `60s. If they know the history of the modern movement, they begin with CLAMB and Christians for socialism in the `50s. If they are really historically minded, they start with A Theology for the Social Gospel , by Walter Rauschenbusch. But, Rauschenbusch, while he could be viewed as a forerunner, and while he called himself a "Christian Socialist," may really represent the end of an older tradition of Christians in the labor movement of the late 19th century (his work was written in 1917). Those who came before him, int he labor movement, represent a vast movement of religiously minded reformers with antecedents in the second great awakening, much of which Hudson documents.


6 Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War. Baltimore, London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957, 12980.

 7 Penny Lernoux, Cry of The People. Penguin Books, 1982. 29-30. Torres was the first priest , but not the last, to take up arms in the struggle. He died in Colombia in 1966. His example sparked much interest in liberation movements throughout Latin America.

 8 Andrew Reding, Christianity and Revolution: Tomás Borge's Theology of Life.Marknoll, New York: Orbis books, 1987. Borge was the leader of the FSLN, the "Sandinistas" in Nicaragua. He was one of the first to help start the Sandinista party. Some might argue that his commitment to religious belief was mere propaganda, but , while he was yet a gorilla on the run in the mountains, he sent for a priest (Ernesto Cardenal, latter to become a member of the Sandinista party). He wished to discuss religion with the priest. The simple note he sent is one of the most moving documents of the Latin American struggle. "I knew a God who joyfully rang the church bells and dressed up when General Somoza visited León..a God who forgave the heavy sins of the rich...I slew that God without mercy within my conscience. It would seem, however, that God does not wish to die. In the jungles of Colombia there has been a new Bethlehem. Camilio Torres told us before dying, or perhaps told us in dying." The priest made his way through the mountains to talk with the revolutionary, and the Nicaraguan revolution kicked in the womb.

9 For a strong sense of the crucial nature of religion to the struggle in Latin America see Penny Lernoux's book, op. cit. For a look at religious involvement in the Nicaraguan revolution in particular, see Margaret Randal, Sandino's Daughters: Testimonies of Nicaraguan Women in Struggle. Vancouver, Toronto: New Star books, 1981.

10 James H. Cone, Minjung Theology: People as the Subjects of History. ed. by the Commission on Theological Concerns of the Christian Conference of Asia. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis books, 1981. Minjung means "mass of the people," as in "a great crowd." It is a theology specific to South Korea, where they are not allowed to use the term "the people" because the government fears the spread of Maoism. But, this is one example of a liberating style theology spreading over Asia.

see also Hitler was not a Christian

11 comments:

JBsptfn said...

I agree with what you said about the Bible, and needing more good scholars to teach it who research it in the original languages and who rightly divide it.

We really haven't had that, and as a result, we have had too much fundamentalism. Here is an example:

http://www.christianpost.com/news/gay-advocates-get-wish-as-christian-bakers-who-refused-to-bake-cake-for-lesbian-couple-forced-to-close-shop-103610/

(BTW, how do you turn a long link into a single word or short phrase)

yonose said...

Meta,

Long time no see, I´m a colombian guy. This article somehow touches me (by this time, you will know this is a tantrum).

Unfortunately, it is not the same nowadays. What was known as the National Liberation Army or ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, spanish) is almost inexistent, and took the same lead as the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, spanish), whose people became themselves into a violent, dogmatic organization devoid of their primary principles. No difference at all when comparing them with Paramilitary criminals (rastrojos, aguilas negras), among many of their actions.

Colombia's history is very well known for the constant bipartisan war between liberals and conservatives, coming from at least two centuries apart.

But actual "liberalism", as I said, is no longer the same, it is more like its postmodernist type (I'm not an expert, it is just how do I perceive it, may I be correct or not).

Communism, anarchism and politically correct vegetarianism (veganism) are the trifecta of the extremist left-leaning people here (I'm a "centrist"), still influenced by Marxist dogma (not the dialectical type, but the "Engelian" one, the communist manifesto). And a strong atheistic characterization is among many, if not most, of them.

Many people who lean to the extreme left here scream Camilo Torres' name so mindlessly, It really makes me sad (almost to the point of crying) how they do not accomplish his words by their own groupthink worldview, ignorance and violence. Now it is just mere politics and atheistic self-righteousness (a la New Atheism).

Just take a look about this blog, Meta, to see what I mean:

http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/

It's in spanish, so I'll post another link for a translate to the english language here:

http://www.skepticink.com/avant-garde/

If you have some time, take a look and let me know what do you think.

I'm somehow glad you've put this issue in point. Accurate and consistent.

This beautiful country needs such a long and internal conflict to end!! At least it is much safer to go through, and stay within major cities!!

Kind Regards, you made my day.

Metacrock said...

Yonose, I appreciate your comments. Thanks for posting. I agree with what you say. you know the history of region much better than I do. Maybe Torres was wrong even in his day, he did resort to violence. My point is merely that one can't conclude reasonably that Christianity always means support for the rich and powerful and right wing politics.

I was not trying to say that group Torres joined had it all on straight. Things change, especially politics. Politics is ultimately dirty.

Christianity can be a force for liberation, it's not always issuing in right wing power seeking oppression of the poor.

Metacrock said...

1966 was a long time ago. btw have we met before?

Metacrock said...

Interesting points JB

your link here

Metacrock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Metacrock said...

How to make short link from long URL

I'm going to do it using parenthesis so you can understand how it's done but it really uses greater than/lesser than which you see illustrated at the bottom.

(a href="URL goes here")your text here(/a)

the part that says your text here can be made as long or short as you like.

yonose said...

Meta,

I have posted in this blog quite a long time ago, it is just that I don't do it very frequently, but it is a routine of mine, of visiting your blog frequently :P

Maybe the latest port of mine was in your post here

My English is not perfect, and I'm not as old as to be born by that time but, the consequences are quite telling over here and still palatable. There's no reason to think that such worldviews would lead to any liberation, politically speaking, by today's standards. Heck, did it even got past the decade before becoming so reactionary and ultimately violent? (in the same way as zealot conservatives did?)

Anyway, the reason of your argument, as mentioned before, is quite accurate and still correctly contextualized. Your mention about politics getting dirty is also a sadly true observation.

Kind Regards.

Metacrock said...

Yonose, welcome back!

As I say I use him merely as an indication of how far from right wing it can get. That doesn't mean he represents all of liberation theology, he does not.

I appreciate your views.

I know it can be hard. I was in the central America solidarity movement. Listening to our guys I believed the Sandinistas were angels and the contras were devils.

Then at a protest I met a guy who claimed to have been a contra (in the Nicaragua struggle). He was just passing by, so he said, and had to speak out against us.

He told of how his brother had been murdered by the Sandinista. No not the "good guys?" I had to face facts, "good guys" do bad things sometimes. Maybe there are no real good guys in politics?

It's a clearly a mistake to makes saints of one political faction and devils of the other.

yonose said...

Meta,

My area of expertise is electronics engineering (nothing to do with), but theological, sociological and other "hard science" (just for sake of distinction, science is science) studies (chemistry, physics) are also part of my interests.

In retrospect, I humbly believe that there's still a whole lot more to do. Politics is a thorny issue I tend to go away from because of the sake of it's concept and applications. The consequences are not doing well worldwide.

What you have shown once again, is that religious teachings shouldn't be so quickly associated with any fixed political scope, and for the sake of it, a fixed political worldview. My apologies for ignoring the main reason of your post.

What is still not clear to me, is why there are still too many atheists and agnostics who fall on the trap of attributing political concepts to religions as if they could just be seen from such perspectives.

I just wonder, by my own ignorance, how people in social sciences (I mean in general, don't know specifics) deal with such things.

Kind Regards.

Metacrock said...

Yonose,

Yes I think the problem is God is on the side of the poor, but when we start identifying God with our social project we begin to feel like we speak for God. St. Augustine was right when he said no temporal social project or orbiter of temporal power can ever claim to be the city of God.