Archive for January, 2011


January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

I just finished watching a 90 minute documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer released in 2004. Although I can’t say whether the theological nuances of Bonhoeffer were respected (other than Discipleship, what I know of Bonhoeffer is second hand), I thought the movie was superb. It received very nice reviews and I would highly recommend it (it is available on the Netflix “watch now” for those who are interested). The documentary does a great job placing Bonhoeffer in his time and it is filled with reflections from contemporary theologians and friends/students of Bonhoeffer. There were many powerful moments throughout the film but the very last scene draws everything together so well. Eberhard Bethge reads from a now famous letter Bonhoeffer sent to him on July 21, 1944 after a plot to kill Hitler had failed. Many have probably read these words before but I’ll post them anyway (they are famous for a reason!):

I discovered later, and I am still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes, and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings but those of God and the world. That, I think, is faith.

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Scapegoating and Idealization

January 29, 2011 15 comments

Another fascinating bit from Daly’s Beyond God the Father is her analysis of the relation between scapegoating and idealization, both of which are instrumental to the subjection of women in Christianity. During her chapter on the idea of the Fall, she insists that the role of women as scapegoats for evil’s entrance into the world be taken seriously. Besides obviously shoring up male superiority, it also mystifies the nature of evil—and so distorts the way we try to combat it.

She builds on this in her chapter on Christology by tying it into the way Jesus functions as a very different kind of scapegoat: Jesus is a scapegoat who is also a model for our behavior. This complicates things. Daly definitely does not believe, in a Girardian way, that because Jesus is both a scapegoat and a model, scapegoating is somehow put to an end. It’s just that the scapegoating becomes more complicated and difficult to see.

What happens is that as a model, Jesus is split in two. On the one side, Jesus’ ideal qualities as a victim—“sacrificial love, passive acceptance of suffering, humility, meekness, etc.” (77)—are ascribed especially to women. Of course, women already are victims, and insisting on these virtues only reinforces their place on the sexual hierarchy. But what’s more, because these are now impossibly idealized, women can never be “good” enough to match up to them. (This is solidified by the fact that the ideal woman, Mary, is seen as literally inimitable–both in her virgin motherhood and in her sinlessness.) “Thus doomed to failure even in emulating the Victim, women are plunged more deeply into victimization” (ibid.). On the other side, the power embodied in Jesus’ victimhood—represented by the ritual offer of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist—remains available, but is left solely in the hands of men.

Far from negating the role of women as scapegoats, the image of Jesus as the ideal scapegoat redoubles their subjection under the mystifying veil of their valorization. Women are asked to play the part of the self-sacrificial savior, but simultaneously, in their inevitable failure to measure up, are shown to be all the more in need of salvation—which they will again have to seek at the hands of men.

I think this is an extremely perceptive and troubling analysis. At the very least, Daly is giving me more concrete reasons to doubt that simple appeals to Jesus’ “feminism” or his identification with the oppressed are adequate indexes of the political meaning of those who make those appeals. She is certainly strengthening my conviction that the recent obsession with the celebration of the Eucharist as the one decisive political act is profoundly misguided, or at least very often naïve. Most unsettlingly, she’s convincing me that the fact of Jesus’ maleness poses a more difficult problem than I’ve usually been willing to admit.

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Mary Daly’s historicized analogia entis

January 28, 2011 4 comments

I’m in the middle of Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father, which is far more straightforwardly compelling than her reputation had led me to expect. One of the things I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing is how she ties together, far better than most, ontology, spirituality, and historical progress—though it’s almost impossible to resist putting scare quotes around all three of those terms, since she’s working so hard, and largely succeeding, to put all of them into a new semantic field.

I’ll just give the one example, since it’s likely to be of some interest to the blogosphere, of her surprising appeal to the analogia entis. (It comes in the middle of another surprising claim—that the self-expression of woman-consciousness toward God might, in some sense, have more in common with medieval than with modern theology.) She calls hers a living analogy of being, and says that “the particular aspect of our existence from which we are enabled to draw the analogy is the courage that is experienced in the liberation process” (36).

The idea she’s been developing up to this point is that the whole movement of liberation begins with the experience of or confrontation with nothingness, known under patriarchy by women above all, which is then rejected as the woman steps instead decisively, courageously into being. So the whole process is conceived within an ontological frame. Moving into being involves a transformation of consciousness and also an active opposition to the external structures of patriarchy. And all three of these elements—the movement toward Being, the transformation of consciousness, and the dismantling of patriarchy—are bound together in such a way that you can’t move forward in one without moving forward in the others.

When she invokes the analogia entis, she is beginning to explain how an analogous structure is attributable to Be-ing itself—one of her shorthands for referring to God as a Verb. Be-ing asserts itself precisely over nothing, over nothingness. The experience of courage is a kind of sacrament (though Daly certainly does not use this language) of the self-assertion of Be-ing over non-being. “The unfolding of woman-consciousness is an intimation of [or, she’ll also say, participation in] the endless unfolding of God” (36).

An Observation on Liberation Theology and Judgment

January 28, 2011 2 comments

Liberation theologians in general and Jon Sobrino in particular do not hesitate to use harsh condemnation when they see forces which oppose the rights and welfare of the poor and vulnerable. These people and structures are part of the “anti-Kingdom,” opposing the God of life by supporting idols of death (capitalism, national security, etc.). Sobrino’s writings always have a prophetic ring: the civilization of wealth is killing the poor and we must fight to uncover the truth and oppose this injustice with everything we can. Yet, it is important to note how Sobrino’s conceives of his project. He distinguishes between personal, social, historical, and transcendent salvation. In the book No Salvation outside the Poor, he says (and I think this is consistent with the majority of his writings), “here we will concentrate on the historical-social salvation of a gravely ill society” (57). This passage is key to understanding why his use of “salvation” in the rest of the text is indeed partial but not reductionistic.

What I want to point out here is the the way in which prophetic judgment on those who oppress the poor (and thus crucify Christ) functions. Just as much as salvation, judgment seems to remain on the historical-social level. We have many prophetic warnings about how the rich and powerful are actively opposing the will of God and God’s Kingdom. There is a striving for liberation that demands such condemnation. Nevertheless, it is striking how modern this move is in how it limits such warnings. This is clear when we read Bartolomé de Las Casas. In Las Casas we have anticipations of many impulses within liberation theology from someone deeply rooted in the biblical text and genuinely open to the suffering of the oppressed. Yet his warning go much further. One passage will suffice: interpreting Matthew 25 by recalling a question from Augustine he says, “If someone is damned to hellfire by Christ saying to him or her, ‘I was naked and you did not clothe me,’ to what hellfire will they be damned to whom He says, ‘I was clothed and you stripped me” (quoted in Gutiérrez, Las Casas 64). This passage is typical of Las Casas’ prophetic critique of the Spaniards and the socio-economic order they created. No wonder they didn’t like him! Here we have an intimate connection between the social-historical and the personal-transcendent, which brings out there seriousness of the social-historical all the more. I do not know where the line is between scare tactics and proclaiming the truth of what is really going on, but I find something utterly biblical, compelling, and unsettling in Las Casas’ words. The prophetic denunciation of people and and nations which oppress the poor goes all the way down – in oppressing the poor we reject God. As with most of us today I am no fan of fire-and-brimstone preaching (I’ll take Balthasar’s talk of universal hope any day), but if were going to have it I’ll take Las Casas.

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Robert Gates Coming to Notre Dame

January 27, 2011 2 comments

Notre Dame just announced the commencement speaker for this year: Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Although Gates has had a career in education (at Texas A&M) he is obviously known primarily from his work in the CIA and the Pentagon. Somehow I don’t think that inviting the man who is in charge of the extensive military complex in the U.S. and is integrally involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will raise much protest. Of course, he is part of the Obama administration…

Jon Sobrino: Where to Start?

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

There are a number of good places to start for understanding the work of Jon Sobrino. Chronologically, his Christology at the Crossroads, Spirituality of Liberation, and The True Church and the Poor all come in the late 70’s to mid 80’s.  Most people probably begin with his two volume Christology, Jesucristo liberador. Lectura histórico-teológica de Jesús de Nazaret (English: Jesus the Liberator) (1991) and La fe en Jesucristo: ensayo desde las víctimas (English: Christ the Liberator) (1999). Another very helpful volume is his collection of essays The Principle of Mercy: Taking the Crucified People from the Cross (1992). The introduction and first two chapters of this book on the principle of mercy and theology in a suffering world are an excellent place to start in Sobrino’s corpus.

These are all important works (not to mention others such as Witnesses to the Kingdom and Where is God?). However, if you want to get a sense of what Sobrino is up to or want a quick refresher, I would highly recommend his small (128 pages plus notes) book No Salvation Outside the Poor: Prophetic-Utopian Essays (2007). This passionate, challenging, and provocative book is a collection of important essays from the last decade. There is a certain amount of repetition due to the nature of such a collection but not too much. I don’t want to write a full review of the book here so let me just point out a number of its strong points:

  • The influence of Ignacio Ellacuría and Archbishop Romero are clear throughout. These two figures have shaped Sobrino’s thought in fundamental ways and this is apparent in most of the essays . The volume opens immediately with reflections from Ellacuría in the prologue and first chapter. It concludes with a powerful reflection on Ellacuría’s own account of Romero’s life and death. Romero is ever-present in Sobrino’s works but I would be hard-pressed to find a better place to turn than this final chapter and in particular the powerful section on Romero as a follower of Jesus (121-126).
  • Fundamental ideas developed over decades are presented clearly and concisely: The Kingdom of God, the anti-Kingdom, the God of Life vs. the idols of death, the “Crucified People” and the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh,” his expansive reading of martyrdom, salvation through the bearing of sin, the epistemological value of following Jesus, the need to be “honest with the real,” resurrection as the raising up of the victims, the call to live as risen beings in history, etc. These themes are developed more thoroughly elsewhere (e.g. the last two are the center of Christ the Liberator) but nowhere else so succinctly.
  • Special mention should be made of his nuanced account of the option for the poor in chapter 2: along with an account of the diversity among the “poor,” he develops a vision of the option as fundamental, theological, dialectical, partial, prophetic, utopian, political, and merciful; he argues for positive and humanizing values found among the poor but I also found a stronger recognition of the ambiguity within the world of the poor than in earlier works.
  • Sobrino continues the more detailed criticism of the First World found in Where is God? with critiques of capitalism, globalization, and the U.S. This is clearest in the first 10-15 pages of the third chapter (from which we get the title of the book: “Extra Pauperes Nulla Salus: A Short Utopian-Prophetic Essay”) but is present throughout.

The passionate, prophetic side of Sobrino’s thought permeate these essays.  New readers of Sobrino should be able to follow what he is doing and those familiar with his thought will find earlier work reiterated and sometimes developed in interesting ways. Ironically Christology is not as central in this book in comparison to the rest of Sobrino’s corpus. Nevertheless, given the way in which Christology, anthropology, methodology, and his theology of martyrdom mutually shape one another, the reader should leave with enough of a sense of his Christology as well. No Salvation Outside the Poor challenges the reader to re-envision what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ today in a world of scandalous inequality and suffering and offers a great introduction to the thought of Sobrino and key themes in Latin American liberation theology more broadly.

* There are not many secondary sources out there on Sobrino. Luckily, in 2008 an outstanding collection of essays were published: Hope and Solidarity: Jon Sobrino’s Challenge to Christian Theology. This volume also has the added benefit of coming out after the 2007 Vatican notification on Sobrino’s works and many of the essays engage the questions raised by Rome.

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Ethics in Blogging

January 24, 2011 11 comments

I just saw over at F&T that Bruce McCormack is giving a series of lectures on atonement theology in Edinburgh over the next couple weeks. More detailed summaries can be found over at Via  Crucis.

This reminded me of a question that came up in the fall for us here at memoria dei and I have wondered about since. When is it proper to report the content of a talk/class in the blogosphere? We provided a fairly detailed account of J. Kameron Carter’s excellent talk here at Notre Dame. Last week Andrew posted a nice summary of Enrique Dussel’s talk up in Chicago. Over at WIT their first post started with a point made by Carter during a more informal conversation with graduate students the morning after his lecture. A number of bloggers at Princeton have reported on the annual Warfield Lectures. It seems to me that this is one of the best functions of the blogosphere; public lectures now become much more available to the public. But it also raises some questions. Last fall we were specifically asked not to blog a on a public lecture since the person did not like their work summarized in the blogosphere (fearing misrepresentation). Although I think we could have posted a summary/reflection anyway (as a reporter-type at a public lecture), we respected that person’s wishes and did not do so.  When is it appropriate to post a detailed summary of a talk, particularly when it is much more detailed than one would find in a campus newspaper treatment of an event? What about a departmental colloquium, whether by a outside guest, a professor, or a fellow graduate student? What about a job talk? What about a class? Is it appropriate to post what a professor says in class (beyond “today in class we discussed x; here are my thoughts on the topic”)? What about posting on what one’s own students say in class? What about pointing to student blogs?

What are the lines for posts which report on these sorts of events? Obviously people may differ on what is appropriate or not. I think that a lecture that is clearly public in nature should be fair game as much to the student newspaper as it is to the blogger. Nevertheless, I also wonder about the ethics of a highly detailed summary if there is not prior consent from the presenter. Given that it is very easy to record such presentations, a summary could be a near exact replication of the paper – or what about simply putting up the audio? I doubt most people giving a conference paper, for example, would want their work in progress put out in that form.  This also reflects the larger question of what is “public” and whether making one’s work “public” means one is fine with it being “universally available.”

What do people think?

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