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Bonhoeffer

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…