"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Illusion that Power can Produce What the Heart Desires

The illusion that prevents the acceptance of liberation theology is that spirituality involves turning away from this world to another world where we will one day make our home. God has already given us our home. It surrounds us on all sides. In the conventional view of Christianity the things of this world are of little value or moment because they are destined shortly to be transcended by altogether different reality in which our eternal destiny will be realized. Therefore, good spiritual practice means to regard material reality lightly, as a symbol of the spiritual realities where we will one day find our true home.

But the question liberation theology asks is: "Are there actually two realities, one spiritual and the other material, between which we must conduct a careful balancing act?" Or is there perhaps a single reality within which the totality of our destiny must be played out? The theology which labels itself "liberationist" and which I believe forms the basis of a new reformation of the Christian faith, answers that there is a single reality which is spiritual and material at the same time.

What has worked most powerfully against the acceptance of liberation theology by today's Christians is one of the most sophisticated systems of manufactured consent ever created. This manufactured consent, well-analyzed by Noam Chomsky among others, consists of a corporate-controlled media that carefully frames every issue to support corporate interests. It creates a system of mutually reinforcing messages that define the frameworks within which all issues can be debated. It inculcates the illusion of freedom of debate in order to more effectively constrain the terms of the debate. Points of view such as liberation theology are mysteriously excluded from the dialogue.

Of course, recent trends in Christian theology have also served to exclude anti-capitalist viewpoints. But these trends did not arise in an economic and political vacuum. So dangerous is the viewpoint of liberation theology to the dominant classes in the U.S. that its language has been made incomprehensible to those whose minds have been formed by neoliberal ideology. In fact, the dominant religion in the U.S. is the fetishism of commodities, a form of idolatry that most Christian communities have embraced and branded with a set of Christian themes.

But is not the very purpose of religion to tear us away from the things of this world so that we can rest in the love of God? It depends on what we mean by "love of God". "The spirit of Yahweh is the spirit of interhuman justice-definitive, total justice. Luke describes such justice in this way: "The whole group of believers had one heart and one soul, and no one called his own anything that he had; rather they held everything in common' (Acts 4:32)." (Miranda, Marx and the Bible). Note that love of God is described in economic terms - shared ownership, the end of individual possession, and sharing of talents are the key elements which express the disciples' living out of the resurrection of Jesus, as is made explicit in the following verse, "With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." (Acts 4:33). "For faith in the resurrection of Jesus reveals that salvation stands not for accumulation of wealth, but for the formation of human communities where all people are acknowledged, irrespective of wealth and other social characteristics." Jung Mo Sung, "Desire, Market, and Religion", p. 25.

The love of God and living out the resurrection by the Apostles was located particularly in the sharing of material possessions, which was regarded as a sign of the Kingdom of God. In their eyes, the life of God was expressed in the community of goods, the unity of individual and community that formed the basic social unit of the kingdom. They never considered the abandonment of the material world as a requirement of the kingdom of God, which would forever be found in this world of inextricably intermeshed spiritual and material reality.


Mark Van Steenwyk said...

May I republish this thought-provoking piece on JesusManifesto.com? If you are open to it, please email me at mark [at] missio-dei.com.

Jason Barr said...

I came across this at Jesus Manifesto and have to say I liked it very much. I have bookmarked your site and look forward to reading more from you. :-)

Boyd said...

Thanks much, Jason. You are welcome and your feedback very much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you could clarify what you mean by "one reality", and how this differs from the traditional Christion world view, particularly with regards to the afrterlife.

Boyd said...

Conventional Christian theology makes a sharp distinction between material reality and spiritual reality, usually in such a way as to minimize the importance of the material and put exclusive emphasis on the spiritual side. One common effect of this is to abandon the struggle for justice in this world with the idea that only heaven matters and that this world is only a testing ground for the future purely spiritual reality. This concept has no basis in Scripture or in the teachings of Jesus, who like the Jews of his day saw a single material and spiritual reality. Heaven does not exist in some purely spiritual realm that we will find only when we die. It is right here and now when we struggle for justice and against the oppression of the weak. That's what I mean by "one reality".