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Revolting Theology October 29, 2007

Posted by Andy in theology.
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I get depressed when I hear radical theologians. It’s not that I think they’re fundamentally wrong, or want to criticise their anger and frustration. I just get depressed at how very few ways of thinking they can resort to.

Now there are exceptions: there are really good theologians who have trained their thought to be nimble enough to respond to every challenge as it crops up. They do not get offended at criticism, but attempt to see its truth. They are not the ones I am talking about.

I say this because I helped out at a seminar last week with theologians that I can identify with. There were people there who were attempting forms of liberation theology: non-european theologians, feminist theologians, etc. And a number of them were angry.

Now, whatever the value of anger in doing theology, I have to take seriously what they were saying. Being a middle class white male academic, I am more often than not the target of liberation theologians. Fine. I have long been used to the attempt to become foreign to myself. My problem is that what was being said did not seem to me to have the power to change anything. Let me give two examples:

One feminist theologian said (expecting to meet with broad agreement) that we (the Lutheran Church of Norway) have to stop saying that our children were born with humanity’s sin and guilt, as the liturgy has it. Now I assume that this was objectionable because of the network of doctrines around original sin: the transfer of Eve’s original culpable choice through the fleshly act of sex. OK: however much I would want to tweek that a little and exonerate Augustine by telling the whole story, there are parts of the Christian tradition that embrace all those objectionable traits. But how is taking that bit of the liturgy out going to help? It’s just the Protestant assumption that reformation is easy: all you have to do is be brave. And if anyone wants to keep that part of the liturgy in (as I do), then they are called cowards or conservatives. There is no other way out.

The other example is of a South African man that wanted to get away from what he perceived as the Cartesian heritage of Europe by appealing to local non-European worldviews. And in doing so he blamed Western society, the Catholic church, and all sorts of others for having forcible introduced the cartesian worldview on Europe and then the colonies. Well, even granted that rather simplistic analysis (and I’m not entirely sure what part of the Cartesian corpus he was addressing: presumably substance dualism), what point is there in saying this? If he is wanting to liberate those not subject to this worldview, how is introducing a philosophical confusion going to help? He should leave well alone. If he wants to liberate those captivated by the cartesian worldview, then he has to elaborate an alternative to cartesianism – something he seemed unwilling to do, so focussed was he on cartesianism and hatred of the European tradition.

Both thinkers seemed hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the complex systems of thought, presuppositions, and utilitarianism in place in Western capitalism/patriarchalism. If either of them had taken even a little time to investigate their enemies, they might have found some sources of liberation: Augustine’s stubborn insistence on the God-given nature of sex, against his contemporaries; Descartes’ struggle to think differently than his culture through transforming his own adversaries’ practises of scepticism and method into a constructive system for scientific and personal progress.

I suppose what I miss is the element of struggle.

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Comments»

1. Emoboy - November 2, 2007
2. augustinian - November 2, 2007

Gosh, having seen that link maybe I shouldn’t worry too much about how good the feminist theology is, as long as they are working at it!

It is difficult to know what to do with someone who basically refers to one society’s ideals, calls them God’s ideals, and thinks that’s fine. The article referred to here is fairly explicit about it: we need to get back to our grandmother’s time, etc. It includes a stereotyped portrayal of today’s society (basically: an elucidation of things that worry me) and essentially tells the world that back then they didn’t have any problems.

I can only ask this kind of Christian to take courage: these people are not out to cheat on you, lie to you, or hurt you. Neither are modern feminists “slaves of passion”. They have serious things to say about the world, and male dominated Christianity needs to listen.

Failing to do so may lead us to miss the voice of God. Prophets were never easy people to live with, and usually they seem to have been considered immoral by many.


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