Thursday, April 08, 2010

Christianity: Force for Liberation

Photobucket
Father Camillio Tores
First Catholic priest to join
a communist insurgent group



Atheists only look at the negative. As Joseph Campbell said "cynicism appears as insight to the cowardly mind." Atheists are cowards and thus they mistake cynicism for insight. They are cowards because they are afraid to seek spirituality they afraid of the subjective, they are afraid to risk being wrong, most of all they are afraid of God. (by "them" and "they" understand the usual caveats). Rex (faithful loyal opponent) makes the charge that Christianity has augmented and fomented so much social evil. But of course atheists mine that data and ignore the good complete.

This was originally written for Hector Avelos when I was trying to persuade him to debate me formally. He never did.

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 iill one can imagine, from cold breakfast to nuclear way. 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.

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.

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.

8 comments:

Metacrock said...

great. good to hear from you, hope you enjoy it. thanks.

Kristen said...

Well written, my friend.

Metacrock said...

thanks Kristen

Loren said...

You might like The Idea of Progress

After the sack of Rome by Alaric's Goths in 410 AD, St. Augustine effectively demolished the myth of Roman supremacy, along with the whole idea of worldly progress, in his City of God.

Individual progress, yes, but not progress of society as a whole.

The Idea of Progress in its authentic (i.e., science-and-technology-based) modern form is essentially Bacon's own creation. It was he who first formulated and described in detail (in his early science-fiction fantasy The New Atlantis) an entire state dedicated to the investigation of nature and the development of new inventions. In many ways Bacon's "Salomon's House" (as the central facility on the mythical island-nation was called) became a model for England's Royal Academy and an effective blueprint for the modern research lab and technical institute.

Before that, the Romans had believed in progress from Rome being a small city-state to ruling an empire that ruled much of Europe and nearby Africa and Middle East. However, they believed that history was static once the Roman Empire was established.

Anonymous said...

What are the usual caveats about they and them?

Metacrock said...

usual caveats: if I don't say "I don't mean all atheists are good nice smart ones" then a bunch of the regulars will give me hell about "I'm not like that, I'm not like that!"

Metacrock said...

After the sack of Rome by Alaric's Goths in 410 AD, St. Augustine effectively demolished the myth of Roman supremacy, along with the whole idea of worldly progress, in his City of God.

Individual progress, yes, but not progress of society as a whole.


don't be silly. No one argues bout individual progress. no one disputes it no historian has theories about it. Why would the sack of Rome have any meaning for individual progress?

Eusebius was Constantine's PR man he put forth the myth that Rome was successful becuase so many in Rome were faithful to God, and become Rome became officially Christian. He started the idea latter picked up Calvin that worldly success is a sign of God's favor.


The Idea of Progress in its authentic (i.e., science-and-technology-based) modern form is essentially Bacon's own creation. It was he who first formulated and described in detail (in his early science-fiction fantasy The New Atlantis) an entire state dedicated to the investigation of nature and the development of new inventions.


great idea when are they gonna try it?


In many ways Bacon's "Salomon's House" (as the central facility on the mythical island-nation was called) became a model for England's Royal Academy and an effective blueprint for the modern research lab and technical institute.

If you believe that hog wash you are a thousand times more gullible than any fundie. Our society does not have a huge scientific industry in military, universities and private industry becuase they are dedicated to knowledge and want to learn pure scientific truth, if you swallowed that one you must have voted for Bush. they do all of that for the bread!

Before that, the Romans had believed in progress from Rome being a small city-state to ruling an empire that ruled much of Europe and nearby Africa and Middle East. However, they believed that history was static once the Roman Empire was established.

The Romans propegated the myth that they were civlication and everyone one else was a barbarian. incorporating others into the empire was for their own good, they were being civilized. modern scinece grown up using that same myth, as did American capitalism and American military, the Republicans, conservatives of all stripe, we fought the cold war on that premise they don't fund university scinece programs for the pure love of knowledge they fund them to be weapons manufacturers and to make money.

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