Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gustavo Gutierrez: We Drink from Our Own Wells

Let's get one thing straight right away: I think liberation theology is great and feel very strongly that all theology needs to be contextual to be relevant. That said, this book didn't do much for me. There are several reasons for this. I am familiar with most of the ideas central to liberation theology, so there were few "new ideas" here. More importantly this really is "spirituality of Latin America". It s not even supposed to be particularly relevant for me.

This is not criticism then, but rather an effort to clarify the major differences between the Latin American outlook of Gutierrez and my North European outlook.

Of course, poverty is a rather abstract thing for me. There is very little poverty in Finland, because we still have a great social security system. It is being torn down as we speak, but still extreme poverty is not something you encounter here. This means that I can agree in principle that God has a preference for the poor, it is not something that has much existential meaning for me.

This does not mean that all is well in the Republic of Finland, because the solution to poverty is not more money, but liberation. People in Finland, too, needs liberation, but not so much from poverty as from the tyranny of the accepted opinion, as one might call it. Sure, people in Finland are free to express their opinion (if they have one), and to live their life in any way (within reasonable limits), but most people still live a rather destructive life, destructive not only for the environment (only USA and some other country (was it Australia?) produce more CO2 per capita than Finland) but also for their own souls.

In a way - and I do not say this to in any way downplay the atrocity of extreme poverty - we are little better off, because most Finns have no idea they are oppressed, because we are oppressed by a system so efficient that it has made itself nearly invisible. Why use violence when there is television? Still, we are forced to live a life centered of producing value for the system, by working way more than is healthy and to put any creativity we still have after what is commonly called education to the service of that same system. What this means is that there is way too little joy in our lives, way too little beauty. Instead of joy we have entertainment.

Surely this is a situation where salvation is deeply needed.

Another thing that is difficult for me with Gutierrez book is that is so much a spirituality of a people. I just cannot relate to that. Here again our situation is so different. If they are a people oppressed by an elite, then we are oppressed in part by the idea of being a people. Nationalism is still strong in Finland, as in the rest of Europe, and it seems to be even worse in the US where it is called patriotism. Nationalism is clearly the most destructive idea in the history of mankind (only religion comes close in the amount of blood shed), and even though we have few wars today in this corner of the world, people still argue with this completely abstract notion of the nation as a basis. For example, we hear people argue that "we" must work so that "all Finns" will have a better life. How about all humans? All lifeforms? Why draw any line based on who belongs to this made up concept the Finnish nation? Well, of course the reason is to make it OK to exploit the others, ow wage war against them if need (such as high petrol prices) arises.

I really like how Gutierrez lifts up death as the central symbol for evil, in part replacing for example sin, that is always transformed into some abstract form of spiritual aids. Death is real; it is there. We can be made aware how poverty (in their case) or compliancy (in our) is death. You do not live when you're working 14 hours a day, be it because you have to to put food on your family's table or because a bigger car seems to be a good idea. That is death. From that we need salvation.

Gutierrez is in this book also concerned with dispelling the idea that liberation theology is merely thinly veiled Marxism. Of course it is not. I doubt anyone who believes that has read this far, but if this is the case, do read the book. For the rest of us, we need to keep on working on a liberation theology of our own.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Another Excuse for not Posting

This time the bass is even audible. Slightly loud in fact.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Theology Blogs reaches 100 listed blogs

My other blog, Theology Blogs now lists 100 blogs that deal with theology. Not bad, huh? I bet there are some that you have missed!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Elizabeth A. Johnson: She Who Is

Johnson's book was the only one written by a woman that featured in the list of the fifteen most important books of the last 25 years. That's just sad. I hope it says more about who writes and reads theology blogs than about what is really the state of theology today. At least in my own field, the study of Early Christian Asceticism, there are lot's of great female scholars. In fact, from the top of my head I could probably mention more female scholars of note than male.

In any case, this just makes a book like Johnson's all the more important. The book tries to sum up the main insights of the first few decades of feminist theology in a systematic manner. Of course it cannot be complete, it focuses mostly on theology and Christology, and does not treat for example ecclesiology or the ministry. This has the clear advantage that she can avoid much disputed areas and that what she says is applicable in any church regardless of confession.

Johnson presents the case for the need of a feminist theology very convincingly and in a manner I think most people would find reasonable. There are still people out there who think feminism is dangerous (it is, but not in the way they think!), but Johnson writes in a way that is more likely to convince than anger.

I had a fair knowledge of feminist theology prior to reading the book, but I still learned a thing or two of great importance. For example, I was not aware of how sentimental my image of the symbol "Mother" actually was. I guess many a reader would be surprised at the multitude of female symbols for God found in the Bible. But more important is that I have tended to see the value if feminist discourse in theology mostly as criticism: the necessary pointing out of a deeply rooted problem in the Christian tradition. While Johnson does present this criticism, she spends more time in showing in what ways womens perspective actually helps moving the theological discussion forward. Particularly in the area of Christology I found many inspiring insights.

In conclusion, this book should be mandatory reading for all theologians. It (or another one like it) should be on every curriculum. It clears up so many misconceptions and brings home so many significant insights. It is not the best theology I've ready, but it may be among the most important.

Friday, May 04, 2007

One year, 25 000 visits

Yes, this blog is one year old (and two days). Appropriately enough, today visitor number 25,000 found her or his way here.

Also, there is a new blog of the month over at Theology Blogs. A personal favourite of mine, I might add.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Naomi Klein on Wolfowitz

I signed some internet petition to sack Paul Wolfowitz today, because they guy stands for everything I am against.

Naomi Klein has better arguements:

The more serious lie at the center of the controversy is the implication that the World Bank was an institution with impeccable ethical credentials--until, according to forty-two former Bank executives, its credibility was "fatally compromised" by Wolfowitz. (Many American liberals have seized on this fairy tale, addicted to the fleeting rush that comes from forcing neocons to resign.) The truth is that the bank's credibility was fatally compromised when it forced school fees on students in Ghana in exchange for a loan; when it demanded that Tanzania privatize its water system; when it made telecom privatization a condition of aid for Hurricane Mitch; when it demanded labor "flexibility" in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami in Sri Lanka; when it pushed for eliminating food subsidies in post-invasion Iraq. Ecuadoreans care little about Wolfowitz's girlfriend; more pressing is that in 2005, the Bank withheld a promised $100 million after the country dared to spend a portion of its oil revenues on health and education. Some antipoverty organization.

Tillich Review

In the recently published issue of the Princeton Theological Review there is a review I wrote on Theology at the End of Culture by Russell Re Manning. It is a book about Paul Tillich's theology of art, and gave me a reason to take a look at this aspect of Tillich's theology. It eventually resulted in my series on "Paul Tillich's theology of Indie Rock".

There are lots of other blogger invovled in the same issue, for a full list check out this post over at Disruptive Grace.