Per Caritatem

Faith and IdeologiesSilas Morgan brings us the sixth post in Percaritatem’s Liberation Theology Blog Series, which focuses on the work of Juan Luis Segundo. Morgan’s post will continue with a second post in which he engages Slavoj Zizek’s political-theological use of ideologue critique, highlighting continuities and discontinues between Zizek and Latin American liberation theology, as exemplified in Segundo’s position below.

Brief Academic Biography:

Silas Morgan is an Arthur J. Schmitt Fellow at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois. His research focuses on the relation of ideology to theology in political-theological perspective. He is also a section editor at Syndicate Theology.

***

In its original and classic variation, Latin American liberation theology (LALT) took its point of departure largely from Marxian social analysis, a matter that, although it is of historical and theological contention, continues to mark its sociopolitical and economic trajectory today.[1] This led early liberation thought to articulate a theopolitical partiality towards oppressed and marginalized communities of the poor, developed in relation to several grassroots social movements. This interpretation of the meaning of praxis within the immediate material conditions of Latin American life was theologically legitimated in various ways, most commonly through a political hermeneutic that relied heavily on Marxist principles.[2] The reception of Marxism, however, was uneven from the start, and became a major sticking point as Vatican leaders and other critics began their efforts to resist the growth of liberation theology in Latin American communities.[3]

One of the primary sites of this uneven reception and usage of Marxism by LALT is the concept of ideology critique. Even casual observers may note that ideology critique ought to be front and center of all liberation theological work. Fueling the Marxist critique of capitalism, specifically the bourgeois control over social relations and productive relations, ideology critique gives weight to liberation theology’s landmark characteristics: its prioritization of praxis, its suspicion of institutional and structural elements in contemporary society and politics, and finally, its desire to realize material conditions of freedom and responsibility for political subjects, notably the Latin American poor. And yet, the attention to ideology and ideology critique in LALT is absent and cursory at best.

One exception is the Uruguayan Jesuit Juan Luis Segundo. His explicitly methodological works, The Liberation of Theology[4]and Faith and Ideologies[5], discuss the relation of faith to ideology as a matter of serious theological and pragmatic import. Here, I hope to briefly overview Segundo’s position on ideology. In a subsequent post, I critique his position, contrasting it with major developments in the theory of ideology within critical theory, namely Slavoj Zizek, whose political theology has important continuities and discontinues with the Latin American liberation tradition.

What is ideology critique, according to Segundo, and what is its relation to the faithof liberation theology? Defining ideology critique is difficult, even for its proponents.[6] Raymond Guess discusses two major perspectives: (a) the negative and pejorative usage, exemplified in the narrow, critical Marxist definition, and (b) the positive and general usage, proffered by Paul Ricoeur.[7] Whereas for Marx ideology is the forceful use of distorted ideas that conceal the real workings of a system so as to directly benefit the interests of the powerful, Ricoeur sees ideology as an integrative force that binds a social group together around common values and goals.[8] It is a group’s collective opinion, its rhetorical performance of its positioning, “within”which a particular group thinks and acts: ideology is an integrative schematic for identity that it defines what membership and inclusion. It constitutes the social body as such.[9]

Where does Segundo fit in here? A major theme of the method outlined in the Liberation of Theology is a radical “reideologization”that seeks to properly link faith to ideology for liberative purposes.[10] He defines ideology as “all systems of means…that are used to attain some end or goal.”[11] But this strategy is not meant to liberate authentic Christian faith from the clutches of ideology, but rather to argue for its necessity. Ideology, according to Segundo, is neither false consciousness or illusion, nor is it solely a tool of class struggle. Ideology is the concrete means to achieve and actualize the basic system of goals and values, held by individuals and social groups alike.[12] Without ideology, any real action in history would be impossible.

And so, we see that Segundo aligns his position with the latter of the two views outlined above, although he does try to connect his work to the Marxist legacy by building this theology of liberation on a general philosophical anthropology.[13] Faith has a central place here, but again it is defined in more general terms as “the anthropological constant”whereby all human persons affix themselves to a core system of values and goals that governs both social agency and personal identity. ‘Religious faith’ is a type of an anthropological faith that, when paired to a specific ideology, like Marxism, can be morphed into a socially transformative force that can act in history towards particular goals, using ideology to accomplish itself.[14]

Faith is “the total process to which man submits, a process of learning in and through ideologies how to create the ideologies needed to handle new and unforeseen situations in history.”[15] As “a system of values and goals” that substantiate the content and motivation of all human action, faith is the psychological mechanism through which we adopt the meaning structures that generate the horizon of our action, it requires an ideological supplement in order to be efficacious in history and the social order. Ideology helps faith actualize its goals and to realize its values. For Segundo, like Ricoeur, ideologies are not false representations of the Real, but the instruments of faith’s effective actualization in history and society. When Segundo agrees with the Marxist axiom that that all religions are manifestations of ideology[16], he does not mean this pejoratively (as Marx does). It is not a normative-based critique of religion, but a description of how faith partners with ideological means to achieve its goals. A faith without ideology is dead; it cannot be actualized in history, and so cannot become a force for change. It is impractical and in this sense, rendered impotent. This, says Segundo, is part of the problem with western theology that liberation theology rectifies.

II.

What, then, is the relation of liberation theology to the critique of ideology? As such, Segundo contends that the goal of liberation theology vis-à-vis Christian faith is not to divest itself of ideology, but rather to clarify how best to leverage its ideology against others, and to deploy its theological resources of its faith to create and sustain new ideologies that are capable of competing against the ones that are tantamount to domination and exploitation.

The only way for a liberative Christian faith to realize itself effectively in history is through ideology. It is through ideological means that human social actors gather under a common rubric to achieve collective goals. The realization of these goals (‘Christianity’) is based on specific values (‘faith’), accomplish a set of effective means (‘ideology’). For Segundo, in contradistinction to Marx (and Gutierrez for that matter[17]), the goal of ideology critique is not to demolish or destruct ideology, but rather to understand it, to become more self-reflective about it in order to effectively challenge competing ideologies by creating alternatives. Within liberation theology, the aim of ideology critique is to think ideologically better. Put differently, it is to think ideologically in more self-informed way, so as to use ideology as a more generative and creative means of efficacy, of actualizing one’s values. If liberation theology seeks to generate radical and transformative social change, it must become more ideological, rather than less.

The ultimate aim of Segundo’s thinking on faith and ideology is to reconfigure their relationship in support of a Christianity that is socially and politically mediated, the goal of which is historically immanent: the concrete transformation of people’s lives through economic liberation. By uniting the values of the biblical gospels (faith) with its action-oriented dimensions (ideology), Segundo seeks to refashion theology as a critical social theory, with the theological commandment of neighborly love as its normative, ethical undercurrent. To do this, Segundo says, Christian faith must align itself with an ideology that is up to the task of efficaciously delivering this neighborly love into the Real.

With Segundo’s position firmly in view, my subsequent post will challenge Segundo’s ideology critique (or lack thereof), not on the basis that it is inadequately Marxist (as others have done), but on the ground that it is inadequately negative, and by that I mean, dialectical. To clarify this, I will turn briefly to Slavoj Zizek’s political-theological use of ideologue critique and outline some continuities and discontinues that I find between him and LALT, as exemplified in Segundo’s position here.

 Notes

[1] LALT’s relation to Marxism has been characterized in various ways: conceptual borrowing (which may or may not include political alliance), appropriation, and strategic common ground (i.e., critique of international economic development as the cause of exploitation and alienation). What is clear is that while there is not a strict adherence to Marxist categories, liberation theologians applied principles with a loose, almost ad hoc, flexibility. For some Vatican theologians, (such as the then Cardinal Ratzinger), even this goes too far, while for others (Alister Kee), it is far from adequate. For Kee, liberation theology is not Marxist enough. It must incorporate Marxism in radically self-reflexive way, rather than simply “baptizing”its theory so as to fit its peculiar theological concerns and political aims. See Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Instruction on Certain Aspects of Liberation Theology. (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 1984), andAlister Kee, Marx and the Failure of Liberation Theology. (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990).

[2] Michael Löwy, “Liberation-Theology Marxism”in Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism, Jacquet Bidet and Stathis Kouvelakis, ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 225. Here, Löwy gives the status of the question in reference to the Marxism of Liberation theology in Latin America, characterizes the type of usage as “‘neo-Marxists’- that is to say, as innovators who offer Marxism a new inflection or novel perspectives, or make original contributions to it.”(228) Examples include the concept of the poor, the critique of capitalism, and the affinity between idolatry critique and commodity fetishism. Unsurprisingly, absent here is the concept of ideology.

[3] Defending LALT from the Vatican critique that it was too aligned with Marxism, the Boff brothers argue that Marxism is only helpful for LATL when “submitted to the judgment of the poor and their cause.”Its relationship is one of a “decidedly critical stance.”Since Marx can be a “companion, but not a guide”, it is treated as an ‘instrument’and so liberation theologians “feel no obligation to social sciences for any use it may make, correct or otherwise, of Marxist terminology and ideas.”LALT “freely borrows from Marxism certain ‘methodological pointers’, one of which is “the mystifying power of ideologies, including religious ones.”Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), 28.

[4] Juan L.Segundo, Liberation of Theology. (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books), 1976.

[5] Juan L. Segundo, Faith and Ideologies. (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books), 1984.

[6] A recent example of the plural and ambiguous meanings of ideology critique between those on the political left is the brouhaha over Slavoj Zizek and Noam Chomsky’s dispute over the meaning of ideology critique in contemporary critical politics.

[7] Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

[8] Paul Ricoeur, “Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology”, in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. ed. John B. Thompson. (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 71-88ff. This more general understanding of ideology does not consider itself to impartial or neutral. Riceour, and Segundo, to point that he follows him, offers a critique of ideology but insofar as its integrative force produces an inertia that is resistant to otherness and change, and so becomes an undue legitimation of unjust forms of power (i.e., domination, oppression, exploitation).

[9] Paul Ricoeur, “Science and Ideology,”in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. ed. John B. Thompson. (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 226ff.

[10] Segundo, Liberation of Theology, 116.

[11] Segundo, Faith and Ideologies, 16, also see 27-28 and 121-122, respectively.

[12] Segundo, Liberation of Theology, 154.

[13] For more on Segundo’s understanding of Marxism within his liberation theology, see Faith and Ideologies, 200ff. In Faith and Ideologies, 117, he describes Marxism alone as “an efficacy—structure which forgets the values it is serving and gets carried away by its presumed autonomy and so will lose the achievement—ordered efficacy it exhibited at the start.”

[14] Segundo, Faith and Ideologies, 75.

[15] Segundo, The Liberation of Theology, 120.

[16] Segundo, Faith and Ideologies, 39.

[17] Although Gutiérrez does not offer a robust account of ideology critique, he clearly operates with a much more negative and critical – so Marxist – theory of ideology. See Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1973), 12, 234-235.

 

With the generous help of several of my theology friends and other academic colleagues, I have put together a list of classic, contemporary, and secondary texts on Liberation Theology. The numeric list does not indicate ranking, prominence, or suggest an order in which the books should be read. However, the books marked “classic texts” were recommended multiple times by my colleagues and are seminal texts in the tradition. Lastly, I encourage you to leave comments suggesting other key works on Liberation Theology (or related liberating/emancipatory texts) that you have read and found valuable. Enjoy!Oscar Romero

[N.b. The book descriptions below are copied directly from Amazon.com and Goodreads unless otherwise noted.]

  1. Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink From Our Own: The Spiritual Journey of a People. [Classic text]

Brief Description: “After twenty years, We Drink from Our Own Wells remains a classic expression of Latin American spirituality by a pioneer of liberation theology. Starting from St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s counsel to root spirituality in one’s own experience, Gustavo Gutierrez outlines the contours of a spirituality rooted in the experience of the poor and their struggle for life. His aim is to reflect on the contemporary “road to holiness” — the passage of a people “through the solitude and dangers of the desert, as it carves out its own way in the following of Jesus Christ. This spiritual experience is the well from which we must drink. From it we draw the promise of resurrection.”

  1. Gustavo Gutierrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent.

Brief Description: “On Job asks a direct and profound question: How, in the face of so much suffering among the human innocent, can we talk about God? Theodicy is, of course, the business most central, intellectually, to liberation and theology, and Gutierrez is first and foremost a liberationist Christian. While On Job does not unravel the mysteries of evil (nor should it, Gutierrez observes), it does follow clearly mid with integrity Job’s progress toward God-talk and understmiding. In doing so, the author, by analogy, states movingly and potently the spirituality of Latin American Christians today. In his conclusion, Gutierrez offers us an explicit summary of his ministry and of the volume’s: “…for us Latin Americans the question is not precisely ‘How are we to do theology after Auschwitzt …In Latin America we are still experiencing … the torture we find so blameworthy in the Jewish holocaust But Christianity everywhere, Gutierrez continues, will be matured and perhaps even “…scandalized at hearing a frank avowal of the human and religious experience of the poor, and at seeing their clumsy attempts to relate their lives to the God in whom they have such deep faith.” All in all, not a shocking book; not an exciting book, not an easy book. Just an instructive, compassionate, graceful book, and one lacking in all politics save that of our shared humanity.”

  1. Oscar Romero. The Violence of Love. [Selections from Romero’s sermons]

Brief Description: “These selections from the sermons and writings of Archbishop Oscar Romero share the message of a great holy prophet of modern times. Three short years transformed Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, from a conservative defender of the status quo into one of the church’s most outspoken voices of the oppressed. Though silenced by an assassin’s bullet, his spirit and the challenge of his life lives on.”

  1. James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation. [Classic text]

Brief Description: “Twenty years ago, when the civil rights and “Black Power” movements were at their peak, James Cone introduced a revolutionary theology based on the African-American experience of oppression and the quest for liberation. The book brought a new perspective to theology in the United States. Cone contends that theology grows out of the experience of the community; the community itself defines what God means. Western European theology serves the oppressors; therefore theology for African-Americans should validate their struggle for liberation and justice. In seven brief chapters, he argues passionately that God must be on the side of oppressed black people and develops the concept of a black God, noting: “To say God is Creator means … I am black because God is black!” The anniversary edition recognizes Cone’s contribution to U.S. theology with a 50-page section of critical reflections by six leading theologians including Gayraud Wilmore, Robert McAfee Brown and Rosemary Radford Reuther. Cone responds to these commentaries in an afterword. The foreword points out Cone’s influence on Latin American liberation theology. The interplay among text, commentaries, afterword and preface provides a lively discussion and analysis of developments in black liberation theology over the past two decades. The book should be read for the clarity with which it demonstrates the relationship between theology, oppression and liberation, and for its historic importance in raising the consciousness of its readers about the possibility of viewing God from a black perspective. Anyone concerned about U.S. social history, liberation theology and racism will find the book of interest. It is particularly suitable for university and seminary libraries.”

  1. James Cone. God of the Oppressed. [Classic text]

Brief Description:God of the Oppressed remains a landmark in the development of Black Theology—the first effort to present a systematic theology drawing fully on the resources of African-American religion and culture. Responding to the criticism that his previous books drew too heavily on Euro-American definitions of theology, James Cone went back to his experience of the black church in Bearden, Arkansas, the tradition of the Spirituals and black folklore, and the black history of struggle and survival, to construct a new approach to the gospel. In his reflections on God, Jesus, suffering, and liberation, Cone relates the gospel message to the experience of the black community. But a wider theme of the book is the role that social and historical context plays in framing the questions we address to God, as well as the mode of the answers provided. Revised, including a new introduction by Cone, God of the Oppressed remains invaluable for scholars, students, clergy, and everyone concerned with vital, contemporary God-Talk.”

  1. Jon Sobrino, Christ the Liberator: A View From the Victims. [Classic text]

Brief Description: “Jon Sobrino continues the magisterial christology begun in Jesus the Liberator. In that book Sobrino examined the identity of Jesus in relation to his message, his interlocutors, and the conflict that led to his death. In this second volume he takes up the Resurrection of Christ, the Christology of the New Testament, and finally the christological formulae of the early church councils. Throughout Christ the Liberator Sobrino writes from the reality of faith, as set in motion by the event of Jesus Christ, and from the situation of the victims — the “Crucified People” of history — particularly the poor of El Salvador, with whom he works. With Christ the Liberator Sobrino’s christology takes its place among the most significant contributions of Latin America to the church and theology today.”

  1. Jon Sobrino, No Salvation Outside the Poor: Prophetic-Utopian Essays [Classic Text]

Brief Description: The provocative title of these essays plays on a traditional Catholic slogan: “No salvation outside the church.” Insofar as it implies God’s response to a world marked by suffering and injustice, then the poor represent an indispensible test, a key to the healing of a sick society.”

  1. Jon Sobrino and Ignacio Ellacuria, Mysterium Liberationis: Fundamental Concepts of Liberation Theology. [Reference, secondary source].

Brief Description: This book features a series of essays focusing on the history and key concepts of liberation theology. Part I deals with history, method, and distinctive features of liberation theology. Part II deals with the systematic contents of liberation theology.

9.  Leonardo Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology. [Reference, secondary text]

Brief Description: “This work deals with the basic questions that are tackled by liberation theology – oppression, violence, domination and marginalization. It then goes on to show how the Christian faith can be used as an agent in promoting social and individual liberation, and how faith and politics relate.”

10. Juan Luis Segundo, Liberation of Theology. [Classic text]

Brief Description [from Wikipedia]: “A primary reality to which Juan Luis Segundo responds is the fact that liberation theology, like any theological movement in its developmental stages, performs theological work in traditional ways: by looking to the biblical and dogmatic traditions. Segundo explains that liberation theology performed its theologizing while “feeling a responsibility towards both the problems of real life and the canons of worldwide theology”. However, it did theology in the only way it knew how, with the “means at its disposal”. While liberation theology did not adopt the learned style of academic theology and conform to its standards of detail and form in presentation, it also did not theologize in an aggressive, abrupt, way in order “to meet some inescapable pragmatic necessity”. In other words, Segundo sees a need for a critical evaluation of theological methodology and seeks to aggressively attack all the inconsistencies and contradictions that fill the myriad sociological and theological understandings of the world. Segundo is not interested in the content of liberation theology as much as he is trying to think about “the method used to theologize in the face of our real-life situation”. Segundo is primarily concerned with the liberation of the theological process, and notices a problem with the way theology is done that constricts liberation theology from flourishing in Latin America.”

11. Christopher Rowland (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology. [Reference, secondary text]

Brief Description: “Liberation theology is widely referred to in discussions of politics and religion but not always adequately understood. The 2007 edition of this Companion brings the story of the movement’s continuing importance and impact up to date. Additional essays, which complement those in the original edition, expand upon the issues by dealing with gender and sexuality and the important matter of epistemology. In the light of a more conservative ethos in Roman Catholicism, and in theology generally, liberation theology is often said to have been an intellectual movement tied to a particular period of ecumenical and political theology. These essays indicate its continuing importance in different contexts and enable readers to locate its distinctive intellectual ethos within the evolving contextual and cultural concerns of theology and religious studies. This book will be of interest to students of theology as well as to sociologists, political theorists and historians.”

12. Ivan Petrella, Beyond Liberation Theology: A Polemic. [Contemporary text]

Brief Description: “Beyond Liberation Theology sets the stage for future liberation theology. Within, Ivan Petrella provides a bold new interpretation of liberation theology’s present state and future possibilities. In so doing, he challenges a number of established pieties: Instead of staying within the accepted norm of examining liberation theologies individually as if they were closed worlds, he dares develop a framework that tackles Latin American, Black, Womanist, and Hispanic/Latino(a) theologies together; instead of succumbing to the fashionable identity politics that rules liberationist discourse, he places poverty at the forefront of concern; instead of seeking to carve out a small space for theology in a secular world, he shows that only an expansive understanding of liberation theology can deal with contemporary challenges. The end result is a wake up call for liberation theologians everywhere and a radical new direction for liberation theology itself.”

13. Robert McAfee Brown. Liberation Theology: An Introductory Guide. [Reference, secondary text]

Brief Description: “In a manner that is vivid and lively, Robert McAfee Brown explains and illuminates liberation theology for North American readers who may have no previous knowledge of this dynamic Christian movement. Growing out of the experience of oppressed people in Latin America, liberation theology lends a transforming power to both the study of the Bible and the Christian duty to work for justice for all God’s people. With heartwarming, terrifying, and humorous stories, Brown shows the strength and significance of one of the outstanding developments in religious faith today and for the future.”

14. John J. Markey, Moses in Pharaoh’s House: A Liberation Spirituality for North America. [Contemporary text]

Brief Description: “North Americans are enslaved by a false sense that self-centered idealism is morally good and necessary for achieving the common good. Moses in Pharaoh’s House: A Liberation Spirituality for North Americans explores how those living inside the oppressive structures of the First World can be freed from false ideologies to achieve personal and socio-political conversion. Using the story of Moses and the Exodus, the book presents a spirituality of conversion for the privileged and develops a connection between the liberation of the oppressed and conversion of the privileged.”

15. Christian Smith, The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory. [Secondary text]

Brief Description: “Liberation theology is a school of Roman Catholic thought which teaches that a primary duty of the church must be to promote social and economic justice. In this book, Christian Smith explains how and why the liberation theology movement emerged and succeeded when and where it did.”

16. Ivone Gebara. Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation. [Contemporary text]

Brief Description: “Gebara’s succinct yet moving statements of the principles of ecofeminism shows how intertwined are the tarnished environment around her and the poverty that afflicts her neighbors. From her experiences with the Brazilian poor women’s movement she develops a gritty urban ecofeminism and indeed articulates a whole worldview. She shows how the connections between Western thought, patriarchal Christianity, and environmental destruction necessitate personal conversion to ‘a new relationship with the earth and with the entire cosmos.’”

17. Mary Daly. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. [Classic text]

Brief Description [from Google Books]: “In this text, Mary Daly examines religion as a major cause of women’s repression over the last 3,000 years. From Genesis to the writings of contemporary theologians, she exposes the misogyny which still continues to flourish in Christianity.”

18. William R. Jones. Is God a White Racist? A Preamble to Black Theology. [Contemporary text]

Brief Description: “Published originally as part of C. Eric Lincoln’s series on the black religious experience, Is God a White Racist? is a landmark critique of the black church’s treatment of evil and the nature of suffering. In this powerful examination of the early liberation methodology of James Cone, J. Deotis Roberts, and Joseph Washington, among others, Jones questions whether their foundation for black Christian theism—the belief in an omnibenevolent God who has dominion over human history—can provide an adequate theological foundation to effectively dismantle the economic, social, and political framework of oppression. Seeing divine benevolence as part of oppression’s mechanism of disguise, Jones argues that black liberation theologians must adopt a new theism that is informed by humanism and its principle of the functional ultimacy of wo/man, where human choice and action determine whether our condition is slavery or freedom.”

19. Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Eduardo Mendieta (eds.), Decolonizing Epistemologies: Latino/a Theology and Philosophy. [Reference, secondary text]

Brief Description: “Decolonizing Epistemologies builds upon the contributions of liberation and postcolonial theories in both philosophy and theology. Gathering the work of three generations of Latina/o theologians and philosophers who have taken up the task of transforming their respective disciplines, it seeks to facilitate the emergence of new knowledge by reflecting on the Latina/o reality in the United States as an epistemic locus: a place from which to start as well as the source of what is known and how it is known. The task of elaborating a liberation and decolonial epistemology emerges from the questions and concerns of Latina/os as a minoritized and marginalized group. Refusing to be rendered invisible by the dominant discourse, the contributors to this volume show the unexpected and original ways in which U.S. Latina/o social and historical loci are generative places for the creation of new matrices of knowledge. Because the Latina/o reality is intrinsically connected with that of other oppressed groups, the volume articulates a new point of departure for the self-understanding not only of Latina/os but also possibly for other marginalized and oppressed groups, and for all those seeking to engage in the move beyond coloniality as it is present in this age of globalization.”

20. William T. Cavanaugh. Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. [Contemporary, secondary text]

Brief Description [from back book cover]: “In this engrossing analysis, Cavanaugh contends that the Eucharist is the Church’s response to the use of torture as a social discipline. The author develops a theology of the political, which presents torture as one instance of a larger confrontation of powers over bodies, both individual and social. He argues that a Christian practice of the political is embodied in Jesus’ own torture at the hands of the powers of this world. The analysis of torture therefore is situated within wider discussions in the fields of ecclesiology and the state, social ethics and human rights, and sacramental theology. The book focuses on the experience of Chile and the Catholic Church there, before and during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, 1973-1990. Cavanaugh has first-hand experience of working with the Church in Chile, and his interviews with ecclesiastical officials and grassroots Church workers speak directly to the reader. The book uses this example to examine the theoretical bases of twentieth-century ‘social catholicism’ and its inability to resist the disciplines of the state, in contrast to a truer Christian practice of the political in the Eucharist. The book as a whole ties eucharistic theology to concrete eucharistic practice, showing that the Eucharist is not a ‘symbol’ but a real cathartic summary of the practices by which God forms people into the Body of Christ, producing a sense of communion stronger than that of any nation-state.”

 

Jennings Christian ImaginationIn August I will participate in Syndicate’s online symposium focusing on Willie James Jennings’s landmark study, The Christian Imagination. Theology and the Origins of Race. What follows is a preview of my discussion of key themes in Part III of Jennings’s book. I encourage you to check Syndicate’s website regularly for additional information, updates, and future symposia. Lastly, I hope that you will join us in August for the actual Syndicate forum dedicated to Jennings’s outstanding and timely work.

The central theme of Part III is “intimacy.” In chapter five, “White Space and Literacy,” Jennings discusses the double-sidedness of literacy for the oppressed in a racialized social environment and how literacy serves both emancipatory and colonizing purposes (207). In particular, he highlights how the misuse of Scripture and the imposition of a Christian-colonial imaginary (both with respect to interpreting the bible and the social and material world) helped to warrant, reinforce, and maintain the unjust sociopolitical and economic power relations between oppressor and oppressed. One of the most devastating effects of the Christian-colonial imaginary—and one that continues to impact the church today—is how it naturalizes segregationalist mentalities and practices (208). Such racialized ways of thinking, being, and interpreting the world see segregated schools, churches, and neighborhoods as “natural” and thus negate one of Christianity’s “most basic and powerful imaginative possibilities, the deepest and most comprehensive joining of peoples” (208).

Although Jennings does not devote significant textual space to an analysis of gender and feminist theorizing on these issues (a much needed task), he does point out how white male landowners played a central role in forming and de-forming the social and geographic landscape. As Jennings explains, “[i]n antebellum America, the household stood at the center of the social world of the new republic, and at the center of the household stood the male landowner” (235). Given the entrenched patriarchy at that time—a patriarchy bolstered by sociopolitical, legal, and religious discourses and practices—not only slaves, but also free women (and children) were locked into harmful and degrading dependency relations. Here we find an example that illustrates and supports some of Jennings’s most important and original claims: (1) place and identity are intricately linked, (2) Christianity’s colonizing practices ignored that connection entirely in their treatment of indigenous people and their land, and (3) colonial Christianity is undergirded by a deformed doctrine of creation whose enactment in praxis has serious sociopolitical, ethical, theological, and environmental consequences. That is, just as colonial powers had disregarded completely the constitutive role of place in forming the indigenes’ identity, similarly the white male landowners’ colonizing view of space and the asymmetrical, dominating power relations structuring the household became naturalized and understood as the “proper” and even God-ordained order of things. Moreover, with the implementation of Thomas Jefferson’s Land Survey System, which transformed natural landscapes into grid systems of sellable plots of land, the link between land and identity is not only disrupted and fundamentally altered, but it also ushers in a distinctively modern instrumentalized vision of land qua potential private property for economic benefit. In other words, concern for the intrinsic value and beauty of trees, meadows, mountains, and how place, land, and animals constitute a peoples’ identity is judged a hindrance to modern progress and divine mandate. As Jennings observes,

[t]he grid pattern of sellable squares of land signified the full realization of property ownership. It also displayed the complete remaking of indigenous land. Now, under the grid system, each space of land could be surveyed and designated for purchase by measurement and location. All native peoples, no matter what they claims to land, no matter what designations they had for particular places, no matter their history and identity with specific lands, landscape, and indigenous animals, were now mapped on to the grid system (225–26).

With his Christian-colonial vision of space, the white male landowner can justify his mastering of land (and people) as a God-given right and calling. Remaking the land into private property (not for the common good, but primarily for one’s own self-interest and benefit) was understood as a way to imitate God’s original creative activity. Interestingly, in this deformed doctrine of Christian-colonial creation, a new connection between body (people) and place (both social and physical) is constructed. Not only does the land become an extension of the landowner’s body, but also of his body’s vulnerability. Thus, he must fully possess the land and protect it from threats of any kind. Here property owner’s rights take center stage and become entangled in religious discourses about rights, divine sanctioning, and prosperity for the “elect.”

In short, in slave-holding America black biblical literacy in white space signified cultural and social fragmentation, as the slave was either forced to read the Scriptures through the master’s racialized (and gendered) hermeneutic or s/he had to acquire literacy in stealth, via subversive maneuverings and often alone and isolated rather than in an ecclesial community. Thus, given the wider racialized and commodity-driven social context, we see the “impotence of Scripture to enact a community at a historical moment” (210). Yet, as Jennings argues, this failure of biblical literacy to unite diverse populations is intricately linked to the Christian-colonial vision of space, place, land, and identity formation vis-à-vis these “spatial dynamics.” By denying this connection between a “landscape and its realities—water, trees, seasons, animals” and replacing it with a view of the land as “identified with its white male owner,” Scripture’s capacity “to help people reimagine the world was severely limited” (240). Moreover, the Bible’s confinement within a “hierarchical literary space” must be understand against the backdrop of the confinement of geographic space, which signals a distorted doctrine of creation. As Jennings observes,

[w]hat connected these spaces was the racial imagination that permeated both the creating and shaping of perception and helped to vivify both spaces. The result was fragmentation, not simply one affecting the Bible but also one effected by the performance of Scripture itself in these mangled spaces (241).

If Christianity is willing to acknowledge its failures and complicity in these colonizing and racialized practices, it can begin to re-ground, articulate, and live a doctrine of creation that respects the identity-facilitating connection between land and people—one that promotes a genuine and deep joining with others. “A Christian doctrine of creation is first a doctrine of place and people, of divine love and divine touch, of human presence and embrace, and of divine and human interaction. It is first a way of seeing place in its fullest sense. Christianity is in need of place to be fully Christian” (248).

 

Martin Luther King Jr.In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s essay, “Nonviolence and Racial Justice,” he observes that true peace requires “the presence of some positive force—justice, good will and brotherhood.” In today’s world, this sense of solidarity and concern for the good of others—the poor, the incarcerated, the immigrant, the unemployed, those with little or no access to healthcare and so forth—seems to have diminished significantly.

In contrast, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was animated by a strong sense of human solidarity, believing that as those created in God’s image we belong to one another. In addition, Dr. King’s belief in human solidarity, the inherent dignity of all human beings, and the need to work toward creating a world where all humans can flourish compelled him to action. As we know, he chose the path of non-violent direct action and protest, convinced that this was the path most consonant with his Christian faith. Of course this was not an easy path. He received criticism from black activists as well as white society. His protests even landed him in jail and ultimately cost him his life.

In Dr. King’s famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he writes, “‘I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.’ Then a few lines later he continues, “[m]oreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

In what  follows I address what critical race theorists and sociologists refer to as white advantage, white privilege, white habitus, or the “invisibility” and normativity of whiteness.  My hope is that by interrogating whiteness we might become aware of and uproot racial prejudices in our own thinking and awaken in ourselves a sense of solidarity and genuine concern for human flourishing for all.

Unlike people of color, whites (focusing primarily here on America’s history) are rarely if ever confronted with their phenotypic differences (especially skin color) in ways that severely and negatively impact the course of their lives. Moreover, very few white people have given extensive thought to the advantages they have simply because they are white. For example, being white has not resulted in their being denied entrance into public spaces such as restaurants, swimming pools, social clubs, housing districts, and public schools. Nor have they had to endure constant racial profiling by police officers, routine “tracking” and surveillance by security guards when shopping, or regularly having others clutch at their purses when they enter a crowded elevator together. In contrast, people of color daily deal with these and multiple other confrontations.

Black intellectuals have described the disparities in lived experience between whites and blacks in various ways. W. E. B. Du Bois employs the metaphors of the “veil” and “double-consciousness” to describe the complex, intertwined relationship of blacks and whites in America. The African American must navigate two worlds, the “black” world and the “white” world: “two worlds separate yet bound together like those double stars that, bound for all time, whirl around each other separate yet one.”[1] If we combine the multivalent figures of the veil and double-consciousness, we see that Du Bois was acutely aware of the paradox of the African American’s world. That is, the black person was both socially and politically invisible (existing behind a veil) and yet hyper-visible given the negative meanings imputed to his or her skin color—meanings which carried significant social, legal, political, and personal implications and prevented African Americans from flourishing as human beings and fully participatory citizens.

In keeping with King’s vision and legacy, I offer the following reflections on whiteness and our ongoing need to interrogate our socialized ways of being so that we, like King, might become “cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities” and commit ourselves to struggling against us/them, insider/outsider, deserving/undeserving (citizen) and myriad other false dichotomies.   Given that as humans we are complex social, psychological, intellectual, emotional, embodied beings,[2] I draw special attention to how spatial and social (re)segregation and accompanying socially conditioned practices contributes to and furthers white advantage, thus creating significant barriers for the development of interracial empathy and genuine solidarity.

In his recent book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, theologian James H. Cone critiques Reinhold Niebuhr for his failure to address America’s appalling racist history. Cone cites a passage from novelist, playwright, poet, and social critic, James Baldwin (1924–1987) that is worth repeating. (Baldwin and Niebuhr had been engaged in an ongoing dialogue about these issues.) Regarding white people, Baldwin states: “‘I don’t mean to say that white people are villains or devils or anything like that,’ but what ‘I do mean to say is this: that the bulk of the white […] Christian majority in this country has exhibited a really staggering level of irresponsibility and immoral washing of the hands, you know. […] I don’t suppose that […] all the white people in Birmingham are monstrous people. But they’re mainly silent people, you know. And that is a crime in itself’.”[3] As many contend (including myself), this white silence and lack of willingness to confront America’s violence against and exploitation of African Americans and the enduring legacy and consequences of its racist practices and policies prevents America from a true reconciliation with its past—a reconciliation required in order to achieve solidary among its citizens and to avoid repeating past patterns of oppression and violence.

Although Jim Crow laws and policies such as racially restrictive covenants are no longer enforceable, our schools and housing divisions continue the legacy of segregation. The fact that such segregation still divides our schools, neighborhoods, and parishes is a strong indicator that systemic and structural inequality and white advantage remains a serious social problem in our society. As Alex Mikulich observes, drawing upon work by sociologists John Powell, Douglas Massey, and Nancy Denton, “housing location is critical to predicting access to quality public education, development of personal wealth, employment, health and safety, democratic participation, transportation, and child care. The national extent of white hyper-segregation cannot happen without the participation of the majority of white people and institutions, including whites who claim good intentions toward people of color.”[4]

One’s “spatial” location with respect to housing is closely connected to one’s potential for upward mobility in the socio-economic sphere. How so? One’s residence significantly determines the educational opportunities for one’s children. With housing and schooling (re)segregation we again see a continuation and reproduction of structural racism carried on by white practices (e.g. real estate practices and unofficial “red-lining”) that have become normalized and which remain largely un-interrogated by whites themselves. Although it has been over fifty years since the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregated schools were unconstitutional, our schools today are as segregated as ever.  As Gary Orfield explains in his study, “Schools More Separate” (2001), “white students remain the most segregated from all other races in their schools. Whites on average attend schools where less than 20 percent of the students are from all other racial and ethnic groups combined. On average, blacks and Latinos attend schools with 53% to 55% students of their own group.”[5]

As Mikulich highlights, there are significant overlaps between Dr. King’s vision and the Catholic social teaching. For example, both emphasize the preferential option for the poor, the interconnectedness of human beings as God’s image bearers, and the importance of and call to human solidarity. Whether official encyclicals or pastoral letters of note, Catholic social teaching presents moral, spiritual, and socio-economic principles that appeal not only to Catholics but to all people of goodwill concerned to promote social justice and the common good of all. Archbishop Francis Cardinal George, for example, penned a beautiful and timely pastoral letter entitled, Dwell in my Love, delivered on the 33rd anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4, 2001). The title of the letter is taken from Scripture, viz., from the Gospel of St. John 15:7–10.[6] In his letter, Archbishop George recalls his own first experiences of the reality of racism, or rather his experience of seeing his African American friends experience racism under Jim Crow laws. He had been on a summer trip in Memphis and was not allowed to sit with his African American friends on a bus. This very different experience of “space” made him aware of his advantaged social position as a white man. The every day way that he occupied space freely and non-confrontationally had been part of his world for as long as he could remember; it was taken for granted and was never intellectually scrutinized. However, his African American friends experience the world quite differently. They experienced a lack of spatial occupation on a regular basis and were daily reminded of why such spatial exclusions existed.

As his letter unfolds, Archbishop George highlights what he calls “spatial racism.” As he explains,

“Spatial racism refers to patterns of metropolitan development in which some affluent whites create racially and economically segregated suburbs or gentrified areas of cities, leaving the poor — mainly African Americans, Hispanics and some newly arrived immigrants — isolated in deteriorating areas of the cities and older suburbs. […] Spatial racism creates a visible chasm between the rich and the poor, and between white people and people of color. It marks a society that contradicts both the teachings of the Church and our declared national value of equality of opportunity.”

Whites tend to be unaware of this chasm or see it as “natural,” “normal,” or just the “way it is with different groups congregating together;” in contrast, people of color are acutely aware of this divide.

In addition, whether speaking of literal physical space or more figuratively as moral, intellectual, and social space, this separation between whites and people of color—a separation that all too often has resulted in economic, social, and other benefits for whites—makes it difficult for many whites to empathize with the experiences and frustrations of people of color.[7] Moreover, it makes practicing solidarity nearly impossible.

To be clear, class in also a significant factor in this discussion, as poor whites experience the world quite differently than whites who occupy the upper middle and higher rungs of the socio-economic sphere (the latter of which are my primary addressees under the generic heading “whites”). As is the case with other groups, whites are socially conditioned. For example, they are socialized through the spaces of privilege they occupy—their more or less all white schools, neighborhoods, parishes, etc.—to see their experience—their “white habitus” as normal, natural, and even the standard for all things intellectual, moral, cultural, and so forth.

The term “white habitus” comes from sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva.[8] According to Bonilla-Silva, “white habitus” is “a racialized, uninterrupted socialization process that conditions and creates whites’ tastes, perceptions, feelings and emotions and their views on racial matters.”[9] As Mikulich explains, white habitus is cultivated “within a separate residential and cultural life that fosters a white culture of solidarity and negative views about nonwhites.”[10] White habitus involves both position and practice. Here position refers to social geography, spatial location, and possessing socio-economic dominance and power broadly speaking. Practice speaks to “the ways that whites are socialized [via families, institutions, social narratives, etc.]to perceive and act within the world.”[11] White culture not only actively shapes and forms the largely segregated social landscape or geography of residential and educational but is it also conditioned by such segregation (morally, intellectually, etc.).

Here are few examples from ethnographic studies as presented by Mikulich.[12] White descriptions of their own lives and experiences “within white gated communities” indicates that “white self-perceptions of  ‘niceness’ and fear of others” are often employed as ways to “justify living in a residential development that excludes racial others.”[13]   In addition, by describing themselves as “nice” and perpetuating a fear of others attached to certain geographical spaces, neighborhoods etc., whites “inscribe racist assumptions into the landscape.”[14]Operating within the “white habitus,” the white neighborhood is perceived as “normal” and evaluated as “safe,” whereas the black neighborhood is “racially segregated” and less “safe” or even “dangerous.”

In short, “white habitus and white hyper-segregation” not only prevent the kinds of meaningful interracial interaction and relationships required for genuine solidarity and empathy but they also—if not confronted and altered—reproduce and perpetuate racialized ways of thinking, being, and acting (as well as unjust social structures). Confronting white myths, white advantage, and the ways in which we are complicit in seeing the world and others through our own racialized “white habitus” is extremely challenging personally and communally and is (in my experience at least) often not well received. However, if we fail to engage these issues that have been part of the social fabric of our country from its very beginning and “continue past patterns of silence,” then we open ourselves to the possibility of once again confirming James Baldwin’s analysis that whites remain “trapped in a history they don’t understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it” (James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, New York: Vintage, 1993, p. 8).[15]

 

 

Notes


[1] W. E. B. Du Bois. “Beyond the Veil in a Virginia Town,” in W. E. B. Du Bois: Against Racism: Unpublished Essays, Papers, Addresses, 1887­1961,  edited by Herbert Aptheker. Originally published 1897 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985), 49.

[2] This list is not meant to be exhaustive.

[3] As cited in James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 55.

[4] Mikulich, “Where Y’at Race, Whiteness, and Economic Justice?” in The Almighty and the Dollar: Reflections on Economic Justice for All, edited by Mark J. Allman (Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2012), 207. Significant aspects of and ideas for this post are modeled after and taken from Mikulich’s chapter.

[5] Gary Orfield, “Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation,” http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/k-12-education/integration-and-diversity/schools-more-separate-consequences-of-a-decade-of-resegregation/orfield-schools-more-separate-2001.pdf.

[6] “If you dwell in me, and my words dwell in you, ask whatever you want and you
shall have it. This is how my Father is glorified; you are to bear fruit in plenty and so be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Dwell in my love. If you heed my commands, you will dwell in my love, as I have heeded my Father’s commands and dwell in his love.”

[7] Social scientists call this lack of empathy “social alexithymia.” As Joe Feagin explains, social alexithymia is the “significant lack of cross-racial empathy” (Racist America: Roots, Current Realities and Future Reparations, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2010), 89.

[8] See, for example, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, 2nd ed. (Landham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2006), 103.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Mikulich, “Where Y’at Race, Whiteness, and Economic Justice?”, p 210.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] As cited in Mikulich, ibid., 211.

 

Dr. Kristina Zolatova, featured for the first time here, is seeking suggestions for a title for her new poem (see below).  Since I have encountered so many creative people through my blog, I encouraged Kristina to post her poem on my blog in order to see what ideas might be presented. With that said, enjoy the poem and let’s hear your poetic and aesthetically attuned ideas (commentary on the poem is also welcome.)

 ***

Cast aside, televised and captured as an image.
But we all know that one-size fits none.
When “echoes” talk back, they signify
Actively, aggressively to the double, triple, it’s not so simple.
Interpellation meets improvisation and continues to this day.
Transgressing boundaries
Around me
Around you
Isn’t this what we’re called to do?
Not a diminishment of black, white, brown, or yellow.
Rather a collage, a harmony of multiplicity
Unfolding, (re)writing
And in-our-hopes uniting
“on the one” as we process toward a
Rhythmic, uninterrupted you-and-me—
In a word,
True solidarity.

Kristina Zolatova (Dec. 16, 2013)

 

I recently finished an essay on Augustine and Foucault that brings both thinkers into critical dialogue.  Although in the essay itself I highlight strengths and weaknesses of both Foucault and Augustine, the excerpt below (taken from my concluding section) focuses primarily on how a contemporary Augustinian of a particular sort might benefit from a dialogue with Foucault.[1]

What might a dissatisfied, contemporary Augustinian gain from a conversation with Foucault? First, Foucault’s conception of power relations are immensely valuable to Augustinians with feminist sensibilities and interests in peace and conflict studies as well as, those who desire to expand and develop Augustinian trajectories that might speak to contemporary social justice issues. Embedded in Foucault’s conception of power relations and resistance possibilities is his insight that freedom must be expressed bodily. As many critics of Augustine have pointed out, his position is wrought with dualistic tendencies,[2] which are then appealed to in order to defend a status quo position. For example, Augustine encourages slaves to submit to their masters and women to submit to their husbands even when both master and husband violently abuse them (see, e.g. City of God 19.16.) Such exhortations and calls to obedience are based, among other things, upon commitments to various dualisms. For example, spiritual freedom is touted as superior to bodily freedom just as the spiritual is superior to the material. In addition, the call to accept violent relations (such as slavery and spousal abuse) is often undergirded with an appeal to a future other-worldly justice where all wrongs will be set right.  If the Augustinian were to appropriate Foucault’s insight that freedom in this life must be expressed bodily, she could avoid some of the problematic dualisms that surface in Augustine and at the same time highlight the in-breaking of God’s transformative grace in this life.  That is, just as the redemptive power of the Christ-event irrupted into Augustine’s life, removing his bonds and re-integrating his life, so too can divine grace work through Christians and all people of good will to change unjust social structures and thus to bring healing to exploitative and violent human relationships. Of course, the Augustinian need not adopt false utopian hopes for a perfect society; Foucault had no such pseudo-hope.

Most Augustinians today readily acknowledge that relations of violence such as slavery and domestic violence hinder human flourishing and are incompatible with the Christian call to love and to promote human dignity for all. In light of these contemporary commitments, adopting some variant of Foucault’s critical philosophy of ongoing critique would be a helpful “tool” in reassessing gender relations, stereotypes, and other concepts that we have been conditioned to see as universal and necessary but which are in fact particular, historical, and contingent.

In other words, the Augustinian might engage in a type of “theologico-philosophical interrogation” that problematizes our current understanding of gender relations (or other dominating relations), re-tracing how its own tradition has come to its present position and how its past views were historically conditioned and shaped. Here the tradition asks itself:  How have we—for example, through formulating our own erroneous views (of women or slaves), adopting false views from other traditions, or misapplying our own principles—created a trajectory in the tradition that has diminished biblical emancipatory insights or worse has offered spiritualized interpretations of relations of violence that encourage their continuance rather than challenge their existence? For example, given our present understanding of slavery as intrinsically unjust and our rejection of women as rationally or morally inferior to men, what might a re-reading of St. Paul’s—“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”[3] and Genesis 1:26 look like? A Foucauldian-inspired genealogical study of power relations and relations of violence between husbands and wives and masters and slaves yield significant analytical and socio-political insights. Employing Foucault’s critical philosophy, what we find, for example, are alleged universal, “natural,” and necessary concepts of women and what it is to be a woman or a wife (e.g., receptive, passive, docile, submissive, morally or intellectually inferior—interestingly, these are more or less the same concepts regularly used to describe the “essence” of a slave) are in fact particular, contingent, and socially constructed concepts.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, for Foucault, there is no outside to power relations; however, given his understanding of the correlativity of power and resistance, neither is there an outside to resistance. In other words, resistance possibilities always exist so long as genuine power relations obtain. Given the contingent, historical character of power configurations and the ever-present possibility of resistance, change over time is possible.  Thus, there is room for hope and a cautious, but in no way naïve, optimism. Rather, as Foucault himself explains, “[t]here’s an optimism that consists in saying that things couldn’t be better. My optimism would consist rather in saying that so many things can be changed, fragile as they are, bound up more with circumstances than necessities.”[4]

Analogous to Foucault’s claim regarding the ubiquity of power, for Augustine there is no outside to sin. But as Augustine’s own story testifies, God’s grace is also operative in this world. Just as divine grace transformed Augustine, healing him and bringing him into intimate union with God, so too can God’s grace transform individuals and groups today, working through and with them to change institutional structures, legislation, cultural practices, and political and religious narratives so that they might better respect human dignity and foster human flourishing. Eschatological perfection is not the goal for this world; however, a communal striving with all people of goodwill to bring into being proleptic glimpses of the world to come is completely consonant with Christian hope.

Notes

[1] The arguments for my conclusions are given in the full essay; however, the complete essay is far too long for a blog post.

[2] Augustine does, of course, proclaim the goodness of creation, employing both philosophical (e.g. goodness and being are coextensive) and theological arguments (e.g., creation comes from God and thus must be good). Nonetheless, dualistic tendencies remain.

[3] Gal 3:28; New Revised Standard Version.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.

[4] Foucault, “Practicing Criticism,” 156.