Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jesus is black

Apparently Glenn Beck went off on liberation theology a few months ago. I honestly couldn't care less what he says. It did, however, result in a good article discussing black liberation theology in The Other Journal.

To be clear, I know very little about liberation theology, particularly about black liberation theology. I have an introduction to liberation theology I plan to read sometime soon, but I'm not well-informed here. What interested me was James Cone's idea that Jesus is black.

David Horstkoetter, the author of the linked article, says that Cone was talking about "ontological blackness", not skin pigmentation. As the Suffering Servant, Jesus is "an oppressed being" - and "if Jesus were living in the United States in 1970 when Cone wrote A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone is saying that Jesus would be black, not white. It was blacks who underwent (and arguably still do) the oppression, sexual humiliation, and lynching that are all too similar to Roman occupation and crucifixion." Historically, Jesus was Jewish - but, more importantly, he was God come to identify with humanity, particularly the poor, the sinful, and the outcast. He rejected wealth and good reputation in favor of a life of social inferiority and subjection to imperial power. Given the historical status of African Americans, it is easy to see Cone's point.

This is a powerful image to me. It brings Jesus into our time by using modern analogies. It has become easy for me, as a white American man, to forget that Jesus is of "The Other". I have all the privileges and luxuries of a Roman citizen in Jesus' day. How would I have reacted to Jesus, a poor, would-be Messiah from a Roman province? If Jesus came today rather than two thousand years ago, how would I react to him if he came as an African American man?

Jesus is black. Maybe I'll buy one of those "ethnic nativity scenes" for Christmas this year to help me remember.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: The Fundamental Values of Social Life

This will be the final post in the series on Catholic social teaching. There is much more to the Compendium, but I'm going to set it aside for the time being.

Underneath all the principles of Catholic social teaching are the fundamental values of truth, freedom, justice, and love.

Men and women have the specific duty to move always towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it. Living in the truth has special significance in social relationships. In fact, when the coexistence of human beings within a community is founded on truth, it is ordered and fruitful, and it corresponds to their dignity as persons.
Freedom is the highest sign in man of his being made in the divine image and, consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person. "Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person". The meaning of freedom must not be restricted, considering it from a purely individualistic perspective and reducing it to the arbitrary and uncontrolled exercise of one's own personal autonomy: "Far from being achieved in total self-sufficiency and the absence of relationships, freedom only truly exists where reciprocal bonds, governed by truth and justice, link people to one another". The understanding of freedom becomes deeper and broader when it is defended, even at the social level, in all of its various dimensions.
Justice is a value that accompanies the exercise of the corresponding cardinal moral virtue. According to its most classic formulation, it "consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbour". From a subjective point of view, justice is translated into behaviour that is based on the will to recognize the other as a person, while, from an objective point of view, it constitutes the decisive criteria of morality in the intersubjective and social sphere.
Understanding the nature of humanity enables us to move beyond a "contractualistic vision of justice, which is a reductionistic vision". We must add to justice love - which is to say, in the social setting, solidarity. This is the way to achieve peace. "The goal of peace, in fact, 'will certainly be achieved through the putting into effect of social and international justice, but also through the practice of the virtues which favour togetherness, and which teach us to live in unity, so as to build in unity, by giving and receiving, a new society and a better world'."

The Way of Love
It is from the inner wellspring of love that the values of truth, freedom and justice are born and grow.
Love goes beyond justice. Justice alone can lead to its own destruction. Only love is "capable of restoring man to himself".
No legislation, no system of rules or negotiation will ever succeed in persuading men and peoples to live in unity, brotherhood and peace; no line of reasoning will ever be able to surpass the appeal of love. Only love, in its quality as "form of the virtues", can animate and shape social interaction, moving it towards peace in the context of a world that is ever more complex.
Love must not be limited to interactions between individuals. It must work for the common good, i.e., it must love the neighbor as he or she is found "in society".
To love him on the social level means, depending on the situations, to make use of social mediations to improve his life or to remove social factors that cause his indigence. It is undoubtedly an act of love, the work of mercy by which one responds here and now to a real and impelling need of one's neighbour, but it is an equally indispensable act of love to strive to organize and structure society so that one's neighbour will not find himself in poverty, above all when this becomes a situation within which an immense number of people and entire populations must struggle, and when it takes on the proportions of a true worldwide social issue.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: Solidarity

People in the modern world are interconnected in ways previously impossible - through technology, commerce, etc. - yet inequality persists. These inequalities must be met by the moral force of solidarity. The possibilities for interdependence created by technology and commerce must be used to achieve "relationships tending towards genuine ethical-social solidarity", which can transform "structures of sin" into "structures of solidarity".

Solidarity is far more than a "feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far". It is a "firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all".

Solidarity is key to the realization of the goals of Catholic social teaching. It is "a virtue directed par excellence to the common good, and is found in a commitment to the good of one's neighbour with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to 'lose oneself' for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to 'serve him' instead of oppressing him for one's own advantage (cf. Mt 10:40-42, 20:25; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:25-27)". It is the recognition and strengthening of the common ties that already exist between people. It is the realization that we are all debtors to the society in which we belong. We are the beneficiaries of a wealth of knowledge and culture, which we are obligated to maintain, increase, and pass on to those who follow us.

Our example here, of course, is Jesus:
The unsurpassed apex of the perspective indicated here is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the New Man, who is one with humanity even to the point of "death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). In him it is always possible to recognize the living sign of that measureless and transcendent love of God-with-us, who takes on the infirmities of his people, walks with them, saves them and makes them one. In him and thanks to him, life in society too, despite all its contradictions and ambiguities, can be rediscovered as a place of life and hope, in that it is a sign of grace that is continuously offered to all and because it is an invitation to ever higher and more involved forms of sharing.

Jesus of Nazareth makes the connection between solidarity and charity shine brightly before all, illuminating the entire meaning of this connection: "In the light of faith, solidarity seeks to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimensions of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation. One's neighbour is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but becomes the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. One's neighbour must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her; and for that person's sake one must be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one's life for the brethren (cf. 1 Jn 3:16)".
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

Monday, September 13, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: Participation

Returning to my long-neglected series. The next principle of Catholic social teaching is participation, and it derives from the principle of subsidiarity. Participation is "expressed essentially in a series of activities by means of which the citizen, either as an individual or in association with others, whether directly or through representation, contributes to the cultural, economic, political and social life of the civil community to which he belongs. Participation is a duty to be fulfilled consciously by all, with responsibility and with a view to the common good" (section 189).

If the common good is to be achieved then it is important that people do not restrict their participation to certain areas of social life. This is especially true of the disadvantaged, because of the danger that those with power may try to establish "hidden privileges".

The participation of citizens, of course, is essential for the health of democratic societies. In turn, every level of society must ensure that each of its constituents is heard.
The overcoming of cultural, juridical and social obstacles that often constitutes real barriers to the shared participation of citizens in the destiny of their communities' calls for work in the areas of information and education. In this regard, all those attitudes that encourage in citizens an inadequate or incorrect practice of participation or that cause widespread disaffection with everything connected with the sphere of social and political life are a source of concern and deserve careful consideration. For example, one thinks of attempts by certain citizens to "make deals" with institutions in order to obtain more advantageous conditions for themselves, as though these institutions were at the service of their selfish needs; or of the practice of citizens to limit their participation to the electoral process, in many cases reaching the point where they even abstain from voting.

In the area of participation, a further source of concern is found in those countries ruled by totalitarian or dictatorial regimes, where the fundamental right to participate in public life is denied at its origin, since it is considered a threat to the State itself. In some countries where this right is only formally proclaimed while in reality it cannot be concretely exercised while, in still other countries the burgeoning bureaucracy de facto denies citizens the possibility of taking active part in social and political life. (section 191)
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.