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Hope by Kevin Dooley CC BY-NC 2.0
Catholic Re-Visions

A Spirituality of Liberation and The Destruction of Hope

If we are to hope for anything beyond the end of hope, it is in the incommunicable and incommensurable nature that is the moan.

For what or in what is the Black or Black being to hope; if not for the possibility of its own destruction, that is, of hope and the very world and logics which necessitate blackness? Anthony Pinn writes, “one might label hope within Afro-Pessimism as an apocalyptic deconstruction of possibility–a negation of possibility as the very construction of the end (here of the world)” (Pinn, 154).  If the world which we inhabit, its structures, grammar, logic, metaphysics, and that which constitutes the very ground of our non-being necessitates violence that sustains the world, then in what and for what should we hope? To take Pinn’s analysis seriously, what would it mean to think of hope as a constructive theological practice rooted in its own destruction? Moreover, how do we respond to the material conditions and circumstances that reinscribe themselves onto tattered flesh? Is hope as a theological and political category more efficacious and viable if we consider the “deconstructive” or destructive category of hope?

Here I place Latin American liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez’s thinking on hope in conversation with this Afro-Pessimistic tendency of negation, primarily through the black nihilism of Calvin Warren. Warren argues that the spiritual concept of hope is contaminated by the prerogative of a political order (Warren, 219). However, a retreat from the political order of hope is spiritual maturity. It is a rejection of the political as a type of spiritual practice.

I want us to tarry briefly with the concept of destruction and the generative possibilities that occur through the destruction of hope. Does such a deconstructive hope that forces us to sit in the ruins, what Warren calls political apostasy, resemble a more efficacious or viable category of hope (Warren, 218, 229-233)? One that is not tied to the political, that is, redress through the law, government, etc., nor Christian and theological categories of hope, that as David Newheiser notes citing Camus, imposes meaning upon a meaningless world, and thus is unsustainable, because any comfort hope provides is prone to collapse (Newheiser, 5)? What is at stake here is the centrality of hope in liberation. To put it more simply, is hope necessary for the theological project of liberation?

Both Gutiérrez and Warren with their varying perspectives provide some consideration for how we might think about the “future” possibilities of liberation amid the crisis that is the world which in its ontologies and praxis denies that of the poor and the Black. What is at stake here is the continuation of a liberation project not only for the Black but also within global contexts like those for which Gutierrez was writing and beyond. The end of hope, political apostasy and the refusal of neat and complete closures of history and progress seems more suspicious to religious communities grounded in the dangerous logics of hope. The suspicions of the end of hope rather than of hope itself renders one unable to contend with the violence of hope and the impossibility of redress. This is to give oneself over willingly in perpetuity to suffering and violence. If liberation is possible, then it is only through destruction or the refusal of hope, “a complete disorder,” that may free us to hope in a different way. Therein, the task is not to distinguish Christian hope from secular hope but rather to think with both Warren and Gutierrez for the purposes of distinguishing the various ways in which they attend to hope as a spiritual praxis. Such a praxis forces us to think with clarity about the necessity of thick descriptors that seek to anticipate and name that which refuses to be named. It marks the refusal, the destruction, and the disorder as a place of silence, incompleteness, and uncertainty, for it is only here, in these ruins, where we might find new grammars of hope.

In A Theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez thinks through the concept of hope as tied to the Christian concept of eschatology in two distinct ways. First, there is the eschatological promise, whereby a future hope is tied to God’s action toward the end of history, that is, the resurrection (Gutierrez, 163). Gutierrez, in taking seriously the eschatological promise, resembles the character of Christian and theological hope. Christian hope presupposes hope not only in the altering of material realities (political hope) but hope in the resurrection and the coming of a new world in the not yet, that which is the eschatological promise of God at the end of history. However, limiting the analysis of Gutierrez’s concept of hope to its eschatological dimension would be unfair and collapse the tensions and slippages that exist within his own theology that do not necessarily affirm the theological category of hope as described by Newheiser (Newheiser, 5). Rather, I would like to attend to the “proximate object of hope,” that which is concerned with the “historical vicissitudes of the present” (Gutierrez, 163). It is here where Gutierrez’s concept of hope finds resonance with those critiques of Black nihilism. This is not to say that we should not consider the dangers of such a Christian or theological hope, such is the purpose of this project, but it is to attend to the nuances of a hope’s refusal as a spiritual praxis.

Spirituality is a posture, a positionality, or rather a way of being and living out the gospel or the good news of the Christian faith. It comprises those first acts of theology that orient us towards experience and the witness of the ancestors. A proper spirituality for Gutierrez brings into focus a language to that which has been silenced, those unknown, unremembered/forgotten, and terrible aspects of the Christian faith, converting them to “living, prayer, commitment, and action” (Gutierrez, 204).

In his affirmation of spirituality and the spirit of liberation as a figure in his theology of liberation, Gutierrez also notes the limitations of the Christian life and experience that grounds such spirituality through the difficulties of conversion. Gutierrez’s spirituality is concerned with the material realities of the poor and oppressed in Latin America which is saturated in and marked by a silence that necessitates language or speech, even in its inadequacy (The Density of the Present, 135). Spirituality calls us not only to communion with God and the world but expresses the unique spiritual experiences of those Christians and those involved in revolutionary movements that proclaim an end to poverty and positionalities outside of the captive. Spirituality attends to the reflection of a group of people, their experiences and their meditations, and how they send up their timber amid the crushing existential dilemma that is anti-Blackness and its grammar. This is the source of a theology of liberation. One that attends to the grimy matter that sits at their knees as they pray, meditate and ponder “what must I do?” or ask “how come me here?” For Gutierrez, we must risk being consumed, that is to render inadequate the categories of theological reflection posterior to spirituality. We must attend to the intimate, the present experiences, while also not resigning ourselves to them, and attend to the excess that meets them in the middle of their air, that touches their spirit and touches the excess in which we might hope.

The critique of hope engendered through a Black nihilist analysis stands to show the impossible possibility of hope and that if we are to hope for anything it should be the end of hope in the political. Might this also necessitate we abandon hope in those theological categories that attempt to sustain us and offer redress?  The theological and political categories are not sufficient. The spirituality of liberation, which leads us toward the gospel that proclaims “good news,” is a way of being and living in the world, if there exists such a possibility, that of a possible conversion not only toward the other but another optic, a new language or signification of hope (Essential Writings, 286-290). As we continue to look and search for answers to the inexplicable, is it worth considering that a spirituality of liberation urges us to sit in hope’s impossibility, rendering all our current hopes obsolete?

Theologizing does not begin with speech; it is first in the silence where we begin to articulate and give language to that which is revealed in our contemplation. It is the silence and the quiet through which we enter the ineffable and encounter the incapability of language. Signs and symbols–their arbitrariness–gesture toward a reality that cannot fully be articulated in the language and grammar by which we have come to know the world. It is the signification of silence that conditions a type of speech (Long, 67). Attending to and tarrying with the inarticulable nature of the archaic conditions the metaphysical violence that grounds Blackness and the structures of the world. This is a hope that does not hold to any “rational grasp of things,” but is clear-eyed in its hope in God, at least this is the case for Gutierrez (On Job, 9-10). Then a spirituality of liberation leads us to consider new languages for contending with complete disorder and destruction and the possibility that if we are to hope, in a new way, then language will not suffice and is wholly inadequate for the task.

Hope is dangerous and holds many captives with its alluring possibilities in the reordering and reform of a social order that has done all but guarantee life. The political and theological categories in which we hope do not provide the guarantees for life and liberation but only reinforce the quotidian and spectacular nature of anti-Blackness, its violence, and its uncertainty. If we are to contend with hope as a spiritual practice which is attuned to the material realities of the present and the truth that is the past, it sits in the fragility that is the possibility for otherwise–that is the yet not ready that is present but past, here but not here. This “abolishes those modalities of thought that thinks that categorical distinctions are maintainable” (Crawley, 27-37).

But more importantly, hope is the excess of opaqueness, this is to say that hope lies in its own unsettling, its rupture and abandonment, which then only leaves us with a metaphor. Like the arbitrary nature of signs and symbols through language, the metaphor speaks of the “irreducible relationality” that conversion is central to the spirituality of liberation. Metaphor is the excess that precedes any movement or nomination toward the word, toward phrase, toward statement. Crawley names the capaciousness of music and its ability to articulate through the vibration which extends beyond our capacity. Thus, music, dance and other vibrations are those first acts of theology, a spirituality. It is the act of putting into time, space and language that which is unutterable, that which is excess and opaque.

James A. Noel calls this the “moan and shout.” The moan is “the communication of the intelligible something. An uttering a sacred and spiritual language that “the signification of silence.” The moan, its melancholia, excess, and its suspicion, is a bringing into an utterance that which is incommunicable– “a cry, a critique, a prayer, a hymn, a sermon, all at once” (Noel, 149). The moan is that vibration that reeks of the excess of a spiritual language and experience that is opaque and longs to be named. If we are to hope for anything beyond the end of hope, it is in the incommunicable and incommensurable nature that is the moan.

In the Absence of a Liberating God – 50 years after A Theology of Liberation

Fifty years after the publication of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s A Theology of Liberation, what, if any, relevance does Christian liberation theology and Gutiérrez’s work have for our present moment? Do we still have a memory of a liberating God? And if not, is there a liberative power in grappling with the absence of this memory?

A Spirituality of Liberation and The Destruction of Hope

If we are to hope for anything beyond the end of hope, it is in the incommunicable and incommensurable nature that is the moan.

Liberating Liberation Theology: Notes from the “Non” on the 50th Anniversary of A Theology of Liberation

What if Liberation itself must be liberated? Or maybe, like the nonperson and the nonbeing, it has always been breathed into by the breath of white violence.

After Certainty: Liberations of Failure

Liberation, caught between queer nihilism and eschatological certainty, must seek an third way beyond the binary of hopefulness and hopelessness through the negation of both. It must transpose itself into an apophatic register as the experience of continual failure, an uncertain endless becoming, that might be called simple hope.

Sifting for God’s Will: Sketching Providence in the work of Gustavo Gutiérrez

The question then is not so much: “Can providence be liberative?” but rather, “How might liberation be understood as God’s providence?”

Between Anguish and Hope: A Response to Some Critical Re-visions of Liberation Theology

Compost is a living,breathing site of transformation from death to new life. While the following insights from liberation theology may not be articulated in the same way today or fifty years hence, their molecular substructures live on in their fertilization of theological re-visionings that are born of struggle and affirm the liberating primacy of life, love, and solidarity.

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