In a sermon on 1 Tim 6:1-2, John Calvin commented,
“…but they were slaves, of the kind that are still used in some countries, in that after a man was bought the latter would spend his entire life in subjection, to the extent that he might be treated most roughly and harshly: something which cannot be done amidst the humanity which we keep amongst ourselves. Now it is true that we must praise God for having banished such a very cruel brand of servitude.”
I would like to change direction a little in this reflection on one hundred years of political theology. My interest for some time has been the complex intersections – or translations – that take place between Marxism and religion. I find unpersuasive the assertion that Marxism is a secularised or pseudo-religion, a political movement that relies upon a religious framework in order to develop its positions. This is to fall into the double-trap of a secularisation narrative and making theology an absolute and thereby the source of all modern political thought.
…My list focuses on the other conversation, religious voices or theologians, whether practical or professional, immersed in the concrete or engaged in theorizing. My aim is to suggest the kind of reconciling work that Vincent calls for between theology and critical humanities. Such a move makes profound sense to me—emerging as it does out of the tensions within my own biography.
The January 2014 (15.1) issue of Political Theology focuses on the theme of solidarity. The issue begins with an editorial by Peter Henriot SJ, of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, Zambia, which describes some of the ground-breaking development work that is being accomplished across Southern Africa through centres for Catholic social thought. In these centres, insights from the Christian social tradition are brought to life through education and empowerment and placed at the service of justice and peace work and social transformation.
What the world needs is not another group of people scrambling for advantage or clamoring for privilege, but rather a community of people engaged in acts of transcendence that move beyond the interests of the self towards the furtherance of the common good. That will only happen when the church tells the truth about how and why it was so chosen by God and re-orders its practices accordingly.
If an academic field is defined in part by its canon, wide divergence on canon would suggest that what appears to be a field might not really be one. In the case of political theology, there seems to be this sort of incoherence: an anthropologist writing an article about political theology may never have heard of Dorothee Sölle, while a seminary professor writing an article about political theology might never have heard of Claude Lefort.
Romans 13:1-7 has stood as one of the most important texts throughout the history of Christian political thought, but like so many biblical texts, has proven capable of being put to the service of several different—even contradictory—ends. The 16th century in particular stimulated several different readings of the passage, readings which have continued to remain popular down to the present day.
It would be nice to be able to write the following in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s demise: Mandela was a freedom fighter to the end, a figure whose legacy has not only brought justice and equality to the people he left behind, but also has worked as a moving inspiration for the world leaders who gathered last week to bid his spirit farewell.
A number of years ago, as I was trying to finalize my dissertation proposal at a large Catholic university, I ran into some problems. My topic was the preferential option for the poor and U.S. middle-class Christians. I knew I was stretching some of the boundaries of theological ethics by focusing on class analysis and the philosophical underpinnings of “The American Dream” as obstacles to faithful expression of the option for the poor in the U.S.
“Have you heard that Mandela died?” The staggering impact of this question took my breath away as I stepped into the office after a full day of classes on Thursday, December 5th. I texted my daughter who had grown up in South Africa, with these simple words, “Wow – this is huge!” Mourning the loss of Mandela has been an enormous undertaking.