For Life and Against Death: A Theology That Takes Sides
Theology comes at the rear guard, as a reflection, as a help to think and to deepen a commitment already undertaken as an act of obedience. JOSE MfGUEZ-BONINO
• I M U S T CONFESS that the question of how my mind has changed is one that has never exercised me much. T h e reason may perhaps be that, like most theologians from the so-called T h i r d World, I have never set out to develop a theological program or to articulate an all-encompassing system. Rather I have spoken or written as questions came up, as issues were pressed upon me by circumstances or requests. Consistency or logical development has never been a conscious objective. A Necessary Self-Examination as something already defined and determined, like a well-traveled road, he begins to ask a question with some urgency: Can I really consider my life a unity? If I look at it objectively and dispassionately, I must answer: "I am not sure that it is like that." There are so many disconnections, so many gaps, so many dead-end streets! How many times did I have to tear out the page and start again? My intention of a few months ago to write an article on the development of my thought, another request which I finally turned down, renewed the impression: after 1 revised some things I had written at least two decades ago, how many inconsistencies, how many indecisions, how many starts and stops there were! [Room to Be People (Fortress, 1980), p. 25]. It is now again an external stimulus, the request that I write this article, that forces the perhaps necessary self-examination which I would hardly have undertaken otherwise. Neither Despair Nor Indignation Obviously, one has to begin with world events, and more particularly those in Latin America, which give the background — nay, which enter eonstitutively (and this is perhaps already a major shift in my thinking) — into theological reflection. T h e horizon has progressively darkened throughout the world in the past decade. On my continent, fragile hopes for a peaceful social and political transformation were dashed to pieces in Chile, in Uruguay, in Argentina and in Bolivia. T h e brutal regimes inspired by "national security'' ideology have imposed their visible police repression and their relentless economic policies over two-thirds of the continent. T h e people of Nicaragua have paid an unbelievable price for a small and precarious space of freedom. In Brazil, El Salvador, Argentina, Guatemala and elsewhere in Latin America the church mourns and celebrates its martyrs. I have become more and more convinced that neither despair nor mere moral indignation is the right response to this situation. W h a t is happening before our eyes is a revelation, the "unmasking" of "the logic of death" in the economic-socio-political order in which we live. Awareness of this fact came to me as I was reading Milton Friedman's "theory of population" ("the production of h u m a n beings is to be regarded as if it were a deliberative economic
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Occasionally, others have called my attention to changes or developments in my thinking. An American doctoral student announced that he identified three distinct stages in my theological development, moving from a church-centered to a world-centered theology. Perhaps he is right! An erstwhile colleague used to tell me that the decisive break in my thought occurred in 1968, at the time of the popular uprisings in Argentina against the military dictatorship of Onganfa. Even more precisely, he timed it with the death in Rosario of a student killed by the police. H e contended that my theology had since become more militant and political, that it had broken away from the captivity of a self-contained theological universe and had accepted the challenge of historicity. I had never intended to live in a purely theological universe — but, again, perhaps he is right! My wife — who is usually right — tells me that what I have consistently tried to do is simply to reread and explain the Bible: "Questions, issues and challenges have changed," she says, "but at bottom you remain what you have always been: a preacher bound to his text." I hope she is right this time! Only once, in 1974, as I was preparing a series of evangelistic talks, I consciously raised for myself the question of the consistency of my thinking or, more deeply, of the unity of my life. As I pondered for some hours, this is the conclusion I reached: When someone turns 50 and begins to view his life
Dr. Miguez-Bonino, currently a visiting professor at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, is a theological educator from Argentina. He is also active as one of the vicepresidents of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in Argentina.
my friend is right in saying that my theology has become (contradicting my temperament) more militant. It is not enough." demands.choice determined by the balancing of returns and costs") and his distinction between "human capital" and "nonhuman capital" (that distinction being hard to predict so long as "social arrangements" grant some human freedom — should we say. I am aware that the logic of this "compressed" argument will not be self-evident to many readers from the affluent world. "the economic laws. but only to explain mine. Life has been made finally only a function of the economic process. it is not we who "theologize" this struggle. And theology comes at the rear guard." It is the sacrifice that the highest god. God Has Chosen Sides I can express this same point in a different way. 1976]. Repression. theology must take sides. educational and health services. whose experience am I adopting? (And. There is no socially and politically neutral theology. the suppression of all expressions of public opinion — these are not the result of the whim or the cruelty of bloodthirsty tyrants: they are "the necessary social cost" of "freedom. I have to ask myself: What is my "social location" as theologian? Whose interests and concerns am I serving? Whose perspective on reality. God himself has chosen sides — he has chosen to liberate the poor by delivering them from their misery and marginality. that a meditation on "the unavoidability of unemployment. Many things are complex. It is a commitment (shall I use the beautiful and daring Pauline word "discernment"?) that a growing'number of Christians in Latin America and elsewhere have assumed — or rather. also." "the mystery of inflation. we trust. We cannot bracket it out of our theological reflection. to God's creative and redemptive concern for life and against death! This conviction is not the result of some theological deduction. and the structuralist study of the functions of language) and observations of the role played by religious language." the escalation of the programs of defense and the "need" to cut down on social and
Jose Mfguez-Bonino. as a help to rethink and deepen (and thus perhaps. to claim solidarity with them in their struggle. I was not invited to change their minds. 1980
. 210-211). In any case. it is with the logic of the system which he so clearly and consistently interprets. against whom — temporarily and conditionally. torture. We theologians are not the avant-garde of "the new society. Moreover. disappearances. with all the resources we have. however. studies on the meaning and operation of ideology. a threat to all life and to the whole life. we are responsible for "the correct social operation" of that doctrine. May I suggest. and to liberate the rich by bringing them down from their thrones. as a reflection. by the Spirit. as long as life remains to some extent human?) (Price Theory [Aldine. but a basic thing seems clear: we are faced with a total system of death. to correct and enrich) a commitment already undertaken
November 26." It is the struggle of the people (particularly the struggle of the poor) for their life. The insights derived from the social sciences (particularly from social psychology. if we are faithful. pp. since it is a conflict. that has been forced on us. the withdrawal of social. in the struggle for life and against death. it is this insight that has come to define the framework within which I try to do theology. ideas and Symbols in our past and present history combine to give us an acute awareness of the unavoidable social impact of theological thinking.
assistance programs could be a healthy exercise also for theologians? In any case. As the economist-theologian Franz Hinkelammert cogently argues. therefore. Christians and churches are invited to take the side of the poor. the human subject vanishes and only the "fetish" (capital? property? the economic laws?) remains in control. one which also corresponds to my experience and studies in the '70s. the cultural or physical genocide of native Indians. but no less resolutely — am I struggling?) In this sense. Let it be understood: theology is not the main subject of the struggle. My quarrel is not with Friedman. It is our Christian privilege and duty to witness concretely and unhesitantly. that we "enunciate the correct doctrine".
relying on an old tradition. as one listens to the living response to the text in the Bible study of the "basis" or "popular ecclesial communities" (reflected. Reflecting on Basic Motifs In the first place. . But we were searching for a new way of doing theology. How. Methodological Questions
Naturally I was not trained or conditioned for this kind of reflection. This awareness brought about a great freedom to profit gratefully from the great riches of modern academic theology but to look at it as a timebound product of an 1156
age. It will best fulfill its vocation in the struggle for liberation by retaining its specificity and refusing to dissolve its fundamental epistemological principle — it is a knowledge of faith rooted in God's selfrevelation. T o be sure. for instance in Ernesto Cardenal's Gospel in Solentiname). and particularly of the way in which the old traditions were reread and reinterpreted for new situations. . As social sciences took the place of philosophy as the privileged method for interpreting human experience.How My Mind Has Changed
Thirteenth in a Series
as an act of obedience. the breakthrough in Roman Catholic theology at the time of Vatican II. political and economic issues which a theology of liberation must address if it wants to be meaningful for the life and witness of the churches and Christians in our time and situation. I am more and more convinced. This is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion of these questions. because you
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. There was the "episcopal theology" which began with the burning issues in the life of the church in the early centuries. a place and a social class which need not be taken as universally normative. shall we articulate this relation? Is there a theologically responsible way of rereading the biblical testimony from within our present situation? How can the theologian bring out this "reserve of meaning" (as my colleague Croatto calls it) in the biblical stories without arbitrarily reading into them one's own ideology? Catholic theologians. But I would like simply to indicate some of the main convictions and perspectives which I have begun to articulate during the past ten years or so. we all knew it all the time. there was free meditation commenting on Scripture in early medieval theology. Moreover. one that could begin at the point where our basic experience lay: with the struggle of the poor and the commitment of Christians to it. Latin American theological production has been concerned largely with methodological questions during the past decade. the infrastructure. that theology must remain theology through and through. emphasize the "sensus fidelium" and. one becomes convinced of the truth that Jesus himself celebrated: "I thank you. This is the service which we can render and our only justification as theologians. T h e rediscovery of the Old Testament's historicity. the deep fellowship. the questions still remained. centered and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that the joint work of a number of Catholic and Protestant theologians (here I must bear witness to the joy. the birth of "political theology" in Europe — these and many other developments were of great help. Like most of my fellow professors of the Third World. T o accept being simply this kind of theologian and to rejoice in it is the lesson that some of us have been trying — not always successfully—to learn during these past years. then. The living triune God is the only reality from which we can face the complex social. but seldom thought about it —that modern academic theology. For me it was very important to realize — of course. We found much in the resources of academic theology that was of value. Father . often in difficult situations) has helped to clarify some issues. after the first explorations and uncertainties. this basis must be explored and articulated in its full trinitarian dimension. was just one of the ways in which the church had thought through its faith. new questions emerged: How should we use these sciences? Were they "auxiliary" or "constitutive" in theology? How did they affect our hermeneutics — both of Scripture and of history? How were we to choose between differing and conflicting interpretations? How was the question of "ideology" to be faced? Although no one would claim that these questions have been sufficiently answered. I was trained and destined to be a second-rate academic theologian (this is neither an accusation nor a sign of modesty: it is the simple recognition that we do not have the time. the mutual support which has characterized our work. there was the spiritual theology of the mystics. with its particular methods. the "milieu" or the "market" — even if we had the intelligence and the will — to pursue the rigorous course of the "developed" academic scholar).
" For most of us this is an existential question because we are engaged at the same time in pastoral and "academic" work (jacks of all trades!) and would not be ready to withdraw from either. I am aware of the danger of falling back into an idealistic ethics. Since my youth (in which I was attracted to the Argentine socialist — non-Marxist — party) I have believed that certain elements of the Marxist economic and social analysis were correct. and to try to relate this knowledge with integrity to our theological work. and the rigorous "theoretical" work of the academic. I am convinced that theology has to find expression in different forms and styles. Now the academic work has a subordinate place: it depends on and draws from the praxis and experience of the community. justice. some contrived — concerning the relation of liberation theology to Marxism. the spontaneous. to evaluate the results. more than academic status is at stake in this issue. For my part. a mountain town in Guatemala." such as peace (shalom)." At the same time. I look for other "intrinsic" controls. We must be on our guard. It is at this point that the theologian must try to sharpen the critical (socioanalytical and hermeneutical) instruments of the trade. to distinguish the different orientations. I find it difficult to understand that theologians in a tradition which oozes philosophy through all its pores feel free to warn us solemnly of the "ideological" danger in the use of the social sciences! For many of us it has been a painful and at times frustrating exercise to go "back to school" and sit at the feet of the social scientists. I think it can enrich and give orientation to our commitment. trying to understand their categories of analysis. Interdisciplinary work born in a common commitment and carried out in mutual respect is now a reality for Latin American theology. concrete response of the basis-community. as a Protestant. I have never felt attracted to Marxism as a system. Let me try to express in a few sentences not the substantive question but my personal attitude.have hidden these things from the learned and powerful. and have revealed them to the little ones. I have never experienced the Entdeckungsfreude (joy of discovery) that my friend and colleague Jiirgen Moltmann thought he had spotted in some of us. after all. I have tried to clarify some aspects of this relation (see Christians and Marxists [Eerdmans. But it has been a fruitful exercise in which a true and open fellowship has emerged. 1976]). neither have I felt inclined to enroll in any antiMarxist crusade. Theory is one's business! Sloppy and careless talk and alienated and irrelevant theory are the Scylla and Charybdis between which one has to walk. not with a reduction. to be sure. Christians and Marxists During these years I have had to face many misunderstandings—some genuine." Not seldom is it pointed out that some of our work moves at a level of "abstraction. We theologians should not forget that. moreover. hope and solidarity. with early ChrisPoor peasants selling firewood in front of a church in Chichicastenango. it was the social scientists' reflection on "dependence and liberation" which awakened us to a basic biblical motif! There are two points in relation to the question of "social analysis" which we have had to face. I have more and more come to think in terms of a long humanist-socialist tradition. love.
. and aims at serving it
November 26. the spiritual meditation of the mystic (Ernesto Cardenal's poems or Arturo Paoli's meditations on the Gospels). all of them necessary but no one absolutely normative: the impassioned word of the prophet (witness many of the episcopal letters in our continent). We are concerned with the unity of all of this. In Latin America. Sharpening the Tools Then there is the use of socioanalytical tools. but I don't think that this is for us a great temptation. And I have come to the conclusion that the articulation of the biblical witness in terms of our situation has to be mediated by a deep consideration of basic biblical themes or "motifs. If we keep the reflection on these basic motifs closely bound with the story of God's acts and with our concrete situation.1980
through the analysis of this experience and praxis. One has to do with "theoretical thinking.
No! Indeed. if the Century authorizes us to change our minds every ten years." A Southern Presbyterian bureaucrat. Richard G. it is posted above the scales in the bathroom for daily checkups. This is an altogether appropriate and essential activity for the synods. In Wheel Within the Wheel (John Knox. I am in tune with the dominant theme of almost every meeting of every conference. It is not an absolute. its composition. the community of faith. its catholicity. Yes! For the church. if met. why should we claim any greater permanence for our theology! •
Name Tags and the Theocentric Focus
Have we not been so overlaid by the achievement-orientation of our culture that we have come to see the local church. 1979) he reminds us that all the classical confessional statements accepted within the Reformed tradition . but which he has neither created nor fulfilled. in its fundamental manifestation. renewing or moving toward objectives and goals of the church. the church in its primary and elemental form. The danger is that we will see the church as an organization which exists in order "to do" rather than "to be. of the political de-
cision. Caught as I am in a current personal planning and goal-setting activity by means of which I anticipate the future with hope. Hutcheson. I hope) which concretely defines my Christian obedience in the world at this time. association and synod of almost every Protestant denomination in the United States and Canada. I have designed a "time line" which charts dates and weights for "review and evaluation" every ten days. its governance. They deal with its foundation. and of human freedom — is the immediate context of my theological work. . The "measurable and achievable objective" of two and one-half pounds every ten days. Theologically. and therefore to my Christian hope. I have a calorie counter and a small scale in the kitchen. such concentration on goal-setting and achievement of objectives may be the most dangerous and destructive mind-set and operational assumption in mainline American Protestantism today as it seeks to be faithful to Jesus Christ in the '80s.tian and Hellenic roots. include declarations about the church.. It is a pristine example of Management by Objective with all the predictable and built-in pleasures of achievement and the discouragements of measurable failure. for instance — with clarity and mutual respect. Goals and objectives: for the instrumentalities. as organized to do rather than to be? BROWNE B R AR
+ RECENTLY I had a physical examination. its discipline. has written persuasively in this regard. not an object of faith. reviewing. the marks of a "true church/' and the communion which exists within it.
lishing. in which Marx has played an important — even decisive — part. After all. I think it is a historical project partially and ambiguously but really and intrinsically related to God's Kingdom. its relationship to God in the headship of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. In this sense I firmly believe that we must — now with Moltmann's words — "demythologize" the Marx question. the social appropriation of the means of production. boards. committees and judicatories of the church which have a task-orientation and are charged with the accomplishment of goals. would bring me to the "desired goal" on the projected date. So I have commenced a 40-day diet worked out on a careful calculation of calorie intake. which has developed in the modern world. its sacraments. T h e gospel does not stand or fall with the correctness of this view. No! For the church as persons gathered together voluntarily in Christ's name. Barr is dean of San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo. These various "instrumentalities" of the church are all preparing for or recovering from some meeting. I carry a note pad to record all intake. California. As a consequence my physician and I agreed that my clothes would fit better and I might live longer and have more energy if I lost ten pounds. Jr. large or small. But not one of
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. . But my theology does. but simply a sociopolitical decision (a lucid one. concerned with estabDr. On this basis I have found it possible to work together with Marxists and others — on questions of human rights. I must say it directly: this socialist option — as Gustavo Gutierrez defines it. its holiness.
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