Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Faith, Idealism and Ideology

To teach and preach Christian love, without taking into account the prevailing social structures, is to make this love blindly idealist and quite susceptible to ideological manipulation.  For Jose Miguez Bonino, idealist hermeneutics facilitate the formation of absolute ideas about God, and debase human corporeality and historicity.  In this way, the faithful God of the covenant could be turned into the immutable God whose heavenly cry beckons us away from radical political activity.  The faithful Son could be turned into the absolutely obedient victim and the substitute prey for a vengeful God.

The idealist tendency is strong in Christianity not only owing to the early infusion of Platonic concepts but also because of the belief in the irreducible power of the Godhead.  For Miguez, Platonic concepts can be expunged from Christianity, but divine omnipotence may not be denied.

A major challenge for pastors and theologians is to affirm divine omnipotence primarily in relation to the concrete empowerment of the oppressed and marginalized groups in these times.  An idealist perversion of the belief in divine omnipotence comes easily when this belief is proclaimed “in the abstract,” especially when the proclamation does not take into account the contemporary needs and struggles of the lower classes (“Christian Political Ethics”).

Abstract affirmations of divine omnipotence promote an idealist view of history, as the historical agency of the poor and the lowly get easily obscured.  One ends up viewing the passage of history as, e.g., the predestined long pull from an immutable God.  In such a scheme, one of the real partners in the divine-human covenant gets smothered, and history becomes only the action and will of God.  From here, it is but a small step toward fatalism and its noxious ideological forms.

It is a necessary task of pastors and theologians to de-ideologize church practices and teachings that have contributed to the dehumanization of people.  In the case of Juan Luis Segundo, he did not aim for the total elimination of ideology from theology and pastoral work, as he believed that faith without ideology is “dead.”  Faith that is not accompanied by ideology will have insignificant effect on a particular social context.  Faith will end up fruitless and lifeless if it only floats on the clouds of timeless principles and does not get incarnated or enacted in a social system.
To de-ideologize theology implies not only the elimination of noxious ideologies but also the assimilation of beneficial ones in order to make theology relevant and well-grounded.  Examples of harmful ideologies are fascism, Stalinism, and androcentrism.  Beneficial ones might be egalitarianism and feminism.
An ideology is any social theory with historic effects whether harmful or helpful, dehumanizing or humanizing, oppressive or liberating.  A social theory attempts to explain the reproduction and change of social practices across time and space.

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