Saturday, April 28, 2007

Seeking the Kingdom of God on Earth. Is it the First Temptation?

Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1308 – 1311)

Pope Benedict’s new book Jesus of Nazareth has just been released, a book being described as one that "seeks to salvage the person of Jesus from recent 'popular' depictions and to restore Jesus’ true identity as discovered in the Gospels." At the same time, according to this article:

In a preface, the pope makes an unusual disclaimer, saying the book should not be read as an expression of official church teaching, but as the fruits of his personal research.

"Therefore, anyone is free to contradict me," he said.

Not to sound impertinent (I applaud the fact that he has written this book), but thank you Holy Father, for writing something that you admit is an invitation to dialogue, and does not have to be held definitively by the faithful.

Apparently the book contains some strong criticism of globalization and capitalism in the way it has been practiced by first-world countries, and it takes those countries to task for having mercilessly "plundered and sacked" Africa and other poor regions, and for having exported to them the "cynicism of a world without God". My goodness... Does he sound like one of those liberation theology guys?

Not exactly. A self-described Augustinian through and through, the Holy Father clearly sees a distinction between the City of God and the City of Man... and a Kingdom that is not of this world.

Benedict XVI said Christ must be understood as the Son of God on a divine mission, not as a mere moralist or social reformer... While Christ did not bring a blueprint for social progress, he did bring a new vision based on love that challenges the evils of today's world -- from the brutality of totalitarian regimes to the "cruelty of capitalism," he said.

The idea that the meek or the poor are particularly blessed has struck some -- including the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche -- as a resentful complaint against the world's more fortunate or successful people, the pope said.

But recent decades have demonstrated the lasting value of this Christian vision, he said. After witnessing the way totalitarian regimes of the modern era have trampled human dignity and beaten the weak, "we understand once again those who have hunger and thirst for justice," he said.

"Faced with the abuse of economic power, faced with the cruelty of capitalism that downgrades man to a commodity, we have begun to see more clearly the dangers of wealth and understand in a new way what Jesus meant when he warned against wealth," he said.

The pope said the widespread modern expectation that religion should act as a recipe for earthly peace and justice finds an echo in Satan's temptation to Christ -- to change the stones of the desert into bread to relieve his hunger.

Still, many people may ask "what Jesus really brought, if not peace in the world, well-being for everyone, a better world," the pope wrote.

"The answer is very simple. He brought God," he said. By revealing himself as the Son of God, Christ lets people know that God is close to their lives and at work in human history, he said.

With all due respect to the Holy Father, this is where he loses me a little bit. I'm not sure what it means to say that God is at work in human history, yet to deny the expectation that religion should act as a recipe for earthly peace and justice. God works through the human. I am, however, very familiar with this way of looking at faith and the meaning of Christ's life and of the Cross. In his distrust of mixing Christ with man-made political solutions, especially those that smack in some way of socialism, he echoes very much what we used to hear from the great Cold-Warrior Fulton Sheen on the meaning of "the temptation to turn stones into bread". From his book Life of Christ:

Knowing that Our Lord was hungry, Satan pointed down to some little black stones that resembled round loaves of bread, and said: If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Matthew 4:3

The first temptation of Our Blessed Lord was to become a kind of social reformer, and to give bread to the multitudes in the wilderness who could find nothing there but stones. The vision of social amelioration without spiritual regeneration has constituted a temptation to which many important men in history have succumbed completely. But to Him, this would not be adequate service of the Father; there are deeper needs in man than crushed wheat; and there are greater joys than the full stomach.

The evil spirit was saying, "Start with the primacy of the economic! Forget about sin!" He still says this today in different words, "My Commissar goes into classrooms and asks children to pray to God for bread. And when their prayers are not answered, my Commissar feeds them. The Dictator gives bread; God does not, because there is no God, there is no soul; there is only the body, pleasure, sex, the animal, and when we die, that is the end." Satan was here trying to make Our Lord feel the terrific contrast between the Divine greatness He claimed and His actual destitution. He was tempting Him to reject the ignominies of human nature, the trials and the hunger, and to use the Divine power, if He really possessed it, to save His human nature and also to win the mob. Thus, he was appealing to Our Lord to stop acting as a man, and in the name of man, and to use His supernatural powers to give His human nature ease, comfort, and immunity from trial. What could be more foolish than for God to be hungry, when He had once spread a miraculous table in the desert for Moses and his people? John had said that He could raise up children of Abraham for Himself. The need was real; the power, if He was God, was also real; why then was He submitting His human nature to all the ills and sufferings to which mankind is heir? Why was God accepting such humiliation just to redeem His own creatures? "If You are the Son of God, as you claim to be, and You are here to undo the destruction wrought by sin, then save Yourself." It was exactly the same kind of temptation men would hurl at Him in the hour of His Crucifixion...

Our Lord was not denying that men must be fed, or that social justice much be preached; but He was asserting that these things are not first. He was, in effect, saying to Satan, "You tempt Me to a religion which would relieve want; you want Me to be a baker, instead of a Savior; to be a social reformer, instead of a Redeemer. You are tempting Me away from My Cross, suggesting that I be a cheap leader of people, filling their bellies instead of their souls. You would have Me begin with security instead of ending with it; you would have Me bring outer abundance instead of inner holiness. You and your materialist followers say, `Man lives by bread alone,' but I say to you, `Not by bread alone.' Bread there must be, but remember even bread gets ill its power to nourish mankind from Me. Bread without Me can harm man; and there is no real security apart from the Word of God. If I give bread alone, then man is no more than an animal, and dogs might as well come first to My banquet. Those who believe in Me must hold to that faith, even when they are starved and weak; even when they are imprisoned and scourged.

"I know about human hunger! I have gone without food Myself for forty days. But I refuse to become a mere social reformer who caters only to the belly. You cannot say that I am unconcerned with social justice, for I am feeling at this moment the hunger of the world. I am One with every poor, starving member of the human race. That is why I have fasted: so that they can never say that God does not know what hunger is. Begone, Satan! I am not just a social worker who has never been hungry Himself, but One who says, `I reject any plan which promises to make men richer without making them holier.' Remember! I Who say, `Not by bread alone,' have not tasted bread for forty days!"

In his days as head of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger was well-known for his criticism of liberation theology in Latin America, and for his campaign against it. Much of that criticism was for LT's ecclesiology. Recently the Jesuit liberation theologian Jon Sobrino received a notification questioning certain elements of his christology.

If I may be so bold, it is my own humble opinion that the Pope makes a certain caricature of it. I wouldn't go as far as to say that he doesn't understand it. Joseph Ratzinger is well-known for having a deep understanding of everything that ever crosses his desk, but for some reason, he seems to construct a straw-man to attack out of LT and describes its theologians in ways that they wouldn't describe themselves. Perhaps he is more afraid of where he thinks it will lead instead of what it is.

If he is including LT in his latest critique (and granted, I'm not 100% sure he is), he is making the mistake of applying to them the same critique that Sheen rightly made concerning the secular socialists - that Jesus was only a social reformer. As far as I understand any of the liberation theologians, they would never claim that about Jesus. I admit that I'm not very far into Sobrino's book, but it seems to me that what he is getting at is the importance of stressing Jesus' message about the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which historical-Jesus research indicates was concerned about this world as well as the next world. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven... ". Sobrino lays emphasis on his thesis that the Kindom of God message should not be as totally subsumed to the more traditionally "orthodox" christological doctrines as it has been up until now, particularly in places like Latin America. In his view, the living out of the Gospel has suffered in Latin America under a sort of quietistic piety that has failed to challenge societies to recognize the importance of God's justice in both the Old and New Testaments, in which God's people are trusting in His strong arm for their liberation and deliverance.

In short, I don't think Sobrino is trying to replace "orthodox" christology with another type. I think he is issuing the challenge that "orthodox" christology should be careful not truncate the full Gospel message.

The early Christians were able to massively transform the world in a non-violent way ("look how they love one another"). Today we hear all too often how the non-Christian world fails to hear the "Good News" because quite frankly, Christians don't act like Christians... We haven't practiced what we preach. Is it too much to expect the world to be transformed? The earliest believers certainly expected to see it transformed. Did the other-worldly message start to get more emphasis when Jesus did not immediately return, and the Kingdom did not arrive as expected? Why do we push the other-worldly message at the expense of the this-worldly message so strongly? Do we lack the faith that Christ really can work through us to bring justice and transformation? If so, does that say more about a desire to preserve and perpetuate a system than a desire to live out the Gospel? An excerpt from the Introduction to Jon Sobrino's Jesus the Liberator.

Christology can be useful to good ends, but can also be used to bad ends, which should not surprise us, since, being made by human beings, it is also subject to sinfulness and manipulation. We should not forget that historically there have been heretical christologies, which have truncated the total truth of Christ, and, worse, there have been objectively harmful christologies, which have put forward a different Christ and even one objectively contrary to Jesus of Nazareth. Let us remember that this continent has been subjected to centuries of inhuman and anti-Christian oppression, without christology giving any sign of having noticed this and certainly without it providing any prophetic denunciation in the name of Jesus Christ.

In this way christology, even in its orthodox forms, can become a mechanism to prevent faith from guiding the faithful to reproduce the reality of Jesus in their own lives and to build the Kingdom of God, proclaimed by Jesus, in history. This is why Juan Luis Segundo, using a deliberately shocking expression, set out to write an "anti -christology," "a speaking about Jesus that opens a way to seeing him as witness to a still more human and liberated life."' Christology therefore has to put an end to the apparent innocence of supposing that the mere fact of writing about Jesus means that what is said is first useful and then used correctly…

Christology is, finally, necessary, since human beings are always affected, astonished or challenged by important realities, and this forces them to think. Christians, furthermore, are explicitly told to give reasons for the hope that they have (1 Pet. 3:15). And in Latin America, as we shall see, christology is a necessity for historical reasons: we need to present a Christ who, as a minimum, is the ally of liberation, not of oppression. But none of this can silence the question of what is most necessary and whether and how christology relates to this.

If I may be allowed a personal comment, I have often thought, on seeing the proliferation of books on Christ-including my own-that if we Christians could put into practice a modest percentage of what is said in any normal work of christology, the world would change radically-and the world is not changing radically. This, of course, is not just the fault of christology. But it does make one think that in certain quarters there might be a sort of avidity and curiosity to see "what the latest book of christology has to say," and that christologies thereby become market products or views put about in the Athenian market-place, from which we can all pick and choose at whim, compare them, discuss them, defend them or attack them ... while everything stays exactly the same in reality.

We sincerely believe that the new Latin American christology has tried to serve "the one thing necessary," but there is still a fear of what J. L. Sicre denounced in his book on the prophets of Israel happening: "The best way of avoiding the word of God is to study the word of God."'

So, before starting a christology and before Jesus passes through the filter of concept and loses his freshness, it is good and necessary to allow oneself to be affected and challenged by the gospel. It is true that without the reasoning supplied by christology, reading the gospel can and usually does degenerate into dangerous fundamentalism, and this provides the need for christology. But we must be careful not to end up as enlightened christologues and illiterates of the gospel, of overcoming "fundamentalism" while losing sight of the "fundamentals," what the whole world understands (or should understand) without too many explanations: Jesus' option for the poor, his mercy and justice, his confrontation with the powerful, his persecution and death resulting from all this, his revindicating resurrection. And above all, that it is this Jesus we have to follow.

Why do I personally think this is something important to discuss, keep alive, and continually reconsider? Because I believe that the problem of theodicy will constantly be an Achilles Heel for the faith unless we do work to change the world as Christians, and besides, if the world doesn't change radically in the way we relate to each other, I fear we may not make it too much longer anyway... and I don't think eschatology is supposed to occur the way Tim LaHaye thinks it does....

The future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years... these years may be the last when civilization still has the wealth and political cohesion to steer itself towards caution, conservation, and social justice... the 10,000 year experiment of the settled life will stand or fall by what we do, and don't do, now.
-- A Short History of Progress, by Ronald Wright


Liam said...

Great post, Jeff.

Liam said...

PS: That's a rockin' Duccio.

cowboyangel said...


Another great post. You do like to take on the thorny issues, don't you? Good!

I spent many years studying and wrestling with the issue of what it means to follow the teachings of Jesus and how that interacts with the political systems of humankind. There are so many divergent opinions, from total involvement in politics to total withdrawal. There's no easy answer.

One of the core problems, it seems to me, is that the Church is both the spiritual Body of Christ, and that the Roman Catholic Church in particular, is an institution of men that has held and maintained very worldy power for nearly two thousand years. This leads to a kind of schizophrenia, where spiritual valules are taught to the masses while the institution has to act according to the mandates of earthly power. It's not just an issue in the 20th and 21st centuries but has been going on for a long, long time. It gets all mixed up. Just a cursory reading of the Crusades shows how much of the Church's "spiritual" decisions were based on political ends. And that's just one example.

What bothers me, is that the Church [and by this I mean both Christendom in general and the Roman Catholic Church] always seems to get upset when individuals start trying to apply the teachings of Christ towards helping the poor and working for social justice. Then, you're a socialist, Christ's kingdom isn't of this world, liberation theology is bad, we should concentrate on salvation and spiirtuality, and we shouldn't become too political because Jesus wasn't a social reformer.

The argument never seems to come up when the worldly power structure benefits the Church. How much colonialism and dictatorship has been stamped with the approval of the Church because they gained from the situation? Where was the Church when Pinochet trained dogs to rape women in front of their husbands? Oh, right, he was a good Catholic getting rid of socialists. Same goes for Franco and all of his Opus Dei cabinet memebers. He kept the arm of Santa Teresa on his desk - how could he be a bad guy? But it's an old story. Those in power will ALWAYS have good, moral reasons to keep those without power from trying to change things. It has nothing to do in the end with spirituality and the Kingdom of G-d. It's just power.

I don't believe Jesus was a political revolutionary. And trying to turn him into one does miss the point. But if people are being oppressed, I don't think they should wait around for the Church to okay their revolution. By the very nature of worldly power, the Church will not be able to act most of the time on their behalf. That's just the way it is.

I don't like the idea of people trying to build the Kingdom of G-d on earth. Given human nature, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. Because someone else's idea of G-d may not be my own. The Nazis and the Communists both tried to bring about their perfect worlds. I don't think an attempt by "good Christians" (or good Muslims" or "good Atheists") would turn out much better.

I'm rambling a bit. It's a big topic. So many things I want to say. . . . And I don't know if I'm really doing justice to your excellent post.

"Everything is political." I believe that. Politics is how you intereact with your community. If everything is interrelated, then our actions, or lack of action, always impacts the community. Trying to dissuade people from acting politically because Jesus wasn't a reformer is a polticial act in and of itself. So, what, then, are the motives? As with most things in life, I try to follow the teaching of Woodward and Bernstein: "Follow the money."

But if everything is polticial, I also believe that everything is spiritual. Trying to bring about real change through worldly power and legislation - the more narrow definition of the "political" system - is never going to succeed. It has to be a concept of politics that encompasses interconnection and - ultimately - love. Which brings me back to Martin Luther King once again. I can't think of anyone I've ever read who seemed to have a grasp of the spiritual and political as he did. It was a big, bold vision, centered on agape love and the interconnectedness of all people. Unfortunately, it has been reduced by the media to being about "civil rights." And he was, by the way, accused of being a socialist and told by the Religious Leaders that he shouldn't be so "political."

I have no idea how our Creator is going to wrap up the story of Planet Earth and its people. But it seems to me that as long as the landlord is away, we should do our very best to take of the house we all live in, as well as take care of each other.

crystal said...

Nice picture :-)

That description of the secualr belief - that we are just animals, that we pray for bread but only the state responds to our prayers, that we are a "mob" - reminds me a lot of The Grand Inquisitor. That's what he told Jesus, explaining to him how he had failed humanity, and how "they" (in this case the Church) had had to take up the slack.

This seems dualistic, to divide life into the spiritual and the physical, say that God id just about the spiritual and that to care about the physical is secualr.

I wonder what the fear is - that if people aren't suffering anymore, they won't care about God and a pie-on-the-sky afterlife that's their only hope?

Actually, I think suffering the the biggest reason people turn away from God. If there wasn't an intrinsic disconnect between a good God and one that allows suffering (or who doesn't work to alleviate it) then there wouldn't be so many theodicy theories.

I think you're right - seeing what's in the gospels seems really important. I guess the hard thing is interpreting it. Interpreting what Jesus said is one thing, but maybe what he did is easier to understand?

Great post, Jeff.

Liam said...

I don't think you were rambling William, I think you made some good points. I think there has always been a tension between the hierarchical church and worldly power. I don't think it has always been an exercise in cynicism and I think that many churchmen have had the best of intentions, but power always changes things.

There are a lot of approaches to social action as a Christian. Jesus was not just a revolutionary, in fact a lot of what he said warned against trying to accomplish everything through political change. Still, "love one another" has to extend further than just the people you come across in your daily lives. If I complacently vote and pay taxes in a country that bombs other countries and does not take care of its poor, am I living a Christian life?

I do have problems with Benedict warning against social action on one hand and then being so active in political questions on other issues -- abortion, gay marriage, etc. Whatever we may think about those specific questions, it has to strike us as odd that political detachment becomes so selective.

Also, I believe that B16 as Cardinal Razinger came up with the idea of "non-negotiable" political issues, that idea Catholic Answers is so fond of. War and the death penality are bad, but you don't have to worry about it too much. Any deviance from the church line on abortion and gay marriage cannot be tolerated. Curiously, of course, the political consequences of this approach is to only support the right, no matter what they do as far as other issues goes. I find that hypocritical.

Paula said...

Jeff, I try to read this post but I felt lost: I know little about the LT and I did not read the book of the Holy Father yet.

On the other hand...LT is a "hot topic" ...I decided that for a new convert like me this should be a no-go zone for a while. My wings are still too fragile to sail on such strong winds. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the post. I felt like you wrapped a few major currents into one quick read.

B16 is still an enigma to me in this way as Liam alluded to. Usually Conservatives seem to be about putting 'Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve' billboards about and not really helping anyone. So yeah, their about acting in Caeser's world, but with billboards, exhortations, admonitions. Working poor can't afford daycare? Tough!

The liberal sorts can get a bit carried away with Marxism. It's not just that they can get carried away with it, they DO get carried away with it. To me this manifests itself in toleration of leaders like Mugabe, who promise help for the poor to rise to power on a marxist platform but then screw everyone. If I read B16 correctly, I start to intuit (no I can't cite a pithy quote) that it is the Mugabe sort of experience the church is resolving itself against.

In other words, we have to help the poor, but we have to kick up a fuss when a Mugabe tries to come to power.

In the meantime, gay civil unions are right out! Italy will surely, it seems, sink into the ocean under a toxic morass of sin if a gay person can form a domestic union. That really annoys me on theological, philosphical, and common sense levels.

All the Best, -B

Jeff said...

Thanks for the very thoughtful comments, guys. I'll put together a thorough response when I get a chance to spend a good amount of time on it.

In the meantime, world peace and social justice will just have to wait until I get through with weightier matters... like William's remarks about the NFL draft!

Anonymous said...

Hey guys...I am writing this from an internet cafe in Queretaro Mexico where i am scouting out language schools for a planned month long immersion in October. I am enjoying everyone{s commentary...but having a heck of a time getting a handle on the Mexican keyboard and feeling quite pressured by the timeclock form of payment for internet services.

The spanish language version of Aun Estamos Vivos encourages me to (haga su comentario) and so I will. I believe that my first comment on this blog may well have been on this topic. I find myself very drawn to the writings of the liberation theologians and the thrust of the theology but I am embarrased to say I kind of understand where the pope is coming from on this one.

At least in the 1960s there WERE Catholic activists who were, shall we say, liberated from theistic beliefs but nevertheless found the language of belief instrumental in bringing about a more just world. There ARE in the 2000s people, Catholics presumably among them, who work out of a Christian cultural and social tradition but are devoid of beliefs that privilege Jesus over any of a number of other prophetic figures.

- Mike Mcg

Anonymous said...

I am delighted that it does not fall to me to monitor the boundaries of belief...but please show me the belief system that does not monitor boundaries?

IF, as I have observed, there may be a disconnect between Christian beliefs and Christian activism in some quarters, and IF these quarters, however peripheral they may be, use liberation theology as a fig leaf, THEN those for whom the traditional Christian truth claims are fundamental have no choice but to object. How to do so without conducting a witch hunt is another question. I hold no brief for the methods employed by the current pope and his minions.

Have Sobrino et al ever attempted to meet half way by conceding that libration theology could well be MISunderstood as gutting Catholic truth claims and providing a patina of Catholicism on an ambitious set of social interventions?

Paz de Cristo, Mike McG...

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

This is off topic, but Dirty Catholic is looking for Bostonians to participate in a study, in case you are interested:

PS Do you think that the Proclamation of the Kingdom meditation from JPII's Luminous mysteries has a tie in with the first temptation issue?

All the Best - B

Jeff said...

Hello again all,

The Duccio is pretty good, isn't it? I really like the Sienese painters.

I apologize for taking so long in getting back to you after you all put up such thorough posts.

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."--Dom Helder Camara

I suppose a bit of my frustration falls along the same lines as what a few of you have listed. On matters of sex, reproduction, and gender, the hierarchical Church seems to have no problem throwing its weight behind the political topic at hand. On matters related to war & peace and capital punishment they hold clear teachings, but seem to allow for political pragmatism and to tolerate a wide variety of opinions on these matters without much censure. On basic bread and butter issues, while there is a proud tradition of social justice, and while there is some condemnation of the inequites produced by unbridled capitalism and the spiritual emptiness caused by consumerism, there is still a deep mistrust of anything that comes from below that looks like it leans to the left.

If people put their lives in danger putting together an independent trade union in Poland, the Church rightly proclaims them heroes and supports them with all possible resources at hand without reservation, but if anyone struggles under the same kinds of risks to start independent trade unions in El Salvador, the Church too often stands aside as they are branded as "communists" and "subversives". The same bias applies even here. When I was a kid nearly 40% of the private work force was unionized and the general expectation in those days was that prosperity would only increase over time. Now the percentage of the private work force that is unionized is barely 7%, and I still hear people, even some of my best friends, complain about how unions are the root cause of most of our economic problems. That's how deeply we've drunk of the laissez-faire free-market theology kool-aid. Going all the way back to the Gilded Age, the best way to kill an attempt by ordinary working people to organize themselves was to brand them as communists. It works like a charm every time.

In the case of the Church's perspective, I suppose a lot of that comes from history. The French Revolution, the revolutions of 1848, the unification of Italy, the Paris Commune, the Kulturkampf in Germany, and the Russian Revolution all scared the holy heck out of the Church. All of these movements were anti-clerical and even anti-religious. The peasantry and industrial workers came to despise the Church for its state privileges and for its coziness with the nobility. As a consequence, for about 150 years, all movements coming from below were held in suspicion, even the American Revolution, which had an entirely different philosophical basis from the French Revolution. The Popes in those days said some things about democracy and progress in encyclicals like The Syllabus of Errors that perceptive bishops like Felix Dupanloup had to salvage from causing widespread embarrassment by crafting commentaries and explanations like "The Thesis vs. The Hypothesis" in Church-State relations.

As far as building the Kingdom of God is concerned, I would agree that that there is a danger there if the goal of such a movement is to form overtly religious political parties, or to have clergy holding political office. Jesus was wise enough not to get pulled directly into such questions (as in his response to the question designed to trap him regarding paying taxes to Caeser). There is a danger on one hand of tainting and discrediting both the state and the Faith by mixing them together. There is danger on the other hand of building a theocracy. Whose theocracy would it be, and how does it protect the human rights of dissenters and unbelievers in that particular theocratic system?

For Sobrino and the liberation theologians specifically, I reiterate that they do not deny the Divinity of Christ, and that they do not reduce him to a mere social reformer. On the contrary, they stress that Jesus Christ is the living God of the living, who is crucified with the poor in their suffering, always throughout history. To Crystal's point, this is not a theology, however, that asks people to endure suffering in a fatalistic way. Sobrino is under criticism not for denying the Divinity of Christ, but apparently for suggesting that Jesus needed to come to understand and trust the Father through faith, which essentially contradicts the Beatific Vision. I always thought that "high christology" and "low christology" were aspects of certain theological schools of thought that could be held in good conscience. I didn't know that the Beatific Vision was to be held De Fide. More creeping infallibilism on the part of the CDF?

To speak directly to Mike's point (Mike is always good at keeping me centered and from wandering too far off the reservation), I don't think that LT is much like the nihilistic "God is Dead" type of social humanism as practiced by some in the mid-to-late sixties, so I don't think there is any reason why they need to apologize for a system that isn't theirs, if that is what you are referring to. I do think, however, to your point, that perhaps they should acknowledge some of the very real dangers and limitations of socialism - it's strong tendency to drift into totalitarianism, it's fostering of mediocrity, and its deadening of joyful life and creativity. Perhaps they should say more in criticism of people like Castro and Chavez. Leo Boff visited Moscow just before the Soviet Union collapsed and wound up looking like an idiot. Winnipeg B is right to point out the danger in the uncritical affection of Marxism held by many liberals.

In my reading of it, the Kingdom of God is not about secular politics and practicalities as much as it has to do with non-violent witness and resistance to the prevailing violent ways of the world. The way Jesus describes the Kingdom, his "light of the world" and "salt of the earth" are being asked to live in a radically different kind of paradigm. William mentioned revolutions. I'm not an expert on what the Church teaching is about the right of the people to rise up in revolution when all other means of redress have been exhausted, but William also brings up Martin Luther King, who was someone who really seemed to "get it". William is right, MLK was much more than a civil rights leader, and we seem to have lost our memory of that.

I've been reading a bit of John Dominic Crossan lately, so to me guys like Sobrino actually seem kind of tame and careful in what they say. I've come to build a real respect and appreciation for Crossan, even though I disagree with him on some really crucial points. In his new book, he talks about the Kingdom of God a lot, and think he's got some great insights on it. In his words:

My proposal is that the Christian Bible presents the radicality of a just and nonviolent God repeatedly and relentlessly confronting the normalcy of an unjust and violent civilization...

The Christian Bible records the ongoing struggle between the normalcy of civilization's program of religion, war, victory, peace (through victory), and the radicality of God's alternative program of religion, nonviolence, justice and peace (through justice)...

We are waiting for God to act; apart from preparatory faith, hope and prayer, there is no more that we can do. When God acts, it will be, presumably, like a flash of divine lightning beyond all categories of time and place. But to claim an already present Kingdom demands some evidence, and the only such that Jesus could have offered is this; it is not that we are waiting for God, but that God is waiting for us. The present Kingdom is a collaborative eschaton between the divine and human worlds. The Great Divine Cleanup is an interactive process with a present begining in time and a future consummation. Would it happen without God? No. Would it happen without believers? No. To see the presence of the Kingdom of God, said Jesus, come, see how we live, and then live likewise.

Jeff said...

Hey B.,

Thanks for the head's up, but I think I'll take pass on the study. Between work, family, parish, and this blog, I think I'm pretty much tapped out. What about you? Are you going to take part?

As far as I can see, the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God in the Luminous Mysteries seems to have to do a lot with repentance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I get the repentance part as the first part of entering and taking part in the Kingdom, but I guess I don't see it as all being about reconciliation.

To tell you the truth, when we say the Rosary as a family, we haven't really gotten much into the Luminous Mysteries. We are JPII admirers, but I guess I don't see it as the role of a Pope to tinker with the Rosary any more than I see it as his role to be the chief theologian of the Church. :-)

Deacon Denny said...

Really enjoyed the post, Jeff.

Have been away for a few months, after the death of my friend Carlos, but have still kept in touch with regularly reading a few posts, yours among them. This post reminded me of the pastoral choices one makes in writing & giving homilies. I IS easier to talk about Christ, study Christ, theologize ... than to follow Christ.

You get faced with this all the time, even in a relatively minor leadership position like mine. I gave a homily a while back about the scripture passage about the whether it was lawful to pay taxes or not, and "rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's."

After that I asked our people what they thought about Jesus would have to say about taxes today. I noted that we did have a faith pointed of view that gave us a perspective about what our taxes were for. I quoted from our Seven Foundations of Catholic Social Justice Teaching (we have a whole wall in the parish Hall where those teachings are posted). "Government has a responsibility to promote dignity, protect rights, and provide for the common good," and "The measure of a society is how it cares for and stands with the poor and vulnerable." After that, I paused, and asked, "Well, how do you think we're doing? What do you think Jesus would have to say today?" I noted our huge deficits -- not because of our efforts to help the poor, to provide good education or health care, or other social goods -- but because we were giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest members of our society... and that didn't even touch the war in Iraq, which was "off-budget." It was an uncomfortable homily to give, because I know it made a lot of my friends and parishioners uncomfortable (or worse). And of course, I got feedback!

Jesus had a lot more to say about the poor and downtrodden and about the perils of wealth than he had to say about sexuality. So rightly should our Church.

But it isn't the wealth in itself, is it? It's the blindnesses that come with it, the little hooks into all our other values, the divisions it can make so insidiously in how we treat others, the time it takes from us in order to maintain and protect our wealth. That's the spiritual connection. It can wear away, erode our spirituality. It IS easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle...

Thanks for the post, Jeff, and keep writing.

cowboyangel said...

Want to respond to some of these thoughtful comments. For now, though, just a link to the front page NY Times article on Liberation theology and PB's visit to Brazil: As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists.

Jeff said...

Hey, Denny!

You don't know how glad I am to see you here! I hadn't seen any blogging activity from you for a long time. I'm awfully sorry to hear that your friend Carlos passed away. Hopefully the support and prayers of his friends and loved ones were a consolation to him as he went to meet and be with God.

It was an uncomfortable homily to give, because I know it made a lot of my friends and parishioners uncomfortable (or worse). And of course, I got feedback!

Oh, I'll bet you did, I bet you did. :-) I'm sure in your pastoral role, that you've discovered in spades that it is impossible to please everyone.

You're right. It isn't about the wealth, per se. I don't mean to come off sounding like an angry, jealous, Spartan-minded killjoy. Jesus wanted us to have life and to have it abundandtly. That includes enjoying in moderation the good things that life has too offer. We all know, however, how insidious the effect of money can be, and how we can easily slip into idolatry over it. Money becomes a problem too when it hardens us into indifference, and when we come to believe that everything that there is to be had can be taken by those who most "deserve" it... taken by the most strong and "competitive". I'm not necessarily advocvating one political program or another. I just want to see a world where the strong don't prey on the weak. Where the powerful don't crush the small.

Good to see you, Denny. I've linked your blog.

Jeff said...


Good article, thanks for sending it along. Maybe it isn't as dated as Miami Vice and 8-track cassette tapes (John Allen's words) as I thought.

Garpu the Fork said...

Hallo. Love your blog! (Bounced over from Cascadia Catholics.) I travel between Boston and Seattle a lot.

Jeff said...

Hey there, welcome. I've always loved that 'Garpu the Fork' moniker. I've seen you on Liam's blog from time to time. From what I can ascertain, 'Garpu' seems to be the Indonesian word for 'fork'(?). Intriguing. Someday you'll have to explain to me what it means.

Boston to Seattle quite often, eh? Sounds like it could be very tiring.

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