Sunday, July 15, 2007

Liberation Theology (and a very funny joke)

I was reading this article on the Guardian comment is free site. In short, the Pope recently said that only the Roman Catholic Church is "the proper church" (whatever that means). I couldn't care less but in the comment section I came across this very funny joke which really settles everything. (On some googling I found out that some people voted it the best religious joke in 20 years. Details here.) Here it goes:

"Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!"

He said, "Nobody loves me."

I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes."

I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"

He said, "A Christian."

I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?"

He said, "Protestant."

I said, "Me, too! What franchise?"

He said, "Baptist."

I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Baptist."

I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist."

I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region."

I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."

I said, "Die, heretic scum!", and pushed him over."


Now for something serious. I was slightly annoyed when Christopher Hitchens casually dismissed liberation theology as "an oxymoron" in his book. While I don't think religious faith is anyway necessary for the development of a communitarian ethos and commitment to social and political justice, it is still an admirable first step towards transforming the church from being an agent of obscurantism in the modern world and wholly reactionary institution into a secular, respectable one committed to progressive ideals of justice and freedom. In the process perhaps it can also atone for the historical crimes it has committed directly or indirectly or just stood by in silence when crimes were being committed (like during the Holocaust.) Hitchens basically recounts the history of the church's collusion with tyrants and dictators and concludes that even when it is on the right side, it is not very effective, often muddles up the whole thing, and in the end we would rather do without it. (Isn't it interesting how throughout the history the priestly classes, of all religions, have managed to wield so much power without ever having gone to battlefields themselves! Just invent some theological justification for the tyranny and then you get to do whatever you want! What a disgusting con-job!!)

Hitchens is even condescending towards the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer, a hero of the anti-Nazi German resistance and actually a rare face-saver for the religion during the whole dark time, by calling his philosophy, "admirable but nebulous humanism." Bonhoffer was also an early and important Christian thinker to expound on the theology of liberation. He even put it into practice by participating actively in the anti-Nazi resistance activities. He was hanged after a plot to kill Hitler was exposed and his part in the conspiracy came out. Surprisingly he is not a very well-known figure. He really deserves more renown. Some information on Wikipedia and BBC.

Now one would think that the church would encourage and wholeheartedly endorse these heart-warming ideas and celebrate Bonhoffer as a true martyr and a hero. But no, the Pope says that liberation theology is “a fundamental threat to the faith of the church.” His predecessor was even more forthright. “The theology of liberation is a singular heresy,” declared the fundamentalist. (And to think that there were people who wanted a nobel peace prize for him! But then Henry Kissinger got it too and so did the Israel-Palestine trio, he would have really found their company suitable.)

I was actually reminded of all these things because I remembered reading this report about the Pope's recent visit to Latin America. Apparently it was one of the main agenda of his visit! It is shameful, the way they prefer the Jesus who oversees the carrot-and-stick morality to the Jesus the idealist and political activist.

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