Friday, April 15, 2005

Power is the new Golden Calf

Dr. Frederick Hertzog was a long time systematic theology professor at Duke Divinity School and is one of the first to advocate and help define "Liberation Theology." To Hertzog, theology itself needed to "move away from the needs of the anxious middle class person to the needs of the wretched of the earth as starting point of theology. The first issue of theology…is not the bourgeois question, ‘I am anxious, what’s the answer?’ but God’s question, "Your neighbor is oppressed, what’s your responsibility?" (Theology from the Belly of the Whale-A Frederick Hertzog Reader, pg. 170-171).

I hear cries from deep within people of faith, and from those who profess no faith, who desperately want to address the political maneuverings, which threaten to destroy us all. As we struggle today with the poisoned atmosphere in our communities and our nation, it might be worth hearing Hertzog’s words in a previously unpublished letter to Jurgen Moltmann (please forgive the lack of umlauts), June 22, 1976.

For countless people in the United States, democracy and capitalism are still indistinguishable. I cherish the civil liberties of democracy, and will defend them tooth and nail. But on the level of ideas the first thing that needs to be done is to disengage democracy from capitalism. A complicating factor is civil religion as ideological undergirding of the fusion between capitalism and democracy. The disengagement of capitalism from democracy on the level of ideas, however, will not go very far unless we get deep into the nitty gritty of party politics. I read the New Testament—and compared with our socioeconomic system the clash is absolute. The first thing we still need to work on is opening our eyes to the difference between the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of profit. Jesus’ gospel dare no longer be used to legitimize our socioeconomic and sociopolitical systems. It involves a radical change in theological education and the use of money by the churches. Rejection of capitalism implies for theology commitment to a new socioeconomic and sociopolitical rationality (ibid,pg. 175).
Perhaps you can tell where he is headed with this. "Being liberated to a new rationality we has better first of all develop alternative futures. But within the perimeter of this rationality I need to commit myself to a political base which includes scientific socialism (pg. 176)."

Is Socialism still a dirty word? Could we get away with it if we call it "a return to the ideals of Christ?" Probably not. Nevertheless, disengaging religion from capitalism would be a good place to start. Hertzog draws on the example of Europe’s experience to frame a starting point for discussion.

1) How does one at least in principle define the connection of theology with the people? 2) How do we avoid abusing the gospel for legitimizing socialism rather than capitalism, and instead make the choice for socialism as the more humane economic and political system on rational grounds (pg. 176)?
Hertzog was observing the same thing we are now in America almost thirty years ago. This is not a recent phenomenon, and addressing it will take time and concerted effort. Hertzog seems to think the place to start was with the theologians and the academy. Maybe if this had really taken hold thirty years ago, things might be different today. Or maybe not.

The "religious right" needs to be called what it is- a political ideology and rank idolatry. Ideologies come and go, be it capitalism or socialism. Idolatry, when those who claim to worship God place their faith in something else, does not go over well in God’s reality. I refer you to the Prophets, major and minor, for the details.
They need to be reminded that it’s really quite simple. "The Lord has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

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