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Author: Michael Kirwan

Abstract

As a result of the “apocalyptic turn” of his later thinking, René Girard has publicly asserted that “politics can no longer save us.” For some, this judgement is an echo of Martin Heidegger’s enigmatic declaration that “only a god can save us.” This essay will offer a critical overview of some current thinkers regarding the legitimacy crisis of liberal democracy as well as of its Enlightenment presuppositions regarding statehood and citizenship, assumptions which tacitly or explicitly bracket religious transcendence as a dimension of political reflection and action. The state can no longer “save.” I will ask about the appropriateness of following Girard in describing this post-secularist situation religiously, namely as “apocalyptic.” The advantage of such a usage, I argue, is that it allows for a unitary and cohesive account of specific crises and their interconnections: the dysfunction of the global financial system, the rise of violent religious extremism, world poverty, the migrant/refugee crisis, and anthropogenic climate change. The argument will be supported by critical readings of Giorgio Agamben, René Girard, and other contemporary “Augustinian” approaches to the contemporary political challenge.

In: Theology and the Political

Abstract

The story of American Christianity in the twentieth century is one of in-creasing alignment with the interests of capital, despite earlier affinities with labor and its socialist orientation in the nineteenth century. Although this alignment emerged victorious in the 2016 United States presidential election, that election process also uncovered countervailing trends: for example, Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, mounted a dangerous Democratic Party primary campaign (and did so again in 2019). Demographic studies also show that younger Americans are increasingly suspicious of capitalism and favorably disposed toward socialism. The time is right for Christianity in the United States to rethink its alignment with capital, and dialectical theology represents a valuable resource for that task. Theologians such as Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Helmut Gollwitzer offer an important antidote to the gospel’s contemporary political captivity through their affirmation of God’s nonobjectifiability, their analysis of nationalist dynamics and offering of socialism as their antidote, and by articulating the correspondence between democratic socialism and the doctrines of justification by faith and the kingdom of God. Such a vision fundamentally contests contemporary North American political evangelicalism and the authoritarian drift of its alliance with capitalism and nationalism.

In: Theology and the Political
Author: Cyril Hovorun

Abstract

This essay explores fundamentalism from the perspective of the sociology of religion. It begins by tracing the history of the term fundamentalism and then argues that fundamentalism is often caused by proclivities toward secularization. While a key distinction between fundamentalism and normative Christianity is made, the argument specifically examines the fundamentalism occurring in the modern milieu of Eastern Christianity. In the end, a taxonomy of Orthodoxy fundamentalisms is offered based on the institution of elders, on the authority of the church fathers and on liturgical practices.

In: Theology and the Political

Abstract

Based on interviews with Ukrainian students and dialogue with Russian and Ukrainian scholars, this essay aims to investigate the roles of Ukrainian women in contemporary Ukrainian society considering the current “war on gender.” Whereas men and women participated in near equal numbers in the Maidan movement, the recent militarism now seems to sharpen gender dichotomies. Amid the military war with Russia, however, Ukraine also faces a renewed war on gender, led by churches and right-wing organizations. This consists of a well-structured campaign to misrepresent the concept of gender, creating an enemy image of “gender-ideology.” Both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate build upon an enemy image in their political theology based on a divisive ideology of victory and defeat, whereas the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church shows a more ambivalent perspective. It applies to all these churches, however, that in times of military and ideological war, family and nation are represented as patri-archal and sacrosanct institutions, leading to paternalistic, prolife, and homophobic tendencies. In conclusion, this essay seeks to contribute to an Orthodox (and profoundly ecumenical) political theology of reconciliation that goes beyond nationalist, anti-Western, and imperial schemes, proposing several building blocks for a feminist political theology in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

In: Theology and the Political

Abstract

In post-Soviet societies since the end of the twentieth century, abortion issues have become dominant in public debates, seeing increased involvement by churches and church-related organizations. The prolife agenda, being internalized by churches, overshadows all other social concerns and engagements. This essay focuses on Belarusian society where the public sphere is under strict control and domination by an authoritarian political regime. Civil society has limited access to the decision-making process and the subsequent policies produced by the state. First, churches, irrespective of confessional identity, share similar stances on prolife issues, while choosing different strategies to communicate their position towards the government and civil society, depending upon their recognition by the government. Being commonly shared at the level of idea presents an opportunity for ecumenical cooperation. With respect to policies and strategies, prolife lobbying actually creates a competitive situation and undermines cooperation. Second, prolife discourse, having a strong protest element in the political sphere, plays a paradoxical role in the restricted public space by which the state excludes churches from other political areas while churches maintain loyalty to the government through anti-Western rather than anti-governmental criticism. The pro-life agenda, therefore, claiming a political character results paradoxically in the depoliticization of the churches’ involvement in the public sphere. In the end, prolife argumentation has shifted from human rights discourse towards demography and national and state security.

In: Theology and the Political

Abstract

This essay argues that human rights can be an indispensable part of the church’s public witness in plural democratic societies. An Orthodox appreciation of human rights requires first to be viewed in their original historical context and be cognizant of the pragmatic political needs that led to their modern formulation and expression. This essay argues for the need to embed human rights in multiple philosophical, religious, and secular systems of beliefs and practices so as to be passionately advocated and implemented by all peoples. It then argues that Orthodoxy should embrace human rights after it has theologically justified their importance for the political life of the modern world. It envisions Orthodox churches as “connected critics” of human rights in plural democratic states.

In: Theology and the Political
In: Theology and the Political

Abstract

In recent years, contemporary debates on the “post-secular” or on “the death of the death of God” have become increasingly popular. Some of the prominent questions circulating in these debates are how it is possible to return to thinking about God, and how the concept of God is transformed in this returning. In this essay, I depict the return of God-talk as a way from omnipotence-theology to so-called “weak” theology. My primary reflections focus on the “weakening” of God and Being in modern reli-gious thought (i.e., Gianni Vattimo and John Caputo) and the subsequent consequences for political theology. In the end, I argue that postmodern weak thought is not radically skeptic nor an antireligious movement. It is a theology of the power of the powerless that connects the weakness of God with the ethical imperative to serve the poor and needy. In this theology, we can see a new understanding of the kingdom of God as a field of “weak” forces, like forgiveness, a field of “sacred anarchy” produced by exposing Being to the provocative name of God, which includes a way of living, not in eternity but in time.

In: Theology and the Political
Author: Jon Coutts

Abstract

In 2007, the Canadian government issued a formal apology for its role in the residential school system (labelled by the UN as an attempt at “cultural genocide”), which took Indigenous children from their homes and placed them in segregated schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that followed was completed in 2015, issuing in ninety-four “calls to action.” Despite the turn of another decade, it remains to be seen exactly how well Canadian people respond—and to what extent that 2007 apology will carry forward into public efforts at reconciliation. One of the major obstacles to this is the common belief that if one was not directly involved in the wrongdoing, then one is in no way responsible for its reparation. This essay asks if churches have theological resources to inform and encourage not just public responses but their own. More specifically, it asks if churches should accept the calls to action addressed to them, pondering whether this is an occasion for confession, repentance, correction, and reparation—even on the part of those who were not directly implicated in the original wrongs. By way of an answer, this essay gives a brief summary of the history, a theological analysis of the issues at stake, a consideration of a two specific calls to action, and a proposal as to how to answer. The emergent theological conviction is that Canada’s Indigenous peoples are offering an opportunity to share a “peace pipe,” which is entirely in line with Christian convictions to “take up and smoke.”

In: Theology and the Political

Abstract

Mikhail Bakunin’s anarchism, on the one hand, and Carl Schmitt’s State-God, on the other, mirror each other. Either concept is about the non-accountable, “absolute” political decision. Both modern terrorism and the political reaction to it in the “security state” follow the alternative Bakunin-Schmitt. By contrast, the “open society” of democracy needs the Christian, intelligent love of enemies to deal with its enemies without self-destruction.

In: Theology and the Political