Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Context, Experience, Relevance, Meaning

Reflecting on contemporary poverty from the perspective of faith, in other words to reflect theologically, calls for a variety of sensitivity and understanding and humility and caution that most "non-poor" people simply do not possess.  For any number of reasons, the materially wealthy approach "the poor" to "help."   Most often the "helpers" arrive with perspectives on faith, culture and social reality defined, not by "the poor" and their real life experiences, but by their own outsider worldview. 

This reality, this problem of cultural interpretation and communication, or the lack thereof, drives our mistakes, our false starts and our "project evaluations." 

James H. Cone proves helpful just here.  Cone writes about how context and experience shapes thought, while defining relevance and meaning when it comes to, in this case, understanding slave perspectives.  The principles he lays out continues to apply as we grapple with the meaning of poverty in the U. S. as rich and poor persons of faith. 

Paul Tillich once said something that might be worth remembering here:  "Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received."  That observation may be related to the recent interest in sociology of knowledge and its emphasis on the relation between ideas and the social condition of the people expounding them.  What is important for our purpose is to say that the social and cultural environment of the people determine the kinds of religious questions they ask.  This is not to deny that revelation provided its own questions or has its own integrity (a concern that dominated Karl Barth's theological works).  But the integrity of revelation must be related to the human situation.  The situation of being an American slave created certain kinds of theological problems, but they were not the same theological problems of white slave masters or others who did not live out their lives as slaves.  Therefore, to use European or Western theological and philosophical methodologies as a means of evaluating the significance of black reflections on the slave condition is not only theoretically inappropriate but very naive.  To evaluate correctly the slaves' theological reflection on their servitude in relation to divine justice, it is necessary to suspend the methodology of the enslavers and to enter the cultural and religious milieu of the victims.  What were the theological questions of the slave community?  What were the assumptions that defined the movement of that community? (pages 71-72)

James H. Cone
The Spirituals and the Blues


Anonymous said...

I have tried to read Tillich and usually come away scratching my head. That quote, however, provides a real "light bulb" moment. So is Cone's use of it in the master/slave context. Thanks for sharing the quote. Makes perfect sense and provides a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

How about posting some info/quotes on Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr.? This should fit "wright in" your Cone BLT rant, and is sure to bring a smile to ole Gerald Britt, author of a unilateral blog "Break the Wind".

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:40:

Did you actually have something to say? If you did, I missed it.

I do think you need a dictionary: "Rant: to speak or declaim extravagantly or violently; talk in a wild or vehement way; rave." I see no hint of that in the quote. It is calm and thoughtful. The only rant I see here is yours.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see what that has to do with poverty today, since slavery ended many decades ago.

Anonymous said...

James Cone, Creator of Black Liberation Theology, Says Whites Salvation Comes via Giving Blacks Money.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:03:

An analogy for you: Team A is playing Team B in baseball. Only Team B's players have their hands tied behind their backs for the first 3 innings (slavery). At the start of the fourth inning, Team B gets one hand untied (Jim Crow era). It's now the start of the seventh inning and Team B finally gets to use both hands (i.e. Civil Rights). Of course, by now Team A is up about 100-0.

Slavery, Jim Crow and its legacy have had enormous, lasting effects on African-Americans in this country, in terms of education, financial means, social mores - in just about every way. It is simply disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

Anonymous said...

the era of progressivism is over and the era of communism is about to begin

Anonymous said...

It's just historical reality, as opposed to your ideologically rigid artificial constructs.