Friday, August 13, 2010

Ramadan & Barth: Orthodox & Modern?

I am finishing up Gregory Baum's book on The Theology of Tariq Ramadan and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I really like the conversational style of the book and the openness the author has toward Ramadan while having his theology relate to specifically the Catholic theology of Vatican II.

It seems one of the problems that people have with Ramadan is that he seems to be (like Bruce McCormack labeled Karl Barth) both Orthodox and Modern. In other words, both Barth and and now Ramadan work within the breakthrough of modernity (they use context, history, critical thought) while at the same time being faithful to their tradition and its founding scriptures. In other words, they are part of the Reformist tradition. The point is not to destroy the faith of the fathers but continue to be faithful to it by always reforming.

Liberals, Fundamentalists and Radicals really despise this position because it is not "faithful" enough to their own perspective. For a fundamentalist, they are too "liberal" in buying into the modern framework. For Liberals, they are too conservative for being to faithful to the past traditions and interpretations and their religious communities (better to have a vague spirituality). For Radicals, they are too conservative because they haven't deconstructed the whole religious paradigm and embraced pure secularism or atheism.

Instead a reformist is always looking to reform the current faith to be both faithful to their sources and the community of believers while at the same time open to the voice of God for changes that should be made today especially when the tradition is either silent or not clear on a matter. For example, Barth wrote particularly to the Church because they are the witnesses of God while Ramadan targets Western Muslims; there is a clear particularity in their target audience yet not denying their general readership as well. The point is that they want to be faithful to the real communities of faith that ascribe to their faith. Thus, when it comes to modernity, it is a mixed bag of blessings and problems; it is up to the reformist to see where the faith can value modern ideas while at the same time be critical as well. It is to say, yes, some of modernity is good because of its liberating dimensions, yet modernity and secularism is not our God; there is only one God and God is one. This is what I see both theologians doing...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Secularism: Not a Friend

At the current moment the idea of the public/private split that we "enjoy" in the West is something I have been musing about especially as I get ready to teach World Civ. courses at Biola this Fall. The Enlightenment is a period I focus on for a number of reasons, but especially because I want my Christian students to really wrestle with what this period has meant for world history in general.

What I often find is a mixture of appreciation and distrust in the Enlightenment project from evangelical Christians. This period ushered in a form of naturalism that led intellectual society to distrust supernatural explanations and the idea of a personal God. However, the freedom of choice and worship is also something that supposedly came form this time as well. In a nutshell, the idea of choice is good but the idea of the secular is bad.

Moving away from the academy and to the world in general, people are still and always have been very religious. This goes for Southern hemisphere, but also Muslim countries as well (just the idea of a "Muslim" country betrays that idea). I am also suspicious that the freedom of worship and choice popped up all around the world at different times in countries with a religious basis before and after the Enlightenment.

What I also suspect is that when secularists denounce the wearing of head scarves because of freedom for women or things like a public display of crosses it is because it is infringing on the public sphere. In addition, I also suspect that if secularists really had the monopoly of things like they think they had, they would also try to enforce public law in the so-called private sphere as well. More on this later....

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Bible and Empires

As I have been reading a book on the theology of Jon Sobrino, it was pointed out that the Bible shows that God is on the side of the poor, the slaves and the outcast. Fair enough, but what is really interesting is that two of the central stories in the Bible occur during the reign of two of the greatest empires in human history: the Egyptian and the Roman.

One can get lost in the grandeur of these ancient civilizations, but the Bible could care less about them. Instead, it focuses on God's people Israel and the way Moses delivers them out of Egypt and on God's Son Jesus as he ministers in Palestine ultimately to be murdered by the Romans. God's judgment in fact is against these systems of power that have abused God's people; in both cases, someone is sent to be a deliverer (Moses/Christ).

The Exodus story is probably the most referenced story in the Bible and some would argue that Jesus is a type of Moses in the Gospel of Matthew. Moreover, when one reads the judgment in the book of Revelation, the judgments mirror the 10 plagues of Egypt and those who are unrepentant tend to respond like Pharaoh did to Moses. That being said, one should note that if God is consistently on the side of the oppressed and ultimately humbles human empires then where will God enact deliverance and deliver judgment today...?