The Theology of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Movement

*Editor’s note: I am replacing the former comic strip (satire) picture I had with a more evocative one that reflects the actual people in the OWS movement.

The so called Occupy Wall Street (OWS) continues on now; it has been over two months. This movement is a patchwork of folk, mostly college age, demographically, who are protesting the Capitalist Free Market System that has made the American world, in particular, and the Western world, in general, turn. The outcry is against corporate greed perpetrated by the military might of our country as we have engaged in nation building, and then lived off of the backs of the poor and down trodden in the developing and third world nations which we have conquered; either militaristically, or through “diplomatic” moves that impose our will upon the world-wide populace. Much of the OWS has taken shape, intentionally, through Marxist ideology and its theological corollary, Liberation Theology.

I am continuing to read Christian Kettler’s excellent book, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation. In the first section of the book he surveys various modern theologians and their respective approaches to a theological method and how that impacts their understanding of humanity and Christology, in particular. One of the theologians Kettler has focused on is Leonardo Boff, a Roman Catholic Latin theologian who is best known for his articulation of so called Liberation Theology. I thought Kettler provided a timely word for us in his critique of Boff’s Liberation Theology; and so I wanted to share it with my reading audience. Kettler shares the pronouncement made by, then Cardinal Ratzinger against Boff’s Liberation Theology; Ratzinger highlights the problems associated with the kind of revolutionary activity that liberation theology advocates and fosters. We will start with the Ratzinger quote, then we will here a little commentary from Kettler, and then we will here two more quotes from Michael Novak with the problems that he also sees with Liberation Theology and Marxist theory. Here we go:

[M]illions of our contemporaries legitimately learn to recover their basic freedoms, of which they were deprived by totalitarian and atheistic regimes which came to power by violent and revolutionary means, precisely in the name of the liberation of the people. This shame of our time cannot be ignored: while claiming to bring them freedom, these regimes keep whole nations in conditions of servitude which are unworthy of mankind. [Ratzinger]

These sad consequences, which we are all too familiar with in the twentieth century, reveal the intellectual shallowness of utopian ideals through their refusal to consider the alternatives to the status quo or the consequences of their alternatives, if they have any. As Michael Novak puts it incisively, the practical question must be asked:

[W]hich sorts of economic institutions, in fact, do lift up the poor? . . . What institutions will it [liberation theology] put in place, after the revolution to protect human rights? Through which institutions, will it open its economy to the initiative, intelligence and creativity of the poorest of its citizens? [Novak]

The utopian element in liberation theology should be at odds with the concern for praxis, for concrete political and social experience. But this is not so, ironically. As Novak comments,

[O]ne of the most disappointing features of liberation theology is its abstractness and generality. Far from being descriptive, concrete and practical, it is intricately speculative, ideological and academic. [Novak] (Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, 113)

I think this is a very apt observation for the day in which we live. Revolution sounds noble to many the young ear, but what, in our case, does the ‘Occupy’ movement hope to replace the current ‘Global system’ with? I despise the greed and money-mongering of the Capitalist elite as much asthe next activist (to be honest); but I also despise the alternative that seems to be fueling most of the activists continued drive to thwart the powers that be. In other words, I repudiate Marxist, Liberation Theology and its ideals (metaphysically and ethically); I repudiate the Social Democratism that perpetuates much of the labor movement element that helps to spawn the ‘Occupy’ movement in its global effort. I think both and all systems are equally malevolent and deleterious to the soul of humanity. The history of Marxism, whether in its socialist/communist or fascist forms, illustrates the repressive and oppressive policies that they would foist upon humanity. There is no utopia without Christ!

One could push back at me with; ’Well, isn’t, at least, Marxist communist ideology situated upon better ideals and premises? The principle of alleviating the oppression of the poor and down trodden; the strangle hold that the rich elite in the world have on the 99%?’ And my reply to this is that there is, in principle, no gradation of right and wrong before a Holy God. There is either right, or there is wrong; there is no political or social theory that is more or less proximate to God’s ways in Christ. We cannot collapse God’s system into the political ideology of humanity. That is not to say that God has not broken into our systems and humanity through Christ. But instead it is to recognize that at a systemic level, humanity continues to follow the broad way that leads to destruction; they do this because they love the darkness rather than the light. So even if their ’intentions’ appear to be good; we know (Deus absconditus) that appearances aren’t always what they seem, one way or the other. We know that humanity is still homo incurvatus in se (turned in on their selves), and that movements without Christ as their shepherd only lead to destruction in the end.

So I cannot endorse the ’Occupy’ movement as some of my Christian friends seem to. The quotes above from Kettler help explain why, and then my comments just above also provide some rationale for why I reject both Capitalist and Socially Democratic (so called) political theories as well. And no, I’m not a Christian anarchist either; I am a prophet from what some have called ’the far country’.


The Feminist Doctrine of Vicariousness in Liberation Theology

Christian Kettler in his ‘The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation’ has this to say about how ‘Vicariousness’ works in the Liberation Theology of Latin American theologian Leonardo Boff:

Christ is the absolute mediator, being both God and human (I Tim. 2:5) yet this absolute meditation does not rule out “the mediations of his sisters and brothers. Rather it grants them, penetrates them, confers upon them their raison d’ être.” The most immediate mediation in the light of Christ is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She answers the question “How does the feminine reveal God? And from the opposite direction, How is God revealed in the feminine?” As the “Mediator of All Graces” the mediation of Mary has, of course, been prominent in traditional Catholic theology. But because modernity has chosen to define itself as “logocentric”, i.e. “to assign primacy of the spirit to rationality and the power of ideas,” a profoundly masculinizing tendency, the feminine has become “marginalized” along with the distinctive traits of the feminine: “purity, self-sacrifice, and the protection of the weak and the oppressed.” Thus, the mediation of Mary becomes even more important today. Boff declares, “As we see it, each new generation finds itself in Mary, projecting its dreams, its social-cultural ideals upon her.” Today’s society finds Mary its “deliverance from the captivity of a political and economic system that exploits human work.” So Mary is the avenger of the weak and oppressed, although this must not be held in tension with the historical Mary, and particularly her humility. [Christian D. Kettler, “The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation,” (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 34]

Aside from the obvious riff on the co-mediatrix of Mary; this makes for an interesting application of the doctrine of ‘Vicariousness’. In this scenario we have “social” categories predicating what humanity entails, and is characterized by. In other words, we have a doctrine of vicariousness that takes shape from ‘below’; so that what it means to be human (and female) is determined by the apparent attributes of what that looks like through the extension of that through female interaction with the world. While there are features of the female sex that are generally identifiable—like maternal, sensitive, compassionate, emotional, etc—these are not hard and fast characteristics. Ultimately, one of the problems with Boff’s proposal; is that its mode of operation moves from below. Humanity is actually given its raison d’ être through the humanity of Jesus Christ (who is the imago Dei cf. Col. 1.15). There is no deficit in the reach of Christ’s humanity that needs to be augmented by a ‘feminine side’, like that puported by the analogy of Mary; NO! Mary’s humanity, like the rest of humanity, needs to be augmented by the humanity of Christ imago Christi.

This scenario helps, though, to illustrate the tension between trying to work out what being ‘human’ actually means in the first place; tension, between the Divine penetration of that in the hypostatic union of the eternal Logos with humanity (enhypostatic). In what way can we understand the Chalcedonian mantra of ‘distinct, but inseparably related’ (as to the natures of the person of Christ)? What does a theological (or christological) anthropology look like? And how would that implicate the vicarious humanity of Christ ‘for us’? The ‘for us’ is where I see the tension. How is the ‘us’ not swallowed up by ‘His’ humanity; and at the same  time, how does ‘His’ humanity make ‘us’ who we are? Mary needed a recreated humanity as much as the rest of us (cf. I Tim. 2.5-6). There is just ‘One Mediator between God and humanity’; humanity remains my question.