Sunday, March 9, 2014

The challenge of globalisation and injustice to Christian theology and living

I just finished reading Globalisation, Spirituality, and Justice by Daniel Groody, for the theological book club I just joined.

I really enjoyed it and found it quite stimulating and challenging. The book represents an ambitious project because of its wide scope [globalisation, poverty, politics, injustice, racism, theology, history, personal devotional life, community building, church sacraments, ...], the wide range of sources and authors it draws from to address these issues [Bible, church fathers, Catholic church teaching, many Protestant writers, liberation theology, personal experiences,... ] and then it attempts to synthesise and draw it all together in a common vision. I particularly appreciated getting a Catholic perspective from a Catholic rather than some caricature from a Protestant critic. It was impressive the extent to which Groody engaged with Protestant writers ranging from Charles Colson to Jim Wallis to John Calvin! As I gravitate toward activism rather than private contemplation I found the call to a balance and integration of the two challenging. I also got a much better understanding of liberation theology, whereas in the past I have been mostly exposed to caricatures of it.

There were a few parts of the book that I thought were weak due an overruling desire to be positive, affirming, and inclusive. This led to glossing over significant differences and challenges. Although critical of the injustices and inequalities of globalisation at the end he seemed to take the affirming "Christ in culture" route trying to assign it an almost mystical cosmic value. I found the positive discussion of justice in other religions [Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism] superficial. For example, it glossed over the issue of caste in Hinduism and women in Islam. At the end of the chapter Groody says "learning to live together as a common family does not mean watering down one's beliefs into a bland commonality". I agree but I feel that is what happens in that chapter. I prefer the treatment of the
Prophecy sometimes means "calling a spade a spade". Tolerance does not mean forced agreement but civil agreement to disagree and respect one another. Here I much prefer the treatment in Vinoth Ramachandra's Faiths in Conflict: Christian integrity in a multi-cultural world.

Groody quotes positively from Teilhard de Chardin, a mystical French Catholic priest who was a palaeontologist. Unfortunately, I think he has little to offer. To me he is a good example of how not to combine science and theology. I feel he tries to give a pseudo-scientific justification of a mysticism that has little connection to real Christian theology, which is ultimately rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.

An unfortunate consequence of some of the above weaknesses is that some may dismiss the book rather than engaging with the challenging message of the bulk of it.

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