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Lecture 4

Lecture 4- Gutiérrez - Idolatry, Death, and Evil

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University of Waterloo
Religious Studies
RS 121
Jamie Read

Lecture 4- Tamanna Gustavo Gutierrez  A native of Lima, Peru, born in 1928  Studied philosophy, psychology, and theology at the Catholic University of Lima  Went to the University of Louvain and the University of Lyons where he did his PhD in Theology in 1958  Ordained a Roman Catholic Priest in 1959  Roman catholic theology very traditional; people in church were saved The Period in which he lived  Roman Catholic theology was very traditional  Defined strong borders between Catholics and Non-Catholics  The church was concerned about saving the souls of the poor, not with how to improve their quality of life  There was dualism in classical Christian notion of sin o Dominant or good more important than Subordinate or bad o Ex. Religion more important than politics, and spirituality more important than economics, men more important than women, soul more important than body New Definitions  During the period, a movement away from traditional Roman Catholic Theology began  1970- Gutierrez wrote Theology of Liberation  Introduced a new theme into the church- moved people away from thinking in dualistic terms and began to look at body and soul together o moved people from thinking economics and politics had to do with the world and not the spirit; had to do with body not the soul; started looking at both together  This new mood of the church meant redefinition of everything. What it means: o To be saved o To be good o To be a Christian o The goal of Christianity Idolatry, Death & Evil  The negation of god, the rejection of god is not defined as atheism, but as idolatry  Atheism very modern concept, developed in last 500 years  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the negation of God is not defined as atheism but as idolatry  Gutierrez defined idolatry as the acceptance of something finite as absolute (as infinite; total devotion)  Classical definition: the worship of idols of false gods, pagan gods (pagan is religion) o A way of the church creating that boundary between the church and the world; “us” vs. “them” o The devil ruled the world and therefore was considered to be behind “pagan” gods o Anyone outside the church was considered a pagan worshipping idols- the devil is disguise (France encounter with Indians)  For Gutierrez idolatry is a permanent temptation open to every civilization, including Christianity  What does Gutierrez mean by idolatry? o The worship of something finite as the absolute Idolatry has Two Dimensions 1. Cognitive/belief dimension  Emperor Constantine took Christianity and elevated it to the official religion of the Roman Empire in an effort to unite the empire  From that point on Christians have really emphasized orthodoxy-right thinking- and communities have been defined by their beliefs  Not every religious community does that o Hindus accept many different ideas and definitions of the gods o Instead they emphasize orthopraxis (acceptance of certain practices like the caste system)- acceptance of certain practices over beliefs  Break-up of the Roman Empire into kingdoms and nation states with different forms of Christianity  Emphasis on belief has been a way of creating borders: o Catholic vs. protestant o Protestant vs. Anabaptist  Acceptance of something finite as absolute 2. Practical dimension  Idolatry is first and foremost a behavior, a practice  Key question: Whom in practice do you serve  Gutierrez shifts focus from ideas to practice  Gregory Baum: “Who knows what heretical ideas, what strange conceptions of God were swirling around in the head of the Good Samaritan?” Hebrew Bible’s Description of Idolatry 1. Trust and submission  Trusting something other than God and subjecting one’s life to the dictates of that object  Example: o Methodist bishops in the US released a statement on the American policy of deterrence o Considered idolatry because the Americans were putting their final trust in nuclear weapons rather than God or fellow human beings (thought that more missals means more security and peace) 2. Work of human hands  Yahweh is described in the Scriptures as the creator of all things, yet we worship something as absolute that is the work of our own hands  Example: The Market o Some economists think that the market is a natural creation that existed in all times and it operates according to the “natural laws” o Therefore to interfere with the operation of the free market (even if it’s to feed the poor) would be disastrous because in the end the market is the best thing - Gutierrez would define this as idolatry because you're treating the market as if it's a natural product (unchangable)  Example: Marxism o Scientific Marxism talks about history as a dialect that moves forwards without the participation of human beings o Some argue that they shouldn’t even work for a revolution because when the time is right history will fashion a revolution; it is inevitable o The revolution becomes absolute, becomes the idol (it becomes something in nature we cannot change; it becomes the idol to which we sacrifice all of our efforts and to which we sacrifice millions of human beings- like Stalin sacrificed people) 3. Demand for human victims  The god of idolatry is a murderous god. A great deal of blood is shed because of the desire for money  Lives of the poor are offered as sacrifices to the “idol”  The poor as defined by Gutierrez are those that suffer at the hands of the system  In some cases it really means their lives, in other cases the system simply drains the life out of people by not giving them a fair return on their work  Industrial revolution: wages dropped below the sustenance level for many people  “poor” are different in different societies; can be homosexuals, or women in sexist society etc. poor are people who suffer in the hand of the system; in Nazi Germany the jews are the poor- their lives are sacrificed to the idol Religion and Death in the New World  The earliest example in the modern world of this kind of idolatry is the use of slavery in the gold mines of early Latin America  Bartolome de Las Casas- a Dominican friar who was a chaplain in the invading armies and later became a slave owner  Gutierrez wrote a book: Las Casas: In search of The Poor of Jesus Christ  When Las Casas came to the new world he initially adopted the Spanish world view: o The Indians were idolaters and therefore had no rights o The Spanish had rights to this land and its gold o The real work was the evangelization (teach them Christian faith/convert them) of the Indians o (Spanish had rights to enslave Indians)  He later observed that in practice, the Indians were not idolators- they were worshipping the God of Life (creating community, reproducing)  He concluded that in the cognitive dimension the Spaniards had the right ideas about God but in practice they worshipped the god of Death  “Gold is the real God of those who mistreat the Indians”  Idolatry was disguised as evangelization  Excuse given was that these people were evangelizing the Indians; they were bringing them to the true god Las Casas on Slave Owning and Spanish Imperialism  Born in Seville Spain in 1484 (Spanish figure that didn’t accept the treatment of the Indians was Dominican friar named Bartolome de Las Casas)  Arrived in the Indies in 1502 as a chaplain to the Spanish forces  Became an encomendero, a proprietor of a property (encomienda) with a population of Indian slaves  In 1514 he was converted by a small group of Dominican priests who had taken up the cause of the enslaved Indians  Tried to run his plantation as generously as he could to the Indians for the benefit of the Indians (experiment)  In Venezuela he tried to create a peaceful colony, a mixture of Indian and Spanish peasants- experiment failed  In 1522 he became a Dominican priest himself and worked tirelessly to condemn the enslavement of Indians and the destruction of peoples  In 1543 he was named Bishop of Chiapas  In 1547 he returned to Spain where he continued his campaign until his death in Madrid in 1566 1550-1551: Disputation of Valladolid (his best known campaign)  Las Casas and Juan Gines de Sepulveda held a debate on the right of the Spanish to conquer the Indians (to destroy their civilization and to enslave them)  Las Casas argues that the Spanish conquest was totally illegitimate because he saw in the Indians the “poor” of Jesus Christ  Jesus had declared himself to be biased for the poor (in Matthew 25:40- if you did something to the poor (helped them) you were doing it to Jesus Christ)  Who were these poor? They are the victims of society o The Indians were the “victims” of the Spanish conquest  Dussel states that only an “other” could cause a breach in the system (The world- Ideas,values,ideologies, social structures, roles,institutions, culture, “the other”)  For one involved in a slave-owning society, it was only the recognition that the slaves were human beings with dignity and rights that could free you from the slave owning ideology  For Las Casas, the “other” was the Indian and the Spaniards could not be saved until they recognized the humanity of their slaves (Indians represented the breach in the system)  Once one took the humanity of the Indians seriously, one could never go back to the slave-owning ideology (this is the conversion of Las Casas; his awakening, destruction of the world for him) Las Casas’ Awakening  A) The Indians are human beings, the loved ones of God (who are being crushed, therefore the “poor” of Jesus Christ)  B) What’s evil here is not a question of individual morality, it’s a question of social sin o Originally he had thought that the solution was simply “good” slave-owning but when his experiment failed he came to realize that the problem was the whole system not the individuals o You can’t be a “good” slave owner because slave owning is wrong o At one point Las Casas proposed that the Spaniards consider importing black slaves from Africa because he saw this as less objectionable than Indian slavery o In the end he saw the
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