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The Theological Value of Social Class Analysis and Other Social Distinctions

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Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)

Abstract

The majority of the theological productions that have emerged in the large Christian confessions, mostly in the North Atlantic region (especially those that have institutional support), have been, with some exceptions, rather naive in their approach to political and social realms; many times they have been openly favorable to dominant powers. This lack of critique is most evident in their reference to economics, of which, when not directly complicit with the great systems of domination and exploitation, there has been a generally superficial and asystemic vision. When these theologies or churches have offered critiques, they have addressed ethical issues where they perceive an unavoidable injustice, or individual corrupt practices. However, they have not identified the structural components of the problems. For a long time, a functional understanding of theology and the role of Christianity has been dominant. This understanding has been inherited from its alliance with the successive imperial powers in the West, which has led it to the mediation between theologies of hierarchy and order, the harmonization of conflicting interests, as well as the justification of domination and the status quo. Some theological and ecclesiastical alternatives have also developed, of course, but in many cases their claims became allegations that were then absorbed and co-opted by the workings of large institutions. At times these claims provided unclear schemes that failed to offer viable alternatives, waiting for some divine intervention to fall from the sky to solve social problems, or, conversely, for a heavenly rapture to take believers to paradise.

Keywords

Social Class Social Formation Class Struggle Fundamental Class North Atlantic Region 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See, for example, Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 107–110; he calls this practice a “patriarchy of love,” without considering the oxymoron that this expression implies. It would be soon denounced by feminist authors.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gerd Theissen, Soziologie der Jesusbewegung (Munich: Kaiser, 1977; Eng. trans. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Karl Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity: A Study in Christian Origins (First English edition in 1925), maintains in his study that Pauline Christianity is that which produces an ideological connection to the empire, thus betraying the original proletarian spirit of the original Jesus movement.Google Scholar
  4. See also Néstor Míguez, The Practice of Hope: Ideology and Intention in First Thessalonians (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), where I try to show that while Paul produces a reformulation of the Gospel of Jesus for a Gentile and urban population, it is not through Paul that the gospel is assimilated to imperial interests.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Richard A. Horsley, Sociology and the Jesus Movement (New York: Crossroad, 1989)Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 53.Google Scholar
  7. The work of Moses Finley to which this citation refers is M. I. Finley, The Ancient Economy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 35–61.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Itumeleng Mosala, “Social Scientific Approaches to the Bible: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 55 (1986). Also, see Mosala, Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989), 43–66. I study this in more detail in The Practice of Hope, especially in the introduction and in the analysis of the situation of the Pauline community in Thessalonica.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    G. E. M. De Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World: From the Archaic Age to the Arab Conquests (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    E. A. Judge, “The Social Identity of the First Christians: A Question of Method in Religious History,” Journal of Religious History 11.2 (December 1980): 211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 14.
    This has been developed by Ernesto Laclau in his various writings, and can be clarified in “Por qué construir al pueblo es la principal tarea de una política radical?” (An English version is available: Ernesto Laclau, “Why Constructing a People Is the Main Task of Radical Politics,” Critical Inquiry 32, Summer [2006]: 646–680.)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 17.
    On security as the axis of political developments, see Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    See, for example, Fernando Belo, Lectura materialista del evangelio de Marcos: relato, práctica, ideología (Estella, Navarra: Editorial Verbo Divino, 1975).Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    An example of this discussion can be seen in the debate between Slavoj Žižek and Ernesto Laclau in separate articles appearing in Critical Enquiry. See Ernesto Laclau, “Why Constructing a People Is the Main Task of Radical Politics,” Critical Inquiry 32, Summer (2006): 646–680;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Slavoj Žižek, “Against the Populist Temptation,” Critical Inquiry 32, Spring (2006): 551–574;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Slavoj Žižek, “Schlagend, Aber Nicht Treffend!” Critical Inquiry 33, Autumn (2006): 185–211;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. The main concepts had been expressed by Ernesto Laclau in On Populist Reason (New York: Verso, 2005).Google Scholar

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© Joerg Rieger 2013

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