Encounter in Humanization: Insights for Christian-Marxist Dialogue and Cooperation
by Paulose Mar Paulose
Introduction, by Ninan Koshy
Bishop Dr. Paulose Mar Paulose was a student of theology in Berkeley University in the United States at a time when Berkeley became well known as a campus of radical student protests. The demand of the students to the United States government to withdraw its forces from Vietnam and the protests around it influenced Bishop Paulose’s theological thinking. He was convinced that on certain occasions Christian obedience has to be shown through protest and resistance. He recalls in the introduction to his book in Malayalam, Swathanthriyam Anu Daivam ("Freedom is God") that it was when he was at Berkeley, that he was influenced by the humanism of Karl Marx and the "religionless Christianity’’ of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was awarded doctoral degree in 1976 for the thesis" A Bonhoefferian Corrective of Karl Marx’s Critique of Religion. It was "submitted as a contribution to Marxist Christian dialogue which has in recent years been smothered by unfavourable international politics." It is "addressed primarily to the Christian community, but it is also hoped that it might invite the perspective of other groups."
This publication is an edited version of the thesis. We have taken every care to maintain fully the integrity of the thesis. Portions of the thesis which consist mainly of references to other authors and quotations from them have been omitted while ensuring the continuity of thought in the thesis. In the rest of the thesis we have made only minor editorial changes.
Three things this dissertation is not, Bishop Paulose makes clear. First, this is not an attempt to prove that Christian theology is superior to Marxist philosophy. Second, this is not an attempt to place Bonhoeffer in the Marxist camp. Third, this is not an attempt to make a synthesis of Marxism and Christianity. ‘Rather, Marx’s and Bonhoeffer’s critiques of religion are examined objectively, and the possibility of undergirding the positive criticisms of Marx with a sound theology is explored. This exploration is in the nature of an analytical study of Bonhoeffer’s theology.’
The thesis is a brilliant examination of how Bonhoeffer’s theology will help in the development of an adequate theological approach to Marxism. In elaborating a Bonhoefferian critique to Marxism the author points Out areas of similarity as well as those of differences with regard to criticism of religion.
At the very beginning of the thesis, Bishop Paulose makes a significant contribution to the understanding of Marx. Many scholars have suggested that there are two distinct phases in Marx’s writings: early Marx, which includes at least the rather humanistic ideas of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844) and The Communist Manifesto (1848); and later Marx which has the much more technical and ‘scientific’ economics of Das Capital, the first volume of which was published in 1867. Bishop Paulose shows that the ‘young’ and the ‘old’ Marx are essentially one and the same and there is a continuity of thought in Marx’s writings. The basic ideas about the human being as Marx expressed them in the Manuscripts and the ideas of the older Marx as expressed in Capital are not contradictory. If there is a theme running through the whole of Marx’s writings, the most obvious would be ‘alienation’, a concept that he developed through confrontation with the ideas of Hegel. Marx’s views on alienation and those on materialism are thus inseparable. Bishop Paulose does not accept the view that only Marx’s early writings are philosophical and that he lost the humanist version in his later writings. "In spite of certain changes in mood and language, the core of the philosophy developed by the young Marx was never changed and it is impossible to understand his concept of socialism and his criticism of capitalism as developed in his later writings except on the basis of the concept of man which he developed in his early writings". The fundamental coherence of Marx’s views is affirmed here. It is that affirmation that provides the theoretical basis of the revolutionary struggle for a democratic humanistic socialism.
Marx was influenced by the philosophy of Hegel and the anthropology of Feuerbach. Hegel may well be the most influential philosopher and political theorist Germany has produced, with the possible exception of Kant. His influence is undeniable across an enormous range of modem social thought, especially in Marxism. Hegel’s views on religion played a vital role in the formation of his thought. Religion together with philosophy was for Hegel the highest form of the spiritual life of human beings. In Germany religion and politics were very much connected in those days. Marx was at one stage a member of a Hegelian discussion group though he soon differed with it. Hegel is well known for his dialectics. The dialectic, according to Hegel, is the process in which any social or intellectual state contains an essential contradiction. To Hegel the contradiction was one of ideas and concepts. To Marx the conflict was of social forces. While Marx made use of Hegel’s dialectical method and continued to urge his followers to study Hegel, he accepted only Hegel’s method and not his philosophy. Marx was not interested in philosophy which was contemplation. He was only interested in philosophy which was capable of intervening in the world.
Bishop Paulose points out how Marx found the views of Feuerbach on religion more helpful. Both Marx and Engels were deeply influenced by Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity. This was mainly because Feuerbach abolishes the "theological essence" of religion in favour of its anthropological essence. According to this the essence of religion is the essence of the human being. "Religion is man’s earliest and also indirect form of self-knowledge". Marx obviously liked the origin of religion given in The Essence of Christianity. "Nature listens not to the plaints of man, it is callous to his sorrows. Hence man turns away from Nature, from all visible objects. He turns within, that here, sheltered and hidden from the inexorable powers, he may find audience for his griefs. Here he utters his oppressive secrets; here he gives vent to his stifled sighs. This open air of the heart, this outspoken secret, this uttered sorrow of the soul, is God. God is a tear of love shed in the deepest concealment of human misery. God is an unutterable sigh, lying in the depths of the heart." Bishop Paulose shows how these thoughts of Feuerbach find echo in the comments that Marx made later on religion and God. "Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people". Bishop Paulose says that it would be a complete distortion if this oft-quoted passage from Marx is taken as some sort of vulgar atheism or as a rejection of religion per se or even as an attack upon religion. The passage has been misused both by Marxists some of whom have made atheism part of their doctrine and by followers of religion who want to show that Marxism is a rejection of rejection of religion. Bishop Paulose points out how both are wrong.
Some of the ideas of Engels have been particularly helpful for Marxist-Christian dialogue and collaboration. These ideas are highlighted by Bishop Paulose. While the ruling classes may wish to employ religious belief and feeling as forces for the retention of their power, religion being a mass phenomenon that transcends classes, may serve as the justification for and inspiration of vast popular movements that are revolutionary. Marxism emphasizes the revolutionary quality of early Christianity and stresses the significant contrast between early and late Christianity. Engels wrote that the history of early Christianity has notable points of resemblance with the modem working class movement.
Marx did not believe that a direct attack against religion would ever work. Any direct struggle against religion appeared to Marx useless and misplaced: useless because religion simply cannot be abolished as long as the world is not put straight: misplaced because the real enemy is the perverted social order of which, as Marx put it, religion is only the spiritual aroma. In the Manuscripts Marx draws an important distinction between atheism and socialism. "Atheism... has no longer any meaning, for atheism is a negation of God, and postulates the existence of man through this negation; but socialism as socialism no longer stands in need of such a mediation." Marxism, manifesting a profound humanism as the heart of its inspiration, naturally opposes religious persecution, Bishop Paulose points out. This is something that has been forgotten both by Marxists and Christians in several situations. The few references to religion that Marx made in his later years indicate that in spite of his lack of interest in this kind of problem, his view on religion and atheism did not change as the years passed. "Everyone should be able to attend to his religious as well as his bodily needs without the police sticking their noses in", Marx argues in his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875).
But it needs to be pointed out that several followers of Marxism did not follow this wise advice of Marx. Lenin in the 1920’s said, "We must tirelessly carry out atheist propaganda and struggle". The period following the Russian revolution was one of direct confrontation between the church and the state. However not long after, the approach of the government to religious matters became rather cautious. There was much greater emphasis on the need to undermine religion by social and economic action rather than by direct confrontation with religious institutions and believers. Lenin died in 1924, leaving a rather ambiguous legacy concerning religion. An observer commented, "A mainly atheistic outlook tempered by the conviction that the subordination of action against religious bodies to the wider objectives of the state leaves the maximum freedom to pursue whatever policy appears to be the most expedient at any particular juncture".
Bishop Paulose points out that with regard to religion, Mao Zedong is closer to Marx than Lenin. Mao also did not think a struggle against religion was necessary. His critique of religion is essentially sociological and political, as indicated in his statement, "If religion does not interfere with the Peoples Republic, the People’s Republic will not interfere with it". He also said, "We allow various opinions among the people; that is, there is freedom to criticize, to express different views, and to advocate theism or atheism (i. e. materialism)".
The conclusion that Bishop Paulose arrives at after examining in detail Marx’s critique of religion is important. "Whenever Marx attacks religion, or particularly the church, it is an indirect attack on the evils of society. Similarly attacks on the evils of society are indirectly attacks on religion. He challenged the religion of his time to build a just social order. Thus we can say that Marx was, by his sense of injustice found in the society, on the side of the angels. Hence he has been classified with the "Children of Light" and not with the ‘Children of Darkness".
Bishop Paulose follows up his argument in the next chapter where he deals with "Transcendence According to Marx" and points out that the crucial point and the very essence of Marx’s critique of religion is not its denial of God but the acknowledgment and affirmation of human autonomy. Marx does not accept the Christian conception of the human being, which begins and ends with God, the source of all human actuality and potentiality. Marx’s critique of religion is not primarily and essentially a revolt against God, but rather a struggle on behalf of the human being for fullness and transcendence. This transcendence which opens the human being to unlimited possibilities is a human project. It perpetually opens the way for the future. It is a human choice to remain open to the future. God has no place in it. In religion, transcendence rests on God. God opens the future for the human being who responds. But in Marx’s transcendence God is absent. God puts a restraint on the autonomy and therefore the potential or the human being. Dependence on such a God and the autonomy of the human being are incompatible. For a Christian, transcendence is the act of God who comes to him. For a Marxist, it is a dimension of human activity exploring full potential.
Another distinguished Indian theologian who studied Marx’s views on religion was Fr. Sebastian Kappen. His doctoral thesis submitted to the Gregorian University in Rome, in the year 1961 was "Praxis and Religious Alienation According to the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of Karl Marx." The text of the dissertation was published as Marxian Atheism in 1983. Kappen wrote "The essence of Marxian atheism lies not so much in his denunciation of religion as in his affirmation of the radical autonomy and self-sufficiency of man. His criticism of religion is aimed at making man ‘revolve about himself as his own true sun". (page 14)
Bishop Paulose rightly points out that there is no other aspect of Marxist ideology that has drawn the attention of Christians as much as atheism. He asks Christians to avoid a propagandistic and condemnatory approach in dealing with atheism. Marx’s atheism is essentially humanistic. It starts not from a negation but an affirmation. It affirms the autonomy of the human being and rejects any attempt to deny the human being’s creative power and potential. Therefore Bishop Paulose says, "Marx is trying to restore to people a purpose in life and to give of mankind a higher meaning. We cannot completely ignore this effort, to the extent that it is directed at the progress of humanity. This reminds us that the church must be ready to witness to the Lordship of Christ by cooperating with men of goodwill of all religious and non-religious groups who are genuinely concerned about better ways of living and working". Marx’s critique of religion challenges Christians for a vision of the human being rooted more deeply in reality. It exhorts Christians to act out the implications of the human being made in the image of God who has become incarnate.
We are reminded that Marx’s critique of religion is in many ways similar to those of the prophets of the Old Testament. Like the Biblical prophets Marx fought against the established religion. The prophets criticized religion that was hands in glove with those in power. As Fr. Kappen points out "Believers will have little difficulty in concurring with Marx’s violent attack on the God of ideological legitimation. It is his abiding contribution to have unmasked the class character of God in much of popular worship. The same God is very much alive even today where religious leaders are in league with the powers that be" (Marxian Atheism, page 84). It is therefore our responsibility to prove that to be a Christian does not mean to be the defender of the established order. The church, certainly, can play a vital role for the transformation of society.
Bishop Paulose finds a ‘religious’ element in Marx’s critique of religion. Marx’s concern for the ‘self-consciousness of man’ lies very close to the religious task of being relevant in the world. Seen in this light Marx’s critique of religion may very well be a "religious criticism" of the world. As Fr. Kappen says ‘paradoxically, in spite of his avowed atheism, Marx’s philosophical concern has much in common with the ultimate meaning of human existence. What is the theory of alienation and its suppression but an attempt to unravel the hidden meaning and ultimate goal of history"? (Marxian Atheism, page 84).
It is in connection with Marx’s criticism of religion especially as an ally of the establishment that Bishop Paulose brings in the theology of liberation which he says "represents the final coming-to-terms with Marx, the positive appropriation of Marx’s contribution to modern thought and life".
Bishop Paulose raises some fundamental questions while expressing his hopes about a socialist society. What is the authentic human life? What is the ultimate meaning of human existence? One might say that these questions ought to have been raised with regard to Marxism itself, rather than to the socialist society. It is here that Bonhoeffer’s theology is brought in as a corrective of Marxist critique of religion.
There is a continuing interest in theological circles in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is especially true of Letters and Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer was executed in the last days of the Second World War in a vengeful act of cruelty by the Nazi regime which he had contested since Hitler came to power in 1933. The Letters as well as the great biography by his close friend Eberhard Berthge, have proved to be of worldwide and lasting significance for many of the leaders and the issues in the ecumenical movement. Much of the subsequent fascination with his legacy has focussed on many layered phrases such as his advocacy of radically new Christian responses to "a world come of age" or his practice of a "secret discipline" of meditation and prayer.
In dealing with Bonhoeffer as a corrective to Marx there is one major difficulty. There are few references to Marx in Bonhoeffer’s writings. This may look strange; there is no reason to believe that he was not familiar with Marxist philosophy. Bishop Paulose suggests two reasons. It would not have been politically wise for Bonhoeffer to refer to Marx in his writings as it would have given Hitler another weapon against him. Again Bonhoeffer was dealing with the greatest challenge of the times viz: Nazism. So rather than trying to find what Bonhoeffer might have written or thought about Marx, the writer examines Bonhoeffer’s critique of religion and then finds the similarities with and differences from Marx’s critique.
At the very outset Bishop Paulose says, "What is important to note is that in spite of the similarities between Marx and Bonhoeffer there is a striking difference which is crucial for our enquiry: Bonhoeffer’s critique of religion grew from, and was directed towards, an extraordinary faith in Christ, Lord of the world. Without this faith such a critique would be impossible. The foundation for the Christian encounter with Marxism is found in Bonhoeffer’s theology in the more basic framework of the confrontation of Christ with the world. His thoughts will, therefore, help us to formulate and synthesize an adequate theological approach to Marxism." Here the thesis becomes a personal testimony. When Bishop Paulose is dealing with Marxism it is out of an extraordinary faith that he speaks. The call for dialogue with Marxists comes out of the basic framework of the confrontation of Christ with the world.
The fundamental question that Bonhoeffer poses before us is "If religion is no more than a ‘garment of Christianity’ which must now be cast aside because it has lost its meaning in a ‘world come of age’, if the real problem facing Christianity today is not so much that of religionlessness, but precisely that of religion, then what does all this mean for the church?" The church must be ready for self-criticism and closely examine the validity of its traditional beliefs and practices in a "work come of age". In one sense the world come of age is a secularised world, where more and more areas of activity which were traditionally under religion are no longer there. Scientific progress and political evolution have brought in this autonomy. Some of the earlier boundaries are gone. This according to Bonhoeffer is the work of Christ. The lordship of Christ corresponds to worldliness, and discipleship to a sharing in this world: the natural, the profane, the rational and the humane are placed not against but with this Christ. This is what Bonhoeffer means by the phrase "world come of age".
Bonhoeffer claims that it is the work of Christ that has made the world secular and "come of age". In his significant work Christianity in World History, a prominent theologian Arend Theodor van Leeuwen has argued that the idea of separating out the things of God from the things of people in such a way as to deny the divine nature of kingship was first formulated in ancient Israel and then became a major motif of Christianity. As Christianity spread across Europe it brought the message of secularization with it. By secularization van Leeuwen did not mean secularism -- the worship of worldly things -- but rather the separation of religious and temporal spheres. Secular culture was according to Leeuwen, Christianity’s gift to the world.
For Bonhoeffer the guiding principle for Christians in this realm is that of identification with the world. We are part of the world Christ came to save and we cannot participate in his saving act unless we do so at those places in the world where we live alongside fellow human beings, whether or not we bear a Christian name. The coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. Bishop Paulose says, "It is by this reasoning, namely by a bold effort to answer the question of how Jesus Christ can become lord even of the religionless, that Bonhoeffer arrived at his conclusion that the church should work out and proclaim a ‘non-religious’ interpretation of Biblical and theological concepts".
The two concepts associated with Bonhoeffer are examined in detail in the thesis. They are "non-religious interpretation" and "religionless Christianity". These are interrelated and both are important for an adequate understanding of the development of the thinking of Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer maintains that the Biblical understanding of God directs us to a powerless and suffering God who is with us and who calls us to share his suffering for the sake of the world. But it is not this God that religion presents. He observes that Christian religion has become a separate part among the other parts of life, a mere section of the whole. This is because of the partial nature of religion in contrast to ‘faith’. "The ‘religious act’ is always something partial, ‘faith’ is something whole, involving the whole of one’s life." Bonhoeffer criticises the privileged character of the church.
Bonhoeffer’s critique of religion in its most comprehensive form found in his prison writings. But it had evolved over a number of years. Bishop Paulose points out that the critique of religion confronted Bonhoeffer immediately with a problem: finding a non-religious language to interpret the Biblical and theological concepts. "It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming-as was Jesus’ language; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom". Bishop Paulose became a "secular theologian" as he described himself, by using such liberating and redeeming language, listened to and understood perhaps by more outside the church than inside. The influence of Bonhoeffer on Bishop Paulose was profound and direct. He affirms, "We should remember that Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation does not arise out of any doubts about Christ but is first and last a Christological interpretation. He always tries to pursue Christological questions by means of non-religious interpretation." The non-religious interpretation of Biblical concepts means that the concepts must be interpreted in such a way as not to make religion a precondition of faith.
Bishop Paulose followed in his preaching what he learned from Bonhoeffer. "One thing is quite clear from what Bonhoeffer says: the criterion for the understanding of our preaching should not be how well it is understood by the believer, but by the non-believer". The usual Christian preaching does not communicate to those outside the church; it is not understood by them. Bishop Paulose was one of the few church leaders who spoke in a language that was understood by all. He could speak to people outside the church also about his faith in a secular language.
Like Bonhoeffer he believed that "The church is the church only when it exists for others". With his interpretation Bonhoeffer does not reject the church, only affirms it in a new way; the way of life in the church which Bonhoeffer envisions is one of what he calls "religionless Christianity". This of course is a concept which has led to endless controversy. Bishop Paulose points out that surprisingly, Bonhoeffer himself used the expression "religionless Christianity" only in the famous letter of April 30, 1944. Bishop Paulose elaborates three themes which were very close to Bonhoeffer and revealed in his prison letters. These themes are "holy worldliness", "theology of responsibility" and "secret discipline". With regard to "holy worldliness", Bishop Paulose quotes from the diary of Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, Markings, "In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action". Bonhoeffer defines responsibility as "the total and realistic response of man to the claim of God and of our neighbour". The "secret discipline" is not something to escape from the reality of the world but one of struggle as Andre Dumas points out. "The secret discipline is... A reminder that man following after Christ is subject to the whole of reality, and cannot be content with only a portion of the world around him that has become tolerable and manipulable under his direction. To have come of age, to be religionless, implies this secret discipline of struggle, which for the Christian is the very secret that God shares with man".
Marx maintained that the future to which the human being is moving is completely open. It is this possibility that enables the human being to move towards the future along an original road that entails freedom and choice. This according to Marx is transcendence. God does not play any role in this. Bonhoeffer’s concept of transcendence is similar to that of Marx up to a point only. He rejected the doctrine of God popularly associated with much of the history of theology. He replaced it with an understanding of transcendence which is focussed upon the humanity of Christ and the participation of the disciple through him in the life of the world come of age.
Bishop Paulose underlines the critical difference between the two. Bonhoeffer’s thesis responds to Marx that faith in the transcendent God is not a fleeing away from the affairs of the world. On the contrary, it is taking full responsibility of the reality of the world. Bishop Paulose sums up the discussion, "Marx and Bonhoeffer emphasised the autonomy of man. But in the search for the autonomy of man Bonhoeffer was not so much removing God from the world’s affairs as searching for God’s real presence in the world. Whereas Marx found God as standing in the way of man’s freedom and autonomy, a barrier to human emancipation, Bonhoeffer believed that God granted freedom and autonomy for man by making Jesus the point of disclosure for His transcendence. Whereas Marx defined transcendence as mans possibility to move towards the future with freedom and choice, so that he could shape his own destiny, Bonhoeffer gave a this-worldly interpretation of transcendence in which the experience of transcendence is Jesus being there for others."
The thesis proceeds to show how m addition to being a challenge to the church, Bonhoefferian theology functions also as a challenge to Marxist philosophy. Bonhoeffer emphasized that in the modern secular age the mission of the church must assume a secular style. His consistent effort for a non-religious interpretation of Christianity was to reform the church in such a way that it could truly be a prophet and servant to the contemporary person. As already pointed out, his plea for a non-religious Christianity is also a plea for a redefinition of the church. He reminds us that if the church is to fulfil its mission it needs to be redefined and refashioned from within.
As Marx’s criticism is a challenge to the Christians to rethink their own beliefs, Bonhoeffer’s criticism also is a challenge to the church. Bishop Paulose draws a parallel between "opium of the people" and "cheap grace". For Marx, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people". According to Bonhoeffer, "We Lutherans have gathered like eagles around the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ".
In spite of this apparent similarity there are fundamental differences as already shown. Bonhoeffer’s theology functions as a corrective of Marx’s criticism of religion. The challenge to the Marxists is to re-examine their philosophy to see whether they take into consideration the human person in wholeness. Bishop Paulose makes this his own challenge to Marxists. Quoting Marx’s famous words "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point, however, is to change it", Bishop Paulose says, "In order to change the world, philosophy must embrace the totality of human existence, its material as well as spiritual dimension. Marx fails to do this".
Fr. Kappen also grapples with this question of the larger issue of human existence in dealing with Marxian atheism. "In his preoccupation with the analysis of the capitalist system, he (Marx) failed to do justice to the sphere of the personal and the subjective, the sphere where the human drama of hope and despair, love and hate, death and survival is enacted... Had Marx paid sufficient attention to these existential problems, he might have been led to a more critical assessment of his atheist stance."
The authentic Christian faith that Bonhoeffer upholds is something other than the ‘religion’ that Marx criticised. Therefore Bishop Paulose points out that Marx’s theory that all religions are enemies of social revolution does not hold true. The "religionless Christian" who leads a "worldly life", as portrayed by Bonhoeffer, certainly plays a vital role in the transformation of society. Bishop Paulose concludes this discussion, "In this way we respond to Marx’s critique of religion that Christianity is not the opium of the people but a way of life in which the Christian participates in Jesus’ ‘being there for others’, for the total humanization of humanity."
The final chapter of the thesis is "A Call for Dialogue". The Bishop sums up the basis of this call succinctly. "By examining Marx’s critique of religion optimistically and without prejudice we found that Marxists and Christians can agree, in spite of several disagreements, that both are ultimately concerned for true humanity, especially for the rights of the poor and the needy, the hungry and hopeless; both could agree that they strive to be ‘true to the earth’. We observed that Marx’s atheism is primarily an anthropological affirmation; it is another way of putting human being in the centre of human interest and concern. We also found that Marx’s critique of religion indeed helps us to awaken from our dogmatic slumber. By making a Bonhoefferian corrective of Marx’s critique of religion, we demonstrated that whatever the traditional interpretation or historical function of Christian faith may have been, its essential ingredients allow for a radical reaffirmation of man’s this-worldly being. The essence of Christian faith is even consistent with unqualified commitment to revolutionary struggle in the name of man against the forces of alienation. This corrective also served the purpose of presenting to the church a new understanding of itself and of autonomous modern world, and it reminded us what it means to be a Christian in the world come of age."
Bishop Paulose offers a number of guidelines for dialogue. The dialogue that Bishop Paulose calls for is not to be confined to philosophical or doctrinal issues although dialogue on these issues will always be necessary. Primarily it should be on the common task of dealing with the urgent issues that confront us, like hunger and poverty, illiteracy and pollution.
There is only one reference to liberation theology m the thesis. This may be because liberation theology was just at its beginning stage when the thesis was written. Bishop Paulose expresses the opinion that liberation theology was the final coming to terms of theology with Marx, the positive appropriation of Marx’s contribution to modern thought and life. While Bishop Paulose was popularly known as a liberation theologian he preferred the title "secular theologian". He was conscious that he was always speaking to an audience larger than the church, a secular audience.
While the thesis mentions directly only about the influence of Marx on liberation theology, students of liberation theology have always acknowledged the influence of Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer issued a call to redefine religion in a secular context. His theology emphasizes human responsibility towards others, and stresses the value of seeing the world with "the view from below -- the perspective of the poor and the oppressed. This was a framework many liberation theologians found significant and useful.
Liberation theology burst on the scene with startling creativity in the early seventies in Latin America. "While the rich variety ‘of liberationist writings defies easy characterization, most of the writers are united in one overpowering theme; the Gospel of Jesus Christ is represented most authentically in the liberation of the world’s oppressed people from their bondage. The gospel is not an otherworldly escape from the hard realities of this world. Rather it addresses these realities directly, empowering the oppressed to seize control of their own destiny and to establish a new order of freedom and peace." (J. P. Wogaman in Christian Perspective on Politics).
Liberation theology started in Latin America gut quickly extended its influence to many parts of the world. The theologies of liberation had a strong anti-systemic stance which brought them often into conflict with powers they addressed, both political and ecclesiastical. Their approach to poverty arid oppression came out of their understanding of the gospel. To be sure their analysis explored the roots of the problem and found more than economic causes. Liberation theologians have been at their strongest when they have been related to concrete communities and problems.
Here in studying the thesis of Bishop Paulose we will confine our discussion to the question of relationship between liberation theology and Marxism. It is sometimes suggested that liberation theology is little more than Marxism with a Christian face. Many of the liberation theologians particularly the Latin Americans, do substantially and consciously rely upon Marxist forms of analysis. Bishop Paulose says, in an essay in honour of Fr. Kappen, Liberation theology and Marxism, "There are a number of liberation theologians who employ Marxian methodology and terminology in their writings. However they do not exhort the people to read the works of Karl Marx in the light of the Bible but to study the Bible in the light of Marx’s works. In other words they seek the aid of Marx for a deeper insight into and clearer understanding of the Bible".
Liberation theologians want to make sure that Christian faith will not be used as ideological support for selfish interests and repressive situations. In an interesting chapter on the Marxian theme of religion as the "opiate of the people", Jose Miguez Bonino welcomes the criticism "as a valid warning against the self-deception and confusion which so easily creep into a political programme of any sort when it is clothed in religious language" . He adds "we can see how religious faith can be used for reactionary purposes. It does not need to be a conscious use, it even functions better when it is practised unwittingly" (Christians and Marxists).
Liberation theologians believe that real truth is revealed through praxis -- a term that is itself derived from Marxist literature. Knowledge about things that matter is not derived through exposure to abstract ‘truths’, rather it is in reflecting upon our actions to affect things that matter. "A theology of liberation", writes Gustavo Gutierrez, "offers us not so much a new theme for reflections as a new way to do theology". Such a theology "does not stop with reflection on the world, but rather tries to be part of the process through which the world is transformed". A Theology of Liberation… (sic) Such words are reminiscent of Marx’s own dictum that "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point however is to change it." Bishop Paulose says "The proposition of liberation theologians is exactly the same. They are bent on ‘doing’ theology rather than contemplating it. Theology which is based on the gospel can be timely, only as it assumes new and bold forms in relation to the actual historical situation and the particular needs of the people in their own time" (Liberation Theology and Marxism). The theologian must be immersed in the struggle for transforming society and proclaim the message of the gospel from that point. Theologians are not to be mere theoreticians, but practitioners who participate in the ongoing struggle to liberate the oppressed.
Liberation theology to a large extent agrees with Marxist analysis in its identification with the oppressed in the struggle against the oppressor. Christians have a "preferential option for the poor"; conveying the point that Christians choose side with the poor. Many liberation theologians have largely accepted a Marxian interpretation of class conflict and the causes of poverty.
Bishop Paulose claimed that liberation theology is more prophetic than Marxist. It gives poignant expression to the swell of protest against oppressive socio-economic formations and to the powerful yearning for a system founded on justice.
The question is raised how relevant liberation theology is, if it owes so much to Marxism, in the wake of the collapse of the socialist system in Eastern Europe and the widespread disillusionment it has created. There is no denying that there is a crisis with regard to liberation theology and many of its earlier supporters do not find it relevant. The response to this has to be, whether the situation in the world and the lot of the oppressed today do not demand even a greater commitment of a theology of liberation? If liberation theology arose out of a consciousness of the oppression of the people by the capitalist system, then there is surely greater need of a theology of liberation in this age of globalization.
Speaking to the European Parliament in November 1989 at a time when socialist regimes were falling all over Central and Eastern Europe, the Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie said, "The apparent defeat of communism in Europe should not be seen as a triumph of capitalism. The nearer capitalism comes to triumphing totally more questions are raised about its capacity to be magnanimous in victory, to heed the cries of the poor at home and aboard to seek the path of peace and to care tenderly for the earth". Three years later in an interview to an Italian journal, Pope John Paul II said, "The proponents of extreme capitalism in any form tend to overlook the good things achieved by communism, the struggle against unemployment and the concern for the poor".
About the new situation that raises questions about the relevance of liberation theology, Pablo Richard says, "The conditions in the Third World that gave birth to liberation theology have not changed. As long as the scandal of poverty and oppression exists and as long as there are Christians who live and critically reflect on their faith in the context of the struggle for justice and life, liberation theology will continue to exist". The relevance of many elements of Marxism, as a basis for reflection to identify the root causes of oppression as well as to explore the means to overcome this oppression, is re-affirmed by liberation theologians. They remind us that liberation theology has never been a new theology but rather a new way of doing theology -- from the perspective of the poor and their struggle for justice and liberation. They had always rejected the idea that theology is a systematic collection of timeless and culture-transcending truths that remains static for all generations. Rather theology is in flux; it is a dynamic and ongoing exercise involving contemporary insights into knowledge, humanity and history. Therefore there is a new demand on liberation theology to take into account the new dimensions of oppression and subjugation brought in by economic globalization.
Here the tools of analysis developed under Marxist influence are still found useful. Even non-Marxist social scientists have found the description of globalization in the Communist Manifesto not only prophetic but of validity in analyzing the new stage of capitalism. As ‘description’ of systems of oppression Marxism has much to teach. As a ‘prescription’ for a new society it will need re-appraisal especially in the light of recent experiences and new developments. In general liberation theologians have given more emphasis to description of the situation than to prescribing economic alternatives. Their concern was for the dehumanizing consequences of capitalism as seen through the prism of the gospel and Jesus’ own way of life. This concern should heighten in the context of the new stage of capitalism, encourage search for alternatives and affirm signs of hope in the new struggles and resistance of the marginalised.
Bishop Paulose’s thesis is a plea for Christian- Marxist dialogue. By the time the thesis was submitted Christian-Marxist dialogue had received a set-back. Ans vander Bent traces the History. "Dialogue between Christians and Marxists, which began in the 1950’s and flourished in the 1960’s, was the result of a relaxation in the East-West tensions of cold war. The de-Stalinization campaign, the changes in the Roman Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council, and the growth of the ecumenical movement all contributed to bringing Marxists and Christians together for serious conversations about critical issues. Prominent participants from Marxist side included R. Garaudy, V. Gardavsky, M. Machovec and E. Bloch; and such Christian theologians as H. Hromadka, A. Dumas, G. Girardi, K. Rahner and J. M. Gonzalez -Ruiz were involved at one time or another. The Paulus- Geselleschaft, under the leadership of Erich Kellner, sponsored a number of international symposia during the 1960s in the Federal Republic of Germany and Austria, bringing together Marxist and Christian thinkers.’ (Ecumenical Dictionary)
After the Warsaw Pact forces moved into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to suppress the movement led by Alexander Dubcek, Marxist-Christian dialogue declined swiftly. although it did not disappear entirely, encounters during the 1970’s were less publicized and more widely diffused than earlier ones. Bishop Paulose wrote the thesis around the time and notes that Christian- Marxist dialogue "has in recent years been smothered by unfavourable international politics."
A welcome addition to the subject of Marxist-Christian dialogue is a book by the Anglican theologian James Bentley, Between Marx and Christ, The Dialogue in German-Speaking Europe. 1870-1970. This book was reviewed by Rudolf C. Heredia in the Economic and Political Weekly of September 12, 1992. In the second half of the nineteenth century Germany contained the largest urban proletariat in the world. Clergymen and politicians had to grapple with this to retain any kind of credibility. Christian theologians set out on a critical examination of the life of Jesus and the social and political implications of his teachings. Marxist ideologues too began "to describe the founder of Christianity as a quasi-mythical primitive communist". Reviewing the book Heredia says, "In going back to their origins both sides discovered the potential for a constructive dialogue, even though dialectical contradictions still remained. However it was in their resistance to Hitler that their mutual suspicions were finally dissolved and the need to cooperate in building a socialist humanism was strongly felt. After the war, radical Christians criticized the Church’s cooperation by the ruling classes even as open-minded party members came to realize how repressive some Marxist regimes could be. But just as the dialogue was gaining momentum the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia set it back drastically".
Heredia sums up the lessons of Christian-Marxist dialogue till now, with the end of cold war establishing a new and unprecedented context for dialogue. "We discover that the real openness to dialogue is created not in the intellectual world of concepts, but in the existential encounter of action. For it is in working together to liberate the oppressed masses through critical social intervention, and to oppose tyrannical oppression like Nazism, that mutual trust and appreciation is engendered, and a common ground founded on our basic humanness opened."
From the time he returned to Kerala, India, after his studies in the USA, Bishop Paulose was in constant dialogue with Marxists, in the fields of thought and action. His main interlocutor was E. M. S. Namboodiripad, popularly known as EMS, the most distinguished of Indian communists, a Marxist intellectual of high calibre who was also a brilliant strategist. Bishop Paulose openly acknowledged his indebtedness to EMS in the evolution of his political ideas. He apparently influenced EMS to some extent in his attitude to followers of religion. There were other Christian leaders in Kerala too engaged in dialogue with EMS. They included Metropolitan Paulose Mar Gregorios and M.M.Thomas. Unfortunately all these four persons passed away within a short period between 1996 and 1998.
After reading the thesis of Bishop Paulose, EMS wrote an article in which he suggested its publication. This book is a response to that suggestion as well as to similar suggestions made by many. EMS pointed out that the commitment to dialogue that is reflected in Bonhoeffer’s "religionless Christianity has two aspects. One, the centre of Christianity is not the salvation that will be available in the other world, but the human good in this world. Second, belief in God and devotion to Jesus Christ are needed for the good in this world even if not for salvation in the other. EMS said: "On one hand there is similarity and on the other there is difference between Marxism and this theology about Christian belief. Action for the good of the human being is at the centre of both". EMS was conscious of the limitations as well as the possibilities of Christian-Marxist dialogue. He maintained that what is feasible is cooperation on the practical plane with recognition on both sides of the differences at the theoretical level while having dialogue also at the theoretical level. But not only dialogue but also common action should be organized between Marxism and theologies including Christian theology. (EMS Diary, Volume I)
In the introduction to his book Freedom is God Bishop Paulose had acknowledged the influence of Marxian humanism in addition to Bonhoeffor’s "religionless Christianity" at the time of writing his thesis. EMS criticised this statement of the Bishop on Marxian humanism as half-truth in the article mentioned above. EMS maintained that Marxian humanism is unique. Marx’s socio-economic vision is not just humanism, but humanism arising out of the vision of class struggle. Perhaps EMS was not familiar with the ideas of a number of prominent theologians who accept class struggle as a fact and as a tool for analysis. They acknowledge the role of class conflict in social transformation. Many liberation theologians have quoted the opening sentence in the Communist Manifesto "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle". George Cassalis says: "Marx and Engels, in the wake of other philosophers, used the notion of class struggles to formulate a value judgement on social reality. At the same time, it can be said that they have also made us aware of a fundamental fact about the evolution of society and, even more than that, they have indicated a basic law for operating in its evolution". (Correct Ideas Don’t Fall from the Skies)
In the George M. Philip lecture of 1995, EMS said that the idea of finding solutions to practical problems by cooperation between religious believers and Marxists is more relevant in Kerala than in any other state of India. He pointed out the baneful effects of politics in Kerala as a result of the conflicts between religious believers and Marxists from the time of the formation of the state. If cooperation is to be possible there should be a radical reappraisal on both sides about their perceptions of each other. In another article (in Marxist Samvadam, "Marxist Dialogue") EMS said that a problem that needs solution in dealing with Kerala politics is the approach of Marxist-Leninists to religious communities and their followers. The responsibility of Marxists-Leninists is not only to propagate materialist ideas but to lead the social, economic and political struggle. Marxist-Leninists have a duty to work along with leaders and followers of religious communities. Overcoming the contradictions in the realm of ideas, it is possible for followers of different religions and Marxist-Leninists to join together in practical politics. He said that for this some things have to be done on both sides. Though not believers themselves, Marxist- Leninists should be prepared to respect religious leaders; on the other hand religious leaders and their followers should understand the position of the Marxist- Leninists and be prepared to respect it. He points out that there is a tendency on the part of Marxist- Leninists to hold on to the one sentence of Marx, "religion is the opium of the people" and always to oppose the religion which is described as opiate. This should change and Marxist-Leninists should try to understand the context of this sentence and also learn about the form and growth of religion on the basis of Marxism- Leninism.
Bishop Paulose was seen always in the border regions of faith. There he saw the struggles of the exploited workers, toiling masses and the oppressed tribals. He developed a language of secular theology there. It was his solidarity with the people in their struggle, his ‘doing theology’, that equipped him for the dialogue with Marxists. Secular Kerala heard a special voice from Bishop Paulose, a voice that is rarely heard from Church leaders. Once when I showed him an extract from a well-known pastoral letter of a French Bishop, he felt it reflected his own views. The pastoral letter by Bishop Huyghes of Arras was written in March 1972 on the occasion of a visit by the French Prime Minister, M. J. Chaban- Delmas, following demonstrations by workers: "Christians, both workers and officials, joined their comrades in the legitimate defense of their employment, which is increasingly under fire in the region. These Christians were the Church, and they did not wait for me to make it present. Silence is imposed on the poor of the world, on the poor of Pas-de-Calais, in the name of economic necessity or of political prudence. But if the poor are silenced, Christians are entitled to provide them with a voice.
Bishop Paulose’s call for a dialogue with Marxists is a call to join together in giving a voice to the poor, affirming solidarity with them, and to be part of the larger struggles for justice and liberation. This call he made as a participant in the struggle for justice for the poor and as one who consistently defended secular democracy in India. It is thus easy to identify the main areas in which there should be dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Marxists in India today. They are economic justice in the context of globalization and secular democracy in the context of the onslaught of communalism and fascism.
Christian response to what happens in the secular order should not be for Christians alone, nor should it be in a country like India by Christians acting alone. The East Asia Christian Assembly (Kuala Lumpur 1959) affirmed two things: Christians have certain Christian insights about the contemporary historical situation which may be held in faith; Christian insights can be translated into secular insights. Today Christians in India are called upon to translate their Christian insights into secular insights and join forces with all those who work for justice and human dignity. On issues like economic justice and secularism this opens up avenues for cooperation between Christians and Marxists.
In a famous pastoral letter in 1986 the Catholic Bishops Conference of the United States identified political economy as one of the chief areas where Christians live out their faith. There is a clear demand on the part of the Christians in India to work for economic justice especially in view of the swifter and greater marginalization of the poor as a result of economic reforms under globalization. The French thinker Ignacio Ramonet in an article in the Fall 1999 issue of Foreign Policy magazine wrote, "globalization is set up to be a kind of modern divine critic requiring submission, faith, worship and new rites". Christians have a special responsibility to challenge and expose the false theology of the free market. For doing that they will find Marxist analysis useful.
A study by the National Council for Applied Economic Research recently found that poverty has increased in India since the liberalization process began in 1991. The same conclusion has been reached by studies of the World Bank and Food and Agriculture Organization. The Tenth Human Development Report of 1999 observed: "...market dominated globalization has led to the growing marginalisation of poor nations and people, growing human insecurity and growing inequality with benefits accruing almost solely to the richest people and countries... the global gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening". Christians and Marxists can have fruitful collaboration in the struggles for economic justice.
As already mentioned Bishop Paulose was a champion of secular democracy. In defending and promoting the principles of secularism in India, which is inseparable from democracy, he actively collaborated with Marxists. He brought Christian insights into the discussion and underlined the task of the church in promoting secular democracy.
One major issue that Christians in India have to deal with today is the threat to the secular state. The threat is manifested in the attacks on minorities and assaults on religious freedom but they are only part of a project to alter the secular character of India.
The attempt to alter the character of the state is sought to be carried out through redefinition. Secularism is redefined as tolerance of the majority community. Once secularism is redefined as tolerance, then the secular state comes to mean the truly tolerant one. From there it is an easy step to advocating a Hindu nation and implicitly a Hindu state or one which is in some sense affiliated to the majority religion. After all Hinduism is claimed to be the most tolerant of all religious systems and therefore most conducive to true secularism. Those who support this argument provide powerful legitimacy to the overall project of Hindutva. In India only the leftist movement has openly opposed this equation of secularism with tolerance forthrightly and it is clear with whom Christians can cooperate in the matter.
There is also the redefinition of nationalism linking it to the majority religion. This goes against the fundamental principle of nationalism as upheld during the freedom struggle as the aspiration for freedom of all people living in this country irrespective of religion or caste. The principle that the nation belongs to all its citizens has been repeatedly questioned by the Hindutva forces. In trying to impose the ideology of the Hindu nation these forces are using fascist methods. Christians should collaborate with secular movements, especially the Marxists, in affirming and protecting the frame and content of the secular state in India.
The prophetic criticism by Bishop Paulose will continue to inspire a large number of those inside and outside the Church. He drew lessons for such criticism from Bonhoeffer and Marx. Such criticism was effective because he was a participant in the struggles. M.M.Thomas, who also influenced Bishop Paulose deeply, has written, "There are many Christians and Churches who like to engage themselves in prophetic criticism. There is certainly a place for it. But only participants earn the right to be prophets. The call by God to speak the word of judgement comes only to those who have affirmed their solidarity with the people under God and stood where they stand".
In the thesis and in his life, Bishop Paulose showed that the task of theology is not just to interpret the situation. He was ‘doing theology’ and thus attempting to change the world. This is the task of every Christian, to discern the times and work for the change. The followers of Marx also are engaged in a similar task. Together they should analyze and attempt to change the world. This message of encounter in humanization is conveyed powerfully through this significant theological contribution of Bishop Paulose Mar Paulose.