Chapter Five: The Politics of Political Theology
Political theology is political theology. It is not theology subordinated to politics. It is the attempt to think faithfully in our time and situation. But political theology calls on the church to think politically. This entails understanding itself and its thought in the concrete socio-historical situation perceived on a global scale.
Many liberation theologians, agreeing to this point with political theologians, conclude that the church must take sides in political struggles. This involves, for them, siding with some political programs and parties against others. It requires the acceptance of certain political theories and the rejection of others. Specifically, for many of them, it demands rejection of capitalism and commitment to socialism.
In the light of this call for commitment, the reticence of the German political theologians, who share so much with liberation theologians, is striking. They insist that political theology is not a call to organize or support a particular political programme. The church should not try once again to impose its will on society. Its task is first to criticize itself politically and from that perspective to criticize other institutions as well. In this process it can clarify the Christian principles in terms of which such criticism takes place.
Both alternatives are unsatisfactory from the process perspective expressed in this book. Although many of the goals of socialism can indeed be affirmed by Christians, there are aspects of socialist theory and practice of which Christians in general, and process theologians in particular, have reason to be critical. The assumption, sometimes tacitly made, that socialism is the alternative to capitalism, should be re-examined through a critique of both. Such a criticism will go farther than the German theologians toward development of particular Christian proposals for political theory and practice.
Hence, at this point the book moves from the method and doctrine of theology to reflection on the relevance of Christian teaching for the structure of the political order. The major task of this chapter, dealt with in Section II, is to identify five anthropological themes of political theology that are widely accepted by Christians and to develop their political implications further than the Germans have done. The development will of course reflect the process perspective. Chapters Six and Seven will go beyond this in indicating how a process political theology must oppose the form taken by political theology among the Germans, or at least in Metz. But the account in this chapter is intended only as development of shared convictions, not as opposition.
Before the rudiments of a Christian political theory from the process perspective are presented in Section II, Section I surveys briefly the support for socialism among Christians and the positions taken by the three German political theologians on the relation of theology to politics. This should help to clarify the extent to which the application of shared convictions to political theory and practice is a development of their political theology and the extent to which through this development it offers an alternative view of how theology and political theory and practice are best related.
Since the Constantinian establishment the institutional church has generally been allied with the political authorities at least in those countries in which Christianity has been accepted. In modern times this has often meant the alliance of the Christian church with the bourgeoisie and its support of capitalism. Nevertheless, there has also been a Christian current of protest against the dominant class for the sake of the oppressed. In the past hundred years this has frequently expressed itself in support for socialism.
Support for socialism among Christians can be found in the Social Gospel movement in the United States and parallel movements in Great Britain and on the continent of Europe. These movements were criticized in the further development of theology for their naive identification of Christianity with a social programme and their failure to recognize the limits set by sin to any human accomplishment. But this did not mean that Christian critics of the identification of Christianity with socialism turned against socialism.
Karl Barth, as the greatest theologian of our century, is a particularly important case study. In an address on ‘War, socialism, and "Christianity"’ in 1915 he stated: ‘A true Christian must be a socialist (if he is serious about the reformation of Christianity). A true socialist must be a Christian (if he is concerned with the reformation of socialism).’1 During the years that followed Barth shifted his position away from this close identification of Christianity and socialism, insisting on the transcendence by Christ of every social form.2 But Barth remained a committed socialist throughout his life.
In 1919, another of the theological giants of our century, Paul Tillich, called on Christians ‘to enter into the socialist movement in order to pave the way for a future union of Christianity and the socialist social order’.3 Tillich identified himself as a Christian with socialism until he was forced to emigrate by the Nazis. During the early years he was a leader of the ‘religious socialist’ movement. As he came to see the danger of confusion resulting from this terminology, he spoke instead of a believing realism as the Christian ground of socialism. His socialist writings culminated in The Socialist Decision published in 1933 in the shadow of the rising power of the Nazis. In the conclusion he wrote: ‘The salvation of European society from a return to barbarism lies in the hands of socialism.’4 Although Tillich did not emphasize the political side of his thought so strongly during his years in the United States, he did not repudiate it.
The socialist connection was stressed again in the years immediately after World War II. In 1946 Adolf Grimme stated: ‘Socialists can be Christians; Christians must be socialists.’5 This statement was widely accepted among Christians at that time, but when Gollwitzer raised the issue in 1971, the response was highly critical. Wolfhart Pannenberg has pointed out that the ideals which attract Christians to socialism go back to Stoic and Christian sources and are shared by liberalism. ‘If the idea of overcoming the lordship of human beings over human beings belongs to the Christian hope . . . then it is by no means thereby said that Christians must be socialists in the proper sense. The difference between liberal and socialist ideas appears with respect to the way to attain such a condition.’6 A Christian decision must be based on careful analysis of actual historical facts, and it is not clear that a Christian can approve either socialism or liberalism without severe reservations. Indeed, Pannenberg argues that the question today is not so much whether a Christian must be a socialist but whether, after observing the actual effects of socialism in Eastern Europe, a Christian can ‘still be a socialist in good conscience,7 that is, a socialist in the strict Marxist sense.
The experience with Marxist socialism in Latin America has been much more positive. The Cuban revolution impresses many Latin American Christians much more by its achievements in liberating the masses from economic oppression than by its suppression of political dissent of discouragement of Christianity. The Allende regime and the Nicaraguan revolution show possibilities for co-operation between Christians and Marxist socialists that go further towards suggesting that socialist revolution can be positively affirmed by Christians. Hence the most serious discussion of the relation of Christianity to socialism has taken place not in Europe but in Latin America.
Many leaders of the Latin church realized in the sixties that the church failed to express its true nature when it continued the age-old alliance with the ruling elite in its oppression of the peasants and workers. The Catholic bishops meeting at Medellin in 1968 firmly declared that the church must express its solidarity with the aspirations of the people of Latin America. They thus sanctioned the liberation theology which has been Latin America’s greatest theological gift to the world.
When the Marxist, Salvador Allende, was elected president of Chile in 1970, many Catholic priests supported his programme. A group of eighty issued a call for an international conference that was held in Santiago in 1972.8 This meeting resulted in the organization of Christians for Socialism. Although the military coup in 1973 that overthrew and killed Allende changed the situation in Chile radically, Christians for Socialism continued to be an influential force in Latin America and to a lesser extent in North America as well. It held a conference in Toronto in 1974. In 1975, under the leadership of the Maryknoll fathers, a larger conference was held in Detroit, together with Black and feminist theologians, on the Theology of the Americas. This conference recommended study of the socialist option, and five years later at the second Theology of the Americas Conference, this option was approved.
Despite these very significant expressions of Christian support for socialism, the majority position among both Catholics and Protestants in the twentieth century has been against too close an association of Christianity with any political programme or party. Both remember times when the church has sanctioned particular governments and policies, and both are reluctant to move in that direction again. On the other hand, neither desires to separate Christianity from political activity. There are many unresolved issues in this area,
The Catholic hierarchy at times has been supportive of lay involvement in socialist movements, but it has opposed the public commitment of priests to any particular political party or programme. With rare exceptions, such as Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca, even bishops who are strongly supportive of liberation theology and practice have stood firmly by this official position. In the United States they have forced priests out of political office. But this does not inhibit the hierarchy from pronouncements on political issues. For example, the American bishops declared in November 1971 that the United States’ military action in Vietnam was unjust, and they gave support to selective conscientious objection.
In Protestant circles the issue does not focus so sharply on the activity of ministers. But the conviction that denominations as such should not support particular political parties is equally widespread. Even when the political views of a party run consistently counter to the church’s social teachings, the denominations have avoided statements against the party. (Near exceptions can be found. For example, the Presbytery of New York City formally called attention to the opposition between the views of Senator Barry Goldwater and the official teaching of the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church when Goldwater ran for president on the Republican ticket.) But they have launched forceful campaigns on such issues as civil rights. And today a conservative segment of Protestantism is organizing effectively to implement its nationalistic and anti-socialist ideology.
With respect to the capitalist/socialist issue, both Catholic and Protestant churches have at times made strong statements critical of the former. During the great depression, for example, the 1934 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) urged ‘that competition as the major controlling of our economic life be reexamined, and an attempt be made to secure rational planning in our economic life’. It went on to urge further ‘that our natural resources and economic institutions be considered as existing for the public good and such plans for ownership and control be delivered as will lead to the best use in the interests of all’.9 Such statements provide at least implicit support for socialism. But normal, official practice avoids outright endorsement of a political programme. Catholics and Protestants generally agree that Christianity should not allow itself to be identified with any political theory or party.
The German political theologians are sensitive to the charge that political theology aims to renew a tradition in which the church attempts to dictate political theory and policy to society. As a result they are very careful to avoid the appearance of associating Christianity closely with political movement. Although they take a strong stand in solidarity with the oppressed against the oppressors, they generally avoid, at least in their theological writings, committing themselves to any political theory,
Of the three, Metz is the most cautious in this regard. He writes that political theology can assert ‘its essentially universal categories "only" as a negative critique in this society. Being a particular element in society, Christianity can only formulate the decisiveness ("absoluteness") and universality of its message without falling into an ideology when it formulates it as critical negation (of and in given situations)’.10 But this does not, for Metz, exclude positive formulations: ‘I understand political theology, first of all, to be a critical correction of present-day theology, inasmuch as this theology shows an extreme privatizing tendency (a tendency, that is, to center upon the private person rather than "public", "political" society). At the same time, I understand this political theology to be a positive attempt to formulate the eschatological message under the conditions of our present society.’ Hence, the negative function of political theology in relation to existing social structures has positive import as well. ‘Its critical contestation of socio-political conditions is a "determinate negation". It flares up in criticism of very definite conditions. Being a critical attitude to society, it may well take the form, under certain conditions, of revolutionary protest.’12 Although ‘in the pluralistic society it cannot be the socio-critical attitude of the church to proclaim one positive societal order as an absolute norm’,13 nevertheless, the church should have ‘the courage to formulate hypotheses suitable to contingent situations’.14
In more recent writings Metz continues to be careful not to identify Christian theology with commitment to any particular political theory. However, it is clear that he finds areas of agreement with socialism. Together with Jean-Pierre Jossua he has edited a volume of Concilium on Christianity and Socialism. In their joint Editorial they say that political theology
does not make the Kingdom of God the goal of politics and economy. But it insists that the Kingdom of God should not be indifferent to the cost of world markets. It does not confuse God with a utopia to which no one prays. But it insists that religion can earn no greater guilt than from showing its political innocence through non-participation. If the Christian religion is political because it proclaims the dignity of the individual, of the subjective existence of all men and women before God, then it has to stand up for that individuality where it is most endangered. It must not only fight to ensure that people remain individuals, but so that they can grow out of their situation of poverty and oppression to become individuals. That is part of the cost of orthodoxy.15
In Political Theology Sölle similarly hopes to make clear that here is ‘not an attempt to develop a concrete political program from faith’.16 But political interpretation of the gospel does have a positive as well as a critical meaning. She writes: ‘The statement "you are called to freedom" becomes true for wage earners not when they hear it proclaimed, but when it becomes a concrete social actuality: you are called to be self-determining, to cooperate, to organize your own work."17
The gospel’s call to workers ‘to be self-determining, to cooperate, to organize your own work’ clearly implies that it favors some forms of socio-economic organization over others. Sölle does not consider it appropriate for theology to spell out just what this desirable organization would be. But she does assert that political theology functions ‘both critically and constructively, engaging in ideological criticism and projecting innovative models’.18
Subsequent to publication of Political Theology Sölle joined the socialist movement and came to identify herself fully as both Christian and socialist. She is renewing the conviction that to be a Christian requires one to be a socialist as well, Of course this does not mean an unqualified approval of all that is done in the name of socialism. Far from it. But it does mean the acceptance of the programme of democratic socialism for overthrowing the power of capitalism.19
Moltmann also wishes to keep the distinction between theology and politics clear, but he does provide powerful images of the society for which we are to work and direction for our present practice. After describing the vicious circles of poverty, of force, of racial and cultural alienation, of the industrial pollution of nature and of senselessness and godforsakenness, he proceeds to state what liberation from these involves.
In the economic dimension of life, liberation means the satisfaction of the material needs of men for health, nourishment, clothing and somewhere to live. A further part of this is a social justice which can give all members of society a satisfying and just share in the products they produce. In so far as the vicious circle of poverty is produced by exploitation and class domination, social justice can only be achieved by a redistribution of economic power .. If and in so far as socialism . . . means the satisfaction of material need and social justice in a material democracy, socialism is the symbol for the liberation of men from the vicious circle of poverty.
In the political dimension of life, liberation from the vicious circle of oppression also means democracy. By this we mean human dignity in the acceptance of political responsibility. This includes participation in and control of the exercise of economic and political power ,., If and to the degree that the democratic movement means the abolition of privilege and the establishment of political human rights, democracy is the symbol for the liberation of men from the vicious circle of force.
In the cultural dimension of life, liberation from the vicious circle of alienation means identity in the recognition of others. By this we mean the ‘human emancipation of man’ (Marx), in which men gain self-respect and self-confidence in the recognition of others and fellowship with them. . . . If and in so far as emancipation means personalization in socialization and finding one’s identity in the recognition of others, emancipation is the symbol for liberation from the vicious circle of alienation.
In the relationship of society to nature, liberation from the vicious circle of the industrial pollution of nature means peace with nature. No liberation of men from economic distress, political oppression and human alienation will succeed which does not free nature from inhuman exploitation and which does not satisfy nature . . . Therefore the long phase of the liberation of man from nature in his ‘struggle for existence must be replaced by a phase of the liberation of nature from inhumanity for the sake of ‘peace in existence’. To the degree that the transition from an orientation on increase in the quantity of life to an appreciation of the quality of life, and thus from the possession of nature to the joy of existing in it can overcome the ecological crisis, peace with nature is the symbol of the liberation of man from this vicious circle.
In the relationship of man, society and nature to the meaning of life, liberation means a significant life filled with the sense of the whole. . . In the background of personal and public awareness, perplexity. resignation and despair are widespread. This inner poisoning of life . . . cannot . . . be overcome simply by victory over economic need, political oppression, cultural alienation and the ecological crisis . . . The absence of meaning and the corresponding consequences of an ossified and absurd life are described in theological terms as godforsakenness . . . Faith becomes hope for significant fulfillment. Therefore in the situation of a ‘disheartened society’, Christian faith becomes ‘counting on hope’ and is demonstrated through freedom from panic and apathy, from escape and the death-wish. It then leads to courage to do what is necessary, resolutely and patiently, in the vicious circles mentioned above.20
This is a beautiful summary of guiding images for practice for which a process theologian can only be grateful. What follows in this chapter and in the succeeding one is in full harmony with what is here expressed. But of course there is more to be considered. Commitment to these symbols must be related more concretely to political theory and practice. The ‘innovative models’ for which Sölle calls may serve as a middle ground between these symbols and the ‘hypotheses suitable to contingent situations’ which Metz sees are needed.
Moltmann’s care not to identify Christianity with any one political programme or party gave to Latin American theologians of liberation the impression that he, like other European theologians, preferred to remain politically neutral and to theorize only on the universal plane.’21 Stung by this criticism Moltmann responded in an open letter to Miguez Bonino. He argued that the gospel calls for concrete strategies growing out of real identification with the people at a particular place and time.22 In Western Europe this means affirming the freedoms already won and then extending ‘these democratic rights and freedoms over to economic conditions’,23 This is the programme of democratic socialism. In Latin America it may sometimes mean ‘seeking to overcome class rule and dictatorship of the right by a temporary leftist dictatorship’.24 But he warns that there are thus far no examples of the democratization of such a socialism. He concluded characteristically with sharp criticism of specific sins of Christian anti-Marxists in Chile and the Marxist government of Yugoslavia.
This approach of balanced criticism of both liberal capitalism and state socialism in their actual manifestations and practices may well inhibit decisive Christian action in some parts of Latin America, as Moltmann’s critics imply. But in the North Atlantic situation it seems appropriate. It would seem appropriate also for Christian theologians to examine the theories underlying practice in both free market and socialist states. Reinhold Niebuhr engaged in such criticism from the perspective of the Christian understanding of history and of human existence. Thus far political theology has contributed little to this important task.25
To criticize not only the practice and institutions of both capitalism and socialism but also their theory requires some clarity about the innovative models which Christians should propose. These in turn should reflect what Christians truly believe about human existence and society. The remainder of this chapter is devoted to reflections from the point of view of process thought about five aspects of Christian belief that have relevance to the formulation of innovative models and to the critical evaluation of currently prevalent theories.
(1) Christians are committed to the worth of individual persons. This worth is not located in possessions or outward accomplishments. It cannot be measured by the strength or beauty of the body. It does not consist in the usefulness of the individual person to society. It is located in the soul, not as a special substance which merely inhabits a body, but as the locus of the distinctively personal experience of the whole psychosomatic organism. Metz sees that this requires of the church that it should always defend the individual ‘from being considered exclusively as matter and means for the building of a completely rationalized technological future’. 26
Whitehead agrees with and supports these typically Christian views. For him intrinsic value is located in experience. To be an occasion of experience is to have value. The human soul is the flow of personal human experience, and so far as we know it is the locus of supreme value on this planet. Entities other than present experience, including institutions, possessions, laws, customs and even past experiences, have their use as they contribute to the richness of present experience. They are of instrumental value only.
The implication of this for political and economic theory is to some extent obvious and has been assimilated in theories that have arisen within Christendom. Both liberal capitalism and Marxist socialism are committed ultimately to the improvement of the quality of individual experience. Nevertheless, in actual practice both are largely governed by their economic expressions and these involve both theory and practice that are in marked tension with the Christian understanding.
Both capitalism and socialism aim to produce goods in order to satisfy the wants of people as consumers. This aim is laudable from the Christian perspective. But both exaggerate the extent to which consumption of goods can be correlated with richness of experience. In the planned society, further, the question of what goods are to be produced and consumed is decided not by the one whose experience is to be enriched but by some centralized authority. In the capitalist system the consumer has more freedom of choice and thus more control over what is produced. But society, instead of assisting persons to make wise choices, devotes vast sums of money of manipulating choices through advertising.
Both systems may be inherently capable of improvement in these respects. A planned economy can devise methods of making its planning more sensitive to people’s preferences, and a free enterprise system can devote attention to consumer education and impose some restrictions on advertising. Nevertheless, there are tendencies in both systems which must be criticized and checked in the light of their own intentions.
More severe criticism is required of the treatment of the human being as producer. Whereas the consumer is in some sense the end of both systems, the producer is viewed primarily as a means. Efficiency is the dominant consideration, and efficiency is judged by the production of goods and services rather than by the increase of enjoyment of work on the part of the laborer. At the theoretical level this is seen most clearly on the capitalist side.
The example of what Louis Brandeis enthusiastically supported as ‘scientific management’ will clarify this point. Frederick W. Taylor developed this approach for the profoundly humanitarian purpose of enabling workers to achieve their tasks in the most efficient way possible. According to Peter Drucker: ‘On Taylor’s "scientific management" rests, above all, the tremendous surge of affluence which has lifted the working masses in the developed countries well above any level recorded before, even for the well-to-do.’27 But this was achieved at a high price. Taylor analyzed the work to be done ‘into its simplest elements’28 He could then assign these simplest performances to the workers. They were not expected to understand the role that these performances played in the whole, and as few decisions as possible were left to them. In Taylor’s approach ‘the key principle of scientific management . . . is separation of thought from action, of conception from performance. The management becomes the mind and the workers the body’.29
Marxists have criticized capitalism for this dehumanization of workers. Workers should not be alienated from their fellow workers and from the fruits of their labor. But this concern for the welfare of the workers is generally subordinated to the concern for efficiency of production in Communist countries as well. Indeed a major attraction of Marxism to underdeveloped countries is the greater ruthlessness it characteristically applies to the goals of building the future society of plenty, Robert Heilbroner describes this superiority of Marxism succinctly:
There is no secret about the communist blueprint for development. It advocates doing only what every underdeveloped nation must do: reorganizing agriculture to achieve a surplus of food; transferring this surplus to workers who have been released from agriculture; relentlessly, continuously, single-mindedly using these workers to create capital. The difference is that communism, at least in theory, allows the job to be done with much less of the inertia, and friction which hamper it in a non-communist society, Where land is needed, it is taken; where workers are needed, they are moved; where opposition occurs, it is liquidated; where dissent arises, it is suppressed.30
Heilbroner’s account witnesses to an assumption that development is primarily to be understood as industrialization. When he wrote, in 1963, this assumption was shared by almost all participants in development policy-making in both capitalist and communist circles. It was bound up with the exaggerated correlation of per capita income and the goal of human development against which the Christian doctrine of the soul should protect us. This assumption is still dominant, but the practical distortions it has introduced into the actual course of ‘development’ have finally become so apparent that an alternative measure of the success of policies has been proposed by the Overseas Development Council. This is called the Physical Quality of Life Index, and it measures infant mortality, life expectancy, and literacy rather than per capita income. Although these are still very crude indicators of the quality of personal experience, they come one step closer.
Some nations that rejected the dominant style of development measure quite high on this index, whereas others which followed the conventional development path with some success, receive low marks. For example, according to figures published by the Overseas Development Council in 1977 Sri Lanka, which had a per capita annual income of only $130, measured 83 on the Physical Quality of Life Index, whereas Iran, whose per capita annual income was nearly ten times as high, measured only 38.31 Subsequent events in Iran suggest that the high level of income did not represent much personal satisfaction on the part of masses of people!
There is no more necessity for a free-enterprise or socialist system to dehumanize workers than for it to abuse the freedom of consumers. Even for the sake of the efficiency of production to which both are committed we are learning that worker morale is important and that worker morale can often be improved by more responsible participation by workers in the larger operations of which they are a part.32 But more than this is needed. The economic theory should be reformulated so as to consider the contribution of the economic process to the richness of experience of the producer on a par with the contribution to the richness of experience of the consumer. That would force a deeper recognition that, in our capacities as consumers as well, there is far less correlation than has been supposed between the richness of human experience and the quantity and quality of goods and services consumed.
(2) Although the first point above accentuates the individualist tendency in Christianity, Christian teaching falls heavily on the side of human solidarity. It has been the merit of the social gospel and of political theology to emphasize this point in the twentieth century, but it is certainly not new. It was dominant in the Old Testament. In the New Testament Paul and John may be viewed as accentuating the individualist element, but in his image of the church Paul speaks of us as members one of another, and John’s gospel employs the imagery of the vine and its branches. We are individuals, but we are individuals who participate in one another and cannot be saved in isolation. Metz picks up this note in Christian teaching, devoting to solidarity the concluding chapter of his major work, Faith in History and Society. Indeed ‘he views man’s a priori constitution in terms of shared being in a shared world’.33
Much of our Western conceptuality has made it difficult to understand this solidarity of mutual involvement of human beings. The individual mind or the individual organism is often conceived ontologically as self-contained and as related to other individuals only externally. That is, the relation is viewed as incidental to the being of the individual. The individual exists as what he or she is and then, without any essential change, relates to other individuals.
This individualist ontology has been challenged in some forms of idealism, including the Hegelian form which influenced Marx. In this way of thinking, Mind as a whole or, better, Geist, is the fundamental reality. Individuals exist through participation in this totality. It is humanity as a whole, that is, Geist, which is the fundamental subject of historical development. Or, since individuals differ in their degree of participation in Geist, the true history of Geist can be traced through those in whom it has manifested itself most fully. In the Marxist transformation the proletariat, in so far as it is conscious of its mission, constitutes the true subject of history.
Neither the individualist ontology nor the collectivist one expresses the Biblical sense of the solidarity of individuals who participate in one another. Whitehead’s conceptuality is more helpful. For Whitehead the ultimate individual is a moment of experience. Such an individual does not first exist and then enter into relations with others. On the contrary, it is constituted by its relations and has no other existence than as a creative synthesis of these relations. The richness of its experience is the richness of its relations. The idea of an individual apart from community is nonsensical. Even if we extend the term individual to its usual designation of personal existence from birth to death, the idea of an individual apart from community is meaningless. Persons are communal beings. Rich experience is possible only in community with others whose experiences are rich.
Unfortunately, most economic theory is based on individualist and collectivist views of human beings. The collectivist view encourages the ruthlessness of which Heilbroner wrote, liberal society is somewhat restrained by its commitment to individuals, but it has paid a high price for its individualist economic theories.
We all know at a common-sense level that we human beings exist in families and communities whose welfare matters greatly to us. A person who is insensitive to the interests of other members of the community or of the community as a whole and seeks only to obtain private wealth is a monster. Yet it is something very much like this monster who is taken as the model of homo economicus. Economic activity is viewed as the competition of such persons for scarce resources. Of course, as economists know, homo economicus is an abstraction, but we cannot think of human beings in general without abstraction. Further, it has been a highly successful abstraction, illuminating much of our human behavior. Nevertheless, it is an abstraction from which theory and practice alike have suffered greatly.
It would be idle to question that competition is a fact of life, but it is damaging to elevate it into the fact of life. The implication of such an elevation is that the gains of one person are inherently at the expense of others. This is qualified by the confidence of most theorists that as we all behave rationally, that is, seek competitive advantage, the total pool of goods and services will so increase that all will improve their condition. But this does not erase the fact that the theory describes and encourages the quest for competitive advantage.
If instead we view the economic situation from the perspective of relational thinking, we will focus on different examples and derive different principles. Consider a professor who is a member of a faculty. He or she may gain some satisfaction from success in competition with other members of the faculty, for example, from gaining a larger salary at the expense of others. But this cannot go very far. The satisfactions of the professor will depend more on the general quality of life in the institution than on a competitive superiority in income. The quality of the students, the intellectual stimulus from colleagues, the general morale of the community are more important factors in the richness of the professor’s experience than the competitive advantage over colleagues. Thus it is more rational for the professor to seek to contribute to the general health of the community than to seek a competitive advantage within it.
The point here is simply that since the richness of our individual experience depends upon the richness of the experience of others with whom we associate, the growth of our good is a function not primarily of competitive advantage but of communal well-being. I have not focused on the economic advantages of the communal approach, but these are not lacking. The same sum of money can accomplish more if its use is planned with a shared sense of the diverse needs of the community. Further, the institution as a whole is likely to increase its resources more if a communal spirit prevails.
This trivial illustration can be magnified by reference to a comparison between German and British industry in the years since World War II. In Germany a more communal spirit prevailed between capital and labor and both have profited. In Britain the mood has been competitive and confrontational, and the British economy has suffered. A realistic economy theory needs to take account of our normal sense of being parts of a larger whole whose welfare is important rather than treating us as self-enclosed individuals whose relations to others are primarily competitive.
The healthy future of the world depends upon a still further extension of the sense of community. We have begun to speak of a world community, and there is an emerging sense of co-humanity with all people. The teachings of most of the world’s great religious traditions encourage this recognition of the interconnectedness of all people. One motivation for the limited aid that is now made available by the industrialized nations to the poorer ones is this sense of a global community.
Economists may well say that any such sense of community is too weak to enter into their picture of how individuals and nations operate. But they need to recognize that the model they use works against the strengthening of this community. Since every model helps to shape the events it intends to describe and predict, it is important for the economic model to encourage the growth of the sense of world community. Our existing experiences, and even more our destinies. are bound together. A model of human reality that cannot express this fundamental fact is too abstract and too distorting to be acceptable as a guide to economic behavior.
The model of competition has dangerous effects in other ways as well. It is expressed in the important role played by the idea of the trade-off. The assumption is that if individually or collectively we satisfy one desire, this will typically be at the expense of satisfying another. It is often argued, for example, that if we satisfy our desire for a clean and healthful environment, we must pay a price in terms of fewer goods and more unemployment.
No one supposes that such a competitive relationship exists between all the goods we desire. Arthur Okun, for example, notes that an increase in equality of opportunity for all can contribute to an increase in efficiency of the economic system. There is no trade-off there. But the basic economic model encourages us to think of tradeoff relations as primary and normal. Okun makes his point about equality of opportunity and efficiency in a book entitled Equality and Efficiency: the Big Tradeoff.34 In general, he insists, approximation of equality can only be obtained at the expense of decrease in efficiency.
If we shift to a relational/communal model we cannot do away with all of the oppositions which lead to trade-off thinking. It is often the case that we must sacrifice some goods for the sake of others. But we will look primarily for ways in which both desirable variables can be increased in mutually supportive fashion rather than quickly settling for the trade-off. For example, we will challenge the easy assumption that the goals urged by environmentalists can only be attained at the expense of shortage of goods and unemployment. Amory Lovins has argued in detail that an environmentally desirable energy policy will also employ more persons in more desirable ways and produce as much usable power as we need.35 If we redefine the goal of efficiency as the enhancement of human experience, we are likely to find that most of the oppositions identified by Okun between equality and efficiency will disappear. It may also turn out that more policies can be devised to increase equality in ways that even increase the production of material goods.
(3) The Christian tradition with considerable consistency has affirmed that human actions are not controlled by fate and are not the mere outcome of natural necessity. We are responsible for what we do. We are under bondage to many things, but finally this is a bondage we have brought upon ourselves, a bondage from which Christ sets us free. God is creator and lord over us, but God’s lordship does not turn us into mere puppets. Human decision is an important factor in the world. Although the freedom of which Christians speak is primarily the freedom we have in Christ, this does not mean that there are any human beings who are mere automatons. Nor does it mean that in fact the believer is free from all bondage. In Metz’s view: ‘Transcendence occurs in an "ec-stasis" in which man momentarily moves beyond . . . without, however, ever completely escaping the horizon of shared being in a finite world.’36
There has been a confusing history of interaction between theological reflections about freedom and philosophical ones. The idea of freedom has proved quite baffling to philosophy, because human reason is prone to posit causes antecedent to every effect as the adequate explanation of that effect. The preceding chapter offered an account of how Whitehead locates an element of decision in every occasion of experience and shows how that is an act of transcending the given world. The ontological fact of freedom is the context within which the more specifically theological talk of bondage as well as of freedom makes sense.
Apart from this transcending, the other features of the human situation make no sense. The intrinsic value of each experience cannot be separated from the element of freedom through which it realizes itself. Our interconnectedness with one another is not merely a given but also a set of relations that we can weaken or strengthen. It is by virtue of transcending that we can see the community of interests that we share with others and convert apparent trade-offs into mutually supportive goods.
Marxist theory does not exclude freedom in this sense. Its ultimate goal is for universal human freedom. But in its analysis of the past and present it stresses the conditionedness of thought and action by economic interests almost to the exclusion of the recognition of the universal presence of transcending. Marxists tend to see transcending only in science and especially in their own science. The party, informed by this science, understands itself as the enlightened vanguard of an otherwise blind proletariat. Partly as a result of this theory, many Marxists have felt little need to respect the opinions and concerns of those who, as they see it, reflect interests that block the realization of the true goal.
It is the merit of liberal thought to have taken human freedom much more seriously. Instead of engineering people into achieving what the elite believes is good for them, liberal political theory encourages wide participation in shaping and reshaping the goals to be attained. Institutions have been developed which have had some success in forcing those in power to respect the freedom of ordinary people. One major and legitimate reason for Christian support of liberalism is that liberal thought in this respect corresponds more closely with Christian belief.
But the Christian understanding of freedom cannot be separated from the understanding of bondage. We are free, but our freedom is severely limited. In Whitehead’s vision we are free to constitute ourselves out of our world, but what the world is, out of which we constitute ourselves, is given. We transcend that world, so that we are responsible for what we make of ourselves, but in the transcending we are still chiefly shaped by what we transcend. Marxists are largely correct in supposing that our beliefs on many subjects can be viewed as ideology designed to support and disguise our class interests. We pretend to much more independence and objectivity of judgment than we exemplify.
The practical limitations of liberal democracy arise in part from these limits to our freedom. Instead of a community of people exercising wise judgements about the general welfare or even acting out of enlightened self-interest, we have large groups of people expressing unexamined prejudices which are all too easily manipulated by those who control the mass media. Democracies can only survive through checks and balances which reduce the danger of disastrous actions expressive of mass prejudices. They have succeeded in maintaining institutions which allow the element of transcending that really does characterize all people to have some measure of effectiveness while at the same time adjusting to the bondage under which we all labor.
But the Marxist critique still applies to democratic institutions. They have not learned how to give voice to the more disadvantaged segments of the society. To make effective use of democratic institutions requires education and a measure of wealth. Those who lack these requisites are likely to have only the appearance of participation. Only as democratic institutions succeed in transforming themselves in the light of the Marxist critique can they realize their own intentions and continue to deserve Christian support. This has, of course, been the programme of many social democrats.
Liberal theory tends to use double images of human beings. There is homo economicus, on the one hand, who rationally calculates private economic advantage. Then there is another kind of rationality required of public servants who are to be dedicated to the common good. They are expected to engage in planning for the public welfare in a way that is not affected by their private interests. In this they are to be supported by neutral and objective scientists who provide them with the information they need. There are, of course, no purely self-interested persons on the one side nor any who can ever free themselves from self-interest on the other. Both abstractions are serious distortions. And both interfere with realistic expectations of political processes. A model of very limited, but never negligible, transcending, varying in degree from time to time and person to person, can provide a more realistic approach to the political world. Reinhold Niebuhr contributed extensively to the appropriate type of Christian reflection.
Marxist theory has the same duality of images, with still greater danger that they be applied to different segments of the community. The masters of Marxist science understand themselves to transcend their personal and economic interests radically, whereas those who are not masters are caught up in the laws which the science describes. Hence great confidence is placed in the planning for the many by the few. The results have at times been appalling. In the course of time Communist countries have learned that the Marxist elite is not free from all distorting bondage. In Yugoslavia we have a Communist country which is experimenting with trusting ordinary people with far more power to make decisions.
(4) Most Christians have believed that our calling can never be fully captured in any rational or ethical system. That is, we are called to obey God or to accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit even beyond our ability to calculate that a particular action will yield the best results or that it conforms to a valid principle. That does not mean that either teleological or deontological principles can be dismissed. They are certainly useful to Christians and function as an important check against the abuses of the understanding of our immediacy to God. But Christians have also tried to guard against the identification of the Christian life with the ethical life as that can be defined by rational ethical principles. In political theology this is often done by emphasizing the futurity of God. Metz puts human responsibility ‘in the new perspective of the full horizon of God’s future intention for the world’.37
In previous chapters I have explained how both Wieman and Whitehead have clarified this situation. For Wieman any ethical principle to which I now adhere is a created good rather than the creative good. To serve the creative good means to allow even that principle, however worthy it may be, to be transformed in unforeseeable ways. For Whitehead the contrast is between the new aim derived from God in each moment and all that is inherited from the past. What is inherited includes ethical principles. The new aim is relevant to that inheritance, but it is not derived from it, and in some measure the aim will transcend mere conformity to the inheritance. Hence for both Wieman and Whitehead the appropriate stance of the believer is finally trust in the unforeseeable call of God rather than conformation to a pre-established understanding of the content of that call.
However, neither Wieman nor Whitehead understands this confidence in God to be a blind waiting for mysterious messages. On the contrary, it is the openness to let a certain type of process work in us, one that can be described on the basis of what has been observed in the previous working of God. For both Wieman and Whitehead this process is creative unification of a multiplicity of elements into a new whole.
In describing this process both Wieman and Whitehead are dealing with individual human experiences. Hence the meaning of what is said can be illustrated by an ordinary example from human experience. When one listens to a good lecture some of the ideas there offered are different from those which one had in advance. Otherwise one would be bored indeed! There are several ways one can respond to such different ideas. One can ignore them or quickly forget them. One can reject them. One can replace previous ideas with them. One can add them to one’s present stock of ideas. These responses may all be justified at various times and places. But none of them are creative. The other option is that one can integrate aspects of what is heard with what one has previously believed in a way that leads to a position that takes account of both. That can only happen if one thinks new thoughts. In Whitehead’s language one would then have converted the multiplicity of ideas into a contrast through which their distinct integrity is maintained in a unity that differs from all of them. Readiness to have one’s thinking transformed in this way is openness to God’s gift of the new.
This seems far removed from the political sphere, and there is no one-to-one connection between this view of openness to God, on the one hand, and a particular understanding of political norms on the other. Yet there is an important relationship. Political life also is concerned with teleological and deontological principles, and rightly so. But a government which guides itself by viewing the present action only as a means to a better future is not likely to achieve the better future, and the attempt to act by principles alone often becomes seriously inhumane. Political theory needs to deal as much or more with the question of the type of social change that is itself healthy as with the question of the goal that is being sought through such changes or the principles to which one supposes changes should conform.
There have been a variety of ideas about the nature of desirable change that have influenced political thinking in the past. To remain in the sphere of the practical, consider the alternatives that have faced many non-Western countries in the twentieth century. Such a country might try to ignore or reject Western culture and technology, but that has proved difficult if not impossible. At the opposite extreme it could try to replace traditional culture with a new one. The Red Guards seem to have attempted something like that in China. A nation may try to add some features of Western culture and technology to its previous patterns without altering these. For example a Westernized urban elite may rule over a traditional rural society without encouraging any changes in that society.
Hegel’s dialectic has provided a much more profound way of viewing social change. A particular form of society may generate forces opposed to it which then overthrow it. In this process some of the values of the overthrown society are lost. But in the end these values can be recovered in a further development of the new society into a synthesis of both. In a Marxist version this means that capitalist society generates an alienated proletariat. The overthrow of the capitalist society by the proletariat involves the destruction of the personal liberties that were enjoyed by the bourgeoisie. But once the proletariat is fully established it develops into a classless society in which these liberties and more are enjoyed by all.
Process theology need not deny that this kind of dialectic can be found in history, but its occurrence seems to be a contingent matter. There is no assurance, built into the process, of a fortunate outcome. The destruction of one good for the sake of another may lead to the permanent loss of the former rather than to its recovery in a higher synthesis. The more thoroughly this good is extirpated, the greater the danger that it will not be renewed, whereas Marxist theory may encourage zealots, as in Campuchea, to suppose that the more fully they destroy the society they encounter the sooner the perfected society can be built.
Hence process theology favors, also on the political scale, the transformation of differences into contrasts. That means that diverse interests and ideals are to be united in higher syntheses in the present. If Western culture and technology are to be introduced, their synthesis with existing patterns is a matter of present importance. The aim must be a progressive creative transformation of society. No blueprint for the desired result can be developed in advance, but it will be possible to judge as time goes on whether in fact the best in the existing culture is being effectively integrated with the best in Western culture. If so, the pattern of development can be adjudged as healthy.
To say this is to take sides in a contemporary debate within Christian ethics in favor of the primacy and ultimacy of reconciliation. But this must not be done without full appreciation of the stance of those who point out, quite rightly, that when masses of people are powerless they cannot be reconciled with their oppressors. Reconciliation presupposes relative equality on the part of the forces or ideas that are to be reconciled. The goal of reconciliation may, for long periods of time, require Christians to throw their support fully on the side of the weaker party.
Still there is a difference between doing this for the sake of ultimate reconciliation and for the sake of revolutionary negation. One may throw one’s support on one side while inwardly appreciating what is positive in the other. The goal one tries to hold before both parties can be a creative synthesis of their aspirations. Destructive violence is not wholly precluded, but its justification must be its contribution to reconciliation. Judged in this way its use will be rarer than when one views negation dialectically as the road to synthesis.
(5) Although the history of Christianity is replete with instances of the use of violence, and although this violence has often been employed for destruction of the enemy rather than reconciliation, dominant Christian teaching has nevertheless encouraged respect for the human integrity and worth of all people and has viewed violence against persons as undesirable. If violence is to be used at all, it is as a last resort. It is far better to win the hearts of people than to compel them to outward conformity to Christian teaching which they do not inwardly accept. Preaching is the proper modality of the church’s extension of its influence rather than military or legal coercion. For Metz, too, the Christian advocacy of love involves a sustained critique of coercive power.38 Christian ‘praxis cannot lead to an abstract or a violent negation of the individual’.39
Since no society can exist without some measure of coercion as well as some measure of persuasion, Christian teaching on the proper relation of these two forms of power has been complex and diverse. Whitehead’s thought stands in the mainstream of this tradition of reflection about power. There is no question for him of the massive importance of the coercive elements in any society. But the success of a society is to be measured by the extent to which persuasive factors operate within it. After a rich discussion of the interweaving of coercive and persuasive factors in society, Whitehead summarizes his position as follows:
First, there stands the inexorable law that apart from some transcendent aim the civilized life either wallows in pleasure or relapses slowly into a barren repetition with waning intensities of feeling. Secondly, there stands the iron compulsion of nature that the bodily necessities of food, clothing, and shelter be provided. The rigid limits which are thereby set to modes of social existence can only be mitigated by the growth of an understanding by which the interplay between man and the rest of nature can be adjusted. Thirdly, the compulsory dominance of men over men has a double significance. It has a benign effect so far as it secures the coordination of behavior necessary for social welfare. But it is fatal to extend this dominion beyond the barest limits necessary for this coordination. The progressive societies are those which most decisively have trusted themselves to the fourth factor which is the way of persuasion. Amidst all the activities of mankind there are three which chiefly have promoted this last factor in human life. They are family affections aroused in sex relations and in the nurture of children, intellectual curiosity leading to enjoyment in the interchange of ideas, and -- as soon as large-scale societies arose -- the practice of Commerce. But beyond these special activities a greater bond of sympathy has arisen. This bond is the growth of reverence for that power in virtue of which nature harbors ideal ends, and produces individual beings capable of conscious discrimination of such ends. This reverence is the foundation of the respect for man as man. It thereby secures that liberty of thought and action, required for the upward adventure of life on this earth.40
Whitehead here recognizes the inevitability of compulsion, but his point is that in the healthy society force is minimized. The problem is that in so many actual societies violent compulsion by the state vastly exceeds acceptable limits and is structurally institutionalized. Christians must then wrestle with the issue of using revolutionary violence to overthrow the institutionalized violence of oppressive regimes. In Nicaragua the Christian conscience sided with the use of relatively limited violence to bring an end to massive structural violence by a corrupt dictatorship. Thus far the new government has shown itself able to rule largely by persuasion. This is surely a gain worth the price paid.
The preference of process theology for the extension of the role of persuasion is not ad hoc. It arises directly out of principles already enunciated. It is by persuasion that we respect the freedom of those whom we would influence. It is persuasion that introduces the possibility of creative synthesis of the new with the old which is the mark of healthy development or growth. Beyond this, process theology grounds the preference for persuasion in its understanding of God’s relation to the world. To some extent this can be said for all Christian theology, but many theologies have attributed to God coercive as well as persuasive agency. This has led to expectations that God will save us from natural catastrophes and the horrors of history -- expectations which are repeatedly frustrated. It has led to insoluble formulations of the problem of theodicy. And it has at times let Christians themselves to adopt coercive measures in supposed imitation of God. Process theology believes that God’s power should be seen more consistently in the light of the cross, but it does not see this as weakness. The only power that is truly creative is persuasive power, and this power is exercised in supreme and ultimate fashion by God. All the persuasive power that operates in the universe derives from God, and that means that all truly creative activity derives from God. If we would be perfect as God is perfect, then we will undertake vigorously to affect the course of events creatively, and that means by persuasion. We will construct institutions that encourage persuasive relationships and provide a context in which the possibility of such relationships is safeguarded. We will also realize that this entails the construction of a society in which the natural necessities of life are provided for all as easily and freely as possible so that the needs of survival will not dominate human activity.41
1 Helmut Gollwitzer, Forderungen der Umkebr: Beiträge zur Gesellschaft (Munich: Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1976), p. 173. (My translation.)
2 See his 1919 address on The Christian’s place in society’. This is chapter VIII in Karl Barth. The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Douglass Horton (New York: Harper & Bros., 1928).
3 Paul Tillich and Carl Richard Wegener, Der Sozialismus als Kirchenfrage’. in Paul Tillich, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 2 (Stuttgart: Evangelisches Verlagswerk, 1962), p. 19. For this reference I am indebted to John R. Stumme’s introduction to Paul Tillich, The Socialist Decision, trans. Franklin Sherman (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. xii.
4 Tillich, The Socialist Decision, p. 161.
5 Gollwitzer, p. 162. (My translation.)
6 Wolfhart Pannenberg, ‘Der Sozialismus -- das wahre Gottesreich?’, in Wolfhart Teichert, ed., Müssen Christen Sozialisten Sein? Zwischen Glaub, and Politik (Hamburg: Lutherisches Verlogshaus. 1976) p.60. (My translation.)
7 Ibid., p. 64. (My translation.)
8 The documents associated with this event are available in John Eagleson, ed., Christians and Socialism, trans. John Drury (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1975).
9 I owe these quotations, as well as examples in the preceding paragraph, to John C. Bennett, ‘Religious faith and political participation’, written for the 10-11 April 1981, meeting of the Pacific Coast Theological Group.
10 Johann Baptist Metz, ‘Political theology’, in Sacramentum Mundi, vol. 5, p. 37.
11 Johann Baptist Metz, Theology of the World, trans. William Glen-Doepel (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971). p. 107.
12 Metz, ‘Political theology’. p. 37.
14 Metz, Theology of the World, pp. 122-3.
15 Johann Baptist Metz and Jean-Pierre Jossua, ed., Christianity and Socialism, (New Von:: Seabury Press, 1977), p. viii.
16 Dorethee Sölle, Political Theology, trans. John Shelley (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress Press, 1971). pp. 58-9.
17 Ibid., p. 77.
18 Ibid., p.76.
19 See Beyond Mere Dialogue; On Being Christian and Socialist. (Detroit, Mich.: American Christians Toward Socialism, 1978).
20 Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, trans. R.A. Wilson and John Bowden (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 332-5.
21 Jürgen Moltmann, ‘An open letter to Jose Miguel Bonino’, Christianity and Crisis (29 March 1976), p. 60.
22 By ‘the people’ Moltmann means those who are ruled. He points out that the claim to liberate the people was made by Mussolini and Hitler. He warns that ‘"socialism for the people" turns Out to be either doctrinaire or bureaucratic oppression of the people. True socialism is "socialism of the people"’. Jürgen Moltmann, ‘Hope in the struggle of the people’, Christianity and Crisis (21 March 1977). p. 52.
23 Moltmann, ‘An open letter’, p.61.
24 Ibid., p.62.
25 Frederick Lawrence argues that political theology in general and Metz in particular need to engage political theory much more intensively. I share the view that more needs to be done-much more than I have suggested in what follows, ‘Political theology and the "Longer cycle of decline"’, in Lonergan Workshop, vol. I., ed. Fred Lawrence (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1978), pp. 23sf.
26 Metz, Theology of the World, pp. 117-18.
27 Peter F. Drucker, Management; Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 181.
28 Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), p. 88.
29 Jeremy Rifkin with Ted Howard, The Emerging Order; God in the Age of Scarcity (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979), p. 189.
30 Robert Heilbroner, The Great Ascent: the Struggle for Economic Development in our Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 137.
31 Lester Brown, The Twenty-Ninth Day: Accommodating Human Needs and Numbers to the Earth’s Resources (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1978), pp. 302-3.
32 The requirements for efficiency are discussed at length and with many examples by Peter F. Drucker in the book cited in Note 27. He shows how participation in the making of decisions, feedback information on how the worker is doing, and continuous learning jointly constitute optimum conditions. Clearly these are conditions which are satisfying to the worker as well. See especially chapter 21.
33 Roger Dick Johns, Man in the World: the Political Theology of Johannes Baptist Metz (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1976), p. 80.
34 Arthur K. Okun, Equality and Efficiency the Big Tradeoff (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institute, 1975).
35 Amory B. Lovins, Soft Energy Paths; Toward a Durable Peace (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1977).
36 Johns. Man in the World, p. 80.
37 Ibid., p. 90.
38 Metz, Theology of the World, p. 119.
39 Johann Baptist Metz, Faith in History and Society; Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology. trans. David Smith (New York: Seabury Press, 1980), p. 56.
40 Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1933). pp. 108-9.
41 The pattern in this section of formulating Christian principles by which both capitalist and Marxist theory and practice are to be judged parallels the work of Peter Berger in Pyramids of Sacrifice; Political Ethics and Social Change (New York: Basic Books, 1974). Berger shows the horrendous consequences of capitalist ideology in Brazil and of Marxist ideology in China. He concludes not that capitalism and Marxism are thereby totally invalidated but that standards of humane practice must be employed in evaluating each instance in which they are applied. Brazil does not exhaust the possibilities of capitalism, and there are socialist possibilities beyond Marxist China. It is the quest of such other possibilities that should preoccupy anyone concerned with the mitigation of human suffering in the course of social change (p. 163). I suggest that Japan and Cuba provide far more positive models of capitalism and socialism at work.