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R. R. Reno's "Preferential Option for the Poor"

1. Introduction
In Matthew 13.44-46, Jesus is recorded as describing the kingdom of heaven in this way:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

There are many people who have found their field of treasure or their pearl of great value.  Not everybody stumbles into this blessed curse (or cursed blessing) but for some it is a career they love, for others it is a partner or a child, for others it is power.  The list could go on and on: sex, a sense of safety or security, drugs, a place to belong, fame, honour, a country to die for, a God to worship–these are all things for which people have given up everything else in their lives.
I often think of one particular young person whom I have had the privilege of knowing when I read these parables.  His “pearl of great value” was a mixture of cocaine and heroin.  For that, he sacrificed everything else — his health, his family, a place to sleep with a bed and a roof, all of his worldly possessions — until all he had left were the clothes on his back and his guitar.  He loved that guitar.  He referred to it as his soul.  But then, one day, he pawned the guitar.  “I put my soul in the pawn shop.”
With only the clothes on his back and the money he received for his guitar, he was able to afford a point of heroin (one tenth of a gram and just enough for him to get high).  Having finally sold his “soul,” this was the pearl of greatest value.
Now, that’s where the parable cuts off, but continuing to track with my friend, something incredible happens.  Having scored his heroin, he steps into an alley in order to shoot up and runs into another friend who is also a heroin user but who has no money, no drugs, and nothing of value to sell.  What, then, does my friend do with his pearl?  He shares it.  He splits it — this treasure for which he has sacrificed all else — and he gives half away, without any thought of return.  There, in an alley in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, my friend engaged in an act of generosity and self-sacrifice far greater in scale than pretty much every other act of generosity or self-sacrifice that I have seen practiced — whether by Christians or by others.  Make what you want about drug use, the value of that pearl to my friend, and the extent of his sacrifice comes nowhere close to any act I have ever done.
Yet my friend is not alone in acting this way.  In communities of drug users, as in other communities of poor people, a kind of grace-based economy of giving without thought of return is not uncommon (for more on this, cf., Philippe Bourgois and Jeffrey Schonberg’s aptly titled book, Righteous Dopefiend, wherein the authors explore the “moral economy of sharing” that exists in communities of drug users in San Francisco).
2. R. R. Reno’s Preferential Option… for “the poor”?
I thought of these things recently, because I came across R. R. Reno’s reflections about “The Preferential Option for the Poor” in the June/July 2011 issue of “First Things.”  In this piece, Reno asserts that the true poverty of “the poor” (whom he admits to not knowing very well, if at all), is not economic but moral.  Thus, he writes:

On this point I agree with many friends on the left who argue that America doesn’t have a proper concern for the poor. Our failure, however, is not merely economic. In fact, it’s not even mostly economic. A visit to the poorest neighborhoods of New York City or the most impoverished towns of rural Iowa immediately reveals poverty more profound and more pervasive than simple material want. Drugs, crime, sexual exploitation, the collapse of marriage—the sheer brutality and ugliness of the lives of many of the poor in America is shocking. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, poverty is not only material; it is also moral, cultural, and religious (CCC 2444), and just these sorts of poverty are painfully evident today…
Preferential option for the poor. A Christian who hopes to follow the teachings of Jesus needs to reckon with a singular fact about American poverty: Its deepest and most debilitating deficits are moral, not financial.

As evidence of this, Reno asserts that “[t]he lower you are on the social scale, the more likely you are to be divorced, to cohabit while unmarried, to have more sexual partners, and to commit adultery.”  He then goes on to share two stories from people whom he has known who, unlike Reno, actually appear to have made (at least some professional) contact with poor folks:

A friend of mine who works as a nurse’s aide recently observed that his coworkers careen from personal crisis to personal crisis. As he told me, “Only yesterday I had to hear the complaints of one woman who was fighting with both her husband and her boyfriend.” It’s this atmosphere of personal disintegration and not the drudgery of the job—which is by no means negligible for a nurse’s aide—that he finds demoralizing.
Teachers can tell similar tales. The wife of another friend told me that her middle-school students in a small town in Iowa were perplexed by Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter: “What’s the big deal about Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale gettin’ it on?” It was a sentiment that she wearily told me was of a piece with the meth labs, malt liquor, teen pregnancies, and a general atmosphere of social collapse.

Consequently, while Reno wishes to affirm John Paul II’s assertion that “[t]he needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich,” he does so by claiming the what the poor really need is moral guidance and a shift of focus from “income inequality” to “moral inequality.”  Of course, Reno does recognize the lack of (his form of) Christian morality amongst many “progressives” or “bohemians,” and so this moral duty falls upon Christians who are “bourgeios in the best sense.”  Thus, he asserts that ” [i]n our society a preferential option for the poor must rebuild the social capital squandered by rich baby boomers, and that means social conservatism.”  He then concludes with some examples of what it means to live out this preferential option:

Want to help the poor? By all means pay your taxes and give to agencies that provide social services. By all means volunteer in a soup kitchen or help build houses for those who can’t afford them. But you can do much more for the poor by getting married and remaining faithful to your spouse. Have the courage to use old-fashioned words such as chaste and honorable. Put on a tie. Turn off the trashy reality TV shows. Sit down to dinner every night with your family. Stop using expletives as exclamation marks. Go to church or synagogue.
In this and other ways, we can help restore the constraining forms of moral and social discipline that don’t bend to fit the desires of the powerful—forms that offer the poor the best, the most effective and most lasting, way out of poverty. That’s the truest preferential option—and truest form of respect—for the poor.

3. A Response to Reno
There are a lot of things that one could say about Reno’s efforts to reformulate theological reflections about a “preferential option for the poor” in order to transform it into an affirmation of the social conservatism of middle class Christians.  I will limit myself to a few points.  I will also chose to respond in a manner that tries to be “chaste” and “honourable” even though it would not be inappropriate to take a different tone when replying to an article that many would consider to be offensive and life-negating.
The first point I want to highlight is the ways in which Reno’s “preferential option for the poor” is one that arises outside of any interaction or relationship with poor people.  Reno admits this, with some sense of trepidation at the outset of his reflection:

[Matthew 25.31-46 is] a sobering warning, and I fear that I am typical.  For the most part I think about myself: my needs, my interests, my desires.  And when I break out of my cocoon of self-interest, it’s usually because I’m thinking about my family or my friends, which is still a kind of self-interest.  The poor?  Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility, but they’re remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of my life.  As I said, I’m afraid I’m typical.

Now, this is a decent enough starting point (confession is often related to conversion, coming either before or after that event), but what is troubling about Reno’s article is the way in which his conclusion permits him to remain in exactly the same place… only with less trepidation or fear when he approaches the words ascribed to Jesus in Matthew 25.  According to Reno, the way to act responsibly towards the moral concern presented by poor people is to focus on being well-behaved members of the middle class, instead of falling into the moral relativity or hedonism adopted by wealthy liberals.  This requires no contact with poor people, and frees one up to chum around with the “[g]ood guys” who have careers and families, and who are somehow involved in their middle class communities.  Guys (women are noticeably absent here) who put on ties, only have sex with their wives (single folks and gay people are also absent), and don’t swear or watch reality TV (not even on Jersday!).  Thus, Reno is freed to think he is caring for poor people, even though he has nothing to do with them.
Of course, this is a complete betrayal of one of the fundamental tenets of liberation theology: the preferential option for the poor must be practiced — from start to finish — in the pursuit of a trajectory into lived solidarity with the poor.  One is incapable of loving or caring for or serving those whom one does not know.  One cannot love a remote, hypothetical “object” in the same way that one loves people.  Indeed, although I realize I have very far yet to go on my own trajectory of solidarity, one of the things I have learned is how many of the things I believed would be good for poor people, where so wrong-headed.  So, sure, like Reno I feel a “sense of responsibility” for poor folks but this is not because I believe they need my moral guidance, but because I’ve realized how much of my bourgeois life is premised upon stealing goods, labour, children, and life from those who are poor.  My “moral concern” is not for them, but for the ways in which living a middle class life jeopardizes one’s salvation (a point well made by Jon Sobrino in a collection of essays entitled No Salvation Outside the Poor — the first text I will recommend to anybody interested in liberation theology).  If Reno journeyed with poor people, he would learn how misplaced is his paternalism.
This ties into my second point, one that I first encountered in the writings of  Jürgen Moltmann (I think the relevant passage is in The Way of Jesus Christ, but I’m not sure).  While discussing the various ways in which poor people are marginalised and oppressed, Moltmann talks about political, economic, social and moral or religious factors.  Essentially, the elites claim a monopoly not only over wealth, power, and social mechanisms and institutions, but also claim a monopoly on morality.  The wealthy horde both goods and goodness.  Thus, from the perspective affirmed by the elite members of society (the perspective affirmed by Reno) the poor are considered to be morally inferior.  This, then, helps justify treating them as the sort of “objects” described by Reno.  In this way, regardless of whether one is operating from charitable or honourable intentions, one is already locked into an ideological perspective that makes it difficult to encounter poor people as they actually exist.  This also helps perpetuate the divide between the deserving wealthy and the undeserving poor (i.e. wealthy people who merit the benefits they experience in life due to their strong moral character versus poor people who are clearly suffering because of their inability to live morally — hence the litany of boyfriends, meth labs, malt liquor, and teen pregnancies Reno mentions over against his friends the good guys).  In this way, a moral gloss is put upon what are essentially death-dealing and predatory socio-economic and theopolitical arrangements.
Once again, as one gets to know poor people, much about this perspective gets turned around one hundred and eighty degrees.  That is why I began with the story of my friend who purchased “the pearl of great value” and then chose to share it with another.  What an unheard of act of generosity for those of us who come from other backgrounds.  I could multiply stories like that almost endlessly — people who have chosen to abandon a safe place to sleep, so that they were able to care for vulnerable friends, people who have jumped into violent situations and borne the brunt of the blows given in order to protect another, people who genuinely do follow the advice of Isaiah and provide food to the hungry (even when it means them going without), who bring the homeless poor into their homes (even when it means jeopardizing their own housing), and who clothe the naked (even when it means going naked themselves).  I have literally seen all of these actions take place amongst poor people.  Some on a very regular basis.  Unfortunately, one does not see this kind of activity mentioned in Reno’s article.  One is tempted to play a little with Isaiah’s text: The pious acts you observe today, the “fast” you choose — the wearing of ties, the chaste speech, the selective viewing of television shows — will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is this the “fast” the Lord chooses?  Is this breaking the yoke of oppression?  Is this satisfying the needs of the afflicted?
(Short answer: It is not.  Which may also be why we fast but the Lord takes no notice…)
Now, I mention these counter examples not to romanticise poor folks and treat them as objects of another kind.  I’ve spent enough years journeying in various kinds of relationships with marginalised and abandoned people to know that anybody — from any background — is capable of doing great harm to others.  I have seen equally terrible things done by poor people and by rich people.  I have known girls who were raped in alleyways when they tried to score some crack and I have also known girls who were raped by well-to-do Christian parents.  I have known poor people addicted to blow and I have known wealthy people addicted to the same substance.  I have known gang kids who have inflicted terrible beatings onto others, and I’ve seen wealthy suburban kids who have come to “the ghetto” to beat the life out of a sleeping homeless person.  People from every background are capable of engaging in acts of death-dealing violence.  Still, it seems to me that the greatest acts of generosity, grace, and affection arise more often from amongst poor people.  Reno would probably discover this as well, if he chose to spend any time journeying into relationships with folks outside of his circle of good guys.
However, talking about the degrees of morality I’ve witnessed amongst different classes still misses the point of what liberation theologians mean when they talk about God’s preferential option for the poor.  The point of the liberation theologians — a point strongly backed by Scripture, although we lack the space for that here (you can click here from some examples of more detailed commentary on that) — is that God exhibits a preferential option for the poor, moves into cruciform solidarity with them, and calls those who worship God to do the same, not because poor people are more or less moral than others but because poor people are more vulnerable than others.  The determining factor here is need, the threat of death, and the very limited access some people have to the sort of abundant life that God desires for us all.
Abundant life, it should be noted, that actually could be available to us all but is not because those with power and wealth (those bourgeois people of the best sort whom Reno mentioned earlier) horde and steal it from others.  Whether or not they do so knowingly or maliciously is not the point.  The point is that it is happening.  And a focus upon the personal piety and bourgeois morality Reno terms a “preferential option for the poor” will only further entrench this theft of life.  Social conservatism will only perpetuate and sustain structures and practices that are death-dealing.  This is obvious to those who have seen the other side of society — who have witnessed the triumph of death as it works itself out in the life of family, friends, roommates or coworkers — but is harder to see from the side of those who are benefiting from the structures.  Folks like Reno and his friends, who want to save America by wearing ties.
Thus, I will mention one final example of the moral superiority which poor people often practice.  In middle class discourse there is a bit of a fascination with defensive violence.  Employing violence to protect a loved one — to stop a daughter being assaulted, to protect a brother, and so on.  Yet, structured into the daily lives of the middle class are many grievous acts of violence — our electronics, clothing, kids’ toys, and food are stained with the blood of children in the two-thirds world, our reliance upon fuel, oil and plastics is destroying many forms of life around the earth, our hording of property and wealth is continually assaulting neighbourhoods of poor people (gentrification and the legal criminalization of poverty are both exploding throughout North America), not to mention the fact that the Church Fathers teach us that the extra pair of shoes that we have does not belong to us but belongs to the person who has no shoes and should be rightfully restored to that person.
From the poor we have stolen their goods.  We have stolen their communities and their land.  We have stolen their labour and the fruits of their labour.  We have stolen their youth and their health.  We have stolen their children.  We have stolen many of their lives.  Yet how have poor people treated us?  With what I can only term amazing grace.  Poor people are not treating us with the same violence with which we have treated them.  What we deserve from them is what Reno should find truly scary.  Should they follow the laws of rights or of “an eye for an eye” we would be unable to survive.  But this is not what is being practiced and it is not the response I have seen.  In my own life, I have been welcomed and embraced, loved and celebrated by the poor people whom I have known.  This is not because I’m an outstanding person — it is simply because grace is abundant here.
4. Conclusion
At the end of the day, I find myself wondering if it was worth writing a response to Reno.  Folks and all sides of this discussion are so ideologically entrenched — and so determined by their own socio-economic and theopolitical contexts — that I expect nothing to change after I make these remarks.  Lord knows, I’ve tried before.  I’ve spent many hours trying every rhetorical angle in order to encourage chaste, honourable, decent Christians to care about those for whom God claims a preferential option.  I have tried scholarly treatises, I’ve have tried appealing to emotions with sad stories, I’ve tried to gently encourage with “feel good” presentations, I’ve tried to upset people with the hope that their anger might spark them to reflection and change.  After all that, no words, arguments, or rhetorical tricks seem more effective than any others.  Mostly, people will cling on to privilege in whatever way they can and find a way to put a moral overcoding on top of that privilege in order to appease their consciences and feel like justifiably good people.  Consequently, what I wrote here is likely going to be as effective as flipping Reno the bird and telling him to go fuck himself (seriously, the only difference is that Reno might consider the former rhetoric as deserving some thoughtful rejection, whereas the latter rhetoric wouldn’t probably even merit a hearing — either way, no new life-giving change is produced — aside: objecting to swearing is also a good way to bracket out the voices that arise from the margins).
The only thing that seems to produce conversions on any sort of regular basis is when people actually test the claims of the liberation theologians and move towards relationships with those who are poor.  This, more than anything else, produces conversions and, in my opinion, gives a lot of credibility to claims that Christ is found in and amongst those who suffer marginalization and abandonment.  The irony is that most are not convinced that this move is necessary, and the only thing that will convince them of its necessity is making the move!  Still it does make sense in its own way: one can talk to others about God until one is blue in the face, but unless others are encountered by God, that talk isn’t going to make a lot of sense.
Still, we press on and hope that others will come and taste and see that the Lord is good and that goodness is abundant in the company of those who are poor.

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    • Dan, always a delight to see your name around here. I just wish you weren’t saving all your lovely, and humorous, and profound remarks for Halden’s blog!

    • I used to have less patience because I used to have higher expectations.
      Oddly enough, the heartbreaking realization that most people most of the time won’t change and pursue trajectories that are more life-giving makes me calmer… more emotionally resigned even though I will still pursue certain actions.
      Anger is only a tool worth employing if you think it is going to produce a certain result. Once you realize that neither anger, nor love, nor gentleness, nor rigorous argumentation, nor the tongues of men or of angels will avail, then you just start speaking because you don’t know how to be silent… not because of any major emotional reaction. At least that’s my experience of things.

      • Yeah, I can relate. I just today had a long discussion with a few cops (who among other things threw me to the ground) in connection with a direct action against deportations, about their responsibilities when it comes to the deportation machinery etc. Afterwards I thought along similar lines as your comment here, that you can´t get angry as hell all the time. It often won´t help and it will probably kill us in the long run. And I do think that people could and has to personally turn around in order for a revolution to last. So we need to be develop patience, I think, and keep talking do people. If one conversation out of a thousand leads to real change, that will probably be worth. (Of course, I also think we need direct action.) There is a place for anger, but yelling at people and crushing stuff shouldn´t be over-used. 🙂
        And by the way, your contant reminding us of the need for real relationship with the poor at least has effected my life (together with other inputs, of course). I just tonight had a confrontation with a homeless man that often comes to our place and sleeps and eats here and hangs out with us. He was drunk/high and became threating when I didn´t let him sleep here tonigh (because of the safety of our kids as he tends to get threatening somethings when high). But at least he didn´t hit us or anything (amazing grace, hah?). I really appreciate his friendship, he´s a lovely man, and it has meant a lot to my family to get to know him, and probably to him too, although he today has called me both “his best friend” and “a fucking hypocrite”. I guess it´s true, all of it. And I think that we might not have had this relationship if it had not been for your writing…
        So keep up the good work!
        (sorry, maybe too long and personal comment?)

      • Neither too long nor too personal. Thanks, Jonas. I very much agree with the “I guess it’s true, all of it” when I think of my own life.

  1. Another excellent post, Dan. I am particularly struck by your and Moltmann’s point about how the rich monopolize morality… which is rather challenging to think about as an aspiring (bio)ethicist, especially as bioethics is dominated by debates over ethical issues only the rich are able to have.

  2. “Once you realize that neither anger, nor love, nor gentleness, nor rigorous argumentation, nor the tongues of men…” Hey Dan, I first came to some understanding of this many years ago with my wife and kids. No matter how profound my arguments or rigorous my logic was, sometimes I just could not convince them how right I was about everything! But with time and tears and great consternation, eventually, and by the grace of God I came to understand what an idiot I am and things have gone much better for everyone since then. On another note, as soon as i am done reading an enthralling biography of Willie Nelson (what a refreshing break from Florensky and Hart!) I am thinking it’s time for me to tackle a study of St. Paul again. I can’t wait for your book any longer but could you offer me your best recommendations for the top 3 books on Paul? Thanks, blessings to you and your family, obliged.

  3. Is there any room in your argument for financially poor folks who are “chaste and honourable” in the way Reno deems desirable?
    I see little pearl wearing little old ladies on a miserably low state pensioncompromising giving all they can to the food bank and volunteering alonside me at the jail or at the refugee drop in.
    Sure, the old ladies sometimes see themselves as moral beacons and examples that the “poor” should listen to. But I can live with that. And so can the “poor”, because we all sense that they mean well and that concern is genuine and loving.
    I try not to imagine who the hell they voted for…
    But surprisingly, I love them to bits and firmly belive that they might sometimes have some worthwhile advice to offer.

    • Whoops, sorry lots of typos in the above! Been working on a report since 7am this morning (it’s 8pm now) and my brain is fried.

      • Well, no it doesn’t. But then if Reno’s argument in *their* mouth is somewhat valid, then there must be something valid in the essence of his argument.
        I’m only interested in sheer undiluted obedience to Jesus these days, Bonhoeffer style…
        I recognise that obedience takes a lot of forms in different people and the combination of all these attemps creates a wonderful diversity of endeavours. Some of these efforts are a tad misguided, but if undertaken for the right reasons and without hypocrisy I find them to be usually productive.
        So I’m not in Reno’s head, but I doubt he’s being deliberately hyprocritical, and entirely closed to dialogue. Therefore, I am inclined to affirm *some* of what he seems to be on about, and I don’t reject his thesis wholesale. This is what I was trying to show with my pearl-necklaced old ladies.

      • I’m not saying that the argument is more valid coming from them. I’m just saying that there is room for them.
        As for Reno and dialogue, well, I did email this piece to him but I have yet to receive a reply. I’m not holding my breath.
        And I’m not going to believe that you’ve really started following Jesus “Bonhoeffer style” until I hear that you’ve been arrested

  4. Dany(Dan. I also meet those ladies in the group I belong to that visits the prison and at the shelter for homeless people were I volunteer. They are really something. I also agree with Dany that there are aspects of this that relates to our (pretty “male”) need to be heroes, which is something I have discovered in myself and try to get rid of, or at least be aware of. If you don´t imagine yourself being a hero, you might have lower expectations and therefore also being able to be more patient.
    I have to add that our friend and mentioned above) turned up a day later, sober, and demanded that I should re-tell what happened, since he couldn´t remember, but knew that something was wrong. He apologized and told us how much he loved us and that he didn´t want to lose us as friends. He asked us not to let him in drunk/high anymore. He also had lied to authorities in order to get his money earlier, and had bought us gifts, flowers to my wife, expencive chocolates to the kids, and vegetarian food (sausages and more), since he knows we´re vegetarians and I had told him we were a bit short of money.

  5. Dan,
    If I’ve read you correctly, your main objections to Reno come from reading his piece as an exhaustive claim about the preferential option: that wearing ties does not just help the poor but is all that rich Christians need to do. And maybe that’s what Reno means, but I’m curious what you would say to someone who thinks social conservatism is helpful (more helpful than social liberalism) but insufficient (it needs to be paired with a more radical and immediate help for, and solidarity with, the poor). In other words, what would you say to someone like Benedict Groeschel?
    The closest I see you come to this is saying that “social conservatism will only perpetuate and sustain structures and practices that are death-dealing,” and surely that’s true of certain forms of it, but it’s by no means clear of most of it, including things that Reno mentions (e.g. marriage). So when a Benedict Groeschel argues for the necessity, and insufficiency, of supporting traditional marriage, do you just put forward somebody else’s experience from among the poor against his? Or if we read Reno as merely pointing to the social politics side of the preferential option, as opposed to a comprehensive encapsulation of it, and if we focus our attention on those issues that seem most to vex him, like marriage and abortion, are you more in agreement with him?

    • Hi RM,
      Thanks for this comment. I think you do hit upon the core of my disagreement with Reno, but I would press back and respond that even the issues addressed by social conservatives are much more problematical in their application. I’m not familiar with Groeschel and what he thinks of marriage and family and all that, but I am familiar with Jesus and Jesus seemed to take issue with a lot of family values. Instead of focusing on the family, we see Jesus demoting the importance of things like marriage or blood-relations in order to create a fictive kinship in solidarity with the poor and in resistance to the imperial powers of the Roman Empire and the Jewish Temple State (Hardt and Negri make similar claims in relation to the role that family values play within the empire of global capitalism — mostly in Commonwealth, the third book of their trilogy).
      Abortion is another complicated issue, although I think it is generally more related to patriarchy, class, and economics, than it is to free-floating moral issues, so I suspect that, once again, Reno and I have rather different views.
      So, look, I have no problem with people who only want to sleep with a spouse or with people who want to have babies. In and of themselves, those are mostly okay goals, I guess. But we need to factor in socio-economic and theopolitical contextual factors, as well as the experiences of others in order to examine the ways in which our morals are life-giving and the ways in which they are death-dealing (like when people aren’t legally permitted to marry, or when people can’t afford to have a baby, and on and on it goes).
      Grace and peace.

      • “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
        If Jesus was only concerned about the poor (not a preferential option but an exclusive focus on the material want of the oppressed) why such unrelated exhortations to formal forms of sexual fidelity?
        And if he valued both, do you not commit the same error of which you accuse Mr. Reno, in paying little more than lip service to values Jesus promoted?
        “So, look, I have no problem with people who only want to sleep with a spouse or with people who want to have babies. In and of themselves, those are mostly okay goals, I guess.”

  6. Hey, If you have a minute I am still looking fwd to your Paul recommendations. Is there any chance you have an advance copy of your own work available? looking fwd to it, obliged.

    • Been thinking about this… it’s a hard question to answer. I am more than willing to send chapter drafts to you at this point, Dan… on the condition you send me back your thoughts… maybe write a blurb for the back cover??

      • Be glad to write a blurb but I think there are more ‘marketable’ names you’ll be needing to encourage sales. I mean, let’s not carry this radical gospel stuff too far! Think about it, and just give me the titles that seem the most significant to you when you get a chance. Seem like good folks over at JR eh? Blessings DanO.

  7. Going through another Blaise Pascal phase (it’s too bad that old “wagger” has gotten so famous, aside from that the guy is a mystical genius). I thought you might like that quote:
    “Human beings must be known to be loved; but Divine beings must be loved to be known” .

  8. I was going to write that Reno and most of the Bourgeois worship a god in their own image but I immediately thought of all the little plaques at my church which dedicate a stain glass window to a parent, a late spouse or a grandchild (even a minister). They are not worshiping a false idol, they are worshiping themselves.

  9. Okay, first apologies for replying only every once in a while.
    It must be fairly infuriating that I’m leaving a topic up in the air for days before commenting. If I’m going to engage with a train of thought on your blog, I should at least pop by every half day or so, not every week!
    Unlike you, I think that *some* of Reno’s argument is intrinsically valid (though by no mean sufficient. And very flawed in some important ways, including a lack of reflexivity about what his relative well-being and that of his mates is based upon in global terms). I’m also prepared to believe that he holds his views in good faith.
    As for the point that you’re not following Jesus “Bonhoeffer style” until you’ve been arrested, I think it is a bit unfair.
    Yes, you may at some point in your life encounter a situation where to get arrested is the most obedient thing to do. If and when we reach that point, let’s hope we have the resources to do so.
    Meanwhile, do you serioulsy think that getting arrested, say tomorrow, would serve any purpose? That would seem to contradict your black bloc tactics from the post above.
    Bonhoeffer was rambling on about obedience A LONG TIME before he chose the course of action that ultimately led to his demise. I wagger that his early thinking and early attempts on the matter were not in vain but that they were incrementally building a strength in him that would come in handy later (i.e. that famous poem:
    There is no benefit at all in not trying because you are not great straight away, or because you do not have the occasion to be all that great. Your last comment makes me feel like I’m a huge hypocrite and so is everybody I know. This has some truth in it as I don’t think many of us are entirely free of self-serving hypocrisy. But it’s by far not the whole truth.
    Thus, in order not to throw out a very valuable baby with the bathwater, I fully affirm (and sometimes challenge) anybody who tries, in good faith to embark on the path of obedience.

    • I’m willing to grant what you say about “some” of what Reno writes having some value… but I find that there is such a need to insert so many provisos about basically everything he likes (everything from not swearing to terminating a pregnancy is much more complicated in real life than in Reno’s thought — sometimes swearing is ethical, sometimes not, sometimes neither, sometimes terminations are ethical, sometimes not, sometimes neither). Thus, I would rather stress the difference between Reno and myself, precisely because the default way of understanding all those issues is problematical for me and, unless I’m writing something at least as long as this post about each issue, then I would rather not risk being misunderstood by speaking in a different way.
      As for the Bonhoeffer remark, well, that was a joke. Sorry it didn’t translate well. Of course, I do think that anybody who fully follows through on Bonhoeffer’s convictions in today’s context would eventually end up in Guantanamo or in Bagram or dead or disappeared but, like I said, I was just having a bit of fun.

  10. “God exhibits a preferential option for the poor, moves into cruciform solidarity with them, and calls those who worship God to do the same, not because poor people are more or less moral than others but because poor people are more vulnerable than others.”
    Dan, I think you can (and probably do) take this characterization of the preferential option further, right? It is not really just that the poor are preferred because they are more vulnerable but also, is it not, that they are preferred because they are more godlike? Or: the history of the spirit of God in the world is the history of the poor; and this history move forward with or without the presence of accompagnateur liberation theologists. But, all would-be liberation theologists are given faced with an ethical moment in which they can choose (like Ruth?) to stay in sacred history or (like Orpah?) to fall out of it. I think liberation theology is about saving liberation theologists.

  11. Thank you for this blog post! I’m currently writing a paper on Liberation Theology for a Peace and conflict studies class, and although it’s going to take me a lot longer to finish since I spent so long reading/thinking about your post, it has definitely been worth it.
    I admire your dedication and courage to keep walking the path of peace!

  12. I have had longstanding relationships with the poor from extremely poor countries in South America and Africa. Your concluding suggestion–that longstanding, deep relationships with the poor–will move folks toward liberation theology is not true for me. I’m an unabashed mercantilist–sort of a center left European if you will. Political ideology wrapped in dogma is still corrupt–no matter how lofty its aspirations.


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