At the Forum for Liberation Theologies’ last meeting for this year, we received Dr. Fr. Antony Kalliath CMI, a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC) as well as of the International Association of Catholic Missiologists (IACM) and of the Indian Theological Association (ITA). His talk’s topic was “Revisiting Liberation Theology” in times of global neo-liberalism, as this transforms proundly the theological “locus” for liberation theology as well as the praxis needed to deal with the new challenges. Antony illustrated today’s economic pragmatism by referring to the massacre at Nandigram (India) in March 2007, when people attempted to resist the use of fertile land for the creation of a new Special Economics Zone (SEZ).
Contemporary liberation theology is on the decline – according to Antony – because of the following factors: (a) since the fall of the Berlin wall and the demise of communism, the political map of the world has undergone a profound shift which has also had consequences for liberation theology, which relied on marxist frames of political, social and economic analysis. (b) The question can be raised whether Latin American liberation theology has not remained an academic and clerical endeavour, while only 5% of Christians were involved in the movement of the basic ecclesial communities. (c) The rise of non-sustainable global neo-liberal capitalism has created new forms of injustice and challenges: critical and prophetic liberation theology has not yet found the way for a praxis of society building in these circumstances. There is need for a new vision for which Antony finds inspiration in Dr. P. Parameswaren’s idea of a fourth world (not to be confused with the fourth world or quart monde, as understood in today’s Western Europe). This represents an alternative horizon of understanding praxis, relying on social justice as equity, on longetivity, emancipation and sustainability indices, as well as on people’s responsible participation in (political) decision processes. In line with this approach, Anthony emphasized the role of the Church in theologies of reconstruction and nation building, pointing to the importance of global and local civil society, allowing new vision to emerge out of the contacts between local utopias and social movements that are critical of neo-liberal capitalism.
Antony’s approach, of course, fits in well with what has already been said about public theologies. Theologies as resistance, denunciation, critique and advocacy, are also today in need of a capacity for reconstruction, as commitment to constructive political initiatives and endeavours. There is a great need for vision, and the idea of sustainability, as I explained in an earlier post, may well be a powerful hermeneutical tool to understand eschatology as a dynamism for the present, allowing us to think not only in terms of the past, but also of the future. This feature is of crucial importance in our global world today, as it is threatened by environmental crises. Antony’s suggestion to build up vision from the bottom up, by relying on local utopias that are interconnected (a task for theologians and for the Church), is also very attractive – ultimately a change out of a vision will only become possible when people acquire ownership of this process (this is a form of distributive leadership, in line with relational constructionism). I am not sure whether Antony has taken full account of the urgency of the environmental challenges today, as profound global environmental changes (such as global warming) are already under way and will have severe social and political consequences in the near future. But to ascertain that remark, it will be necessary to investigate more deeply whether my understanding of today’s environmental crisis is not too Western biased.