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Black Liberation Theology as an Alternative View on Justice

The most important institutions of the modern world are the results of human society development and common social practice. Moreover, the Western Civilization as the most powerful one, reciprocated all merits of this process. For many centuries, people have believed the West and civilization are the synonymic terms when other (especially non-white) people are “barbarians” who can only serve under the Western wise domination. In addition, today the postmodernist ideology has become widespread and allowed thinkers and scientists understand that every phenomenon is always a result of many influences, not only one (the postnonclassical approach). Through this point of view, it has become obvious that not only the West but also all parts of the world are culturally fertile and can have a potential for a further development. Samuel Huntington, the famous American culturologist, claims: “in this new world, local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of civilizations. The rivalry of the superpowers is replaced by the clash of civilizations”. Such a tension between the cultural groups with an intention for freedom and equalization makes an influence on theology. The representatives of oppressed social, ethnical, and racial groups reinterpret the Scriptures in order to deconstruct the model of Christianity where the White men rule the world. In such a way, Black Liberation theology is a specific postmodernist attempt of alternative view on the traditional Christian social model of relationships through the prism of new interpretation of justice.

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Classic European society interpreted justice as a principle, according to which the state of things existed. There cannot be suffering without redemption and any crime without punishment. Such an understanding of the nature was the sequence of Christian concept of almighty and just God, who judged everyone – sometimes, when those people were alive, in other cases – after their death. It is important that, according to the Christian doctrine of life and death, since the physical death the eternal life (Heaven) or eternal death (Hell) only starts, when human life on the Earth only prepares people to that. One’s destiny depends on his or her righteousness – the relevance of a person’s behavior to Ecclesial moral code. In such a way, every Christian has to believe that after this death will be some eternal happiness and remedy for all grieves and depressive moments of terrestrial life.

Moreover, the representatives of Black Liberation theology claim that such an understanding of life is only one of the instruments the powerful and rich groups of people use to oppress others. In some respect, it makes sense: the Ecclesial doctrine, which legitimizes the society of exploitation, serves to the exploiters as the source of their theoretical base. Those people who try to defend their rights by resisting the social pressure, at the same time stand in opposition to the Church. The social transformations, great revolutions, and other sources of democratic tendencies in the world led the people to reinterpretation of justice and its Ecclesial understanding. The Second Vatican Council established the socially oriented position of the Catholic Church. Additionally, all these democratic transformation at the first turn concern the White people, when those with a different skin color remain under the racial pressure. Black Liberation theology became an attempt of the African-Americans to make their contribution into the reinterpretation of justice.

One of the most famous and powerful modern Black Liberation theologians is Anthony Pinn, who proposed in his book Why, Lord? Suffering and Evil in Black Theology a new approach to suffering and the idea of Christian redemption. Pinn argues that “if God exists, then there probably would not be slavery, racism and similar evils”. Moreover, as long as they do exist, and the Africans are always under the pressure of the Whites, Pinn proposes three possible ways to explain this (the most common in Black theodicy). Those ways are – there is some redemption for every suffering; people have to be active in order to avoid evil and to live according to God’s teaching; God is a white racist. According to Pinn, none of these ways is right because they do not accept “suffering as unquestionably and unredeemably evil”. Christianity makes slaves and oppressed people wait for their freedom after their death instead to getting it through some struggling activity. Pinn proposes to cast aside all religious constructions as originally unjust toward the Black people and considers that traditional African-American activities (rap, blues, spiritual etc.) embody the natural intentions of the African people. In such a way, only “strong humanism”, which opposes to the European theism, can lead the African-Americans to their freedom. Such a position is very radical and understands Christianity as absolutely unjust and unnatural for the people with African roots.

James Cone, who synthesized in his book God of the Oppressed the ideas of Martin Luther King and European thinkers Paul Tillich with Karl Barth, proposed a much more delicate and sophisticated approach to the issue that Pinn did. Cone understands that Christianity has become an integral part of the African-American culture, and that is why he does not try to criticize and deny Christ. Instead of that, Cone realizes the deconstruction of traditional Western approach to Christ. First, he claims: “any interpretation of the gospel in any historical period that fails to see Jesus as liberator of the oppressed is heretical”. He mentions the term “historical period” because Cone understands that the Church interprets the Scriptures according to the dominating social conditions and needs. In such a way, the sense of social “justice” changes according to the relationships within the society. Such a contextual approach allows Cone to propose his interpretation of the Scriptures that corresponds to the main challenge of the postmodern world. Cone’s logic is very persuasive: Jesus Christ came to the Earth to liberate all people (making no difference in their races). The White race oppresses other races and converts their representatives into the slaves or people of the second sort. That is why those white oppressors serve the Devil, while the colored people (and the Blacks among them) are those who need and worship Christ. Cone even claims that Christ is black, understanding it more figuratively than literary. Thus, Cone deconstructs the classic model of justice, using it for the racial and ethnical relationships. There is no doubt that Cone is a much more persuasive thinker than radical Pinn, but he also has some weak points that allow criticizing his position very effectively. First, he neglects any forms of reconciliation between the Whites and the Blacks. There is one simple argument that any reconciliation would mean the returning to the previous point – to the oppressive social practice. Moreover, Cone wants to destroy all kinds of human exploitation and calls to social transformations without compassion to the previous state of things. Such an uncompromising position shows that Cone believes in objective existence of the racial differences as strongly as the most conservative of his opponents do. He does not accept that true justice is the understanding of all people as equal without any hate toward the former or even current exploiters. Another weak point of Cone’s position is his inability to change his male-centered system in accordance to the postmodern world’s challenges. In such a way, Cone’s position is very contradictory and neglects both Christian and postmodern important worldview details.

Monica A. Coleman with her book Making a Way Out of No Way overcomes the second weak point of Cone’s. This author’s thoughts seem to be the closest ones to merciful core of Christianity that concerns life without violence towards other people. Coleman tells about the difficulties of life in today’s world where the nature of relationships between people presupposes some violation. In such a situation, “taking a step is an act of courage”, claims Coleman as a realist, but as a Christian, she adds: “God helps us make a way out of no way”. Such a metaphorical contradiction between one difficult step and the whole way, the sequence of steps, makes Coleman’s considerations very colorful and easy to understand. The author calls her position the Womanist theology that adds “survival quality of life, and wholeness to black theology’s goals of liberation and justice”. She consciously makes such a compromise in order to use the best parts of other thinkers’ systems and, at the same time, to overcome their limitations. According to Coleman, all people are equal, and she tries to show it on different levels of life (personal, familiar, social, and political). God’s intention is to help people realize the justice he created in their everyday practice. In some respect, such a position is close to the second form of the Black theodicy Pinn criticized (the justice through human collaboration with God). In addition, this point of view is the most spiritually deep and free of any oppression legitimization.

In such a way, the mentioned positions represent the main approaches to justice in Black Liberation theology. Pinn, as the most radical thinker, understands justice as a right of the Blacks independently to the world of the Western culture with all its elements. Cone, as a centrist, does not agree with negation of God, and accepts the Christian traditional justice in his own interpretation. At the same time, justice for Coleman is a total equality of all humans in their rights. Such different approaches are the results of the reinterpretations of Christian Scriptures and traditional understanding of Christ teaching through the connection of African everyday practice and postmodern tendencies with its specific methodology.

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