True Liberation: Nonnegotiable Praxis. It is almost impossible to turn on the television or read a newspaper without being

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1 Emma Lind Professor Schillinger Religion 218 December 14, 2015 True Liberation: Nonnegotiable Praxis It is almost impossible to turn on the television or read a newspaper without being inundated by headlines detailing cases of overt oppression. This oppression takes its form through racism, sexism, and other insidious methods of action and thought. As one processes these headlines, questions inevitably emerge: What can be done to combat these processes? How can people form such harmful perspectives? Who should take action to mitigate and heal the damage from such oppression? Theological thinkers and academics have engaged in extensive debate over the answers to these questions. Some philosophers, such as John Rawls, believe that the answers lie in the commonality of humanity; differences such as race, religion, and gender should be considered, but not presupposed when determining the best course of action. Other thinkers, such as Virgil Michel and Rafael Avila, argue for a course of action rooted in theology and liturgical praxis. In the context of current protests and violence, the liturgy is best interpreted as aligning oneself with the oppressed. This crucial component of the liturgy is that it is meant to provide a framework from which people can draw their actions, for actions are the bases of liberation. The idea of entwined political and religious realms is not new; however, the concept of a theology of liberation is relatively novel. As the world progresses and changes, it becomes increasingly clear that a theology addressing the emergence, incidence, and nuance of oppression is necessary. In order to truly understand how to best combat oppression, one must have an

2 understanding of the theological presuppositions that must exist before action is taken. Liturgical and political philosophers have sought to explain the basis for the connection between religious and secular life itself. Virgil Michel, a Benedictine monk, advocated for a more accepting and humanistic approach to the liturgy. Michel believed that religious roots for societal improvement were imperative. In Liturgy the Basis of Social Regeneration, Michel outlines his views on the connection between society and theological praxis. Michel defines liturgy as nothing else than the solemn and public worship of the Church, her official prayers and blessings, the sacraments, and above all the holy Sacrifice of Christ, the Mass (Cavanaugh 98). According to Michel, improvement in society needs to have its basis in religion. He points out the necessity of active participation in the sacred mysteries and the public and solemn prayers of the Church (Cavanaugh 102). This active participation is key to the argument that Michel puts forth. By Michel s logic, if active participation in the rituals of the Church is key for social regeneration, then the rituals, or liturgy, themselves must be inherently good. Michel takes this conclusion one step farther and advocates for action stemming from the liturgy, saying, In the liturgy the teaching is inseparable from the putting into practice (Cavanaugh 103). In order to address the complexities of a situation, the liturgy must be consulted, as it is the basis for any action to be taken. The action has its origin in the liturgy, which can only be fully comprehended through the actions themselves. Michel s logic for the merit of the liturgy certainly becomes clearer once it is understood why it is necessary for social regeneration to occur within the Church. Michel views the Church as a largely uniting factor between groups of people. He asserts that each member of the Church has indispensable commonalities under the Mystical Body of Christ. After taking Baptism, members of the Church automatically become part of Christ s body (Cavanaugh 103). Christ is

3 the head of this analogical body, but those who are members of the Church are crucial to the faith community, as they comprise the rest of the body. This Mystical Body of Christ provides a foundation upon which members can easily identify their shared views and interests. This exposes Michel s presupposition that one s faith is a crucial pillar of their life that connects to their core values and gets to the crux of their being. As such, it serves as an extraordinarily strong uniting factor. Michel employs the analogy of a family; he sees all Christians as members of a single family. These bonds serve as the basis for human action and community. As such, faith is inextricably linked to daily life and informs the actions and thoughts of believers. From a non- liberation theological perspective, there are elements of faithful life that have close ties to the value of praxis and theology. Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox Christian priest and teacher, wrote about the defining characteristics of secularism. In Worship in a Secular Age, he argues that secularism does not equal atheism. Rather, it is a negation of worship (Cavanaugh 106). Secularism is closely connected to human involvement with culture and the trend of identifying primarily with the nonreligious world, although the person might identify as a person of faith. Secularists do not reject God in His own right; they reject the idea that early things, including people, can be sacred. By believing that people themselves are not sacred, secularists automatically reject the notion that the connections they may foster with others can have any foundation in a relationship with Jesus Christ. The outright rejection of a divine connection to terrestrial practices defines secular thought. Schmemann asserts that this secular thought creates a prominent religious and theological dissonance that may be a cause of lay resistance to religious efforts to curb oppression. Schmemann is a proponent of grounding action in religious reasoning, although he would not necessarily assert that direct action should be central to the praxis of theology.

4 The 1989 film Romero exemplifies the transition between disconnected theology and the direct application of liberation theology. Romero himself represents the connection between conceptual ideologies and praxis of theology. At first, Romero is viewed as a pawn of the Vatican; his quiet, kind nature makes him an easy pick for the Pope s Archbishop appointment, especially considering the tumultuous atmosphere of El Salvador at the time. Romero s personal and theological transformation is exemplified through his interactions with large groups of people. Throughout the movie, Romero often has people walking with him and following him. Two scenes in particular stand out as guides to Romero s transition to liberation theology. The first occurs toward the beginning of the movie when Romero and Padre Garcia drive to meet the people who are stranded on their way to vote in the election. Padre Garcia immediately jumps out of the car to check on the citizens, who are surrounded by callous soldiers. At first, Romero seems reluctant to leave the car. It is only when he is prompted by a soldier to join the group that he leaves the safety of the car. Romero appears to be hesitant to emerge from behind the physical and emotional barrier that the safety of the car provides, in order to join the people. Later in the movie, as Romero actively decides to align himself with the oppressed citizens of El Salvador, he encounters another crowd situation while he is in a car, but handles the situation much differently. As the political violence escalates in El Salvador, soldiers take over churches as bases for their operations. During the scene of Romero s return to the church to gather the Eucharist, he encounters soldiers who try to block him from worshipping and performing sacred rites. The lead soldier throws Romero out of the church, and at first, Romero seems resigned to the fact that the soldiers have pervaded the sacred religious atmosphere to an impenetrable degree. After he leaves the church, Romero looks out at the crowd that has gathered and sadly

5 gets in his car and is promptly driven away. Seconds later, he makes the active decision to turn the car around and join the people. This represents his acceptance of his role as a part of the body of Christ, as Michel would likely posit. Romero actively places himself in the narrative of the El Salvadorian people and aligns himself with the oppressed citizens. Later in the movie, when Romero addresses the soldiers, he says the following: I'd like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same People. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. Romero directly appeals to the notion of the Mystical Body of Christ and the liberation that is achieved when steps are taken to align oneself with the oppressed. Through perspectives that relate to themes of liturgy, theology, and praxis, it is easy to see why actions as the bases of liberation are incontrovertibly necessary. Michel s notion of the Mystical Body of Christ provides the foundation for such actions, which are natural extensions of the liturgy. Romero provides a prime example of how taking action, which can be as simple as affirming solidarity, can truly accomplish more than mere intention to act. Humanity is essential to the liturgy and interpretation of faith, as it is a reflection of Christ s purpose.

6 Works Cited Cavanaugh, William T., Jeffrey W. Bailey, and Craig Hovey. An Eerdmans Reader in Contemporary Political Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., Print. Romero. Dir. John Duigan. By John Sacret Young. Prod. John Sacret Young. Four Seasons Entertainment, 1989.

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