Authors' Theology Grounded in Class Struggle

By Wilcox, Susan | National Catholic Reporter, November 8, 2013 | Go to article overview

Authors' Theology Grounded in Class Struggle


Wilcox, Susan, National Catholic Reporter


In Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude, authors Kwok Pui-lan and Joerg Rieger seek to convey the "subversive and transforming power of the God incarnate" at work in the midst of 21st-century income inequality. Think of it as liberation theology 2.0.

True to the theology it proposes, this book does not take a top-down view, but rather observes how the divine is emerging from the ground up. The authors provide an offering for our own reflection, resonance and participation. Because much of the content is experiential, readers without a formal theological background will find the language and ideas accessible. Having participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City with other people of faith, I found the reading a helpful articulation of my experience, both historically and theologically.

Beginning with the mimetic spread of Occupy Wall Street in 2011, the book recounts the movement's events within the early months, spotlighting the experiences of faith communities in various cities. This in itself is refreshing, since the participation of people of faith has been overlooked in much of the mainstream reporting, even though it was Catholics United who provided the famous "golden calf" in the likeness of the Wall Street bull, and the very first tent allowed to stay up in New York's Zuccotti Park was part of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Rieger and Pui-lan unapologetically ground their theological framework in class struggle. The authors argue that empire has co-opted our view of God. Our dominant theological worldview is of God at the top of a ladder-like structure. it sets up the 1 percent as the ideal for which all should strive, with projects of charity for the "less fortunate" serving to glorify the compassionate nature of empire.

A theology of the multitude requires first the acknowledgement that empowered neoliberal capitalism intentionally produces an elite rich. Whether consciously or unconsciously, members of the 1 percent set themselves up as God by using domination to build empire. The 1 percent exacerbates their complicity with this unjust system by maintaining their God-like status, which separates them from the concerns of the majority of people. In my own experience in Occupy Catholics circles, there was a resistance to articulating a conditional relationship between God and rich persons. But Rieger and Pui-lan bravely assert that this structure does create a conditional relationship between God and the excessively wealthy. The 1 percent cannot be in right relationship with God without being in right relationship with the whole of God's beloved. There are no spiritual loopholes for the rich in this theology.

This is an admittedly mostly Christian perspective drawing from some fresh sources for those of us in the United States.

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