Althaus-Reid’s Indecent Theology Part I

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I’m going to be writing three posts on Althaus-Reid’s Queer God and Indecent Theology. The first two posts will focus on the Indecent Theology, and I’ll post another on the Queer God.

Indecent Theology is a courageous book, an ethical book, and ultimately a profoundly offensive book of liberation theology. But aren’t all the greatest theological works profoundly offensive? What I found to perhaps to be the most enjoyable part is the irreverent wit of Althaus-Reid. She lambasts systematic theology and liberation theology for turning a blind ear to the theological issues of women and the LGBTQ community. I want to highlight some choice quotes and offer some reflections. I stress the ethical nature of this book as well because Althaus-Reid recalls her great apprehension of publishing this text expecting all sorts of critiques and loss of friendship. Fortunately, for us, she had the courage to publish the manuscript.

“Indecent Theology works here as a coming-out process which consists of simply doubting a traditions of sexual presuppositions, a process that being public can have transformative political implications” (69).

A truly indecent theology will be forced to rethink the many tacit sexual presuppositions that remain overlooked in Systematic Theology.

“Why should it horrify people to talk about God the Faggot, since (a) sexuality belongs to the order of the public domain in Christian theology and (b) God is as unstable a category as sex itself (and cannot be fixed with certitude for ever)? If God or Jesus Christ cannot be called faggots it is simply because we cannot see the divine outside the reductive structures of a Systematic Sexual Theology which knows little about love outside decent regulatory systems of controllable sexual categories. The point is that what cannot be made indecent in theology is not worth being called theology because it will mean that ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, and ‘Mary’ only may have meaning in a determined heterosexual economic systems” (68-9).

My initial reaction to this passage was severe discomfort. I think in many ways it mirrored my experience of reading Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation. His call for a God that is ontologically black upset my implicit racist conceptions of God. The prophetic tone of this book is one that demands great attention. I suspect many orthodox theologians will simply dismiss it out of hand as being improper theology (of course this is exactly the point of an indecent theology). This is road is an easy one to take, a road that allows theology to remain deaf to the reflections of a queer theologian. Orthodox theologies will run to Paul in Galatians to declare the equality of all those in Christ Jesus while simultaneously silencing the queer voices hoping to do theology from the margins.

On the Marketability and Obtuseness of Liberation Theology

“I even found myself in the situation of being called on to be a part of a popular Bible study group for the benefit of a bishop from abroad visiting Buenos Aires. It was like one of Gary Larsson’s cartoons, the one where the squirrels are preparing to beg for food from a man in the park: ‘Now, try to look cute, and you Carl, stop smoking.’ I remember the absurdity of that bishop addressing me with the evident satisfaction of a man talking with a native woman whom he presumed was illiterate, simple and poor but with a strong faith. In fact, I was a university student and if I was very poor, it was not through the lack of a job (I had two at that time) but hyperinflation. Moreover, I was an indecent woman” (26).

I felt convicted while reading this passage. Colonial theology loves to romanticize the faith of third world Christians presuming they have childlike faith. Theology often falls prey to reducing the Other to a quaint, simple Other who holds strongly to the church’s teaching despite the daily oppression s/he faces. Theology fails to recognize that these Christians have faith that is vibrant, searching and intellectual.

Referring to Boff’s work Ecclesiogenesis, she writes “[w]hen translated it must have been a delight to Europeans but many people in Latin Ameica were aware of the romanticism infiltrating our supposedly materialistic theological reflections. Sex was out of the question, but a sexual shadow covers many triumphant writings with doubts and ambivalence. Not only did ‘the poor’ subsume women, it also subsumed lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual people. The reality of the old traditions of Latin American poverty such as incest and abuse of girls in their communities were ignored. Abortions in the back street (or at home with a knitting needle), a common cause of death amongst poor women, was not on the agenda of the theologians although it was part of the life of the communities. The poor, as in any-old fashioned moralising Victorian tale, were portrayed as the deserving and asexual poor” (30).

Again I was struck by the brilliance of this quote. Althaus-Reid challenges the many facile assumptions theologians have of Latin American Christians as faithful and puritanical. Yet unfortunately many never stop to consider the vast diversity of Christianity in Latin America. We prefer to speak of them in these monolithic terms such as the ‘poor and oppressed’ without recognizing the inherent violence in this clumsy terminology.

I’ll post more reflections tomorrow on Indecent Theology that focuses on her critique of Christology and Mariology.

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