Monday, October 19, 2009

Review of a new book on liberation theology by Juan José Tamayo

By Edgardo Rodríguez Gómez * (translation by Rebel Girl)
Los Andes
18 oct 2009

My esteemed teacher and friend Juan José Tamayo has just published Teología de la Liberación: En el nuevo escenario político y religioso ("Liberation Theology in the New Political and Religious Scene") in the Colección Diáspora of Valencian publisher Tirant Lo Blanch. The book has a preface by Leonardo Boff and prologue written by the Tamayo titled "From Machu Picchu to the Cerro de San Cristobal."

As a research associate with the Ignacio Ellacuría Chair at the Carlos III University of Madrid, which is directed by the author of the book, I had followed much of the writing process and the final edition of this work which concluded with his trip to Peru, just over a year ago, in which we met both during his stay in Cusco and in Lima.

Juan José Tamayo is one of the most renowned Spanish lay theologians at home and abroad. A columnist for El País and El Periódico de Cataluña, he has over fifty publications to his credit as author and editor. His Christian heterodoxy has meant pressure and sanctions from the reactionary Spanish church hierarchy, while his openness to interfaith dialogue and a liberating concept of faith have given him great satisfaction. Only a month ago he was awarded the President of Tunisia's World Prize for Islamic studies for his penultimate book: Islam. Cultura, religión y política ("Islam: Culture, religion and politics").

About his latest book, the subject of this writing, Leonardo Boff in the preface tells us: "Juan José Tamayo's book [...] is something monumental. Perhaps there has never been an investigation as extensive, covering the entire spectrum of liberation theology as a new paradigm, contents and presentation of the contributions of some of its leading figures, men and women theologians."

Indeed, Juanjo Tamayo has made a careful study of the works and proposals of twenty Latin American liberation theologians among whom are Gustavo Gutierrez, the Boff brothers, Jon Sobrino and Elsa Tamez. Personally, it gave me great satisfaction to find the study of the work of a clear exponent of Peruvian Southern Andean theology, Diego Irarrázaval.

Diego Irarrázaval spent more than twenty years in Puno directing the Instituto de Estudios Aymaras ("Institute of Aymara Studies" or IDEA) and teaching at the Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, advising the Instituto de Pastoral Andina ("Andean Pastoral Institute") and publishing the Boletín del IDEA and works such as his famous La fiesta, símbolo de libertad ("The Celebration: Symbol of Freedom"). The change in church conditions in the Prelature of Juli with a new bishop theologically linked to the hierarchy of the Spanish Opus Dei determined his departure and distancing from Chucuito, where he would have liked to have stayed.

However, it failed to treat the great contribution of another Southern Andean theologian whom Tamayo personally knew and who is quoted in various parts of the book: Domingo Llanque. Although the author intended to address the life and work of this great Aymara, he was unable to access key materials to be used for that study, all due to a bad local habit of enclosing the intellectual production and issues that are a borderless cultural contribution within the small realm of the altiplano; thus the effort is pending for an upcoming publication in which it may be possible for the Ellacuría Chair to collect texts of theologians in the southern Andes such as Luis Zambrano, María José Caram, Simón Pedro Arnold and Narciso Valencia.

For Tamayo, Machu Picchu and the Cerro San Cristobal are two landmarks, symbols of the rise "several centuries apart, but in ideological and cultural continuity, of two counterhegemonic theologies fighting against the Empire, or rather, against the empires -- indigenous theology and liberation theology."

Indigenous theology, says Tamayo, "operates as a theology of resistance against neoliberal globalization that: a) seeks to take its land with the avowed objective of modernizing and making higher profits from it, but with the unstated intention of destroying the fabric of life, of all life, human and natural, as a sacrifice to the Market-God, b) seeks to eliminate cultural diversity, religious pluralism, and multiethnic wealth, c) and strives to impose a single ideology, the Western one, as if it were universal."

Therefore: "Indigenous theology is being reborn today as a symbolic mythical narrative, as a learned theology, as a narrative discourse in the line of liberation and the alter-globalization movements. But not as an imitation of Christian liberation theologies, also colonizing in their own way, but with its own identity, through inter-identity dialogue with other cultural traditions, with its own methodology, without being subject to the dominant methodology, although always open to communication with the methodology of other liberation theologies, with its own contents according to its best traditions, in dialogue with the new cultural climates, but without succumbing to mimicry or uncritically assimilating with them."

Also, liberation theology after forty years "has managed to come down the Cerro San Cristobal and take its place in the world of cultural marginalization and social exclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean. It has sided with the victims of successive colonizations and has regained the originally subversive nature of Christianity. It has allowed the proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth against the political, economic and religious powers of His time and the prophetic denunciation of the Hispanic Empire by Bartolomé de las Casas to be heard again. It made the cause of the liberators of the early 19th century for the independence of Latin American peoples its own. Today it has become a universal movement that is present in the World Social Forum and the Forum for Alternatives under the banner "Another World is Possible", and it has created its own alter-globalization space, the World Forum on Theology and Liberation which challenges the credulous beliefs, revolutionizes the consciousness of believers and nonbelievers, and seeks to transform their practices from the conviction that "another theology is possible" and necessary!"

When he gave me this text to read for the first time on the return trip, I could not help but smile and make a comment about the style of speech that he had used, quite unusual in his everyday academic practice. In any case, rather than a criticism, I was trying to understand the mixed feelings he would have within himself after visiting a country like Peru where he came to give a lecture for all the higher ups in the Salon Raul Porras Barnechea of the Peruvian Congress and, at the same time suffered from the lack of attention to health of which, in solidarity with all Peruvians, he also was the victim. In short, a totally bad experience with a public service which has also attracted an outcry for change.

(*) Instituto Sur Andino de Derechos Humanos, co-author with Juan José Tamayo of Aportación de la teología de la liberación a los derechos humanos (Tirant Lo Blanch, 2009)

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