THROUGH THE UNKNOWN, REMEMBERED GATE: ON THREE OPPOSITIONS IN THE MEETING OF CONTEXTS
AbstractWith the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the conclusion of an era in the history of the Church in which the definitive challenge to respond to apartheid dominated theological discourse, space has emerged, gaps have arisen in public life into which leap a thousand new challenges. The context of apartheid has become, in socio-psychological terms at least, a multiplicity of new contexts. How are we to theologise now, without relinquishing what we have learned before (for to do so would be to disrespect history, and to disrespect history would be to dishonor those whose sacrifices in the past enable important possibilities in the present). This article reflects on three paradoxes, or aporiai, which open up new possibilities for imagining the theological task in a post-apartheid era in South Africa. These are the oppositions between space and time, between body and spirit, and between truth as revealed and concealed. The first opposition helps us to answer the question: Has the liberation paradigm in theology become obsolete? The second opposition poses the problem of the Cartesian splits between mind-body, God-world, internal-external, personal-social which has so bedeviled our theological work in South Africa and so limited our capacity to account for reality as one (the problem is encapsulated in the well-worn adage that politics and religion do not mix). The third opposition undermines all attempts either to close down communication between ourselves and the Other on the grounds that we have the truth, or to impose upon the Other our understanding of reality in the name of truth. This last opposition poses the question of apophatic theology in its most acute form, namely: Can we live out of faith without requiring that we possess it for our own? If we can, then our encounter with the Other in the meeting of contexts may be fruitful in reshaping the theological task, and that is what I will argue. These three components of the discussion are not systematically linked (though they can be). Rather, arising from my own questions as a result of an interpretation of the religiously informed, practically located symbolic universe of a local base community in Natal, they will take the form of parallel approaches to the same issue: the nature of the theological task in a society in transition. Each component is introduced in relation to the work of a particular scholars whose thought seems to be especially helpful in dealing with my questions. The whole may be seen as an experiment, a work in progress, a setting out of certain problems in order to state them more clearly (hopefully), and to expose this particular formulation of these problems to others for comment an criticism.
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