The OCR Developments in Christian Theology AS course requires that you know about praxis within liberation theology. This includes Gutierrez' first and second step praxis, Boff's three mediations (socio-analytical, hermeneutical and practical) and the distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxis.
Orthodoxy means 'right belief' and orthopraxis means 'right action'. Liberation theologians would say that traditional Christianity has traditionally placed too much emphasis on right belief (orthodoxy) and not enough on right action (orthopraxis).
For example, historically the Roman Catholic church has done the following things to ensure that people have orthodox (correct) beliefs.
Liberation theologians argue that given the situation in Latin America action was much more important than thought. They would support this by reference to Jesus' teaching in the gospels and teaching from the Old Testament prophets who stress that God wants justice more than religiosity (see notes on Jesus the liberator and on hermeneutics).
The relationship between faith and action was made clear in the Medellin document which said that
Gustavo Gutierrez divided the concept of praxis in two.
Thus theology is part of the second stage, not the first. Liberation theology begins with experience and moves to a theological response to the experience. This is what is meant by doing theology from 'the underside of history' or from the perspective of the poor.
Leonardo Boff's three mediations set out the way to move from first step praxis to second step praxis in more detail.
Leonardo Boff set out the three mediations as a way of explaining how to move from first act praxis to second act praxis. The three mediations are as follows:
The mediations underpin the whole of liberation theology. The socio-analytic (seeing) mediation uses Marxism to see and understand the problems within .
The hermeneutic mediation (judging) uses the BIble to judge society and work out whether or not it fits with God's plan for the world.
The practical mediation (acting) takes place primarily within the CEBs and involves orthopraxis.
Therefore, if you got an essay question on the three mediations you structure your essay around the mediations and use them to bring in the other areas of liberation theology that you have studied.
Boff stated that liberation theology begins with experience. Theology is the second stage that comes from experience. Liberation theology must begin with a commitment to the poor. That commitment needs to be real, it cannot just be words (i.e. just saying that you care about the poor is not enough).
The aim of liberation theology is to liberate people and in order to do this effectively the theologian must know what problems they face. Ultimately, the aim is to produce good liberating theology, but Boff said:
It is impossible to do liberation theology without experiencing the lives of the people that you want to liberate.
Liberation theology stressed that theology should be done from the perspective of the poor. It should not just be done for them. Without living along side the poor it would be impossible to really understand their problems. There would be the danger that you would try to solve the wrong problem (i.e. something that might seem a really big issue to you from your outside perspective, but might not actually be their main concern).
Boff said that living along side the poor gave liberation theologians a 'new spirit' and enabled them to do theology in a new way. Traditionally theology was done in universities by learned men who were perhaps somewhat removed from the real world.
The seeing mediation is about discovering what causes oppression.
You could compare the situation to that of a doctor trying to treat a sick person.
First they need to understand what causes the symptoms, then they can treat the disease.
Boff suggested that all the oppressed have one thing in common; they are all poor. This implies that there is an economic basis for oppression.
Boff also said that we need to look at how they have arrived in their condition of poverty and oppression. What historical processes led to them becoming poor? Only by understanding how oppression comes about can you end it.
In addition, liberation theologians need to consider what (if anything) the people are already doing for their own liberation. The liberation theologian cannot just come in and tell people what they should be doing, they need to first see where the people are currently at.
Marxist ideas are used in the seeing mediation to understand the causes of poverty. Given that Boff has identified economic factors as the common theme among the oppressed it makes sense to turn to an economic theory to understand the problem further. However, Boff was keen to reject the claim that liberation theologians were Marxists. He said:
The key idea here is that Marxism is 'an instrument'; it is something that is useful in achieving a particular end. The reason why Marxism is useful to liberation theologians is that it explains how exploitation, alienation and false consciousness come about. It critiques Capitalism and religion and provides suggested ways to move forward.
Whilst liberation theologians use Marx to understand the world. They do not use Marx to judge it (because Marx has no authority to judge). To judge the situation liberation theologians turn to the Bible.
The hermeneutic mediation or judging mediation uses the Bible to pass judgement on the state of society. The only valid criteria for judgement can be the word of God.
This means that liberation theologians use the bible in a very specific way. When they read the bible they are looking for answers to specific problems. they want the bible to provide concrete solutions to the issues faced by the poor. This affects their choice of text and their method of interpretation (see notes on hermeneutics).
This is why biblical hermeneutics needs to be done from the perspective of the poor.
Boff made clear that the way liberation theologians use the Bible is not the only way to interpret it. However, it is the approach that they feel is best suited to the circumstances. He also said that although they stress certain themes (e.g. liberation) they do not encourage people to ignore the rest of the Bible.
Finally, Boff said that liberation hermeneutics 'favours application rather than explanation'. They are not interested in discussing how the Bible came about or doing diachronic exegesis (see interpretation of the Bible notes). They read it as 'a book of life, not only as a book of strange stories'.
The final mediation is about action and involvement. It is the practical mediation or the 'act' of see/judge/act. The whole point of understanding the situation and judging it is so that you can then do something about it. Boff said that ultimately, liberation theology is primarily about action.
Boff hint at one of the most controversial elements of liberation theology - its potential justification of violence in pursuit of social goals.
The focus on action has lead some people to argue that liberation theology is not really a theology at all. However, Boff replied that it is a theology because
Thus action (praxis) is central to liberation theology - but liberation theology comprises of more than just praxis. The call to orthopraxis relates to a more general theological understanding of the world, of the purpose of Jesus and of hermeneutics.
The main focus of the practical mediation was the work done within the CEBs.
Scott Mainwaring has written a study of CEBs within Nova Iguacu (near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and gives some good examples of orthopraxis in action. Nova Iguacu underwent rapid growth in the population between 1940 and 1980. This lead to a host of social problems as infrastructure failed to keep up. There were too few doctors, dentists and hospital beds, too few school places for children, inadequate sanitation, unpaved muddy roads and no rubbish collection. This lead to problems like illiteracy, poor living conditions and high rates of infant mortality.
During the 1970s the local bishops and CEBs took measures to address the health problems in Nova Iguacu.
Mainwaring also commented on the political function of the CEBs. In Nova Iguacu the political aspects of the CEBs were limited, but important.
A documentary (Living Liberation Theology) made in 1991 (and currently available on youtube - see link below) recounted the work of CEBs in the Langamar favela. Some of the community projects that the CEB orchestrated were:
One of the things revealed in the documentary was the large (disproportionate) number of women involved in CEBs. This is something investigated by Carol Ann Drogus in her article 'We are women making history' Popular mobalization in Sao Paulo's CEBs. She suggested that the primary demographic group in CEBs was older women who no longer had dependent children. She argued that involvement in the CEBs made women more politically aware. She quotes a woman who she spoke to who said 'Before I joined the community, my husband told me who to vote for and I did it. Now I participate in everything.'
It would be hard to find a Christian who thinks that behaviour is utterly unimportant. Equally, almost all would agree that social justice is a good thing and that the poor should be helped.
However, there are various aspects of their views on praxis that can be challenged. We could question the three mediations:
We could challenge the priorities that liberation theology has:
We might question where this emphasis on praxis might lead.
We could also ask whether this actually works.
Scott Mainwaring's article on CEBs in Nova Iguacu here (long but has some excellent detail).
Carol Ann Drogus' article on women's involvement in CEBs in São Paulo's CEBs here.