The old retreat masters saw a world filled with the seven deadly sins and the broken ten commandments. A world where, in conquering our inner thirst for evil, we would create a world of good. Contemporary retreat masters see the economically deprived, the gender oppressed, the racially divided, and a world of broken hopes. A world where terror freezes our hope and despair rots our bones. A world of powerlessness that divides and is in need of a hope that heals. These two books provide a theology for understanding the latter world.
Hope in the Age of Terror is the more tightly argued, creative, and theologically profound of the two. It is well worth reading for a review of the literature and for a systematic theology about God's role in catastrophe, terror, and suffering. The book is divided into three parts and eleven chapters. Part one selects three catastrophes the old theodicies were incapable of dealing with: Hiroshima, Auschwitz, and 9/11. DaPonte focuses on Auschwitz and 9-11. They could not deal with them because they were too rational, caught up in the defense of God's power, mercy, and foresight. Never necessitating human and divine sharing of incomprehensible suffering. According to DePonte's theory, that old retreat master's focus on "me" as isolated from the "other" built the framework for Auschwitz and 9/11. To view the other as not essential to my identity, my goodness, results in the old theodicy and its Enlightenment view of individual supremacy validated by reason alone. DePonte asks us, in part two, to first listen to the witnesses of 9/11 and reflect on what they experienced. He does this by providing the stories of those involved in the murders and various narratives associated with the "West Asian" crisis and Islamism. Again we have two options: the modernistic dualism of the old retreat master of affirming our sense of terror, revenge, and personal innocence or a biblical, wholistic approach that instead affirms our solidarity in sin and suffering as both cause and effect. Part three offers a means of dealing with our mutual sin, suffering, and terror: disciplined hope directed by reconciling forgiveness within that ecclesial community that is joined to the oneness and otherness of Trinitarian love.
This summary of ideas and challenges to our model of contemporary ecclesial life leaves out a great deal. Read the book. It is not easy reading. But Hope in the Age of Terror is the work of a theologian who, while aware of the necessity of keeping our daily life as the foundation of theology, must either use abstractions or write a story. He has written a theological book. I welcome such a book. You, hopefully, will too.
Hope In An Age of Despair is quite different. It is the collection of Albert Nolan's writings and sermons. Author of Jesus Before Christianity and Jesus Today this collection brings with it his notoriety and recognition. Most will come to this book with a familiarity of his major ideas. Both Stan Muyebe, the editor, and Albert Nolan, the originator of the contents of the book, are Dominican Friars. The work reads more like the preaching of Albert Nolan's theology rather than any detailed defense or description of it. That makes it easier to read if you wish to understand an author's ideas without knowing why you should accept them. The entries are usually very short. A page or two. Seldom is there anything more than five pages. It has four major parts: Background, Acting Hopefully, Putting God into the Picture, Hoping for a Better World. It is based on a liberation theology developed in a South African context. If you have read Nolan, the book will give you a little more familiarity with his thinking; if you have not, it may act as an introduction. Remember, however, that the writings span twenty-five years. While some entries deal with perennial issues, they are still contextual.
Both books claim to provide a theology enmeshed in the real world as compared to past theologies. Sometimes they focus on structure so much they forget the individual. Essential to their theologies is an ecclesial community of close relationships acting for the good of those in need. Both write out of a Roman Catholic ecclesial context. Somehow the communal necessity of their theologies does not reflect the church decrees I hear from the pulpit and read in L'Osservatore Romano. Their ecclesial real world is more a hope, from my perspective, than anything near reality. But this is wonderful as long as it is recognized: to hope in the midst of ecclesial and political terror and anguish is a guarantor of future success. I hope.