Rieger

Rich man and poor man stood there, looking at each other. And the poor man said, pale in the face: “If I would not be poor, you would not be rich.” Bertolt Brecht, quoted in Rieger, 197

In his introduction to Religion, Theology, and Class, Joerg Rieger discusses how liberal theological discourse has undervalued or ignored the issue of class division. Although progressive religious communities in the US have drawn appropriate attention to questions of gender, sexuality and ethnicity, the reality of class conflict has remained “underreflected.” Why is this?

Rieger claims that the issue has to do in part with progressive religion’s use of the language of inclusion, along with “celebrating diversity.” Class, by contrast, is inherently non-inclusive; it implies division, conflict, dualism, and taking sides. In contemporary religious and theological studies, influenced by poststructuralist and postcolonial discourse, a focus on binaries and dualisms is considered outdated – despite the fact that socio-economic binaries continue to grow.

As Rieger explains,

One of the biggest hurdles to understanding class is progressive religion’s concern for inclusion, which is theologically supported by portraying the divine as inclusive of all humanity. However, while inclusion is a common way to address matters of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality, it makes little sense when dealing with issues of class. If class is not a matter of God-given diversity or other natural differences between people but produced in a conflictual relationship, whereby the power and success of one class is built on the back of the other, “celebrating diversity” would be counterproductive. Celebrating diversity in terms of class would make things worse by endorsing differences that are produced and conflictual, and which benefit some more than others (11).

As Rieger makes clear, even the inclusive God has limits.

What’s more, the plea for inclusion tends to surface among conservatives when the issue concerns economics. For a concrete example, one need only look at a recent David Brooks column. Brooks takes it upon himself to respond to The Piketty Phenomenon, arguing that the best way to reduce inequality (rather than class division) is to lift the bottom rather than punish the top through taxation. We should, as Brooks argues, “counter angry progressivism with unifying uplift” and take up the banner of inclusivity – “we’re all in this together.” For the proponents of inclusively – wither liberal religion or defenders of capitalism – talk of class division is a real downer.

Advertisements