Friday, 25 August 2017

Book Review: Theology of a Classless Society By Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios

Theology of a Classless Society
By Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios
ISBN: 0718824156
Price:  £89.95 (Amazon UK Marketplace)

I had been planning to buy and read this text for a number of years to have a further understanding of Mar Osthanasios’ political philosophy and his theological justification of it. Since in the summer I was visiting Kerala, I thought to take the opportunity to read this text since it is seen as one of his most famous works. As well as this, the text is often cited as an important English language work from the Indian Orthodox, especially with regards to concepts of social justice. With these in mind, I felt it important to read and understand.

The book is presented as an explanation of Mar Osthasios’ theory of the possibility of a classless society, demonstrated as Christian through use of theological examination with plenty of reference to the coequality of the trinity and Christ’s teachings on community. It is divided up based upon themes, from the outline of the theory, its application, to its theological justifications, with most of the book dedicated to the theological justification. Following on from this, Mar Osthasios gives a short question and answer section of the theory as well as a justification for his trinitarian terminology use which he states in the text as controversial.

Though I struggle with the premise of the book, a good strength of it is its resourcing. Mar Osthasios, having been educated under some of the most prominent Orthodox thinkers and secular philosophers of our time, puts a great deal of research into the sourcing and referencing of his work to support his theory. As well as this, the importance placed on the justification of his theory gives the book a sense of respect since regardless of your view on the theory you can sense the passion of the writer and it often draws you in. Though both of these are important points, I feel the greatest strength of this book is the writer’s awareness of the issues which people could raise with his theory. There is no sense of arrogance in the text, which is a rarity in political theology and many theological text. Mar Osthasios knows some people will scoff at the idea or at his theory’s application but wants you to know why he believes it. 

The major difficulty for me with this text lies in the theory itself and the way it is displayed. Though I admire the rigor and passion of Mar Osthasios in presenting his theory, I still feel that it is simply presented as a Christian Communism and is drawn too much on his admiration of communism as opposed to the theological and ecclesiological foundations it is claimed. An example of this comes in his ideas of application. He often compares his view to Liberation Theology and throughout the text he states his admiration for key thinkers of the movement without addressing its issues Theologically. He also states that he does not see communism as an answer since it is secular, however he then speaks in praise of Mao for being used by God as a tool to develop ideas of a classless society, comparing him to God’s use of Cyrus for the return of the Jews from exile without justifying the false equivalence here. 

The problem with this is that the Theological aspect seems to be simply a coating for the theory rather than its foundation, as demonstrated in his tracts on Jesus’ life and its links to a classless society, which would have given a perfect opportunity to evaluate the communist links in a more theological level but instead leaves them uncontrasted apart from the general “but that is secular” comment. As well as this, the Theological examples used are often vague and even risking heresy, which Mar Osthasios even admits when addressing his almost tritheistic view of trinity. To me this makes the book suffer greatly, since it slowly seems to reveal itself as less of a ‘Theology of a Classless Society’ and more of a ‘View of a Classless Society with a dash of Theology.’
Overall I would say that the text is a good one for looking at how Christian thinkers have attempted to address the issue of clearly unfair social practices and problems they have faced, however I cannot recommend it as a viable foundation to a theory of political theology since it fails to address a number of issues both theologically and politically which I feel undermine the theory and make it appear a simple communist text with a light coating of theology, one which has been seen in the past and has not seen itself aligned with the Ecclesiological or Theological standings of the Orthodox Church.

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