March 20, 2010

Communication Issues in Theology of Life

By Cheon, Young-Cheol

What are communication issues in the ecumenical discussion on theology of life? What is the perspective of communication on theology of life?

Unfortunately, communication does not play a key role in the ecumenical discussion on theology of life. For instance, only the Vancouver assembly of WCC adopted an official report on communication but there were no reports from the World convocation on JPIC, the Canberra assembly of WCC and the Accra council of WARC. However, a few theologians or experts in communication have addressed the communication issues.

1. Communication and Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

What is the relationship between communication and JPIC?

Without serious consideration of the important role of communication, JPIC is not possible to accomplish. This was affirmed in a report called ‘Communicating Credibly’, approved at the Vancouver assembly of the WCC: ‘Credible communication serves the causes of justice and peace by setting standards that resist national, cultural, racial stereotypes and the building of enemy images, and provide space and time for the views of minority and marginalized groups’ (Gill, 1983: 106).

In addition, the report criticizes the control of mass media by a few powerful countries and transnational corporations (Gill, 1983: 105). Thus it notes the importance of Christian communication: ‘the Church has sometimes become the only source of credible information on human rights violations and injustice of every kind’ (Gill, 1983: 106). Moreover, it commends, ‘Churches are encouraged to experiment with alternative forms of communication’ (Gill, 1983: 109).

According to Michael Traber, only through communication can peaceful coexistence of different peoples and nations be possible (Traber, 1984: 67). He contends that all communication, which is fostering reconciliation, harmony, mutual respect, humanness, joy, brotherhood and sisterhood, community, is communication for peace (Traber, 1984: 67, 68).

2. Communication and the Spirit

What is the relationship between communication and the Spirit? Although the Spirit is not human, can an incorporeal spirit communicate?

According to Moltmann, ‘The Spirit of life means the connection and cohesion of everything created’. He continues, ‘the Spirit of the new creation creates communities for living shared by human beings and other living things’ (Moltmann, 1997: 24). In other words, Moltmann maintains that we have to interpret the Spirit as communication (Moltmann, 1993: 266).
When we interpret the Spirit as communication, we have to consider there are other ways of communication than those based on sense perception. According to Michael Traber, ‘Language and linguistic analysis are insufficient to explain human consciousness, or indeed communication’ (Traber, 1990: 210).

Since the Spirit as communication is indwelling in all created beings, not only human beings can communicate but also nonhuman creatures can do. Moreover, nonhuman creatures communicate not only with each other but also with human beings and with God (Bergmann, 2005: 108). For instance, according to Psalm 150:6, everything that has breath praises the Lord. Even sun, moon and stars praise the Lord, because they were created by the Lord’s command. (Psalm 148:2-5) In other words, everything, even sun, moon and stars communicate with God.

The Cappadocian theologian Gregory of Nazianzus contends a concept of ‘natural communication’ in the sense of non-rational language exchange between sensuous creatures (Bergmann, 2005: 108). He understands all creation, which is angels, matter and human beings, sings God’s praises. On the other hand, God also communicates with his creatures through the language of nature (Bergmann, 2005: 110).

Besides, Gregory maintains four different levels of ‘language act’. He asserts that all four levels are constantly connected with one another: 1) within human beings themselves, the body, soul, and spirit or mind communicate; 2) human beings communicate with spiritual-corporeal creation as well as with fellow human beings and fellow creatures; 3) angels and corporeal creatures communicate with one another; 4) God and creation communicate with one another, with God communicating in multifarious ways with angels, bodies, human beings, and the whole of the world (Bergmann, 2005: 111).

In short, there is no life without communication, because ‘life is communication in communion’ (Moltmann, 1993: 3). The Spirit of life, as communication, creates community with human beings and other living things. Thus communicative relationship is a way to live together in harmony with human beings and other living things.

3. Conclusion

Prof. Lynn White, Jr. contends that Judeo-Christian anthropocentric theology is the root of ecological crisis. Such an anthropocentric theology makes human beings rule the earth and subjugates nature. Theology of life was initiated by WCC as a reflection on such an anthropocentric theology. Theology of life extends the theological subjects beyond human beings and including all living beings.

In addition, theology of life is a theological response on the global crisis. It points out that we live in a world where all life is threatened by the power of death. The power of death is recognized in the growth of violence for human life, destruction of nature, and also political, social, economic and cultural injustice. Thus, theology of life resists all of those in fighting the power of death.

Communication has the important role in overcoming the power of death and accomplishing justice, peace and integrity of creation. Only through communication can peaceful coexistence be possible among peoples and also all living beings.

Moreover Moltmann argues that life is communication in communion and even he interprets the Spirit as communication. Thus we have to consider there are other ways of communicating than those based on human sensory perception. Not only human beings can communicate but also nonhuman creatures can, because all living beings are the communicating subject not the object to be communicated to. It means we have to free ourselves from an anthropocentric perspective on communication.

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