Beyond Apathy

Beyond Apathy: A Theology for Bystanders

Elisabeth T. Vasko
Copyright Date: 2015
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9m0vv4
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  • Book Info
    Beyond Apathy
    Book Description:

    Theological conversations about violence have typically framed the discussion in terms of victim and perpetrator. Such work, while important, only addresses part of the problem. Comprehensive theological and pastoral responses to violence must also address the role of collective passivity in the face of human denigration. Given the pervasiveness of inaction—whether in the form of denial, willful ignorance, or silent complicity—a theological reflection on violence that holds bystanders accountable, especially those who occupy social sites of privilege, is long overdue. In Beyond Apathy, Elisabeth T. Vasko utilizes resources within the Christian tradition to examine the theological significance of bystander participation in patterns of violence and violation within contemporary Western culture, giving particular attention to the social issues of bullying, white racism, and sexual violence. In doing so, she constructs a theology of redeeming grace for bystanders to violence that foregrounds the significance of social action in bringing about God’s basileia.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9419-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Bystanders as a Critical Locus for Theological Reflection
    (pp. 1-28)

    In the fall of 2010, the country witnessed a string of teen suicides. Pictures of fifteen-year-old Billy Lucas, thirteen-year-old Seth Walsh, and eighteen-year-old Tyler Clementi flashed across every news media outlet in the United States.¹ While there can be many causes of teen suicide, a common thread held all of these deaths together: LGBTQ bullying. Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, and Tyler Clementi took their own lives after enduring daily harassment and torment by their peers because of their sexual orientation. Several years later, the deaths of these young men remain little more than a distant memory to most.

    The next...

  5. 1 Violence, Hiddenness, and the Human Condition: A Closer Look at Gay Bashing and Slut Shaming
    (pp. 29-68)

    The biblical narrative of Adam and Eve has played a central role in shaping the Western Christian imaginary, especially in theological formulations of the human condition. As the story goes, Adam and Eve are commanded by God not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Tricked by the serpent, they violate God’s command and eat the forbidden fruit. Realizing what they have done and hearing God in the garden, Adam and Eve hide themselves. God finds Adam and Eve and asks them to account for their actions. In responding, Adam places the blame on...

  6. 2 Bypassing Redemption: White Racial Privilege and Christian Apathy
    (pp. 69-114)

    “America has a high tolerance for black suffering.”¹ These words, uttered by Rev. Jesse Jackson in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, point to the problem of white racial indifference. In Katrina’s wake, nonwhites were abandoned without electricity, food, or health care by public officials while the city’s white residents were evacuated. As the country watched this death-dealing racial disparity unfold from the comfort of our homes (on television), few whites questioned it. While Katrina is but one example of racial injustice out of many, the question for white people becomes, in the context of racial injustice, on whose “side” are...

  7. 3 Lament from “the Other Side”: Sin-Talk for Bystanders
    (pp. 115-152)

    Sin alienates us from God, other human beings, and creation.¹ Sin is an important category for theological reflection, providing Christians with the tools to describe and critique the state of the world. The categories ofsinandevilallow us to name actions and structures that generate brokenness and suffering in the world.² The usefulness of these terms “is predicated on the conviction that once named, sin and evil lose the power of mystification and become phenomena to which people of faith may respond in fitting ways.”³ In Christian tradition, to speak of sin is to avoid fatalism. Rather, speaking...

  8. 4 The Syro-Phoenician Woman: Disrupting Christological Complacency
    (pp. 153-190)

    In theory and practice, Christians privileged by class, race, gender, and imperial power have assumed that Jesus was on their side.¹ In the words of Jacquelyn Grant, “The central christological problem rests in the fact that Jesus Christ historically has been and remains imprisoned by the socio-political interests of those who have historically been the keepers of principalities and powers. This Jesus has been a primary tool for undergirding oppressive structures.”² In religious imagery and in Christian theology, Christ has essentially become white through the dominant culture’s near-exclusive portrayal of Jesus as a white man. Similarly, despite being a poor...

  9. 5 Grace as Dis-ease: Toward a Soteriological Praxis for Bystanders
    (pp. 191-238)

    Heteropatriarchy and white supremacy are theological issues because they distort and deny Christianity’s fundamental presupposition about the dignity of the human person.¹ Moreover, these particular forms of violence “have a theological base.”² Speaking in the context of anti–gay bullying, Cody J. Sanders writes, “I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti–gay violence and bullying exist without the anti–gay religious messages that support them.”³ As Sanders rightly suggests, “These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 239-246)

    We live in a society that is all too willing to tolerate violence. Violence, a communal problem, impacts the flourishing of all involved: victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. Violence desecrates the image of God as it dehumanizes and fractures communion among all God’s people.

    Throughout this book, I have focused on the problem of bystander complicity in violence and what to do about it. I have argued apathy in violent contexts is culpable. This is true when an individual observes a violent situation and fails to call for help. It is also seen in collective manifestations of privileged apathy discussed in...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-264)
  12. Index
    (pp. 265-269)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)