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Faith, sin and the self

The British feminist theologian Daphne Hampson (1944-) raises some questions regarding Luther’s account of the dynamic of faith.[1] She palpably senses the allure and power of Luther’s portrayal of faith as fundamentally a matter of trust in another, as trust in God. When placing my trust, the whole centre of my being and living in God, my very self is redefined. One’s relationship to God is not seen as something external or accidental, but as a fundamental aspect of who one is. Within such a perspective, sin names the continual attempts to define oneself apart from God, as one who has my being and source within myself. The irony for Hampson is that in the self’s isolation, a deep anxiety is also present. This anxiety of being alone is then expressed through attempts to dominate and control others. Sin is the state of being incurvatus in se and the refusal to live in another and to have another live within me. As the desire for self-isolation and reliance, as the desire to demonstrate my own abilities, as the desire to control my relationship to God and to others, sin is pride.

Faith is the reception of my being, living and self as something which comes from God, and not from myself. It is trust in who God is, which means living as God’s creature, not as my own self-creation. Faith in God takes the form of love of one’s neighbour, for I am no longer worried about myself but am now concerned with caring for and loving others. Instead of seeking to dominate others, the self seeks to love them. Faith, then, is a breaking of the prideful self, a reorientation from oneself to others by being placed in God.

Hampson’s question is simple. Who is described in this dynamic of pride, sin and faith? Does this description apply equally well to men as to women? Hampson’s sense is that the historical situation and temptation of women have not been to view themselves as fundamentally isolated, as controlling others in turn, and thus in need of being related to God and to others. It seems that the problem of women, historically and socially, has not been having ‘too much self’, or thinking of oneself as isolated. In Hampson’s words, ‘Women are not typically self-enclosed and in need of finding connectedness. Their problem has rather been a lack of centeredness in self; their need, to come to themselves. The whole dynamic of being a self is very different from what Lutheranism has proposed. Thus its prescription must appear irrelevant, indeed counter-productive’.[2] As an analysis of temptations historically common to men, Luther’s account of faith seems helpful. As a description of women, however it appears ‘counter-productive’. Luther’s understanding of the ‘problem’ of pride and its ‘solution’ of faith does not seem to fit women. Hampson goes on to say that feminists may be able to appropriate Luther’s (and Schleiermacher’s) account of God as the very source and centre of one’s self. What is important, however, is that religion, Christian or otherwise, promote the empowerment of women.

Study questions

  • 1. What do you find convincing or unconvincing about Gutierrez’s account of the God of Scripture?
  • 2. What do you think Cone is trying to express by saying that ‘God is Black’ and that ‘Jesus Christ is Black’?
  • 3. What is Hampson’s understanding of Luther? Is she right regarding the argument that Luther’s account of faith better describes the historical and social situation of men rather than of women?

Further readings

Cone, James, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1986), pp. 21-39.

Gutierrez, Gustavo, The Truth Shall Make You Free: Confrontations, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), pp. 1-17.

Hampson, Daphne, ‘Luther on the Self: A Feminist Critique’, Word and World 8:4 (1988), pp. 334-342.

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31/07/14 6:18 PM


  • [1] Daphne Hampson, ‘Luther on the Self: A Feminist Critique’, Word and World 8:4 (1988), pp. 334-342.
  • [2] Hampson, ‘Luther on the Self’, p. 339.
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