Limitations in Liberation Theology

It goes without saying that poverty and anguish call for mercy and labor. Yet, let it be said. Nonetheless, not all mercy and labor are well ordered. To be effective, mercy must order its labor well. The virtues go together. To fail to love prudently is to fail to love. To fail to be prudent lovingly is to fail to be prudent, since we cannot achieve the end without love. (No one will follow us.)

In preparing for a course this year, I have been reading some Liberation Theology. I’ve read some of the work of a major voice in the movement, Gustavo Gutiérrez (A Theology of Liberation.) I had heard much about him. I had heard that, while his work strays in very crucial ways from the narrow path, nonetheless, there is at least the attempt to hold Christianity in full while developing goals about true progress for the exploited, already on earth, etc. So, I expected to be surprised in a positive way.

Not that there are no positive things in this work. However, I would remark on one particular misfortune of his work. He mentions Sir Thomas More’s Utopia favorably. I sat up in my chair. “Interesting. Let’s keep reading, and stave off this sleepiness.” So I read,

“The guidelines for utopian thought were essentially established by Thomas More’s famous Utopia. Later, the term degenerated until it became common language synonymous with illusion, lack of realism, irrationality. But because today there is emerging a profound aspiration for liberation—or at least there is a clearer consciousness of it—the original meaning of the expression is again gaining currency” (Orbis, 1988)

I’m no scholar of More’s political thought. I’ve got no Straussian decoder ring. But I’ve gathered from people wittier than I that there’s more to More than a superficial reading can harvest. I’ve gathered that there is No Place for a superficial reading of this masterpiece of his youth. In short, U-Topos is no simple goal. Its iron wit draws out the “ick” that ought to factor into our assessments of ideological efforts such as Marxism.

All this is bombast for this: Guttiérez didn’t read More right. His reading totally misses More’s ridicule of eutopian thinking.

That’s why he changed the “good” in “eutopia” to the “non” in “uptopia,” the no place. This is perhaps a nit picky criticism to make. On the other hand, if the goals of the liberation theology movement are by and large distorted by an exaggerated focus on this-worldly-ends then G’s obliviousness to More’s irony here is most lamentable. Indeed, liberation theology is perhaps going to bring the world to the sad state of lunacy one might have gathered by using some common sense, first, by looking at Russia, second, and at the 70’s third.

But perhaps I should not be so harsh on G’s reading. Well, at least I should not put myself above him. I remember a good friend describing to me More’s portrait of the family meal: All the adults eating first, while the children quietly stood at arm’s length, serving the adults obediently and cheerfully, ready to eat only after the adults had achieved a good comfort. I remember biting on the bait, “That sounds great!” My friend went on to comment on what idiocy this was. (Not More, but the portrait of nonsense he depicted, so utterly bereft of common sense and rootedness, so utterly clueless to nature and original sin.)

Thankfully, I saved face by echoing my approbation of that grand vision to myself alone, not to my friend. To him, I only nodded. At the time of this encounter, I had already had a number of kids. To be honest, the vision still sounds great. But it ain’t reality.

“I wish money grew on trees; I wish beer rained from the skies… but it doesn’t” (Paraphrased of course).

Love that is not prudent is not love. Let the world give up its Marxist dreams. Clueless seminarians: Read with sobriety.

2 thoughts on “Limitations in Liberation Theology

  1. Clueless seminarian here. I wish I was still around town to take that class, or at least glean something from classmates at the dinner table. I’ve certainly seen rumblings of Marxism and liberation theology among millenial Catholics, and I’d love to know how to handle the topic better. These millenials I know reject the Americanist heresy, and yet would like to replace it with a Marxist version of the same. They claim their vision of Marxism is more akin to Christian monasticism than it is Bolshevism, but I believe it is just as rooted in Marx’s terrible anthropology as Americanism is rooted in Enlightenment secularist ideals. They seem to reject Americanism because of the flaws of capitalism, rather than the philosophical flaws that underlie it. And for that reason, they substitute an economic system they find more equitable (workers control the means of production), without addressing the rot underneath, or the blatant absurdity of placing trust in princes.

    Glad you’ve made it back online!

    1. My father in law came from communist Romania. He’ll tell anyone a simple fact: Corrupt people ruin any system. No system is perfect. That said, some are of course intrinsically flawed.

      I was reading J. Schall’s take on Liberation Theology. Recommend the text. However, it was written at the beginning of the Reagan era. (Oh for the Reagan era again!) Problem is that there is a bit too much optimism about capitalism in the book. Also, he does not drink in enough Leo XIII in my opinion. 1987 and 2008 and 2002 had not yet hit the fan.

      This is a MOST DIFFICULT ISSUE. Charges on both sides swing round easily. I think we need a deep imbibing of Leo and the tradition. Marx will not do, but one must read him. Reflection on the Common Good is crucial. One thing in my reading is clear. The Church’s magisterium recognizes that marxism is a reaction to classical liberalism. The Church knows that marxism is FAR WORSE than liberalism. FAR WORSE. (Hence, if you had to vote…). Read and behold. Who could say otherwise except an ideologue?

      BUT, the solution to marxism won’t be the classical liberalism to which it was an evil but not completely senseless response. The solution will be to recover (I don’t say go back), to retrieve (ah, that’s the ticket) an economy centered around the common good.

      I hasten to add that culture comes from cult. Religion is its foundation. Classical liberalism cannot deal with the terrorism that is arising these days. Why not? Because it is irreligious. No man has a chest anymore, at least not in Christendom. All are deflated, as the Argives after Agamemnon preached defeat to them.

      To paste together marxism and the classical liberal notion of “religious freedom” is really an odd combination. I propose we go back to religious unity as crucial to the founding of a just state. In the meanwhile, we have never been a religion that spreads by force. That would be violence. We are, however, a religion that respects nature and justice. Hence, we are a religion that seeks recourse to GUNS when an enemy threatens our very culture and religion. Such use of GUNS is not violence; it is self-defense rooted in self-love, which IS authentic because natural. In fact, the call to universal pacifism (note, I do say ‘universal’, since there are some — such as monks and priests, who are called not to pick up arms against a sea of troubles, as did the … (who? conservative prelates preaching actual magisterial teaching? NO!:) Marxist Revolutionary Liberationists in Latin and South America, but to shepherd the cowards and villains and decent people alike unto the righteousness of God, as they shuffle off this mortal coil) in the face of such a threat is nothing else than insubordination, sedition, dereliction of duty, rebellion, and / or insanity. The sentence would work better were it in German.

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