Limitations of Liberation Theology – Part II

Observe Gustavo Gutiérrez’s words:

“The prophets announce a kingdom of peace. But peace presupposes the establishment of justice…. It presupposes the defense of the rights of the poor, punishment of the oppressors, a life free from the fear of being enslaved by others, the liberation of the oppressed. Peace, justice, love, and freedom are not private realities; they are not only internal attitudes. They are social realities, implying a historical liberation. A poorly understood spiritualization has often made us forget the human consequences of the eschatological promises and the power to transform unjust social structures which they imply. The elimination of misery and exploitation is a sign of the coming of the Kingdom” (Theology of Liberation, p. 97).

Some comments. First, it is true that if we love God, we must love our neighbor. That we cannot love God if we do not love our neighbor. However, love of God is absolutely primary. The reason we love our neighbor is the love of God, or else we are not loving our neighbor properly. Gutiérrez does not retain this balanced hierarchy. His strategy in fact inverts the hierarchy and eliminates balance. (a) He insists, against the hierarchy, that there must be a “both and”, as though implying that the hierarchy is an “either or”. That is the first false move. (b) He isolates the love of neighbor as though that is primary. His very focus on it makes it primary.

Second, to love is to will the good to someone. The chief good we ought to will to our neighbor is the greatest good, that good for which he was born: Union with God. Now, God is spirit, and the union with him is spiritual. Therefore, the chief good we will for our neighbor, if we truly love him, must be spiritual. To be sure, since we are also animal, our good must also be physical. We are rational animals, so our goods must be not merely “animal goods” but rational: music (the rational movement of sound), humor, just relations, natural sex, etc. Gutiérrez, however, employs his bait and switch tactic again. (a) He insists on a “both and,” both spiritual and physical goods. Here, his insistence is that a focus on the spiritual is false; thus, he flattens the hierarchy. (b) Then, he focuses on the physical goods and social “structures,” thereby effectively casting aside the spiritual or subjugating it to the priority of the physical.

Gutiérrez’s moves are highly dangerous for the soul and for the good of man. For human dignity suggests that the rational goods of contemplation and friendship transcend the entire order of physical goods on the level of animal survival and basic comfort. When we have a distorted view of the whole, we will take any strategy to secure the narrow good we have defined. Such strategies, among the liberationists, include those of Marxist revolution, violence, rebellion, subversion, sedition, etc. Thus, they would throw the world into chaos in order to achieve their illusory notions of true peace.

But our Lord speaks of a peace “not that the world gives, but which I give.” Only when we live from that peace which comes down as a gift from the Father of lights, rightly ordering our passions so that each of us is an icon of peace and right order, can we turn to our neighbor without a distorting vision and a violent or unnatural or aggressive of mistaken hand, and give him what he needs, when he needs it, as he needs it. Only when we live by that gift coming down can our internal justice pour forth into social relations that build up a kingdom of God based not on sociological ideologies but on the truth of Christ’s anointing, bringing brothers into one. James indeed rebukes us for claiming we love God while neglecting our brothers. He also tells us that the origin of wars and injustice is sin, that is, personal sin and injustice. The origin is not “structures” except insofar as these are in turn rooted in personal sin.

If we come trumpeting our “social structures” as the cause of all evil, we will also patronize the victims, mislead them into an erroneous vision of the whole, and bring destruction and ruin on civilization. The real “revolution” is in fact a return to the wellsprings of nature and grace, a return to God the giver of all good things. The Marxist revolution against these wellsprings of course gives the nod to all the western decadence of the sexual perversions in which our society is currently awash. For, having abandoned the truth of God and his worship, we are left to our own dim lights. Our creativity, wrested from the moorings of nature and grace, is un-fruitful vs. fruitful, it is unnatural vs. natural, it is not tender, vs. tender, it leads to brokenness vs. union, death vs. life. Let us return to the God who made us, and who made us, male and female, “very good.”

2 thoughts on “Limitations of Liberation Theology – Part II

  1. Well put. It IS a both/and, but one is ordered to the other. Man is an integral whole composed of body and soul, but these two elements are not on equal footing. The body is for the soul not the soul for the body.

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