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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.”


Now, what is the political upshot of the previous two posts? We have isolated the category “intrinsically evil acts.” Such acts are always evil; they can never be good. No intention and no circumstance can render them good. They are per se evil. And what in its essence is evil cannot be made good, period. We have given one example of per se evil, a significant one in the contemporary landscape, fornication. It remains to indicate others, the chief ones that touch contemporary political debate.

What are the “per se evil” acts relevant to today’s political economy? Let us get a relevant list of them. As you run through this list, compare this list with the PLATFORMS (either stated or widely known to be practically endorsed by the party as such) of the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Is one or other Party so intensely committed to so many intrinsic evils that it, effectively, automatically nixes itself as a viable party for a voter who wants to uphold Catholic moral teaching as it relates to society?

  1. Capital punishment? NO! It is not per se evil. This Means: It can be right and just to use it.
  1. Any and every control on immigration? NO! It is in the legitimate interest of peoples to keep an eye on the flux of the population. Men of virtue can disagree as to where to draw the line prudentially. Thus, it is not per se evil to control one’s borders. In fact, it is a duty of leaders to keep civil order, which can be overturned in a revolutionary manner by sloppy management of the borders. In the times of wandering barbarians, prudent Christians even built walls. Had they not, their women would have been raped and murdered. What kind of “charity” would have left women to rape and children to slavery? What kind of man would have tolerated this? Nowadays, one can debate the practicality and utility of “walls.” One also must consider the needs of helpless people. These matters can be prudently discussed. But for any nation to let within its borders, without vetting and unchecked, any and sundry persons “claiming” to be helpless, when in fact most are able bodied young men, then that nation is being wildly imprudent and setting itself up for disaster. Those who would preach to such a nation to keep open porous borders, unto its very ruin, are rebels against law, subverters of order, enablers of chaos. Self-love can be good. That is, there can be a good self-love. In fact, such a love is natural and necessary. A Christianity that preaches the opposite is no true Christianity. Only a death-cult preaches the opposite, a cult of death and gloom. There is a time for sacrifice, for suffering present wrongs, and there is a time to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and oppose them.
  1. Homosexual acts?The Church teaches and has always taught that these are per se evil always and everywhere. What’s more, The Church teaches that no rights emanate from evil acts as such; that no tendency to evil can generate any rights; that all rights a society sets up on such claims are null and void according to Catholic teaching. The Catholic Magisterium officially teaches: “There is no right to homosexuality, which therefore should not form the basis for juridical claims” (art. 13 of the CDF, Non-Discrimination against Homosexual Persons).
  1. For a sacramentally married person, who has consummated the bond, to attempt getting civilly divorced and remarried? The Church is forever clear: This is per se evil.
  1. Is war per se evil? No, for war can be justified.
  1. Abortion? Per se evil.
  2. Fornication? Per se evil.
  3. Pornography? Per se evil.
  4. Extortion? Usury? Per se evil.
  5. Contraception? Per se evil.
  6. Not having a minimum wage? Or setting it below such-and-such a figure? Not per se evil. Prudent men can disagree on the prudence of these things. In fact, it can often hurt the worker to fight for him on this front.
  1. Not having rent controls? Or letting the market largely determine matters? Not per se evil. Prudent men can disagree over this prudence of these decisions. In fact, it can often hurt renters and the housing market to enact strict laws in these matters.
  1. Pre-emptive war? I’ll leave a certain answer to this to the trusted moral theologians. Let’s say Hitler is building an army on the river bordering your country. Let’s say he shows active belligerence. Perhaps here the hostility is lasting and grave. Before he fires a shot, one might reasonably argue, one may launch an attack.
  1. A state not having socialized medicine? Not per se evil.
  1. A state not having health insurance for all? Not per se evil.
  1. Positively preventing needy persons from obtaining health care? Per se evil.
  1. Allowing citizens to possess firearms? Not per se evil.
  1. Allowing free markets? Not per se evil.
  1. Mutilating the sexual organs? Evil, per se.

What is the Upshot for us?

While the Catholic Church takes no a priori side politically, nonetheless, does not a quick glance at these evils reveal that the Democratic platform endorses numerous of these per se evils? One can think above all of abortion, which appears numerous times with utterly clarity in the Democratic Platform. Also, its notion of sexual rights seems to conflict on various fronts with the Church’s teaching.

We do have a practically “binary” system. For better or for worse. That is the present reality. (More on this to come.) So let us turn to the alternative. Does the Republican platform endorse any per se evils? At the very least, we can quickly say, not nearly as many. Which ones that are per se evils does it endorse? Well, effectively it seems to endorse (in past practice) the “pre-emptive strike” one. Whether this is is a per se evil may be debated. Further, is this one unique to the Republicans? Although Bush was the one who undertook action in this regard, was he not supported by Democrats in this decision? It is a common conception that Democrats are less hawkish than Republicans. Whether that conception is true is another matter. Clearly, to be hawkish is evil. It is evil to bomb a nation into smithereens. It is evil to decapitate a government and hope for the best for the people. It is evil to strike preemptively. I am by no means excusing any of this. I am nonetheless stating that the Republicans are not the unique supporters of these evils. Hence, this one by and large works out evenly. Further, the Democrat “pullout” of the middle east has only exacerbated matters. Bad to go in, in my opinion; but worse to pull out before the new authority was certainly and definitively in place.

How about Republican endorsement of contraception? Does this differentiate them from Democrats? Yes: Because Democrats are much more emphatic and unequivocal about this, much more committed to delivering such things to all and sundry, and ASAP. After all, Obama sued the Catholic nuns who did not want to partake in contraceptive health coverage.

Just what intrinsic evil does the Republican Platform endorse that the Democratic Platform does not endorse? I’d like to know. Perhaps one could bring up another per se evil supported by Republicans that I’m missing. I’m all ears in the Comments Box.

Working with the above, although a good Catholic should find much wanting in the Republican way of doing things, one cannot to my knowledge find any per se evil in the Republican platform that one cannot find in the Democratic platform.

Hence, what is the “cash value” of the category “non-negotiable values”? The non-negotiable values stand for the defense of things to offend which is per se evil. That is, the offense against these goods is always evil, under every circumstance. Thus, there can be no “negotiation” with those who wish to promote these evils except insofar as one is making an advance against the evil (taking a step towards defending against the evil). But there can be no negotiating to promote it under any circumstance.

The cash value is at the very least a clear vote “No” for any Democrat who endorses his or her party’s platform. There is no ambiguity here.

Those who use the a priori neutrality of the Church with respect to political parties as a reason to conclude that a Catholic can legitimately vote for a platform such as the Democratic one are either foolish, or out of their minds, or have lost touch with their faith.

The question will be: But can one vote for a Republican?


Is there an example of non-negotiable value? Of intrinsic evil?

The Church gives us one in her constant and universal teaching, which every Catholic, be he whomever, must accept and embrace with the certainty of divine faith. That evil is non-marital intercourse. The Church is very clear: Non-marital intercourse is intrinsically evil. It can never be good. Likewise, all the actions oriented towards that act are evil. They can never be good. All the “tenderness acts” that are ordered towards fornication acts are disordered as well. As the Church infallibly teaches, these all lead astray, wound; these all are evil. One cannot “extract” these rumored “tenderness acts” out of an evil life and call them “good” or “ready to be good” or “positive points”. No, they are all actually evil. They in no way mitigate the evil. As ordered to the evil act, they participate in that evil. When one is so kind and cheerful to the secretary whom one is regularly embracing sexually, one is not being good but evil.

An analogy. A master thief is very quiet. He doesn’t disturb things. Walks very cautiously. Uses great prudence. Great with tools. Plans well. Organized. Gives lots of forethought. Etc. All of these things are evil. They are not “on the way so far to being good”. They are ordered to the act of crime and thus are themselves already the crime under way. So, we should not say of the master thief, “You should tell me what he is like when talking to the store clerk, seeking to understand the various products available for say, such as the crowbar, hammer, picks, gloves, etc.” He may be very polite to the clerk, even cheerful. But these acts he orders to the act of thievery. Hence, they are evil.

Whatever is ordered to the evil deed is itself wicked as well. It is not “good” or “ready to be good”.

There may be other things, not ordered to this evil, that the one-committed-to-sin does. Those things – those that are not ordered to the evil to which he commits – can be naturally good. For instance, the one committed to committing fornication might call his mother to wish her a good day. Such an act is good. Never to call his mother would be evil. To call his mother is good. But this act is not ordered to his evil of fornication. If it were, it too would be evil. What is “ready to be good” in anyone’s life are only those things which both (a) are not evil in themselves and (b) are not ordered to things evil in themselves.

Thus, the Church bids us, in our search for what is good in an active fornicator’s life, to separate out all that is either the evil itself of fornication or ordered to this evil itself. Since most people order much of their lives around the end they have chosen – be it greed, or unnatural sex, or devotion to the poor, or helping the illiterate – this removes many things from the sinner’s life. However, not all things are so ordered, and these, if they are not evil, can be “so far good”.

We might add, finally, that certain things which are actually evil for the sinner are potentially good in relation to who we can be after repenting. Not actually but potentially good. They will be actually good when ordered to the good. For instance, the master thief is very skillful. After he repents, he can take all that skill and become a great Jesuit. (Good Jesuits are crafty in good ways.)

Thus, repentance can redeem for the sinner some of the very things that were actually evil when ordered to the evil acts of the sinner. “Redeem the time” says T.S. Eliot. Repentance is like despoiling the Egyptians of their gold. If one holds political office, for instance, and then converts from having served one’s own interests, one can thenceforth devote oneself to the duties of that office in devotion to the common good. The authority once actually used for evil, and thus evil, now becomes a vehicle for good, and thus good.


There are some non-negotiable values. There are, in short, some things worth dying for. Why do we use that expression? Is it oxymoronic? Are there “negotiable values”?

We must admit that the term “values” can itself be problematic. It puts the stress on the subjective view. Pushed to the limit, it seems to end in relativism. “I value this; you value that; can’t we just agree to disagree?”

If the origin of the term is a certain kind of moral thinking that bordered on the relativistic, notwithstanding, some well-intentioned people began to use it in a higher way. The term “values” became dominant. So, those who believed that some things are just always wrong, no matter what the circumstance, came to use the expression “values”. In order to make their point precisely, in order to show that some things can never be accepted, ever, they added the adjective “non-negotiable.”

In the Catholic world, the expression is intended to bear the burden of the phrase “intrinsically evil action”. In fact, that is the term we should use, so that we do not confuse everyone, including ourselves, with our “adaptation to today’s expressions”. Because sometimes, when you use another person’s terms in order to relate to him and accompany him, you soon find you are arguing on his terms, with his distorted premises! You can then fall into the same old traps into which he fell, and out of which you intended to carry him. Catholics must not, however, argue on the “world’s terms.”

What does “intrinsically (per se) evil action” mean? It means a generically describable action that, under no circumstances and for no intentions, can ever be good. Such a describable act is always evil. External circumstances can never justify its commission. A good “end” in mind can never render it acceptable. Hence, it is “Intrinsically Evil.” Its essence is to be evil.

What’s more, everything that is ingredient to that act, everything that is intended or helpful for that act, as a means towards that act, already participates in its evil and hence is also evil.

If we use the category “non-negotiable values,” it is our last term for “intrinsically evil actions” in a society that is so lost that it cannot speak of “evil acts” with coherence any more. To downplay this category is to risk eclipsing this last vestige of objective truth and to focus only on culpability.

But everyone knows that it is not our office (layman’s or shepherd’s, when we are speaking of the external forum) to judge culpability. In that sense, we are right to say, “Who am I to judge over you?” (Lk 12:13).

It is, nonetheless, the shepherd’s office to hold people to account in terms of the objective truth (as well as the internal forum). Such includes competence to exclude public sinners from the Eucharist. To hold people to account, to uphold clearly the moral law, is absolutely requisite for the good shepherd to instruct his flock to go the right way towards salvation. If the lamb is being eaten by wolves, the good shepherd will not be so imprudent as to expose himself to the very pack, so that both can die side by side. A noble scenario only if we have lost sight of the great value and stakes of human life. If the lamb is drowning, the good shepherd will not jump in the same whirlpool so as to drown together with the lamb. That would be the most pitiable post-modern sight of absolutely impotent help. No. The good shepherd is to guide, protect and feed the straying sheep (see Pius X, Pascendi, arts. 1-3). He leaves the 99 not so that they flounder in cluelessness and wander off into harms way. No. He leaves the 99 in the sense that they already know and are clear about what they must know concerning the path of salvation. They are already on the way. So, he can concentrate his efforts on those who flounder and do not know.

Do the math. If the shepherd, in pursuit of one aimless soul, abandons the others to aimlessness, he now will have 100 to go after, leaving behind 9,999 or something on that order. Pretty soon, all will be lost.

We cannot afford to lose the category Non-Negotiable Value.

Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si: – Part 1

A several part treatment begins today.

The end of art. 3 reads:

In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.

This may be a hermeneutical key informing us that the encyclical is less of an authoritative teaching than a beginning of dialogue and reflection. Nevertheless, the Encyclical is still an authoritative act of the Magisterium:

15. It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.

Art. 5 follows JPII in stating:

Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.

Here, we see an absolute norm: Our development of the world must be (this is a moral ought, replete with consequences) in conformity with God’s wisdom, with the viable possibilities inherent in the world. By “viable” I mean: Possible and life-giving.

Art. 6 registers very important remarks from Pope Benedict. Francis comments:

Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”

The danger of a “tyranny of relativism” threatens both the human good, society, and the environmental good, which itself is, obviously, ordered to our good. This is clear in Francis’s citation of Patriarch Bartholomew’s words:

For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

Art. 12 reflects on St. Francis and urges us towards a non-reductively utilitarian view of the world, really, towards a contemplative view.

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

Again, art. 13:

Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

Such a view is in clear contrast with that of modernity. We can think only of Bacon and Descartes, who mapped out the world precisely so as to plunder it. Even if with good intentions! Even if for the physical good of the poor and downtrodden! If the view of the world is one of mapping reductively and exploiting technologically, the result will be a denial of substantial forms (natures!) and the imposition of artistic forms without norms (technology gone awry, without prudence guiding it) – that is, GMOs etc. If the physical stuff is nothing but homogenous “matter”, then we have no substantial forms (natures!) to respect.

Could we say that there is an implicit: Back to Aristotle! Back to metaphysics! in this encyclical?

The pope calls everyone in the world to reflect on this problem of the devastation of the environment, for this problem affects us all:

We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all (art. 14)

In art. 20, we see a great and crucial dig at the likes of Big Oil At Any Cost and also at Big Agri At Any Cost.

20. Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.

Who could possibly disagree with the pope that

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth (art. 21).

The pope is calling us back to nature, to respect the Natural Law of the cycle of life:

It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants (art. 22).

If we attempted, in culture and technology, to imitate this kind of patter, we would make considerable progress. Amen to that!

Art. 23 turns to the climate:

23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.

It should be noted that there are two senses of “common good”. The first, and more excellent, is that good which exceeds the parts and which is the goal of the parts. For instance, peace among men is that “tranquility of complex order” that is the goal of society, just as the “harmonious melody” emergent from the many singers is the goal of the chorus. The second, foundational but less excellent, is that good which is resource to many. Indeed, water is a common resource to many, but it is not the good at which we aim. Rather, we desire to have healthy water so that we might live and the chorus of living things as well, with the rhythmic backdrop of the flow of water.

Clearly, then, the climate is not the first kind of common good. It is only the second kind of common good. It is not our goal but our common resource and niche / habitat. That does not mean it is for “exploitation” and trampling of feet. Instead, it means that it is elemental, ingredient, to a balanced human life lived in a pilgrim way on our home planet.

With these two sense of common good, further, we can rightly interpret the two different kinds of goods at stake: The human social good (good of society) and the natural environmental good. The latter is crucial, ingredient, to the thriving of the former. It is fundamental. It is not, however, an “excelling” good. The human society is the excelling good. We could say, we must say, to bring both together, that the human society thriving in the context and in the created chorus of the inanimate and animate but non-rational world – that this is the yet greater good. Bring in the angels and we have that over which God said, “It is very good”. But best of all, and the only end the loss of which is essentially and eternally tragic, is the salvation of each person and the communion of all the saved.