Tag Archives: Gutiérrez

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.”

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.