Tag Archives: Thomas More

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.