Liberation Theology is having a bit of a revival. Is this good? I am skeptical. The problem with the Left is that they talk and talk with all sorts of grand words but they don’t explain how to create wealth and lift people out of the poverty they lament. Liberation Theology is fraught with problems, and most of them, it seems, are not to be resolved with Christianity.
I saw this morning a piece at Acton’s blog which tackles this problem. It is longish, but I hope you, dear readers, will take two moments to read it through.
Here is a sample:
Leading proponents of liberation theology were not simply looking to curb external domination or implement piecemeal types of reforms. They called for a more-or-less socialist revolution. Indeed, as Novak demonstrates, theirs was not a lukewarm socialism or mild social democracy capable of coexisting with private property, markets, and democratic institutions. It was, to use Gutiérrez’s language, the radical doing-away with “private appropriation of the wealth created by human toil” and the abolition of the “culture of the oppressors.”
How did dependency theory [explained earlier] with its socialist-like proposals to solve poverty and the Marxist influence on liberation theology fuse together? One often hears disclaimers to the fact that not all dependency and liberationist writings were Marxist. This is of course true. Novak himself argued that “liberation theology forms a tapestry much broader than its Marxist part and is woven of many colors.” It is worth stating that the work of carefully distinguishing between the various theoretical foundations suited to liberation theology, as Novak and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) did at the time, is not the same as trivializing the broader Marxist influences. There are some subtle differences between the Ratzinger-Novak caveat and other claims concerning the impact of Marxism. Some of these other assertions were that (1) classic Marxism had been revised or distilled by the seventies, (2) Marxism as an academic tool did not contradict Catholic dogma and doctrines, (3) the first Christian communities were proto-marxian, and (4) a “Christian socialism” that eschewed Marxist atheism and materialism was possible. In a scholarly analysis published in 1988, H. Mark Roelofs maintained that the differences between liberation theology and old-style Marxism could be explained in the following manner:
Liberation theology is not a Marxism in Christian disguise. It is the recovery of a biblical radicalism that has been harbored in the Judeo-Christian tradition virtually from its founding … [Do you buy that?] Liberation theologians turn to modern Marxism chiefly to gain a comprehensive understanding of contemporary class conflict and poverty.
In the face of such obvious equivocation – most notably, concerning whether it was possible to separate Marxist analysis from Marxism’s operating assumptions of atheism and materialism – Novak complained: “What no one clarifies is what is meant by ‘Marxist analysis.’” Novak went on to list seven elements in liberation theology that were present in much of the literature and decidedly Marxist in tone and content. These were (1) the effort of liberation theology seeks to create a new man and a new earth, (2) the espousal of a utopian sensibility, (3) the benign view of the state, (4) the failure to say anything about how wealth is created, (5) the advocacy of the abolition of private property, (6) the treatment of class struggle as a fact, and (7) the denouncement of capitalism. In Novak’s opinion, this worldview was not only theologically and morally wrong. It would result in Latin America paying a high economic and political price that would hurt the poor. [Again and again and again...]
A ‘Liberal’ and Catholic Proposal
When he looked ahead to how Latin America ought to be transformed, Novak was categorical: “Liberation theology says that Latin America is capitalist and needs a socialist revolution. Latin America does need a revolution. But its present system is mercantilist and quasi-feudal, not capitalist, and the revolution it needs is both liberal and Catholic.”
I would also like to remind you all of something that Sam Gregg wrote recently for First Things… alas, behind a paywall, but worth the (less-than a) cupp’o coffee price to get the mind working. HERE