How Is “Liberation Theology” Still a Thing?

The New York Times reports on the front page today Pope Francis’s revival of “liberation theology”—a radical creed from the 1970s and 1980s that at the time I summarized as “Marxism with salsa.” Quoth the Times:

[Pope Francis] is directly engaging with a theological movement that once sharply divided Catholics and was distrusted by his predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. . . Liberation theory includes a critique of the structural causes of poverty and a call for the church and the poor to organize for social change. Mr. Lee said it was a broad school of thought: Movements differed in different countries, with some more political in nature and others less so. 

As usual, we’re way ahead of the Times, whose account is rather lacking in any case. I took note of this story more than two weeks ago in one of my Forbes columns: “How Is ‘Liberation Theology’ Still a Thing?”  If you don’t have time for the whole thing, here’s a key excerpt:

Liberation theology grew out of the misbegotten “Christian-Marxist dialogue” of the 1960s and 1970s, which must seem as quaint and laughable as promoting Esperanto. It was not a coincidence that liberation theology was especially popular in Latin America during the high water mark of Marxist guerilla insurgencies and the final death spasms of socialist utopias such as Nicaragua. . . Nicaragua’s Father Ernesto Cardinal said that “Christians are not only able to be Marxists but, on the contrary, to be authentically Christian, they ought to be Marxist.”

The literature of liberation theology consisted of the usual Marxist cant sprinkled with holy water, with unoriginal references to class struggle, oppression, imperialism, dependence, and especially how Latin America poverty was all the fault of capitalism emanating from the United States and western Europe. “Liberation,” understood in the usual Marxist way (the use of the precious term “praxis” was always a dead giveaway), was now equated with Christian salvation. “It is quite remarkable,” Catholic theologian Michael Novak wrote at the time, “that the list of cities requiring liberation did not include Cracow or Leningrad, Havana or Peking, Hanoi or Prague.”

And the conclusion:

Liberation theology likes to describe itself with the slogan that it represents the “preferential option for the poor,” whatever that means. Here’s one concrete application: give poor people the option to own property and start businesses with the security that the state won’t get in their way or steal it from them. Pope Francis is listening to the wrong Peruvian thinker. He should have invited Hernando de Soto instead of Gustavo Gutierrez.



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