Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Man Not To Hitch Your Wagon To

I implore the liberation theologians not to embrace this guy.
The days of the "Generalissimo" turned "El Presidente" need to be over.

When I first started this blog, I think I very easily could have gone the route, if I'd been interested, of building one with the same tenor as The Cafeteria is Closed, or fellow Massachusetts native Domenico Bettinelli's at, and it think I could have been quite successful with some fairly decent traffic. When I started out on the web, I was involved in the Catholic Apologetics movement, so I know how to speak "neo-Cath" fluently and flawlessly. The thing is, I want to be myself and to speak with my own mind, and the pressure to stay in lockstep (or else) in those circles was too much, and was not a box that I would have felt comfortable in. Besides, what I discovered in the C.A. world was that the most pressing threats to the future of Catholicism came not from the left, but from the right.

One of the things that I've been doing in being my own man and speaking my own mind is to carry some water for the liberation theologians, despite the support and friendships that it may have cost me. I truly believe that much of their theology has been misrepresented, traduced, and trivialized. It isn't even liberal theology, but a radical theology deeply rooted in the Gospel that takes the words of Jesus much more seriously than many of the pious platitudes that pass for orthodoxy these days.

Liberation Theology's heyday was in the late 1970s and in the 1980s, before the CDF fully completed its campaign to crush it. With the collapse of Communism and it's attendant collapse of Socialism in 1989, along with the Liberation Theology "Base Communities" being outflanked with the poor by Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, it looked like the movement was finished. In the early 1990s, it appeared that with a little bit of American direction, Max Weber's Spirit of Protestant Capitalism was alive and well on the Latin American Continent, and there were optimistic reports that the miseries endemic to Latin America were going to be attenuated by the adoption of classical neo-liberalism and the jettisoning of backward Catholic ways. If Latin America would only become a continent of hard-working little evangelical entrepeneurs, according to this thinking, all would be well.

A couple of things happened along the way. One was the effect of rapacious cut-throat globalization that rendered certain free trade agreements moot in the race to the bottom for cheap labor, and the other was the adoption of draconian shock therapy treatments which were administered by the IMF on Latin American governments, which caused widspread misery, and in many cases expanded the massive gulf that existed between the rich and poor. Leftist governments have made a resurgence as a result.

What we found out, therefore, especially during the Pope's recent trip to Brazil, is that Liberation Theology is not as dead as many people thought (and hoped). It was with some disappointment and concern, however, that I read about certain aspects of the following, which was reported in both the Cuban and Venezuelan press:

Caracas, Jul 19 (Prensa Latina) Theologians from several countries will meet to re-launch the Theology of Liberation, when religious sectors fear a rise of conservatism in the Catholic Church.

One of the meeting organizers, Father Atencio Vidal, told Prensa Latina that the appearance of the Brazilian Leonardo Boff, among other personalities from Spain and Latin America are invited to the event that will be held from August 14 to 15.

Father Vidal explained that although the specific program is still not decided, meetings will most likely be held in four popular parish churches of the Venezuelan capital. Official social programs will be also visited.

The priest recently criticized a document released by the Venezuelan Episcopate Conference for assuming opposition political attitude ignoring social programs. He gave this explanation in a meeting that promotes the beatification of Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

The Salvadorian archbishop, a well-known defender of human rights, was assassinated while practicing his priestly duties and a process of canonization was begun in 1994.

According to Father Videl, the meeting in Caracas will serve to demonstrate that the Theology of Liberation is not dead, as some church officials would wish and in spite of condemnation of its promoters, such as Jon Sobrino.

He added that Venezuela can now become a platform for the re-launching of this religious movement that seeks an approach of the church with the poor.

Questioned over the possibility of suffering some form of reprimand from the Catholic hierarchy, the Venezuelan priest of indigenous origin recalled that he already ready received a letter from the Maracaibo archbishop, Ubaldo Santana, asking for his silence.

He added that, although he has received no answer to a letter he sent, no one will be able to silence him in his demands in favor of the poor and the expression of his opinions...

When many Catholics, outside of the hierarchy, see that the theology of their church has rotted into a theology of imperialist subjugation which savagely attacks the few political friends they have, like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the ordinary Catholics flee from the whole Catholic church in horror sometimes by the hundreds of thousands and sometimes by the millions.

They run not from God, but from the demons in the Catholic hierarchy.

When we reflect on these Catholic demons who advocate and execute the theology of imperialist subjugation on behalf of the White House, not God, we recall something Dante said in The Inferno:

No word of them survives their living season [Dante means they're dead.]
Mercy and justice deny them even a name [Dante means they're unspeakable.]
Let us not speak of the them, look, and pass on [Dante means run from them.]

"One of the meeting organizers, Father Atencio Vidal, told Prensa Latina that the appearance of the Brazilian Leonardo Boff, among other personalities from Spain and Latin America, will be held from August 14 to 15," the article said...

Now, I've heard that when he was in Spain recently, Leonardo Boff had criticized Hugo Chavez for his censorship of the press, but there is far too much coziness on his part with Chavez as there is with Fidel Castro, and here is the nub of the problem. Hugo Chavez is a populist demagouge on the way into making himself another Latin American dictator under the cover of a political philosophy called Bolivarianism. This is not a man to follow, and certainly not a man for Catholic theologians to pin their hopes on and to hitch their wagons to. Things will end even more badly for them than they did before if they should do so. Can I understand why they feel they have no other choice? To a certain degree I can... Take for example, the case of Colombia. I'd be tempted to say that it probably has the worst two cardinals in the world in Darío Cardinal Castrillón de Hoyos, and Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo, but Cardinal Law is still alive and well, and deserves that dubious top honor... Colombia is a near narco-state, full of corruption, private armies run by drug dealers, a skyrocketing murder rate, and a burgeoning kidnapping industry in Bogota. What are the main concerns of these Colombian cardinals? With Trujillo, it is in settling old scores and crushing his old Liberation Theology opponents. With Castrillón de Hoyos, it's being the champion for the Latin Mass on the Ecclesia Dei commision.

This polarization is almost too sad to bear, but I say to the liberation theolgians, don't embarrass me, and more importantly, don't hurt the hopes of those of so many who put their trust in you by tying yourselves to a man like Hugo Chavez. Latin America needs to find it's own Latin American way to democracy, not necessarily the North American way, but please, no more military strongmen for life.


Liam said...

I agree with you, Jeff. I understand why a Venezuelan would support Chavez, but like Castro he's an authoritarian and a megalomaniac. I don't think he should be made into a cartoon enemy by the US (that just plays into his hands), but I don't think anyone who is concerned with human rights should see him as a "friend."

Jeff said...

Hi Liam,

Wow, that was fast. You got that post in before I'd finished all my spelling and grammar corrections. :-)

You make an interesting point. A lot of people in this country would like to see Chavez "bumped off" even though they know almost nothing about him whatsoever. He's no hero in my book, but you are right, he's been made into a cartoon character.

Mike McG... said...

Well argued, Jeff. Without in any way wishing to recall the still raw Spanish Civil War converstion, I'd just say that the tendency to view the world as 'us' and 'them' is very inticing...and in many respects irresistable. That's why your voice is both so rare and so important.

crystal said...

I agree with you about liberation theology.

I'm embarrassed I know so little about politics - I had to look up Chavez at Wikipedia. It says ...

Chávez promotes his vision of democratic socialism, Latin American integration, and anti-imperialism ..... was elected President in 1998 on promises of aiding Venezuela's poor majority ..... has launched Bolivarian Missions, whose goals are to combat disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty, and other social ills. Abroad, Chávez has acted against the Washington Consensus by supporting alternative models of economic development, and has advocated cooperation among the world's poor nations, especially those in Latin America.

I saw that Pat Robertson called for his assassination - that would seem like an endorsement from where I stand :-) But seriously, I feel totally uninformed ... what is bad about him?

cowboyangel said...

Columbia is a near narco-state, full of corruption, private armies run by drug dealers, a skyrocketing murder rate, and a burgeoning kidnapping industry

The Ivy League just isn't what it used to be. Actually, Columbia wasn't like that until Liam showed up to do his PhD in "Medieval History." Though he'll probably have me killed for saying so, I'm pretty sure that "charters" is just some kind of narco code. Also, you failed to mention one of the worst problems of all with Columbia: their football team probably couldn't even beat Wellesley.

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Interesting post. Will try to offer real comment later.

Steve Bogner said...

I like most of what I've come to know about Liberation Theology; I think it holds a lot of promise for the church and for society. But I think getting too close to political leaders - regardless of which theology drives you - is generally not a good thing for the church to do. There's just too much that can go wrong when political leaders and church leaders get entwined.

Jeff said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the support as always. I think you've learned, of course, what it means to step out of "lockstep", and what the price to be paid for it sometimes is.


you failed to mention one of the worst problems of all with Columbia: their football team probably couldn't even beat Wellesley.

You've got that right... My son plays inside linebacker on the Needham-Wellesley AYF "D" squad, and even though he's only 11, I think he'd love to lace into some of those "800 on their SATs" kind of guys... or, I'm sorry... were you talking about the women's college? I'm an old married man now. I'm not allowed over there anymore, so I couldn't tell you about the level of talent.


I agree with you about liberation theology.

Look at old Leo in that photo. How can you help but to like the guy? :-)

I thought the wiki article on Chavez was pretty good. Better than a lot of wiki articles out there. Your question is an interesting one, because your observations show that the whole Chavez matter is more complicated than many people think. People hear that Pat Robertson said perhaps he should be assassinated and people hear that he called Bush "the devil" at the UN, so they figure he should just be bumped off.

I won't get into the whole issue of socialism vs. capitalism. I'm not a socialist, I don't think it works very well as an economic system, but if people choose to have socialism in their country by their own democratic choice (as they've done in Scandinavian countries), I don't have a problem with that. My problem with Chavez lies more along these lines...

He first tried to come to power by launching a military coup against a democratically elected president. The president he rose up against (who swallowed the IMF poison-package hook, line, and sinker) turned out to be a repressive and corrupt president, but this was an indicator to me just the same that he's an ambitious absolutist as far as power is concerned.

Not everything he has actually done so far is necessarily bad... He's done some good things with land reform and in defending the rights of indigenous peoples, for example, but as time has gone on, it is increasingly clear that he is gathering more and more power for himself and eliminating any sources of opposition and dissent. Under the cover of populist referendums, he's done such things as temporarily prohibiting the legislative branch, the National Assembly, from meeting, replacing it with his own "Constitutional Assembly". This assembly kept introduing drafts to extend his presidential terms and eligibility for more terms. He's been fighting to extend state control over independent labor unions, he's passed "enabling acts" allowing him to rule by decree, he's criminalized criticism of government officials, and he refused to renew the license of the country's most-watched television station. All this suggests to me that he's attempting to make himself president-for-life, immune to all criticism, like Fidel Castro.

He's been paying for a lot of social improvements through oil revenues, and although it's to his credit that he seems to recognize that oil is an expendable resource that can't be relied upon forever, we've seen with certain Arab countries that throwing money around as a result of oil-generated revenue doesn't necessarily lead to a very vibrant and healthy society.

Speaking as an American, I'm a bit troubled by his attempts to form an anti-Washington consensus by appealing to people like Iran's Ahmedinejad for partnerships. How an alliance with someone like Ahmedinejad is supposed to help the people of Venezuela, I just don't know.

In my reading list is a book about FDR and his first 100 days in office. When Roosevelt came into office in 1933, the Depression was so acute and the country was in such desperate staits, that many people were urging FDR to rule by decree and to assume dictatorial powers. Fascism was actually quite fashionable in 1933. Apart from an ill-advided attempt to pack the Supreme Court in his second term, Roosevelt refused to succumb to this, and he thus restored people's faith in democracy, and he saved capitalism. So the lesson to me is, always continue to rely on democratic institutions without despairing, and to resist the temptation to dictatorship, even if it appears to be a benign one.

Of course, Boff at his best applies that argument to the Church as well, but that is a whole 'nuther topic I choose not to get into right now.

Jeff said...


Columbia. Sheesh. Sorry about that. Man, I'm losing it...

Hey Bogs,

There's just too much that can go wrong when political leaders and church leaders get entwined.

You can say that again. Better to always be a challenging, prophetic voice of conscience than to actually be entwined in the government.

cowboyangel said...

I was going to try and offer a more serious response to your post, but after reading your comments about the Chavez article in Wikipedia, there's not much to say. You'd think after Stalin that the Left would be suspicious of figures like Castro and Chavez. But, then, some have never acknowledged or dealt with that history.

As Liam pointed out, I can understand why someone in Venezuela would support Chavez. What are your choices? As usual, the people in control on all sides seem to offer pretty dubious possibilities.

Are you really surprised, though, that Liberation Theology folks would move in this direction? There's always been a relationship between the Marxists and the LT people in Latin America. The issue of how much one should get involved in a Left government has been around for a while. Ernesto Cardenal in Nicaragua, for example.

And, of course, there is the larger question of how religious people are "entwined" with governments anywhere. Not sure there's really much difference between Cardenal and the much larger number of clergy actively supporting right-wing dictatorships back in the day (or now.) They may not be in the government, but they are often actively part of systems that torture and kill people. Pinochet thought he was a good Christian. I'm guessing the evangelicals in Latin America are "entwined" very much politically, too, just on the other side.

No answers here. Seems related to the post on the Spanish Civil War. When you're in a state of extreme poverty, you'll hitch your horse to whoever lends a hand and gives you food. Look at how well the Islamic militants do because of this issue. Hamas became popular because they they tended to people's needs. So, too, the Muslim Brotherhood. And Sadr is doing the same in Iraq.

Give them bread and they'll follow you.

cowboyangel said...

Forgot the most important point:

or, I'm sorry... were you talking about the women's college?

Of course!!! But Liam's probably too busy to even read this, so my insult was probably wasted.

I didn't even realize there was a men's part of Wellesley. My God. Everything changes. Next you'll be telling they let blacks and Jews in.

Jeff said...

Hi William,

Are you really surprised, though, that Liberation Theology folks would move in this direction? There's always been a relationship between the Marxists and the LT people in Latin America. The issue of how much one should get involved in a Left government has been around for a while. Ernesto Cardenal in Nicaragua, for example.

Always a relationship between Liberation Theology and Marxism? See, I resist the charge somewhat. In some cases yes, in some cases no. I liked what Oscar Romero said in response to the charge that he was a Marxist. According to his biographer, he said in his 2nd general pastoral address to El Salvador:

What we can call Marxism is a complex phenomenon that must be studied from an economic, scientific, political, philosophical, and religious viewpoint. Marxism must also be studied within its own history." The church says that Marxism as an atheistic philosophy is incompatible with Christian faith. "The real problem is that, to the traditional condemnation of atheistic Marxism, the church now adds in equal measure the condemnation of the capitalist system, which it denounces also as one of the practical materialisms."

The church lives amid specific ideologies and social practices. It ponders the good and the evil, the attraction and temptation that are hidden in both the socialist currents and in the capitalist ideology. "But when it examines and judges the different ideologies, it is moved first of all by the ethical concern of its faith, rather than the desire to give technical judgments on the practical measures that the different ideologies propose."

As for meddling in politics: what the church says and does can certainly have political effects, but the church does not use the mechanisms of political parties or similar organizations to do its task. In El Salvador, Romero reminded the people, the law recognized the church, but in recent months its priests and catechists had been attacked and their rights trampled, and their rights were part of the church's responsibility. The persecution touched Christ himself, because it afflicted his followers: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4).

...and Dom Helder Camara said something upon the lines of "When I fed the poor they called me a saint. When I asked why they were poor, they called me a Communist."

I'd say that Romero, Camara, and Cardinals like Arns and Lorscheider couldn't even have even remotely been called Marxists. Now, Ernesto Cardenal, Miguel Miguel D'Escoto and some of those guys who actually served in the Sandinista government, I'd have to say yes, there was smoke and fire there. As far as I know, Miguel D'Escoto always preached non-violence, but Ernesto Cardenal did not, and Daniel Berrigan took Cardenal to the woodshed over that.

As for guys like Sobrino, Boff, and Gutierrez, I think they used Marxist dialectic, like many theologians do when they borrow dialectic from various political and philosophical systems, but I think it was a mistake for them to do so with Marxism, because their enemies were so easily able to brand them with it. As you say, the choices in Latin America have been limited. You can almost see why, with the latifundist proto-capitalism and the colonial exploitive capitalism they've seen... they really might have seen no other alternative.

I guess I don't like seeing clergymen actually holding political ofice, like Cardenal and D'Escoto did in Nicaragua, and even like Robert Drinan did in the US Congress. I think the liberationists do better when they inspire laypeople in their base communities to reflect upon the Gospels and to take action on their own to put it into practice, in both the personal and political spheres.

I didn't even realize there was a men's part of Wellesley. My God. Everything changes. Next you'll be telling they let blacks and Jews in.

On that last part, you're thinking of the Country Club. ;-) As for the first part, there are still no men attending Wellesley. The football reference was to my son's AYF football team (that's like Pop Warner). As for my references to the college, when I used to go over there back in the day, it wasn't to attend classes.

cowboyangel said...

You're right, I was sloppy with my comment about Marxists and Liberation Theology. I knew more about Nicaragua and was thinking more of that, when, in reality, there were/are differences in each environment. Lo siento mucho.

I wish I could say the Church's response to Liberation Theology in Latin America was different in each environment, but I'm not sure that's true. Have you followed much what's gone on in Mexico since the Zapatistas made their public debut in 1994? My father has kept me informed about a lot of the Church's decisions since Ruiz retired. I was so impressed when we went down there in 1997 and when I attended the Zapatista Encuentro in Spain the same year to see the religious & spiritual aspects of the movement. I think Ruiz and the local church had a lot of influence. But later, the higher-ups didn't seem to like much what was going and made their appropriate appointments. I've often wondered how that's affected the Zapatistas from a Catholic standpoint. They were an interesting mix of things politically, culturally and spiritually. Instead of embracing that, and the positive changes (not so ideologically Marxist, more accepting of Catholicism, etc.), the Church seemed to want to distance itself. So where do those people go now?

when I used to go over there back in the day, it wasn't to attend classes.

You dog. I knew you had a bit of dog in you.

Jeff said...


I had heard a bit about the Ruiz situation, and I've appreciated learning a bit more about it from your experience and what you have told us about Chiapas. Where do they turn now? I don't know. That's a really good question. Where do people turn when all the institutions that have asked for their trust in the past have wound up letting them down.

As for my doggish ways, nah not really, I'm just kidding around. :-) I had one very serious girlfriend. These days, this is my major Wellesley interest.

Anonymous said...

Amen brother. It is so sad seeing Mugabe and all these other dictators, who spout a little marxist rhetoric and then get endorsed by the left leaning powers that be. They always end up morphing citizen eating into monsters.