Speaking against Pope John Paul II years ago, Father Ernesto Cardenal, former Sandinista Minister of Culture, said, “I am a Marxist who believes in God, follows Christ and is a revolutionary for the sake of the kingdom.”  The merging of antagonistic comprehensive systems of thought is common among liberation theologians who do not realize the ideological clash. In effect, they see only in “revolutionary praxis” the crux of the Christian message.

Whether they are openly Marxist or simply adherents to one or another form of Marxist analysis by another name, they are seemly unaware of the Faustian bargain they have chosen. Their oblivion is facilitated by the reality that many Liberation Theology advocates actually reject certain aspects of Marxism such as its materialism and  atheism. They, however, affirm foundational pieces of the Marxist dogma such as class (or race or gender) struggle, the revolutionary commitment by all means necessary, a hatred of private property, and a commitment to some kind of equalization through the redistribution of wealth.

Yes, we must be careful in our analysis, as many Liberation theologians do not advocate violence or hatred and their strong critique of the Capitalist system can lend us to lump them together as Marxist when they may be proposing a sort of socialism of a different nature. Yet, they are certainly facilitators of the incremental movement toward Marxism and useful innocents who benefit the strategies of Marxists woven into the fabric of movements. Even a level headed defender of Latin American Liberation Theology against accusations of Marxism such as Arthur F. McGovern had to admit that “one could hardly analyze the problems of Latin America without at least implicit use of Marxist ideas.”[1]

As the notion of grievance against “oppressors” energizes the heart of Liberation Theology, it is not difficult to see how movements that emerge under the rubric tend to radicalize rapidly. Marxism seems to remain as the oil that greases and thrusts ahead Liberation Theology even as it intellectually attempts to establish a difference. Marxist revolutionary praxis becomes the categorical storm sweeping over schemes of contrast.

It is interesting how a theory supposedly built on praxis is energized first and foremost by the utopian sensibility. Although it offers experience as a teacher, in effect the theory shows us how to hammer a notion into reality. Popular fronts motivated by Liberation Theology often start as freewheeling environments where everyone is called to participate and where Christian love for the poor is offered as the cure all only to end up in anarchic movements of strong categorical options: us against them and we need to destroy them.

Invariably, those who are to be destroyed are Capitalists. They may be white people oppressing “people of color” or “white males” oppressing women but in the end, Liberation Theologies of every sort are profoundly anti-capitalist.  In the end, all Liberation Theologies reduce Christianity to one or another category of struggle, ending inevitably linking Marx to Christ. They hopelessly attempt to Christianize Marx by unplugging some feathers from the bird of the dialectic but Marxist conclusions survive the effort. The children of the light are often defeated by the offspring of darkness if we offer them an opening.

One generation of Liberation Theologians may try to write books about Christian praxis with Marxist undertones but the next generation inevitably draw conclusions that reject certain Christian principles in favor of the revolutionary Marxist praxis kept alive and offering immediate solutions to the problem at hand: them. The next generation, in the end, will look at the first as “soft” and end up despising them for a lack of radical commitment. Love your enemies is not going to keep “popular fronts” alive.

Che Guevara spoke of love as a wonderful thing. “Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” A Liberation Theologian devising theories can draw from the apparent agreement between the modern revolutionary and Christ. The arm-chair theologians writing books may try to stress the apparent linkage. But it is the real Guevara, the praxis-driven Guevara thew one that, in the end, defines Liberation Theology:

“Hatred is an element of struggle; relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms us into effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machines. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.”

 

 

 


[1] Cited in Michael Novak, Will It Liberate? (New York: Paulist Press, 1986) p. 23.

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