Analysis of A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation
The first part of the book by Gutierrez addresses the issue of what is meant by liberation (1). It begins with a discussion of theological reflection, and the assumption underlying this concept is that it arises spontaneously in the believer. Gutierrez then goes on to explain that the world has changed and is thus in need of a new perspective of theology. Social and cultural changes are used to rationalize the development and application of liberation theology (13). No discussion, however, is given of social and cultural changes throughout all human history or why these did not necessitate the need for liberation theology in the past. The book does show clearly the approach is rooted in Vatican II (6, 24, 31, 40, 65, 76, 79). It explains that the Church is now pivoting towards underdeveloped nations—like Latin America—which is where Gutierrez sees liberation theology being best applied.
The attitude of the author is that neo-colonialism has occurred and indigenous peoples have been marginalized and oppressed. Christians have been caught in the middle of changes and the Church, Gutierrez explains, is not in position to launch a new or fresh start (79). The issues that are to be addressed in these changing circumstances, according to the book, are those concerning the role of faith in the midst of alienation and injustice. The book, again, does not address the role of faith in centuries prior when alienation and injustice also occurred. What it suggests is that the situation is entirely new and that in Latin America an unprecedented situation has arisen.
What is new is that Gutierrez assumes that revolution against the oppressed and in favor of the oppressors is justified and that the Christian ought to see life in terms of the oppressed vs. the oppressors. In previous centuries when tyrants ruled, the belief was that Christ was king and that a Christian ought to be willing to die for his faith. In Gutierrez’s book, the implicit suggestion is that the kingship of Christ is not a going concern. What is a going concern is equality, liberty and fraternity—i.e., the ideals of the Revolution, and in Latin America society is divided on the issue of liberation (81).
Gutierrez posits that to know God is to do justice and that this point can be seen in Scripture (119). He then goes on to explain that faith and political action must be aligned (150). However, there is no discussion about what to do when those in politics do not have the faith at heart. Instead, what is implicitly suggested is that faith conform to political options. He asserts that faith and political action should dialogue with one another, as though faith had anything…free will, redemption, and ultimate union with God are issues that too often end up being neglected as social justice becomes the focus of liberation theology. What is worse is that the social justice is too often viewed from a secular rather than from a Christian perspective. A Christian perspective should be full, holistic, and spiritual as well as corporal. Liberation theology tends more towards corporal injustices and the rights of man, neglecting outright the rights of God in the process.
As Rogers notes, Gutierrez’s book focuses more on the problems in Latin America than elsewhere in the world and that is because Gutierrez is advancing a revolutionary doctrine. Liberation theology in Latin America was focused on politics and social equality; economics, poverty, socialism—all of these issues were taken up in the field of liberation theology, totally displacing traditional discussions of sin and the sacraments. Liberation theology advanced the revolutionary aims of Vatican II and Gutierrez’s book certainly helped in this sense.
The main problem of the book is that it seeks to change the Church into something it is not—a source of revolution modeled on the spirit of the French Revolution, wherein liberty, equality and fraternity are the guiding lights. It associates any social order in which inequality prevails with oppression and thus advocates for Marxism and communism without explicitly ever acknowledging it—even though he does recognize it as a class struggle…
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