Liberation Theology and Pope Francis

I have come across a couple of interesting articles on Liberation Theology and Pope Francis that you might find interesting as well.

Here’s the latest from Sandro Magister:

Müller’s positive judgment on liberation theology – read through the lens of Gutiérrez – can be grasped from the very first lines of the page of the book reproduced further below:

“The ecclesial and theological movement of Latin America, known as liberation theology and which after Vatican II found a worldwide echo, is to be numbered, in my judgment, among the most significant currents of Catholic theology of the 20th century.”

Further on he maintains:

“It is only by means of liberation theology that Catholic theology has been able to emancipate itself from the dualistic dilemma of the here and now and the afterlife, of earthly happiness and ultra-earthly salvation.”

The expression of Pope Francis: “I dream of a Church that is poor and for the poor” has been taken by many as the crowning of this absolution of liberation theology.

But it would be naïve to consider the controversy closed.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio has never concealed his disagreement with essential aspects of this theology.

His theologians of reference have never been Gutiérrez, nor Leonardo Boff, nor Jon Sobrino, but the Argentine Juan Carlos Scannone, who had elaborated a theology not of liberation but “of the people,” focused on the culture and religious sensibility of the common people, of the poor in the first place, with their traditional spirituality and their sensitivity to justice.

In 2005 – when the book by Müller and Gutiérrez had already been released in Germany – the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires wrote:

“After the collapse of the totalitarian empire of ‘real socialism,’ these currents of thought were thrown into disarray. Incapable of either radical reformulation or new creativity, they survived by inertia, even if there are still some today who anachronistically would like to re-propose it.”

And Father Z has a most interesting look at new book about Jorge Mario Bergoglio that puts him in the Liberation Theology camp.  Father Z is not so sure!

However, over all the book seems to be more than just a biography.  Vallely is ideological.  He is trying to influence the course of events within the Church, not just report them.  So, he is firmly MSM.  He is assistant editor of The Independent, on the board of The Tablet, is involved in CAFOD.  For information on what happened in the conclave he seems to have relied on Card. Murphy O’Connor.  Though Valley doesn’t quote him directly about the internal dealings of the conclave that elected Francis, the Cardinal is quoted directly several times in that chapter.  Valley relies on Timothy Radcliff, OP, to interpret Francis. The final quote, sentence, of the text is from Leonardo Boff.

In fact, the book is an apologia for diminishing the role of the Roman Curia and the defusing of authority to bishop’s conferences and the Synod of Bishops, for liturgy based on the lowest common denominator, for eliminating everything Benedict XVI did, and, above all, for the rehabilitation of Liberation Theology.

For Vallely, Francis, over many years, finally converted from his rigid, authoritarian ways and his unjust suspicion of Liberation Theology to humility and, therefore, enlightened and wise acceptance of Liberation Theology.

 

Read them all and the most interesting comments section on Father Z’s blog.  He has a lengthy excerpt from the book which he fisks in his usual fashion.

So —is Liberation Theology merely Catholic Social Doctrine without the Marxism?

One of the big things I find is often forgotten by those who purport to represent Catholic Social Doctrine in the public square is the principle of subsidiarity, which is really an argument for limited overall state government, stronger local municipalities and for strong intervening institutions such as families, churches, unions, charities, clubs, and the  like.  Instead, I find the proponents stressing solidarity alone through the advocacy of big statist, redistribution of wealth schemes that contribute to the breakdown of subsidiarity.

Your thoughts?

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20 Responses to Liberation Theology and Pope Francis

  1. EPMS says:

    References to subsidiarity and the rejection of “collectivism” in the Catechism seem to be a nod in the direction of relevant encyclicals by Leo XIII and Pius XI without any real indication of what these terms require the faithful to believe or do. The dealings of the latter pope with the political systems of his day– monarchist, fascist, democratic, communistic–make it clear that he felt no temporal system inherently reflected Christian values, which must seek free expression within every form of political arrangement.

    • Stephen K says:

      Indeed, EPMS. And it is important not to translate “subsidiarity” as “small and local” but rather a principle based on the idea that things should be done at the level at which they are most effective: in some cases that may well be small and local, at others, at the level of the state. The principle underlying state socialism is that left to individual choice, even that form of justice called ‘charity’ will be hit-and-miss and overwhelmed by the instincts for personal self-interest. There is nothing inherently wrong with legislating public goods and obligations at the state level – many public provisions would simply not happen if left solely to a few high-minded philanthropists. It is largely for that reason that ‘social justice’ advocates generally emphasize collective action at a higher level.

      To my mind, “Rerum Novarum” is not the most significant statement of the Roman Catholic Church. It is to my reading quite a compromising, even timorous document, aimed principally at combatting an end of century momentum attracted to and energised by Marxist theory and grass-roots communist agitation and reversing some of the alienation from the Church. Leo XIII was, when all is said and done, a product of his own class and formation. It did not contemplate any real disturbance to the long-standing power and productive property equations. To my reading, “Gaudium et Spes” and “Populorum Progressio” are more robust attempts to re-align Gospel values with the problem of social injustice and poverty.

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  3. Matthew the Wayfarer says:

    I am neither enamored with nor trusting of this new Pope. I hope I am totally wrong but if he turns out to be the False Prophet of the Book of Apocalypse I will not be surprised.

  4. EPMS says:

    Oh dear. Will he be working with the beast with seven heads and ten horns? Any insights on his identity?

  5. Rev22:17 says:

    Deborah,

    You asked: So —is Liberation Theology merely Catholic Social Doctrine without the Marxism?

    No. Rather, the heresy known as “Liberation Theology” is overt Marxism wrapped in a gross distortion of the gospel that portrays Christ as the great liberator. It is neither Christian nor Catholic in any sense of the word. The magisterium of the Catholic Church has been consistent in its explicit rejection of “Liberation Theology” for over three decades now. Here is a sample of official documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the subject.

    >> Notification on the works of Father Jon SOBRINO, SJ, 26 November 2006

    >> Notification concerning the text Mary and Human Liberation by Father Tissa Balasuriya, 02 January 1997

    >> Instruction Libertatis conscientia on Christian Freedom and Liberation, 22 March 1986

    >> Notification on the Book “Church: Charism and Power. Essay on Militant Ecclesiology” by Father Leonardo Boff, O.F.M., 11 March 1985

    >> Instruction Libertatis nuntius on certain aspects of the “Theology of Liberation,” 06 August 1984

    The church’s condemnation of so-called “Liberation Theology” is a settled matter.

    Here, however, we must be clear that rejection of the heresy known as “Liberation Theology” is NOT a rejection of the legitimate cause of the poor. Rather, we, who are the church, have a fundamental obligation to be responsive to the needs of all, and most especially of those who, through no fault of their own, lack the means to provide for their own needs. By all reports that I have seen, the Cardinal Broglio was noted for reaching out to the poor in his former positions while rejecting “Liberation Theology” and all of its errors, and he rightfully continues to do so as Pope Francis.

    Norm.

    • Stephen K says:

      I’m disappointed, Norm, that you should rely on the linked notifications by the CDF to dismiss Liberation Theology as a heresy. Note, I do not have a problem with you suggesting to Deborah that LT is heresy, but rather that you rely on ‘an appeal to authority’. I would have thought you could have attempted an analysis of the theology yourself.

      Let me comment briefly on two distinct aspects. Firstly, at the heart of much LT is the proposition that the mission of the Church is to be conceived of, not in terms of a privatised conformity to a set of dogmas about a God who became Man, but in terms of a collectivised or structural action that brings about a kingdom of justice. It is at heart anti-establishmentarian. It is also modernist in character and is founded ultimately on the view that it is either delusory or irrelevant to prioritise Christianity in terms of piety rather than material justice. It argues that, all things being equal, food and shelter and dignity trump prayers and sanctimony. If it accepts the ‘supernatural’ it does so because it is simply a dimension of the ‘natural’. A full belly is more important than a stained glass window. Therein lies the “heresy”. The reason why LT took off in Latin America is because there the clerical church was part of or deeply and widely compromised by an oppressive political establishment. Thus its sacramentality was prostituted in the eyes of those heeding the call to succour the weak in real and not simply metaphysical terms.

      You should not be surprised, Norm, that this was so, or came about in this way: the church – understood broadly – has always contained a diversity of political and economic interests, and the clerical caste has often at the lower levels involved itself in grass-roots issues, and the upper levels have often aligned themselves or been indistinguishable from the establishment. It is one reason why the church keeps throwing up potential heretics or eccentrics like monastic orders and mendicants. In Latin America, something more radical, more urgent, was thought necessary.

      There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Marxism. The Marxist analysis of social and economic relations has never been proven wrong as such. People often confuse theoretical Marxism with applied Stalinism. It was the initial successes of communist movements directly challenging the influence of the Church that put the wind up the ecclesiastical powers. The Church, allied with and populated by propertied, capitalised classes, feared the loss of control as much as condemned the violence with which revolutions and work wars disturbed the status quo.

      Christianity is not an easy religion. At its core is a mighty tension: the sayings of Jesus, reported in the Gospels, say some counter-intuitive as well as apparently contradictory things and no-one seems to have been able to embrace them all at the same time. The Church seems to have said lots about all of them without solving what everyone thinks might be the problems. It may be true that the concept of Jesus held by LT proponents is not “orthodox”. They may therefore be “heretics”. But what might be some of their opponents: “collaborators in injustice”?

      This brings me to my second point: the value of heresy. Literally, heresy is simply that held by “others”; the “different” view. The Church – i.e. the people of God – needs heresy, in my view, because it needs to constantly check that it (they) is not corrupting itself, or so that it (they) might better articulate its faith. But the important thing is also that heresy does not mean necessarily “falsehood”. It may often be the truth that we have not yet perceived or discerned, and I think the Church dismisses radical ideas at its peril. Make no mistake, LT was radical in proposing direct action at the root to break the established paradigm of societal equity and it was this, and the empowerment of the demos that most struck fear into the hearts of authorities.

      Deborah, just because the CDF has a view about LT, this should not cause you not to read the sources directly yourself, and form your own view about its aims or vocabulary.

      • Rev22:17 says:

        Stephen,

        You wrote: I’m disappointed, Norm, that you should rely on the linked notifications by the CDF to dismiss Liberation Theology as a heresy.

        Ah, this charge is not accurate.

        I first studied so-called “Liberation Theology” (and also so-called “Feminist Theology,” which is another heresy) in a course called “Currents in Contemporary Christology” in 1985. During that course, we read and analyzed the writings of several proponents of so-called “Liberation Theology” including Sobrino and Boff. At the time, I concluded that it was heretical with no knowledge whatsoever of the instruction Libertatis nuntius on the subject. The following sentences of the previous post summarized my analysis.

        Rather, the heresy known as “Liberation Theology” is overt Marxism wrapped in a gross distortion of the gospel that portrays Christ as the great liberator. It is neither Christian nor Catholic in any sense of the word.

        You wrote: It is at heart anti-establishmentarian. It is also modernist in character and is founded ultimately on the view that it is either delusory or irrelevant to prioritise Christianity in terms of piety rather than material justice. It argues that, all things being equal, food and shelter and dignity trump prayers and sanctimony. If it accepts the ‘supernatural’ it does so because it is simply a dimension of the ‘natural’. A full belly is more important than a stained glass window. Therein lies the “heresy”.

        Rather, so-called “Liberation Theology” calls for overt revolution and redistribution of wealth, essentially replacing the government with a Marxist state.

        You wrote: The reason why LT took off in Latin America is because there the clerical church was part of or deeply and widely compromised by an oppressive political establishment.

        Rather, the popularity was because the proponents promised better times to the multitudes living in dire poverty through forced redistribution of wealth, offering a ray of hope for a better life, coupled with the fact that many of the clergy who served those in such dire straights proposed and pushed it in a culture where the clergy were the only people with education and thus the natural leaders.

        You wrote: There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Marxism. The Marxist analysis of social and economic relations has never been proven wrong as such.

        That is not at all accurate. Rather, Marxism is fundamentally contrary to Christian teaching because it proposes to seize the land and material possessions of those who have to redistributed them to those who have not. The problem here is that true love — charity — is given freely, and not taken involuntarily. In fact, there’s a name for “forced love.” It’s called rape — and seizing possessions not given freely to redistribute them is absolutely the moral equivalent.

        Forget Stalinism. The plain fact is that no Marxist economy has ever succeeded because Marxism takes away all of the incentive to work, and thus consigns the whole of the society to abject poverty. The only real solution is a government that fosters opportunity for real economic growth. In the economic world, human labor is a commodity capable of producing wealth. When the economy flourishes, human labor is in demand and wages rise, providing meaningful economic opportunities that create a real middle class, eventually eliminating poverty completely.

        You wrote: But what might be some of their opponents: “collaborators in injustice”?

        Rather, the advocates of Liberation Theology are themselves the proponents of injustice because they propose to seize what is not theirs and to give it to others.

        You wrote: This brings me to my second point: the value of heresy. Literally, heresy is simply that held by “others”; the “different” view.

        Rather, the term “heresy” means overt error about an essential element of Christian faith — in the case of Liberation Theology, the persona of Jesus. Heresy is one of the three egregious sins against the unity of the church, the other two being schism and apostasy.

        And actually, in raising this point, you have given me pause to reconsider. I’m now pondering if Liberation Theology actually is apostate — that is, a distortion of Jesus so egregious as to constitute an abandonment of true Christian faith — rather than simply heretical (that is, rooted in egregious error).

        Norm.

      • Stephen K says:

        Thank you, Norm, for your responses. I must do the gracious thing here and concede you correct my more sweeping assertions. I should clarify at the outset that, considering the thoroughness of the rest of your postings, I did not personally doubt you would have been able to rely – perhaps an infelicitous choice of word on my part – on your own studies and analysis of LT, as you clearly can and have done; and my disappointment was grounded rather in not being able to read your own exposition rather than links to CDF, and in my immediate thought that Deborah’s question solicited more personal responses. But, as I realise upon reflection it might very properly be put, a referral to authorities can be no less personal than any other response or argument. In any case you have now remedied that expectation of mine considerably through your response to me, and I have no complaint.

        On the subject of the problems that gave rise to LT and of solutions that LT may lead to, I won’t press the Marxist programme far because I realise the violence necessary for a true class revolution is generally antithetical to a Christian ethos and mentality. But that is the problem of violence in general and not the problem of the analysis of urgent issues in economic relations. Private ownership of the means of production is not an absolute right or good, even in Catholic thinking, and in my view the question of expropriation is not intrinsically anti-Christian. You sound absolutely right in suggesting love is a thing that by definition is unforced, freely given, but Christian love is not severable from Christian justice and the argument is over how a Christian society can succeed in applying both at once. The challenge is harder when the particular society may not even care whether it is Christian or not. Intermittent private charity may give a warm inner glow but gravely inequitable societies and the conditions in them may only be able to be addressed in larger terms. I think this is borne out in history.

        On the subject of heresy, I see Grahame says that it largely consists in an imbalance of ideas and a distortion of truth. Heresy, by whomsoever so pronounced, always seems to arise in reaction to another system or idea. A dialectic seems indicated. My point would be that at the very least one should attempt to discern the truth within and behind it. Understanding can always grow and right action always improved.

      • Rev22:17 says:

        Stephen,

        You wrote: I must do the gracious thing here and concede you correct my more sweeping assertions. I should clarify at the outset that, considering the thoroughness of the rest of your postings, I did not personally doubt you would have been able to rely – perhaps an infelicitous choice of word on my part – on your own studies and analysis of LT, as you clearly can and have done; and my disappointment was grounded rather in not being able to read your own exposition rather than links to CDF, and in my immediate thought that Deborah’s question solicited more personal responses. But, as I realise upon reflection it might very properly be put, a referral to authorities can be no less personal than any other response or argument. In any case you have now remedied that expectation of mine considerably through your response to me, and I have no complaint.

        No problem.

        You wrote: You sound absolutely right in suggesting love is a thing that by definition is unforced, freely given, but Christian love is not severable from Christian justice and the argument is over how a Christian society can succeed in applying both at once.

        That’s a contradiction. Where there’s enforcement, there is no love.

        But the real error in your position seems to be a mistaken assumption that Christian justice somehow demands redistribution of wealth. It does not. In fact, to the contrary, the scriptures state quite clearly that the worker deserves his or her wages (Luke 10:7, I Timothy 5:18) — which means that one cannot take wealth from those who have earned it justly. Rather, a just state can seize wealth only if it is proven, through a juridic process, that there was some injustice in its accumulation, and then only to the extent necessary to correct the specific injustice. The fact that there are “haves” and “have-nots” in a society is not prima facie evidence of injustice.

        You wrote: Intermittent private charity may give a warm inner glow but gravely inequitable societies and the conditions in them may only be able to be addressed in larger terms.

        The fallacy here is that private charity is somehow intermittent. The legacy of private charity here in the States shows it to be, overall, a continuous outpouring of effective assistance to those truly in need, in contrast with the present welfare state that ensnares many people in a cycle of perpetual dependence on government largesse that discourages realization of their potential and thus deprives them of the self-actualization attained through self-sufficiency. Here, again, the legacy of the magisterium is clear and longstanding. The encyclical Pacem in terries by Pope John XXIII summarizes it well.

        18. In the economic sphere, it is evident that a man has the inherent right not only to be given the opportunity to work, but also to be allowed the exercise of personal initiative in the work he does.

        19. The conditions in which a man works form a necessary corollary to these rights. They must not be such as to weaken his physical or moral fibre, or militate against the proper development of adolescents to manhood. Women must be accorded such conditions of work as are consistent with their needs and responsibilities as wives and mothers.

        20. A further consequence of man’s personal dignity is his right to engage in economic activities suited to his degree of responsibility. The worker is likewise entitled to a wage that is determined in accordance with the precepts of justice. This needs stressing. The amount a worker receives must be sufficient, in proportion to available funds, to allow him and his family a standard of living consistent with human dignity. Pope Pius XII expressed it in these terms:

        “Nature imposes work upon man as a duty, and man has the corresponding natural right to demand that the work he does shall provide him with the means of livelihood for himself and his children. Such is nature’s categorical imperative for the preservation of man.”

        21. As a further consequence of man’s nature, he has the right to the private ownership of property, including that of productive goods. This, as We have said elsewhere, is “a right which constitutes so efficacious a means of asserting one’s personality and exercising responsibility in every field, and an element of solidity and security for family life, and of greater peace and prosperity in the State.”

        22. Finally, it is opportune to point out that the right to own private property entails a social obligation as well.

        However, one cannot expect a business to hire workers beyond its need for production. Thus, the demand of justice is for a government to foster conditions that stimulate economic activity, and thus create demand for labor, rather than conditions that suppress economic activity and opportunities for gainful employment.

        The encyclical Mater et magistra by the same pope traces the history of this teaching, beginning with the encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII.

        You wrote: My point would be that at the very least one should attempt to discern the truth within and behind it.

        The problem here is that heresy is not about truth, but rather about rejection of essential truth. The heresy known as Arianism, for example, is not an assertion of the humanity of Jesus, but rather a denial of his divinity.

        Norm.

      • Stephen K says:

        Norm, I am happy you should have a last word, but I first wish to make a couple of concluding corrective comments of my own. You’ve characterised my position as being based on a “mistaken assumption” that Christian justice demands redistribution of wealth. I can’t agree that (1) it’s a “mistaken” assumption or (2) anything I said would amount to a position that readers might possibly infer either (a) that all wealth should be redistributed or (b) that wealth should be redistributed in all circumstances. An assumption that Christian justice may demand redistribution of wealth is implicitly founded on and derived from several evangelical concepts, recognition of need, not idolising one’s possessions, and the equal and universal love of God for all, as well as the example of Acts 4:32.

        You’ve quoted from Mater et Magistra. I don’t want to get into a game of Papal Poker with you, Norm, but the same encyclical also qualifies the right of private ownership by the insistent invitation to the rich “to convert their material goods into spiritual ones by conferring them on the poor” (121). It qualifies the right to private ownership of the means of production by reiterating “the lawfulness of State and public ownership of productive goods, especially those which carry with them a power too great to be left to private individuals without injury to the community at large” (116). It insists that ownership of productive goods must be exercised also for the benefit of others and that the State, serving the common good, must involve itself in economic matters and carry out its duty to protect the rights of all, particularly of its weaker members (20). John cites Pius XI’s condemnation of the inhuman and unjust way the wage system was so often implemented (31) and that he “saw the reinstatement of the economic word in the moral order and the subordination of individual and group interests to the interests of the common good as the principal remedies for these evils” (i.e. the great accumulation of wealth concentrated (in) a despotic economic power) (37).

        These principles and observations are also reflected in Gaudium et Spes (67-72). Whilst reiterating the responsibility that accompanies a right to personal ownership, it enjoins both “individuals and governments (to) undertake a genuine sharing of their goods” (69). It prescribes the distribution of goods for the employment “and sufficient income of people” (70) and accepts that the common good may in circumstances require expropriation, in equity (71).

        Now, it is clear to me, Norm, that what you and I would call private charity is certainly an evangelical imperative, and I did not mean to deny or imply that it is. (I used the word “intermittent” but I meant something less than universal or structural.) My disagreement was over the idea that it is always and everywhere sufficient. I don’t think it is and that that is why state welfare and state-subsidised economic and social programs are instituted. Moreover, to reject the notion of wealth redistribution as intrinsically anti-Christian or anti-justice would probably be to reject the notion of taxation which is a universal and common mechanism for the redistribution of wealth. (There may be argument over the form of taxation though I would say that progressive forms are more reflective of the concept of need and capacity and more observing of the moral as well as material goods of equal dignity than regressive ones.)

        We may both agree that it is not material inequality itself that is prima facie evidence of injustice; a lot will depend on the causes and the character of the condition that is less. The difference between a merchant banker and a Texan oil baron is neither here nor there, but the difference between a sweatshop seamstress and the owner may well be. I will conclude by restating the principle by asserting that a starving man, woman or child has a right to take a meal of carrots (no less but more than, a rabbit) from Farmer Macgregor’s garden without his permission were he to withhold it.

  6. grahame says:

    The root of the word ‘heresy’ is ‘to choose’ and that is what heresy is: picking one truth to the exclusion of other truths. As an example, the Monophysites focused on the the truth of Christ’s divinity but neglected the truth of His humanity. Seen in this sense perhaps LT can be viewed as an imbalanced attempt at addressing the importance of Church leaders not becoming too closely allied with ruling elites.

  7. Kerberos says:

    My thoughts ? Like – I suppose, perhaps mistakenly – a lot of other people who have heard that the present Pope has affirmed the need for some kind of Liberation Theology (with or without the capitals), I would like to know what the facts of the matter are. They seem to vary, according as one reads sources with one set of sympathies, or another, quite different, set of sympathies. It’s almost as though commentators re-made the Pope & his opinions & actions, real and alleged, in their own image. Result ? the facts become ever harder to discover.

    My own POV: the Mother of the God might not be a Marxist, and the Kingdom of God might not be an ideology to replace all other ideologies, and the Son of Gof might not be a campesino with an Armalite, and the dirt-poor are not constituted the inheritors of the Kingdom by the mere fact of being dirt-poor – but those exaggerations are no more wrong than the opposite errors that try to make Christ into the Divine Guiarantor & Guarantee of the Right-eousness of all too human political regimes on the political Right (however so defined). The two idols are equally idols.

    And if the Gospel is not allowed to disrupt the Church, then it has ceased to be the Gospel. If it the Gospel of God, it will have Divine Power to condemn all mankind for coming short of the Glory of God – it must have God’s power to condemn, if it is to have God’s Power to save. It is not an ideology, but a rebuke to ideology to the Towers of Babel of ideology by which sinful man attempts to bring God’s Kingdom to earth by his own strength. And the CC is as liable to this temptation as is Marxism; if we think otherwise, we only make our committing of this sin all the more likely.

    • EPMS says:

      A very thought-provoking posting. Thank you for taking the time to share your views. Too often those already of like mind exchange code phrases and “ain’t it awful” staements which do not advance the search for deeper truth.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Kerberos,

      You wrote: Like – I suppose, perhaps mistakenly – a lot of other people who have heard that the present Pope has affirmed the need for some kind of Liberation Theology (with or without the capitals), I would like to know what the facts of the matter are.

      The actual news reports that I have seen have stated that the present pope consistently confronted those who advocated “Liberation Theology” in his diocese, but that he consistently acted to provide a legitimate option for the poor and to advocate for their legitimate cause.

      There is no need for a theology of liberation. The true theology of the church, however, always requires that there be an option that serves the needs of the poor, the disabled, and others who cannot serve their own needs, most especially in the sacraments and in spiritual formation and education, but also in the provision of needed social services.

      Of course, it is easy to forget this, especially in affluent communities.

      Norm.

  8. shiloh says:

    “the true theology of the church, however, always requires that there be an option that serves the needs of the poor, the disabled and others who cannot serve their own needs.”
    In my own experience both as a recipient of needed social services and as a donor of same, the level of service is always just enough to keep you enslaved in the poverty cycle.

    • Stephen K says:

      Dear Shiloh, the immediate response to your post is “ouch!” Platitudes never fill empty bellies, true. But a platitude can be a truth that has simply lost meaning for the speaker. It doesn’t mean there is not some truth in it. In Norm’s lips, what he says would hardly be a platitude, because by his posts everywhere he shows himself, in my view, to be a careful and thoughtful and informed Christian.

      Norm and I might just possibly vote for different political parties, of course, but what he is alluding to, quite correctly, is an inherent tension within the Christian faith and ethos: the tension between a real concern for practical justice and the idea that Jesus mentions in various ways, that the kingdom of God is not to be understood in terms of our usual or customary definitions. In other words, whatever you think is good may not be if it involves selfish ego; whatever you think is virtuous may not be if it involves self-congratulation; whatever you think is God’s blessing may not be if it involves resultant injustice. Christianity, in the true sense, is very counter-cultural, and very counter-intuitive. Thus, the demand for material equity and equality are vital but God and the love of neighbour is somehow beyond all material paramountcy. We must not give a stone where bread is required but we have to understand this.

      Because I think that this tension is inescapable, and because I think that the balance that Christianity requires is quite elusive, I don’t think most of us get it right and that grace is somehow essential. I think most of us fail the love of neighbour test. I think that the only way to somehow get near the ideal, on an individual basis, is to deal with things case-by-case; i.e. how do I respond to this situation today? That situation tomorrow?

      I understand what comes across as your bitterness and cynicism. In a practical situation I wrestle with how to best support my children (now adult), others, causes, needs and my own moral self-interest. I think, extrapolating from myself and my habitual tendency, that it is an undeniable fact that many Christians, believing they are doing their best, only conceive of social justice as giving of their surplus. That surplus is often a reductive calculation because our needs and wants and justifications are seemingly endless.

      Catholic social justice teaching is largely about protecting the needs of the individual good under the umbrella of the notion of the common good. [An excellent reference is “The Person and The Group” by John Thornhill SM (Bruce, Milwaukee) (1967)] But it is always difficult to define the upper limits of the individual good that is consonant with the “common” good. So we shouldn’t expect too much of the academics and theorists. On the ground, where the Salvation Army and the St Vincent de Paul operate, the common good is not even considered, where a rent bill that will prevent eviction or a food relief that will feed a person for a couple of days without them getting sick is all that can be expected.

      I myself think, or conclude, that the Salvation Army and the SVdP model of justice is not enough – which is why I support a form of state socialism – but it is a true and authentic expression of what Jesus was talking about. I therefore think that the state is necessary to supply the deficiencies of private religious action, whether it is called charity or justice. I happen to think both require sharing out of the base, not merely of the surplus, but this is deeply difficult for all of us. There is some merit to the argument that surpluses are necessary for justice to be sustaining, but somehow……it always falls short. I keep thinking of the parable of the widow’s mite.

      I think the poverty cycle is pernicious, and the lot of most people is to try to keep one step ahead of it. One could be forgiven that for thinking that the middle class may be defined as the class of people who have just enough money and just enough prospects to wish to defend it against all expropriation or to worry about whether their precarious safety margin will suddenly evaporate. The poor just feel angry and exhausted and the aristocracies (of whatever species) feel there is no problem!

      There is something obscene about theological theorising in the midst of hungry, but action follows thought and language, and if educated middle classes are good for nothing else, it is from them that change must come, and change will only come from articulation of the problem.

      I hope the merit of your post is properly considered by readers. Mine is simply my immediate personal response.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Stephen,

      You wrote: Dear Shiloh, the immediate response to your post is “ouch!” Platitudes never fill empty bellies, true. But a platitude can be a truth that has simply lost meaning for the speaker. It doesn’t mean there is not some truth in it. In Norm’s lips, what he says would hardly be a platitude, because by his posts everywhere he shows himself, in my view, to be a careful and thoughtful and informed Christian.

      Thank you for your kind words!

      You wrote: Thus, the demand for material equity and equality are vital but God and the love of neighbour is somehow beyond all material paramountcy.

      This is an interesting comment. In the passages of the gospel that talk about social welfare, I don’t see anything suggesting that there should be material equality. Rather, the gospels seem to say that there needs to be material sufficiency — that is, we have an obligation to meet the needs, as distinct from the wants, of those around us.

      You wrote: I therefore think that the state is necessary to supply the deficiencies of private religious action, whether it is called charity or justice.

      There certainly might be instances in which that is the case.

      That said, “shiloh” also has a very significant point about government programs that, in reality, enslave the “beneficiaries” in the largesse of the welfare state, typically through a combination of “all or nothing” policies with rigid income cutoffs and low cutoff thresholds that make it exceedingly difficult for “beneficiaries” to take entry positions and transition off of assistance as their earning power grows and partly through bureaucratic policies that tie job security and promotion for social workers to growth of the number of “beneficiaries,” thus providing incentive to keep as many “beneficiaries” on the dole for as long as possible. Ultimately, this causes the cost of such programs to become so bloated that the government can’t fulfill its other functions and that tax burden stifles the economy, causing a protracted severe recession, more economic pain for all, and even greater demand for benefits.

      You wrote: The poor just feel angry and exhausted and the aristocracies (of whatever species) feel there is no problem!

      Rather, the aristocracies figure out how to maneuver within the system to minimize their pain.

      When a millionaire’s taxes go up to the point that he can no longer afford a butler, it’s not the millionaire who suffers. It’s the former butler, now unemployed, and his family who suffer. Or, as Ronald Reagan once observed of those who advocate higher taxes on wealthy individuals to pay for such programs, “They aimed at the rich, and missed.”

      The best way to help the poor is, and will always be, an expanding economy that provides economic opportunity for all. Economic expansion brings lower unemployment and higher wages across all occupations as more and more businesses compete for the available talent. High taxes to pay for social welfare programs in fact suck capital out of an economy that would otherwise fund economic expansion, and thus ultimately hurt the poor — and create a lot more of them, too!

      Norm.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      shiloh,

      You wrote: In my own experience both as a recipient of needed social services and as a donor of same, the level of service is always just enough to keep you enslaved in the poverty cycle.

      It’s even more pernicious than that. Many social welfare programs are structured in a way that makes it impossible for “beneficiaries” to escape their grasp. There’s typically an “all or nothing” package of benefits coupled with a very low threshold of income for disqualification, with the consequence that taking an “entry level” position would leave a beneficiary without the means to support his or her dependents. A better system would phase out benefits at half the net (after tax) income level for any “beneficiary” who finds work, so that the “beneficiary” would come out ahead by taking an “entry level” position and would gain more with each promotion or advancement.

      There’s also a matter that social workers get ahead by growing their case loads, and move into supervisory positions when they grow a sufficient case load to require assistants to handle it all. This provides serious incentive for social workers to keep every “beneficiary” on the dole for as long as possible — which is NOT the sort of incentives that the system should provide.

      Norm.

  9. Brent P. says:

    I’m neither Catholic nor a Marxist. Actually, I’m a vehement anti-Marxist. But I have found the comments, especially the dialogue between Norm and Shiloh, most enlightening and edifying. I think I learned more from the comments here than I have from half the articles I’ve read regarding LT.

    BTW, The new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, is all down with LT.

    Brent

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