Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Obviously, Liberation Theology's social science has changed over the years. No more Marxist analysis. This is obviously a good thing, but I don't think jettisoning Marxist frameworks fundamentally changes the substance or significance of Liberation Theology. Marxism was never really essential to Liberation Theology, conservative critics notwithstanding. Liberation Theology is fundamentally a methodology: doing theology in light of concrete work with and on behalf of the poor. As long as theologians continue to engage in this reflection in light of liberating praxis, they will continue to produce theology that challenges the priorities of the institutional Church, which is committed to (and organized around) a fundamentally different model. This will inevitably lead to tension, and at times even conflict. But this tension can be a positive thing, and, at the end of the day, I think there's room for both models.
Prof. Penalver just doesn't get it. Christianity is not about the free flow of theological models. Models packaged as "alternative" or anything separate from orthodoxy are always doomed from the getgo because their foundation is not Christ of the Apostles but some imagined Christ of the philosophers, in this case, those who believe the world to be ontologically divided between rich and poor. They insist that orthodoxy conservatively privileges the rich. But Christianity has never reduced poverty and injustice to materialist categories (which is the Marxist and capitalist sine qua non, so sorry, liberation theology is still Marxist at its core).

It's always telling to me when dissenters simply skip over orthodoxy and glom onto some hip new "prophetic" "model." Because if Catholic orthodoxy does not stand for a true justice and liberation, distinct from but encompassing secular categories, why bother with Catholicism at all? Here's the simplest example of liberation theology's folly: to its advocates, if you reject liberation theology, you're automatically anti-poor. It's neat and simple, but ridiculous. It never enters their mind that orthodoxy might be more pro-poor and that it might have something precious to say about our failures and sins against the poor, just not the way liberation theology childishly may want it.