I have become increasing curious about Liberation Theology. As I continue to become disillusioned by the state of politics in the U.S., including the politics of the Church (or certain prominent sections of the Church), and as I learn more about Latin America and its rich, but also violent, history, and as I have become increasingly curious about Saint Romero and the modern history of El Salvador, I find myself confronted with Liberation Theology. Can Liberation Theology teach us, perhaps even provide a way, for the Church seeking to follow Christ is a deeply broken and anti-Catholic world?
Almost immediately I find vociferous Liberation Theology antagonists. These are primarily conservative and/or traditionalist Catholics. Liberation Theology, they say, is merely Marxism dress up in some Catholic vestments. Ironically, while many of the conservative Catholics revere Saint John Paul II, it this quote from that dynamic and “muscular” anti-communist pope that sparks my interest:
Insofar as it strives to find those just answers – penetrated with understanding for the rich experience of the Church in this country, as effective and constructive as possible and at the same time consonant and consistent with the teachings of the Gospel, of the living and the everlasting Tradition Magisterium of the Church – we and you are convinced that liberation theology is not only timely but useful and necessary. It must constitute a new stage – in close connection with the previous ones – of that theological reflection initiated with the Apostolic Tradition and continued with the great Fathers and Doctors, with the ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium and, in more recent times, with the rich heritage of the Doctrine Church, expressed in documents ranging from Rerum Novarum to Laborem Exercens . ( Emphasis added. Full text here)
Is this not an endorsement of Liberation Theology? Those who say it is actually just Marxism with a Catholic veneer seem to lack understanding. Or do they? I’m still learning.
I am reading Gustavo Gutiérrez‘ excellent and classic work, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. In it I find an excellent explanation of the Catholic faith. Thus far I find no overt Marxist ideology (thus far) and, in fact, I find a challenge to such ideas. I ought to be clear at this point for the sake of honesty: I am not against all Marxist ideas, nor am I against all aspects of socialism. I am against all the evils done in the name, or using the name, of Marxism and socialism, just as in a similar way I am against all the evils done in the name of capitalism, republicanism, democracy, anarchy, fascism, and any other ideologies or systems of political and economic organization that men use against others. Men are wicked and they will wrap their intentions and deeds in whatever language is most convenient to “justify” their actions of power over others. Men will also quickly and effortlessly excuse evils done in the name of their own systems (those they accept) and their own cultures (those in which they were raised, or into which they were adopted, and in which they find acceptance). Thus, I am still cautious. I have studied the evils of man and the systems he builds. I am not yet convinced that socialism, and there are many versions and definitions of socialism, is or must be inherently evil, or must produce evil men. I am also not convince Liberation Theology is or must be fundamentally socialist, even if it informed by Marxist methods of social and political critique.
So I proceed with my research. I am curious.
Cardinal George was once asked about Liberation Theology and he gave a quick answer. It think his answer represents a kind of thoughtful middle ground that I feel I can get behind. However, I also wonder if he, and Cardinal Ratzinger whom he references, had an adequate understanding of Liberation Theology. Thus, I don’t completely buy into it, yet.
I do not think modern Americans (U.S. citizens) can quite fathom the context in which Liberation Theology developed. I certainly have never lived within a context like those in which Liberation Theology developed, arguably, out of necessity. In fact, U.S. citizens are rather notorious for having strange and perverted ideas about Latin American and its history, including U.S. foreign policy towards that Latin America, its governments, its resources and, more importantly, its people. We are also formed through decades of propaganda (for better or worse) to believe anything that is in any way associated with socialism or Marxism must be gravely and irredeemably evil. For most Americans this is an objective and unquestionable dogmatic truth. I am not convinced, but I am not wary either.
If we, for a moment, set aside the wrangling over theories, over political and economic systems, and about the examples of evil men, and simply consider what we Christians are called to do as we live out the Kingdom of God in tangible actions, we might find a calling to change the world. Pope Paul VI gave us some perspective in his encyclical Populorum progressio, an encyclical that informed Liberation Theology’s development, in which he wrote:
It is not just a question of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty. It is not just a question of fighting wretched conditions, though this is an urgent and necessary task. It involves building a human community where men can live truly human lives, free from discrimination on account of race, religion or nationality, free from servitude to other men or to natural forces which they cannot yet control satisfactorily. It involves building a human community where liberty is not an idle word, where the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table. [full text here]
Liberty must not be an idle word. Is that not the foundation of Liberation Theology? Of course, people will argue over that notorious and wonderful word: liberty.
But when politics and faith become entangled, it can be hard to know if one is talking about one or the other. And yet, how can the gospel not also be political? In God there is no separation, is there? In this world there is truth, there is heresy, there are lies, there is evil, and there is love. These things are present in all aspects of human life. Does not the gospel speak to all of that? Are not politics also under the reign of Christ? And what happens when we open our eyes beyond narrow, single-issue, lesser-of-two-evils, U.S. politics and begin to wonder if others, in others places also have eyes to see and hearts that long for justice? What do we do when they see things differently than we do and speak in foreign tongues and use words that frighten us and yet still call us brothers and sisters in Christ? What ought we to do then?
Still, the history of Liberation Theology and its proponents is interesting and, at times, perhaps troubling even for many in Latin America. But it is also fascinating. And there are, naturally, different perspectives.
This short Religion and Ethics piece gives a brief overview and some perspective, and not without moments that will give a traditionalist Catholic conniptions, make a conservative Catholic cringe, and make a liberal Catholic pause:
Is the Church today under Francis more attuned to Jesus? I don’t believe it is. But I also cannot buy in its entirety the critique of traditionalist Catholics (mostly Americans) who demonize Francis and the Church hierarchy today. There is so much that is bad, but there is so much that is good, and there is much good (I firmly believe) going on in the world beyond the horizon of American Catholics and their limited understandings and their historical prejudices. Perhaps that is where most of the good is happening.
One aspect of Liberation Theology, or at least as something clearly linked to it, is the fact of Catholic priests and bishops renouncing their vocations for political action in the name of Liberation Theology. For example, Fernando Lugo, who was a Catholic priest and bishop, then became president of Paraguay, gave up the priesthood for politics:
Lugo resigned his ordinary from the Diocese of San Pedro on 11 January 2005. He had requested laicization in order to run for office. However, the Holy See refused the request on the grounds that bishops could not undergo laicization, and also denied him the requested canonical permission to run for civil elected office. However, after Lugo won the presidential election, the Church granted his laicization on 30 June 2008. [from Wikipedia]
This bothers me a great deal. Why must they do this? I don’t know. Have they lost the faith, turned from God, or have they made the right choice? I have my opinions, but I’m holding off judgement until I know more. I first came across Lugo in Oliver Stone’s fascinating documentary film, South of the Border. I have a hard time faulting Lugo for making his decision, though i’m bothered by it. I am in no place to criticise him. I also sense that his position became somewhat untenable as he found himself between the Church that tends to side with those in power and Christ’s call to help the poor. And yet, I don’t like the decision he made and I am curious about his eternal destiny. What will Christ do with him and others like him?
Similarly, one of the more prominent theologians of the Liberation Theology movement is Leonardo Boff. Also a former priest and a sharp critic of the Church, he gave up the priesthood for social activism. This documentary gives a rather good picture of Boff and his views:
I am not sure what to do with this. Is Boff’s direction the right one? I’m inclined to think not, and I feel about him much as I feel about Fernando Lugo. And yet, I do agree with the general direction of some of his views, up to a point. I am also concerned about any movement where men give up the priesthood for the movement, or stop wearing traditional clerical clothing. However, I don’t know enough about Latin American history and culture to know the meaning of all that. I also think there is a generational element to it. Older, baby-boomer, 1960’s radicals might have thrown off their religious garb because that was the spirit of that age, whereas younger priests and religious today might insist on wearing more traditional religious clothing for, ironically, similar reasons. I can’t say, but it would make some sense to me. We are all far more children of the zeitgeist than any of us want to admit.
Still, I firmly believe that it’s all too easy to get pulled away from Christ and His kingdom by the enticements of the world and worldly politics, and thus lose one’s soul. I believe Liberation Theology is, at its heart, an attempt to avoid that, but clearly many questions still remain about many of its adherents. I am inclined to read some of Boff’s books eventually.
In summary, I know very little at this point, but I am inclined to believe Liberation Theology is a good thing and ought to be taken seriously, perhaps re-thought and re-addressed, by more Catholics. I also am beginning to think the Church (once again) dropped the ball in a big way by not more fully embracing it and thereby helping guide it rather than leave priests and faithful Catholics essentially on their own, sometimes feeling abandoned by the Church. This, I think, was a huge missed opportunity at a crucial time in Latin America. In a sense, I believe the Church “lost” Latin America, in a sense, because of this.
I welcome any comments pointing me to more resources.
Jimmy Carter was the U.S. president (pres. 1977-1981) that oversaw the giving of military aid to the government of El Salvador during the bloody Salvadoran Civil War. Carter was the first American president that I became aware of as I began to pay attention to the news as a boy. The first American president I voted for was Ronald Reagan (pres. 1981-1989), who came immediately after Carter. The Reagan administration increased the giving of military aid and support to the Salvadoran government. In 1980 the Salvadoran government was behind the brazen assassination and martyrdom of the then archbishop of El Salvador, Óscar Romero, now a saint of the Catholic Church. Thus, my first vote as an American citizen, though not for Carter, and actually for Reagan’s second term which happened years after Romero’s death, is nonetheless indirectly but forever linked to the death of a saint. I only just realized this. Unfortunately, this is the reality of being an American voting for candidates who then go on to promote questionable and sometimes terrible foreign policies. Of course I plead ignorance, but we’re all ignorant of many things, and that doesn’t mean we are not complicit at some level, even if not actually guilty. Perhaps its “structural complicity?”
Anyway, I am learning more about one of the Church’s most recent saints, Óscar Romero. I believe Romero’s concerns were ultimately spiritual and heavenly, but they played out within a volatile political context, and he was martyred for them.
The battle lines of politics are always much more than politics. There are narratives competing with narratives, ideologies with ideologies, and almost always class struggle. In the U.S. we are not allowed to talk about class struggle or the structures of economic inequality or we are immediately labeled a socialist or communist. There is a powerful narrative in that labeling, and that narrative and the hegemonic forces behind it drive a great many other narratives. Human beings, being sinners and fearful, will all too readily kill other human beings for the sake of the narrative they hold dear, often for very selfish and ignorant reasons. From Cain until now we have been killing our brothers. But Christ calls us to love our brothers, our neighbors, and even our enemies. Saint Paul tells us our battle is not against flesh and blood, but is against spiritual forces of darkness. The entire narrative of salvation being written by God in the very fabric of creation tells us to trust in Him and that He will fight our battles. We forget this every day. They forgot that in El Salvador too. But many, including and perhaps especially Óscar Romero, did not forget it.
I know very little about the Salvadoran Civil War, but that is the historical context of Saint Romero’s assassination. I perhaps know only a little more about Saint Romero than I do about the war, which is to say almost nothing. Here are three contemporary news reports on the war, its brutality, and role of faith and the Church.
This 1983 documentary takes a look at both sides of the war and provides an intimate overview of the attitudes and perspectives of each side:
Made by the same filmmakers as the above film, this is an excellent documentary from 1983 on the religious aspects of the war, in particular the ideas of Liberation Theology:
Here is an in-depth documentary about the Salvadoran civil war and the life of Óscar Romero. It was made before he was canonized a saint.
Here is a great lecture by Michael Lee (Fordham University) on the life, legacy, and meaning of Saint Romero’s martyrdom and case for sainthood:
I suppose little seeds were planted in my life along the way to prepare my heart and mind for caring for and wondering about the life, legacy, and meaning of Saint Romero’s martyrdom and case for sainthood.
In 1984 (the same year I voted for Reagan) a largely unknown, but with a passionate fanbase, Canadian singer-songwriter and brilliant guitarist released a song that became a surprise hit. I vaguely remember that song, but I was so politically, geographically, historically, and socially unaware that I didn’t get what the song was about, except for the fact that I felt as much as anybody that we all need a rocket launcher sometimes. But the song was specifically about the brutal wars in Central America, the dictatorships that promoted and leveraged them, the support those dictatorships received from the U.S. government, and the terrible havoc they wrought on the lives of the people. Here is Bruce Cockburn, 30 years later, performing live and acoustically his song If I had a Rocket Launcher:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
I’m no expert in these matters. Forgive me if I blunder. But, honestly, I’m not saying anything new here, although I might still be saying a lot of hooey.
Sometimes the world seems crazier than normal. Perhaps it is. Or maybe it’s always been crazy, but we just get used to some kinds of crazy and surprised by other kinds. And not a few people are wondering why, when the very real issues of racism are front and center, thrust upon our collective consciousness once again by the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of several police officers (should we call them thugs?), do we suddenly see passionate and violent young Marxist revolutionaries and anarchists emerging from every nook and cranny. See this, this, this, this (and even this from 2015 – because it’s been going on for longer than most realize).
[Note: I am not using “anarchist” merely or mainly in a pejorative way to only indicate the use of violent chaos to achieve some vague ends, rather I mean the more formal philosophical and political positions found in formal anarchist ideologies. And I am not use “new Marxists” to point to the popular contemporary concept of a postmodern Marxism. Rather, I think the new Marxists, if I am correct, are more or less much like the old, but living out their ideology(ies) in the contemporary world and informed by the continued development of language, ideology, strategy, and technology.]
Clearly we are witnessing an emergence (or re-emergence) of what appear to be a new generation of Marxists rampaging our nation’s streets and social media, calling for the abolition of police forces, seeking to rewrite history, and demanding the redefinition nearly every important word in our language. I realize many protesting, hanging out in autonomous zones, or even acting out violently against police and defacing federal buildings would not necessarily call themselves Marxist. And certainly few today would identify with traditional Bolshevism. But Marxian socialism and its pervasive ideological intentions, often in language that doesn’t sound all that Marxist to many of us, is far broader today in scope and more internalized as self-evident truth than was witnessed in the example Soviet Russia. (I mean, troubling though it may be, we are all a little bit socialist in ways that either we recognize or don’t. It’s because of the “water” we swim in these days. I think many would go to their graves denying this reality.) Today it’s less about structural state Marxism and more about seeking a new life world, a new pentecost with a utopian spirit descending like tongues of fire. For many, they were suckled on the Marxist teet in a plethora of subtle ways and have adopted as the very ground of being the Marxist ideology.
It’s clear today’s protests are not quite the same as (though not unconnected to) Dr. King’s nonviolent, and essentially Christian, march for freedom. But it seems clear the eyes on the prize today are different eyes envisioning a somewhat different prize. And surprisingly, if the images we see are accurate, many or perhaps most of the protestors, are white teens and twenty-somethings. Regardless, though the protestors obviously are protesting racism and police brutality, many are protesting much more. It makes some sense to wonder if some of the protestors, or perhaps some of the leaders of the protests, have hijacked the news of the day to promote a different agenda.
Where do these passions come from? On the surface it’s easy to identify: Just watch the horrific video of George Floyd (or numerous others) getting killed or brutalized at the hands of highly militarized cops, and then connect the dots and no wonder people are literally outraged — raging out their anger. My heart breaks over see such brutality by the very people who are paid to protect us, and I too get angry. But why, given the traditional nonviolent approach of past and successful civil rights protests, do today’s protests so quickly abandon that methodology and cross over into rioting and unabashedly resort to violence? It’s hard to say. One could justly assume that the old ways didn’t completely work so they must be abandoned. But another thought is to consider that Marxian socialism (a.k.a. scientific communism; the most well known of various forms of socialism) happens to be the political and philosophical underpinnings of many of those offering their leadership to these protests. Marxism arises from atheism. God is abandoned and thus the ways of MLK, perhaps adequate for a past age, must now be abandoned as well. For Marxists, fomenting dissent was never foremost about the proletariat and poor working conditions. Rather, it was offered as a religious alternative to Christianity and, by implication, Western Culture. We are, I believe, at a crux moment in history. The stakes are higher than ever. It is not a debate, not even a protest, it is a war.
In short, Marxian socialism is fundamentally religious in its origins, in its language, and in its goals. Nonviolent protests make ethical sense to a people informed, as they once were, by a Christian story and a God who gave his life for others. Nonviolence doesn’t make ethical sense to the Marxist whose narrative flows from Hegel to Marx to Lenin and onwards. Christians ought to know this. In fact, Marxism borrows much of its language from Christianity, which is why it speaks so viscerally and powerfully to its followers. This is by design.
I think a lot of people honestly protesting the evil they see in society would be rather shocked to take a closer look at this. But, I have to say, I’m no expert; I’m just trying to understand.
[Pause: Given the state of the world we are in I must state emphatically that I firmly believe that black lives do matter and this sentiment makes a ton of sense today. It is clear our county has been deeply, structurally racist and at times openly violent, and has a problem with it still to this day — and not only regarding African Americans, but Native Americans and other minorities as well. From a Christian perspective and a full understanding of sin this seems abundantly clear, and sadly, expected. Personally, I completely buy into the historical record that shows the political and economic machinations that led us to this time in history. Loosely paraphrasing George Orwell, for too long we have created a country where “all lives matter, but some lives matter more than others,” which has led to innumerable injustices. It grieves me to know that in ways I don’t even recognize I probably have played a part in this system. I realize writing this may put me at odds with many on the right, including the religious right which I am not a part of though I may have a few “conservative” leanings. But I’m not on the right. And sadly, there seems to be a racist problem within some corners of the traditional Catholic movement, a movement for which I have strong affinities, but also struggle with. But this post is not about the sentiments of many ordinary folks, right or left or other, or what they believe they are fighting for or why they are posting #blacklivesmatter in their social media. The sentiment that black lives matter is a truly Christian sentiment. No follower of Christ can say otherwise. And I must say that I have more sympathies even with some of the views of the radical left than I do with the mainstream left (which I generally oppose because they are much a part of the “system” as the mainstream right), but in Christ there are no distinctions. All human beings are equal before God. He died for us all. He calls us to peace, not violence, not to seeking power over others. Violence begets violence, and sinful man loves violence. But Christ calls us to love our brothers and sisters, to love our neighbors, and even to love our enemies. And if we find another in need, including one suffering under the burdens of racism, including systemic racism, we are to be the good Samaritan. We are to cross the road to the “other” and care for that person. Ultimately our salvation will not be found in politics or the nation state. You want to be truly radical, follow Christ — completely. Racism is a sin. We are all sinners. I have no solution but to point to Christ. There but for the grace of God go I.]
What we think of as Marxian socialism began even before Marx was Marx as a stated replacement for Christianity. In France it was hoped, during the decade of the French Revolution, that socialism would replace both Christianity and the monarchy, and thus fill the spiritual vacuum left by their absence in the wake of the bloody revolution. In England, the path forward was promoted by Robert Owen as a kind of rational religion based in science that took shape in a short-lived Utopian socialist community he later founded in the United States. In Germany, it took shaped as the logical extension of Hegel’s philosophy. Socialism became a kind of Utopian ideal replacing Christianity as the next step of the great movement of world history. (This is, of necessity, a pathetically brief overview of these origins and currents.)
More to the point regarding the German strand of Marxian socialism, which has arguably been the most influential strand, Gareth Stedman Jones writes in his introduction to the Penguin Classic printing of The Communist Manifesto the following perspective (emphasis added):
[W]hat became of Marxian socialism in Germany in the beginning had nothing to do with industrialization or the social and political aspirations of industrial workers. On the contrary, it emerged from debates among radical disciples of the German philosopher Hegel, about what should replace Christianity or Hegel’s rationalized variant of it, ‘absolute spirit’. […] In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels made a successful effort to cover over these religious tracks and to set in their place a socio-economic genealogy appropriate to their new communist self-image. […] In this way, the history of socialism or communism appeared to become synonymous with the emergence of the industrial proletariat[.] […] But despite the Manifesto, socialism or communism was never to become synonymous with the outlook of the ‘proletariat’. The speculative or quasi-religious origins and character of socialist creeds, including that built upon the pronouncements of the Manifesto itself, continued to shine through the laboriously elaborated socio-economic façade. It was not the mere facts of proletarianization that generated the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century, but the experiences of social and political upheaval, shaped and articulated through the militantly and apocalyptic languages of communism or revolutionary socialism. For this reason, historians have rightly likened the passions, intransigence and extremism of twentieth-century revolutions to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. […] The end of communism was not ‘the end of history’, but the end of an epoch in which criticism of global capitalism overlapped with the rise and fall of a powerful and organized post-Christian religion that, in the name of science, addressed itself to the oppressed. (Marx 8-10)
While the toppling of the Berlin Wall evidenced a powerful shift in global politics, that post-Christian religion really only died in the minds of hopeful neo-cons.
What we see in the passions, the verbal and physical attacks, the shouting down, the autonomous zones, the overturning of cars, the smashing of store windows, the iconoclasm, and the all too common disregard for logical arguments and historical facts, has arisen like some kind of religious cult with it own shock troops, whether they be those of the Antifa movement or any number of far-left groups. And this is why we are not hearing shouts for workers of the world to unite, or diatribes on class struggle, or that the proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. Today it’s not about that, and it never really was. Suffering workers were used as a kind of social lever to move the mountain in the past and anti-racism is used today, but the goal is neither of those things in themselves. It’s bigger. It’s a religious war, like it always has been. It is about the total crushing of Christendom, which is the traditional name for Western Culture, and every possible vestige of it. And if you are surprised by the language, the energy, or the global reach of this “movement,” you’ve been living under a rock.
This is why some who say of course black lives matter and are deeply bothered by racism and stories of police brutality, are perplexed by the apparent hijacking of their hashtags by a violent Marxian agenda. Is this what it’s really all about? Are the autonomous zones the way forward? Why do we need to burn down a restaurant or deface a statue of Mahatma Gandhi?
It can be difficult, probably impossible, to separate agendas into neat boxes. The situation is rather fluid, and people are complex, but that fluidity might be to the benefit of those with specific long-term agendas who have been waiting for large-scale crises they can leverage for their own goals — a kind of disaster Marxism, to borrow and twist a phrase from Naomi Klein. The fact is, many see a connection between global warming, massive scale pollution, slave labor, racism, international corporate control, war, police militarization, the 1%, pandemics, the corporate industrial food system, and the continual cycle of governments lying, lying, and lying some more. Add to this the very real existential crisis of the God-shaped vacuum at the center of every single human soul on the planet and it’s no wonder we are experiencing a tidal wave of angst, rage, and fear washing over the world.
I mean, heck, I actually understand and appreciate Greta Thunberg’s anger.
But still, why all the smashing, why all the destruction? Is it a sign of weakness or a felt helplessness? To some degree, yes. But it’s more than that. With Marxian socialism you eventually get Marxism–Leninism. Vladimir Lenin took the religion of socialism and constructed a plan of action, that is, a truly revolutionary position that is not only unafraid of using violence to achieve its ends, it requires it. The goal was not merely to take hold of the machinery of the the state and make it one’s own. And it’s not actually about fairly distributing goods or leveling the playing field or even creating that so-called socialist economy that so many conservatives fear. The goal is to smash the state as Lenin declared. Rise up! Destroy it all, level it all down to the ground, start over. It’s energy flows forth from a complete and utter lack of faith in the Western historical narrative at nearly every level. It’s all dead. Out with it. Of course, Lenin was not the first to think this. In various forms such sentiments have been around for a long time.
But underneath it all is a hatred of Christ and God’s offer of salvation. (And in no way do I mean to equate state power or the sinful structures of authoritarian regimes with the gracious offer of God’s salvation or the never-fully-achieved ideal of Christendom.) I would hazard a guess that the visible riotous element we see in the headlines represents a tiny fraction of a single percent of the total number given over to the socialist religion. In those rare instances when the cameras pull back to reveal the contexts of the riots, they look small and rather insignificant in relationship to the much larger and actually calm urban landscapes. (Which also implies the headline-driving messages we are typically getting are created, in part, by photojournalists eager to sensationalize.) But we do see everyday the evidence that a post-Christendom West has no tolerance for the Christian message. Reactions go from shrugs to eye rolls to snears to hatred to physical violence as though they are attacking devils. The anti-Christian, and far more common anti-Catholic, prejudices are everywhere just below the surface and often out in the open. But of course most people don’t smash bank windows or peaceniks’ skulls because most don’t want to give themselves over to violence or lose their jobs. (When my new neighbor, as he is moving into the house next door and I’m helping him carry in his furniture, tells me point blank that he hates Catholicism, without prompting or knowing who I am, I am both laughing and crying inside. It’s going to be interesting having them over for dinner.) But the ideas of Marxian socialism, without most people even having a clue, are widespread and internalized by a great many from baristas to city council members to Catholic school principals. We were once warned about the “errors of Russia” and now they are normative “self-evident truths.”
Lenin himself stated: “Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion… We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion.” (Quote found here.)
Some might say what they see looks more like anarchists than Marxists. And they would have a point. Anarchism will naturally be less organized than Marxism and much of what’s happening appears more like rampaging than organized action. However, while traditional Anarchism and Marxism have often been at odds with each other, there is also much they have in common. Daniel Guérin writes in his book Anarchism, “The anarchist is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man” (Guérin 12).
Guérin goes on to describe the anarchist philosophy of Max Stirner, one of the most important and foundational thinkers on anarchism and, in many ways, the forerunner of our contemporary anarchist mindset. While using numerous quotes from Stirner’s book published in 1844, The Ego and His Own, Guérin writes:
In order to emancipate himself, the individual must begin by putting under the microscope the intellectual baggage with which his parents and teachers have saddled him. He must undertake vast operations of “desanctification, beginning with the so-called morality of the bourgeoisie: “Like the bourgeoisie itself, its native soil, it is still far too close to the heaven of religion, is still not free enough, and uncritically burrows bourgeois laws to transplant them to its own ground instead of working out new and independent doctrines.”
Stirner was especially incensed by sexual morality. The “machinations” of Christianity “against passion” have simply been taken over by the secularists. They refused to listen to the appeal of the flesh and display their zeal against it. They “spit in the face of immorality.” The moral prejudices inculcated by Christianity have as especially strong hold on the masses of the people. “The people furiously urge the police on against anything which seems to them immoral or even improper, and this public passion for morality protects the police as an institution far more effectively than a government could ever do.”
Stirner foreshadowed modern psychoanalysis by observing and denouncing the internalization of parental moral values. From childhood we are consumed with moral prejudices. Morality has become “an internal force from which I cannot free myself,” “its despotism is ten times worse than before, because it now scolds away from within my conscience.” “The young are sent to school in herds to learn the old saws and when they know the verbiage of the old by heart they are said to have come of age.” Stirner declared himself an iconoclast. “God, conscience, duties, and laws are all errors which have been stuffed into our minds and hearts.” The real seducers and corrupters of youth are the priests and parents who “muddy young hearts and stupefy your minds.” If there is anything that “come from the devil” it is surely this false divine voice which has been interpolated into the conscience. (Guérin 28-29)
So much is packed in these three paragraphs. And Stirner was writing in the mid-nineteenth century. Consider blaming parents and the Church on one’s conscience. Or that what comes from the devil is what the Church teaches. Or the need for “desanctification.” Or that we ought to listen to the appeal of the flesh. Or that the youth must be separated from their parents. One clearly gets the idea that Christendom must be razed to the ground, all systems and structures of political and social power destroyed, and that all authority disregarded and attacked if necessary. Words from more than a century and a half ago, and now again words for today.
Two possible questions of many: For those who have been fearing a socialist takeover of this or any other country, do you realize it’s not fundamentally a battle over which form of government or which economic system wins, but that it’s a religious war over whose god wins? For those who believe that black lives matter and that systemic racism must be confronted and eradicated, do you want to align your goals with Marxists and their larger agenda? I believe it would be wise for us to keep our eyes open even as our passions burn for justice.
The destruction of religious and political statues is linked to the destruction of Arby’s restaurants and Starbucks windows. This is not ironic. It’s not merely a matter of eradicating racism and corporations, as though that’s even really possible (though, of course, we must continually fight against sin in all its forms, including racism both personal and systemic), it’s about attacking all that smacks of the state, of Western history, of “the system,” of what has been handed down, of what is bourgeois, of what could be deemed vestiges of imperialism, and especially of what is Christian. The violent actions on our streets today are at a minimum cathartic for some, but many have hope for real change. The roots go back to before the French Revolution, but the modern version, I would argue, though linked directly with the radical 1960’s, find its origins in the internet fueled radicalism of the Battle for Seattle and soon thereafter the Occupy Movement. This is when this new Marxian consciousness we are witnessing began to foment and spread. It’s an old ideology playing out in a new technocratic era, and it’s been staring us in the face for a while now.
Marxian socialism is not dead, rather it is a religion being born again in the hearts of a new generation of believers.
Marx, Karl, et al. The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics). 1st ed., Penguin Classics, 2002.
Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism. Translated by Mary Klopper, New York, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1970.
I find this discussion posted below wonderful. Neither Jordan Peterson or Slavoj Žižek are Christians, but they are both influenced deeply by classically Christian concepts. In this discussion , which was billed as a debate but turns out much better, begins with each speaking formally for 30 minutes, then each getting 10 minutes to respond to the other’s intro speeches, then it goes into a back and forth series of questions and responses. Both of these men have lively minds and that kind of humility that undergirds the search for truth. In effect what we have here is a modern version of a Platonic dialogue.
I have been somewhat of a fan of Žižek for years and more recently of Peterson — not an unqualified fan of course. In the end, at least in terms of this “debate,” they constitute, or at least lean towards, a kind of Christian balance but, I believe, without the full realization they are doing so. Peterson lays out his path, a kind of stoicism as it were, of pursuing the good life, and Žižek responds with a deep pessimism. My immediate thought was of St. Paul writing to the Romans about how he does the things he ought not to do and does not do what he ought, thus finding within himself the principle of sin acting against him. We might agree with Peterson’s path but find ourselves repeatedly incapable of staying on that path. In this sense the biggest lacuna in this particular discussion, and I believe in both men’s general work about the human condition, is a complete understanding of sin and its effects, though they both seem to have a better understanding than most. Nonetheless, this dialogue between these two original (especially Žižek) and deeply cogent (especially Peterson) thinkers is an incredible opportunity to have one’s mind creatively engaged.
The Spanish Civil War was a kind of precursor to the Second World War. I know very little about this war, but as I watched these videos (see below) I was struck by its brutality from all sides, and by how impossible it is to pick a “side.” As a Catholic, I want to side with the Church, tradition, and monarchy, etc. I want to see Franco as a kind of hero, but that side adopted the language and gestures of fascism, even if it was not, at its core, truly fascist. And Franco’s army was brutal, and his rule a dictatorship, and it manipulated the Church for worldly gain and it used the language of Catholicism to justify excessive violence. On the other hand, like anyone who once upon a time in college thought socialism sounded kinda cool on its surface, I want to side with the left because of its tragic and short-lived romanticism — I have read Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and I loved it. But that side was also brutal, and vehemently godless, with a mix of anarchists and communists, and it quickly did away with marriage and it legalized abortion on demand. It also killed priests and nuns and burned churches and desecrated sacred items. I do not like Franco, and I truly despise his opponents. Picking a side is a no-win situation for a Catholic who seeks to follow Christ. Nonetheless, the Spanish Civil War is fascinating and a poignant lesson for us today, especially in terms of “picking sides” in the cultural and political wars. No one seems immune from having a dark and ugly side.
Below is an excellent six-part series by the BBC on the Spanish Civil War.
Christ is King. He is the King. There is no other.
By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’ (Isaiah 45:23)
[F]or it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Romans 14:11)
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Christ is king in both Heaven and on the earth. For some time I have been mulling over this remarkable fact. Remarkable because it seems glaringly true that the king of the world today is not Jesus, but Satan. Remarkable because so many Christians today seem wary of claiming Christ as their king. Rather they seek some kind of détente, some kind of peace with the world made of compromises that seem to hide Christ, to downplay or even deny His kingship. This seems to be the way of Pope Francis, who appears to love syncretism and dislikes evangelism.
But I have a growing tension within me. I find more and more that I don’t want to serve two masters. I don’t want to fall into the same old arguments. Instead I want to claim Christ as my king, bow to Him, and give my life to Him as never before. And I want the Church, Christ’s body on earth, His ruling authority over all the world, to stand up and claim its rightful place. This will require martyrdom will it not? Alas, so many of us, so many of the Church’s leaders, are “men without chests.” Perhaps I have been as well.
I do not have an answer, but I am seeking to understand. I do not know what it will look like, or what I will be called to do. At this point I know I am called to serve and support my family. I need to provide for them, so I do not seek to put all that in jeopardy.
The following are five talks given by a traditional Catholic priest. He offers a traditionalist’s critique of the world today, and provides examples of saints and martyrs who have given their lives for their king. I am not yet knowledgeable enough nor mature enough to know if this priest is 100% on target, and as with many videos I present these contain some cultural and social critiques that I’m still sorting through, but I find generally what he says about Christ’s kingship speaks to my heart and mind. I post these here as part of my process to understand and reflect on this important subject, and to better understand what a traditional Catholic perspective might be.
The following are two videos from 2017 with The Most Rev. Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana (Kazakhstan). The first is his lecture on the Social Kingship of Christ. The second is a post-lecture Q&A session.
The lecture and Q&A came after his excellency celebrated a Pontifical Solemn Mass. If you are interested, here is that Mass:
There is a remarkable amount of great content in these videos. I have become increasingly interested in the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal. Consequently, I’ve been digging into various lecture series, etc. I’m also interested in knowing what a traditional Catholic perspective is on all these things, including the current state of our culture and the so-called culture wars. Why is it that traditional Catholics holds certain views and not others? How did our society get to where it is today? These lectures offers a unique perspective.
There is no little risk in speculating on symbolic prophecy, and that is true with these lectures. However, given the seriousness of the Fatima miracle and messages, and given the state the Church and world is in today, there is the need to at least dive in deep and put some pieces together. This lecture serious by a traditionalist priest does just that. It is worth taking the time. I cannot speak to the completeness of his analysis, or the verity of his conclusions, but if he is right then we may want to increase our prayers significantly.
Lastly, these videos are by a traditional Catholic priest and they contain a traditional perspective on social and moral issues. Clearly this perspective is at odds with the mainstream narrative of our culture. I post these videos not as a wholesale endorsement, but as part of my process of learning about various perspectives in my pursuit of Truth.
Here’s a fascinating time-capsule from a key time in the feminist movement. Certainly it is dated, and some of it may seem a bit corny to us today, but the core message is still powerful and shocking — and not surprising too.
From a traditional Catholic perspective one can easily see why feminism, at least as it is presented here, was seen as incompatible with Catholicism — it has at its core the destruction of the traditional family. On the other hand, consider how much feminist thinking has entered into our culture and, in many ways, become the de facto position. Something about feminism captivated the collective consciousness of vast swaths of western culture and beyond, and has stayed with us and continued to influence and shape our culture.
In many ways this video is so sad — so much heartbreak beneath the surface of power posturing and strident demands. Consider where our society had to gotten to in order for these women, and so many others, to feel as they did. On the other hand, it’s fascinating to consider how such a radical change in attitudes may have also had a demonic element. I think it’s likely a lot of different elements and motivations were at play, some good and some bad.
Ireland voted for abortion. Ireland voted in anger against the Catholic Church. The majority of Catholics in Ireland, and about a third of the Church hierarchy voted for abortion too (so I have heard). The New York Times ran a headline: “Ireland Votes to End Abortion Ban, in Rebuke to Catholic Conservatism.” Many today have asked how did this happen, how did Ireland, once one of the world’s most visibly Catholic countries, become so anti-Catholic in both spirit and in public will.
Naturally many will say the fault lies with the Church in Ireland. Who could blame them? The Church has not been so saintly in Ireland. (Of course, neither have the Irish people, who are just as wicked as people are anywhere, but I digress.) Some would say this is what happens when a government tries to legislate morality. But are not the prohibitions against bank robberies, blowing up parliament, or murder legislating morality? Are there not laws prohibiting the killing of one’s three year old child? Or even one week old child?
My guess is that the real cause is not so much what the Church did or didn’t do (mostly good, some bad), or whether morality should or should not be legislated (which it should), but that faith simply and tragically drained away, and that it began happening a long, long time ago.
Consider this newsreel film of a Corpus Christi procession through Bandon in West Cork, Ireland from 1941:
What a magnificent display of public piety and cultural cohesion. But is it truly a picture of actual faith? See, it gets tricky. When Catholicism becomes so deeply enmeshed with a people’s national and cultural identity, heredity, and national concept, it is not only possible, but nearly inevitable that actual faith becomes irrelevant and even unwelcome to daily life. Great public displays of piety can so easily become a way to signal faith in a group, being “of this group” or “of this people,” in other words it becomes all about being Irish and not about being followers of Christ. Being Irish becomes the thing to be, not being Christian. No matter how many layers of Catholic tradition, habits, actions, language, postures, images, and trinkets populate the Irish landscape, these things become the very things that not only hide faith from the people, they make it easy to not need faith.
Catholicism became the Irish “identity cloak” because of Irish history with its profound and bloody battles with England and its Protestant church. One might argue that Irish “Catholicism” killed true Catholicism in Ireland. But this happens all the time. People claim the name Catholic so they be protected from the truths of Catholicism. One could also argue that the worldly promises of capitalism killed modern Catholicism in Ireland. Regardless, and for whatever reason, faith drained away, and after Ireland’s relationship with England changed, and economic markets opened up, the Catholic cloak of national identity and rebellion became too heavy to wear (except as a commodity), then finally it was all too noxious to bear anymore.
In short, although the Catholic Church in Ireland is inextricably enmeshed in all of this, it’s the Irish people who have turned away from God. It is their own choosing, a product of their own free will, Church or no Church. They no longer love God. Probably none of us wants to suggest this, but could it be possible the God has withdrawn His Spirit from Ireland and is withholding His grace? If so, the withdrawal seems to have begun a long time ago. (We see this already in James Joyce’s novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916. In that novel Stephen Daedalus, the protagonist, leaves the Catholic religion behind in order to be free. A shot across the bow for Ireland and a theme resounding down throughout the twentieth century.) And if so, why? What did Ireland do to earn God’s wrath?
I just don’t know.
But consider these Irish abortion referendum voting numbers from the same county that the video above is from.
These numbers tell us there are people in that video above from 1941 that voted in for abortion in 2018, people who, as children, knelt before the Real Presence as it passed by, people who could not imagine in 1941 being anything other than devout Irish Catholics. Now they are no longer Catholic and just barely Irish in any meaningful sense of that term, other than as a surface overlay to a thoroughly modernist world view — the Irish jigs danced in the streets celebrating their victory were only a hollow shell of a better and more humane past. They have become merely just more neo-liberal humans traveling in a selfish and lost modern world digging wells wherever they think they will find water. I believe it is inevitable they will eventually die of thirst or turn once again to the living water.
Here is a talk on the family by Michael Matt of The Remnant newspaper. Those of you who know of him know he is a staunch traditionalist within the Catholic Church. I am currently of two minds when it comes to the traditionalist position. Having come from a Protestant background I have a strong allergy to anything that smacks of protest. However, I do find myself sympathizing a great deal with the traditionalists.
I am curious what other think of his take on the state of the world, the Church, and the family today, as well as his thoughts on how to combat the problems he outlines. Is Michael Matt on target, or not? Does his understanding of our current situation make sense or is it too one way or the other?
As for The Remnant newspaper, I find it an interesting resource. Sometimes it’s a bit too shrill for me, and sometimes I find myself saying, “Stop fretting so much and trust in God.” But I also like their history and, while they oppose much of what is going on in the Church today, they remain faithful Catholics and in communion with the Church and the Pope. This, I think, is very important.
Is democracy the best form of government? Is direct democracy or pure democracy the best form of democracy?
This is the worst popular vote in history:
15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
That, my friends, is an example of direct (popular vote) democracy at work.
But, of course, in what seems a strange yet significant way, Christians would not have this “scene” play out any other way, for God can and does work all things together for good, whether it’s the actions of a republic or the desires of mob rule.
I find it interesting and rather amazing at just how much I was indoctrinated into the Christian Zionism heresy. It is a fundamental belief in the church in which I was raised, and later in a group of Christians with whom I fellowshipped. Christian Zionism is one of those easy heresies to latch on to. It just sounds right if one believes other heresies, like sola scriptura or dispensationalism. Brother André Marie gives two excellent talks on the subject of Christian Zionism, and shows clearly why it is a heresy condemned by the Church, and popular with many Protestants (and some Catholics), and what its implications are.
This is one of the most interesting and intense conversations I have ever witnessed. Jordan Peterson has received a significant amount of attention of late for his views, and in particular for an interview he did on television. Camille Paglia has been well known for years and is frequently outspoken on a number of topics. Both are absolutely brilliant and provocative. This video is easily worth its nearly two hours running time.
In confronting the “new atheists,” Dr. Edward Feser offers Scholasticism (or “new scholasticism”) as the proper answer. I like his ideas. I have my own ideas of the role and place of apologetics, and often I struggle with its importance in comparison to other forms of witness, but it’s still important.
I wrote the thesis several years before I became Catholic. I knew nothing of Catholic social teaching then. If I had known about Catholic social teaching I think my thesis would have been significantly better. Nonetheless, the process had an impact on me, and allowed me to explore ideas that had been ruminating in my subconsciousness for several years. Back then I was influenced, among other sources, by Naomi Klein‘s book No Logo.
Now I find the excellent documentary The True Cost speaking to the same issues. It’s like nothing has changed — except perhaps there are now more people thinking about these problems. And, there are some companies working to be different. Naturally these companies are small, but they are a start.
Global supply chains, with all their related and inherent moral implications, are deeply interwoven into every aspect of our lives. We cannot extricate ourselves from them, nor do we want to. It’s not about running away, but about change. We need to make choices that matter, that reflect who we want to be, and that are born out of a fundamental desire to love each other, to love the “other” our neighbor. We can actually make better global supply chains — better in terms of how laborers are treated, of how the earth is used, as well as efficiencies and more appropriate costs. However, we are generally disinclined to do so because inherent in the nature of global supply chains is their ability to hide the implications of our consumer choices from view. Combine that with human nature and we have a recipe for exploitation of both human labor and their environments.
I can say from personal observation that Americans (U.S. citizens I should say) often do not like to know how much their consumer choices are tied to unfair exploitation of others. They bristle when told. They make up and believe falsehoods when confronted. It’s shameful.
As the general manager of a small company, I am interested in these issues. We are just now beginning to have the kinds of conversations that may lead us to consider ethical sourcing more than we ever have. Our business is based on doing good for the world. We sell and market art supplies, and our focus has been on the importance of art and artmaking to health, personal growth, education, and world peace. Considering our supply chain in terms of ethics and the wellbeing of both labor and environment fits right in to what we believe. I am curious about what we can do.
As a Catholic, I have come to see that these issues are very much at the heart of what I believe, how I should behave, and who I am following — namely, Christ. So it is a personal thing for me as well.
Recently I have personally discovered Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. He is a powerful advocate for Christian Non-Violence or Pacifism. Years ago I came across Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. That was my first experience with Christian pacifism. More and more my inclinations lean in this direction. In fact, though I am willing to consider other arguments, and will change my mind if necessary, for now I cannot see any compatibility between being a follower of Christ and any kind of violence, including going to war. I say this while still finding stories of heroism in war deeply moving.
Here is one of several talks you can find online by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy:
This is a great overview, in six short videos, of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Just Defense (formerly Just War) Theory or Doctrine. It is also a critique of where that theory stands today in light of modern ‘total” war, and ultimately advocates for the original Christian position of pacifism, or peace making.
Perhaps because of recent politics, I have become interested in the Catholic Church’s idea of subsidiarity. Below are some videos that explain the idea and, to some degree, broader Catholic social teaching.