Liberation Theology: Theology of the South
With the crisis of socialism in the East and the crisis of capitalism in the South, greater space has been opened up for liberation theology. In this “new” international order it is even more necessary than before.
Liberation theology is a theology of life and hope that seeks to reestablish a sense of God and the Gospel in society and in the Church itself. It does not do this in an abstract and static way, but rather through processes of liberation within new historical circumstances.
Today this sense of God and the Gospel is seriously threatened by the "new international order." This loss constitutes a mortal blow to the lives of the poor and of nature as well. For the poor, this so called new international order represents a situation of death and the destruction of all hope. It is essentially an idolatrous system as well. Thus, in this new historical situation liberation theology is essentially a theology of life and of hope. It seeks to critically reflect, through the light of faith, on the God of life, springing from human life and the hope that people are able to maintain in a situation of savage capitalism and the utter collapse of hope.
After 500 years of colonialism, when the current situation is worse than the when the conquest began, we must be aware of the thorough going crisis of Western civilization. We have built an irrational world, unsustainable and cruel, that kills the majority and destroys nature at the same time. As a response, in the South and from the South a new and alternative world has been born, which represents hope for the 80% of the world's population that lives in the South. A hope and a utopia that come from the South, offering salvation to the whole world. Thus liberation theology is reborn, as a theology of the South, as an alternative to crisis ridden Western civilization.
Liberation theology takes on new tasks and challenges beginning with the IV General Latin American Bishops Conference, held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in October 1992. At that meeting, the Latin American and Caribbean church reaffirmed its identity, and its loyalty to the universal church, in the context of a contradiction with a "Roman fundamentalism," which, from the highest circles of power within the Catholic Church, is speaking the same language as the religious sects.
From a Developmentalist Capitalism to Barbaric CapitalismThe greatest challenge to liberation theology in the new international order is the massive death of the poor. A critical reflection on God as the God of life should spring from this situation of death and the need for an urgent option for life in the new historical moment in which we are living.
There are two relevant events in this new moment. The first is the failure of the "historic socialisms" of the East. The second, the failure of the "development capitalism" as practiced in the South. Much has been written and said about the first phenomenon, but almost nobody comments on the second. In the past, before the fall of the historic socialisms, capitalism in the Third World was defined as a capitalism of development: it sought to display a human face, and attempted to effect the integration of the totality of its work force. It claimed to be on the side of life for all. It constructed a state at the service of the development of an entire nation.
This development capitalism very rarely achieved these goals, but it did define itself around them. Capitalism sought to win over the underdeveloped countries to avoid their falling into socialism's sphere of influence. With the fall of historic socialism, the end of the Cold War and the imposition of a new international order, this development capitalism was transformed into a savage capitalism which today plays the court alone, without competitors, concentrating its power in the North and letting loose all its violence against the South.
Savage capitalism has two structural characteristics: it is a capitalism that excludes the majorities and a capitalism that destroys nature. It is not a question of defects or tendencies that can be corrected, but rather a deep structural perversion that seriously threatens human and cosmic life, especially in the so called Third World.
Savage capitalism (or the economy of foreign debt payments, elegantly characterized as an "export economy") is, in the first place, an exclusive system in that it leaves many people on the outside looking in. This is a relatively new phenomenon, to be added to the already known elements of poverty and extreme misery. Now there is this new concept: the excluded, the marginalized, the person who simply doesn't count, who in effect becomes disposable or expendable, the one who in absolutely no way affects market efficiency, the one who can die without making the slightest ripple, the one "not invited to the neoliberal banquet." This person has not a shred of power and cannot even be considered exploited, because the exploited at least fall within the system.
The First World needs the Third World less and less less of our raw materials, less of our markets, and less of our work force. Perhaps we are still tempting in terms of tourism or as possible dumping grounds for toxic waste, but it is clearer each day that the great poor majorities of the Third World are simply not needed. For regional and local economies as well, the poor are increasingly superfluous and disposable.
Among the excluded, a series of relatively new processes are underway, including disaggregation and fragmentation of society, in which human and social relations are shattered, and families, neighborhoods and communities disintegrate. The violence of poor against poor increases, as does violence by men against women, and adults against adolescents and children. Migratory movements soar, sometimes including the displacement of entire populations. And, amidst all this, mortal epidemics emerge, including cholera, tuberculosis, malaria, measles and AIDS. And it is often the excluded who are newly victimized: they are declared guilty victims who can, or should, be sacrificed on the altar of the free market. The neoliberal state no longer considers it reasonable to invest in health, education and other basic services for the excluded masses, as they are no longer a key cog in the machinery reproducing the system.
Against Nature ItselfThe second structural characteristic of savage capitalism is its tendency to destroy nature and the cosmos. It is a model of development contrary to nature. Capitalism is virtually unable to do anything other than destroy nature, since its protection would mean increasing production costs, thus signifying higher prices and the subsequent loss of competitiveness on the market. Capitalism can only develop by destroying nature. The destruction of nature means a double death for the poor especially indigenous populations as it implies the destruction of the earth itself, the basis of the poor's survival potential, and as well the destruction of their territory, culture and identity.
Theology of Life vs. Savage CapitalismIn this situation of death, liberation theology asks itself about the credibility of a project that would translate into life for all and life for nature as well. In more radical terms, it asks about the very credibility of God as the God of life, God the creator and savior. Liberation theology responds to these questions based on a radical and absolute option for life in this situation of death created by an exclusive and destructive capitalism. In this life 'and death reality, liberation theology also offers a systematic and critical reflection on God, to be able to discern, through the light of faith, between the God of life and the idols of death. In the historical context of the new international order, liberation theology becomes a theology of life against death and against the idolatry of savage capitalism. Based on an option for life, it is a theology that seeks to reestablish and reconstruct a sense of God and the Gospel in society and within the Church.
This is not an easy task, as both the political and religious powers that be impose the idols of death on society as expressions of the sole authentic God, thus creating a false, antihuman and idolatrous spirituality. Like any theology of life, liberation theology increasingly puts to one side all ideological or political argumentation. It's not a question of one or another theory, or ideology, or political system, being at stake. What is at stake today in the new international order is the life or death of most of the world. Today, theology goes directly to the radical problematic of life and thus to the heart of faith itself and the reality and truth of God.
A theology of life springs from the truth of life and of God in historical reality, guided by a direct and transparent faith that overcomes idolatrous and dehumanizing ideologization. Where there is life, there is God; where there is death, there is idolatry. Where life is credible, faith also affirms the credibility of God as the God of life. Human life itself becomes a radical criterion of discernment and an absolute and universal imperative, both in social and economic terms, but particularly as well in an ethical and spiritual sense, in pastoral work and in theology.
When liberation theology speaks of life, it does so in a radical manner: it speaks of an option of life for all. This includes all humanity and all of nature. Life is also understood in its concrete sense: land, work, housing, food, health, education, the environment, participation and recreation. Liberation theology takes on these concrete elements as criteria for rationality: it is rational that all have life, work, homes, health, etc. Unemployment, hunger and illiteracy are irrational. Life then also becomes a criterion for truth, goodness and beauty. What is true, good and beautiful is that all have life. The negation of life is the negation of truth, goodness and beauty.
These criteria of rationality, truth and goodness are absolute and universal. They are applied not only in the political and economic arenas, but also in cultural, ethical and spiritual areas. A theology of life assumes the rationality of an economy and a politics of life that assures the reproduction of human life and nature. By the same token, a theology of life seeks coherence with a culture of life, an ethics of life and a spirituality of life. Although the option for life is not yet a model for development, it offers us rationality and the strength to discern, define and construct such a model. The option towards life gives us the culture, ethics and spirituality to be able to confront savage capitalism and find and construct alternatives of life for all.
What is the "Glory of God?"In the strictly theological arena, a theology of life takes on the criteria of concrete life for all as criteria with which to define life itself, or the essence of God. It is classic in theology to quote the well known phrase of Saint Irenaeus: Gloria Dei vivens homo, gloria autem hominis visio Dei (The glory of God is the living human being, the glory of being human is the vision of God.) The "glory" of God is not an external homage offered to God, but rather is life itself, which is the essence of God. (The word "glory," kabod in Hebrew, means the "weight" or "essence" of God.)
Saint Irenaeus identifies the glory of God with the living human being. The glory or essence of God is revealed by human life. Land, work, housing and health are all expressions of God. In this sense, life is not only an economic, cultural or ethical reality, but a spiritual reality as well. Thus Irenaeus adds that the glory of being human is realized in the vision of God. God is made real in the living human being, and the living human being is also made real through the vision of God.
The God of life is the God that reveals and is recognized in the reproduction of concrete human life for all and in the reproduction and re creation of nature. Life is thus the condition of possibility, through the light of faith, to know God. In the affirmation of life the very credibility of God is at stake. All religious experience on the margin of or against life is essentially incorrect and idolatrous. A society or a church that does not defend life is idolatrous. The only authentic Church is that which believes in the God of life.
All of this supposes a radical and far reaching critique (economic, political, cultural, ethical, spiritual and theological) of the dominant capitalist system, because it marginalizes the majority and destroys nature. Liberation theology, as a theology of life, only makes sense if it affirms life against the so called new world order and searches for an alternative that offers life to all. This presumes a thorough going reformulation of Western civilization itself, which is at the root of the development of capitalism and in its current form of savage capitalism.
Total Collapse of HopeWe are living through a deep crisis of hope. Today hope is presented as something belonging to the past. Reconstructing hope, with a solid base in economic and political alternatives to the current system of a free market economy, is seen as an irrational, and even subversive, act. The destruction of hope appears as a profound and structural need of the new international order. A lack of hope is how the spirit is able to get by in this "new" order. Because this is how the hope of the aggressors is fulfilled: in the construction of a society where the poor are, finally, without hope. They also hope to finally have a Church without liberation theology. Liberalization and modernization move forward inexorably, destroying all resistance and hope, particularly among the poor and excluded majority.
Free Market or DeathThe destruction of hope has many dimensions. It is the destruction of the spirituality of resistance, it is the destruction of the political will of the people, it is the delegitimation of all critical theory and all utopian thinking. The crisis of historic socialisms and Marxism is used to destroy all hope and impose a blind submission to the new international order. While the crisis of socialism is a fact, it's quite another thing to manipulate that crisis in the interest of destroying all hope.
Neoliberal theologians and economists speak today the way that we did in the 1970s: "The future belongs to us." They can repeat, applying to the free market what Ché Guevara said in his time, "The present is one of struggle, but the future is ours." They live with the euphoria of possessing the future, of living the end of history, the Kingdom of the thousand years. The free market system itself is offered up with messianic tones: all the problems of humanity will be resolved by the free market, science and technology.
The free market economy is imposed as the only alternative. Market or death. Market with an absolute, and necessary, globalization. Outside the bounds of the market there is neither hope nor salvation. Hope becomes the market. It is not that alternatives do not exist, but that the system has the power to destroy all alternatives and all who believe in alternatives. Thus processes of alternative change have been destroyed: Chile in 1973, Nicaragua in 1990, Haiti in 1991. Thus the six Jesuits were slain in El Salvador in 1989. From the 1950s to the 1970s a developmentalist capitalism existed with a culture of hope that was a common thread running through all ideologies: Christian Democrat, Social Democrat and Socialist. Beginning in the 1980s a free market capitalism with a culture of desperation was imposed, based on the destruction of all hope and all alternatives.
The Poor Reconstruct HopeThe reconstruction of hope is a fundamental task of the poor, of the excluded, of those who suffer and, thus, is a fundamental task of liberation theology itself. The option for life and the reconstruction of hope is a radical demand on faith. Also in this option is a profound rationality and the essential mission of liberation theology, especially in a situation of savage capitalism, destructive of life and hope, that self proclaims the new world order. But the reconstruction of hope, to be real and not illusory or ideological, should spring from the poor and excluded, should have an economic and social base, and finally, must develop a concrete strategy.
Our starting point is the capacity for resistance and the life force of the poorest and most excluded. There is much to be learned from the accumulated experience of the oppressed, especially the indigenous and African American peoples who have lived 500 years of resistance and hope. We must learn from the life experiences and the organization of the excluded under the neoliberal system. We must learn as well from the popular economy, based on solidarity, of the so called informal sectors. We must learn from women, particularly the poorest women, who have always carried the burden of survival on their shoulders and who, in this century, have emerged as both social subject and social movement. We must learn from popular knowledge, from the poor, from those who withstand social pain, those who see and suffer society from outside and from below.
Alternatives emerge when one searches for them, and hope is born from the struggle for life. This perspective has in general been absent from the theoreticians and politicians, who oftentimes follow their own interests or make decisions influenced by the logic of the dominant system. It has also been absent among intellectuals, who by and large do not feel the urgency of survival or the weight of the social tragedy today. Recently, many theoreticians and politicians have even embraced the "rationality" of the neoliberal market economy, and have succumbed to the blackmail of this system as the only alternative. Liberation theology proposes a way of thought based on misery, on compassion, and in a context where the poor and excluded can be subjects in the reconstruction of hope and in the construction of alternatives and utopias.
Social and Economic Base for HopeWe must define the economic and social base for hope. This is not an easy task, as the free market economy is offered up as the only alternative and has the potential to destroy all possible alternatives. In addition, the crisis of historic socialisms is used to question the legitimacy of any search for economic, political and theoretical alternatives to the current international economic order. Nonetheless, the construction of alternatives is possible. It is not yet a question of constructing a global alternative, a macro alternative, but of discovering space where life and hope are possible and credible and where greater alternatives may emerge.
Today a certain consensus, based primarily in civil society, exists around alternatives to the free market system. Civil society is defined in this case by its popular movements, base movements or alternatives. The 1980s was a lost decade from the economic point of view, but a useful decade in the creation of new social movements: indigenous and African American movements, women's liberation movements, movements towards alternative agricultural systems, for a popular market, appropriate technology, movements of popular economy, human rights and solidarity, groups of relatives of the disappeared, movements of both traditional and alternative health care, movements of popular education, artistic and cultural movements, religious and Christian movements, and so on. All these movements have been key to the construction of a new civil society. New historical subjects appear. In addition to the traditional subjects workers and peasants indigenous and black peoples, women and youth emerge as new historical subjects. And a new consensus and a new consciousness also appear, accompanied by a new cultural, ethical and spiritual dimension.
These new social movements made a radical critique of political power and all the institutions managing that power. This includes governments, political parties, political fronts. They criticize the manipulation and corruption of this power. The ultimate objective of these social movements is not to take political power, but rather to construct a new political power from below, an authentic alternative to dominant political power. In the short run this produces a "depoliticization" of the popular movement, but in the long run a new political society that is more participatory and democratic emerges. It is not a question of rejecting the political that would be a perverse depoliticization but rather of a search for a new way of envisioning politics.
There is also a new consciousness about the culture, ethical and spiritual force of the popular movement. Certainly, social movements have fundamental economic and social functions, but the strength of these movements is also and many times preferably in their new cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions. As never before, the transformational force of history is discovered a force with both spiritual and cultural dimensions. This new consciousness now emerging from an alternative civil society has, in addition to its class dimension, ethnic cultural, national, generational, gender and environmental dimensions.
The alternatives emerging from this new civil society are not direct global alternatives to the free market economy. The market has reached such a massive level that it would be difficult to create a macroeconomic structure as a total alternative to what currently exists. However, it is not a question of creating an alternative to the market, but rather, and fundamentally, of creating an alternative to the logic of the market. An alternative to the logic and perverse rationality of the market, an alternative to the culture, ethics and destructive spirituality of the market.
This grassroots resistance to the very meaning of the market is not purely ideological or superstructural, but is made concrete in the spaces created by social movements. It is born out of an agriculture, an economy, a technology, a system of health and education that is not guided by competitive laws of the market, but rather by the logic of solidarity, fraternity and the new consciousness and consensus present in social movements. It is born in the spaces of life, of development, of the creation of community, where there is a real redistribution of income and a growing economy compatible with the conservation of natural resources.
New Strategies of HopeNew strategies are also emerging, which make possible the birth and development of alternatives. They are new and alternative methods and strategies, distinct from those already used by political parties. In the first place, there is a very pronounced rejection of top down, vanguardist and manipulative methods. Let's take one image to illustrate this there is talk of a strategy of ants and spiders. The strength of the ants is in their numbers and coordinated actions, while the spiders weave webs, or networks. Today huge structures of top down power are not being built, but rather networks where everyone is interconnected and interdependent. It is no longer so much a question of political power in the singular, but of popular powers indigenous power, black power, young people's power, women's power, cultural power. All of these powers are articulated by the formation of a new power at the national, regional or international level. More than ever, local, neighborhood and community power are valued.
New forms of coordination and articulation are sought, where culture, symbols and myths take on new importance. Peaceful strategies of pressure on the market and the state emerge. There is consensus in that the state should "modernize" if this means demilitarization and a reduction in bureaucracy. However, in opposition to the neoliberal theories that seek to dismantle the state, our strategy proposes a state with important functions around the defense of the life of the poor majorities and in defense of nature as well. Pressure on the state and eventually the possibility of governing is part of a strategy for the construction of alternatives of life and liberation.
Reconstruction of Hope and UtopiasLiberation theology is renewed as a theology of hope based on the poor and the excluded, in the construction of alternatives to the new world order and in strategies that make life and hope both possible and credible. Liberation theology seeks to reconstruct the hope of the poor, their spirituality of resistance, their will towards transformation, their critical radical thinking and their utopias. Liberation theology looks to promote an alternative civil society which springs from the new popular movements; it seeks to be part of a new consensus emerging from all this, to take on the cultural, ethical and spiritual force that sparks them and makes them co responsible for the strategies to reach their goals.
The current world situation opens greater space to liberation theology and makes it more necessary than ever. In terms of culture, the challenge is posed of the evangelization from cultures. This theme became central in 1992, in the context of the quincentenary and the IV Conference of Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo. Much has been said and written about this topic, but the process is still just beginning, understandable if one takes into account that that evangelization takes place within the new social movements and the alternative civil society that emerge as a response to the crisis of Western civilization.
In terms of ethical issues, liberation theology seeks to distinguish clearly between the ethics of life and the ethics of the market. An ethic of life, where human life is the absolute value, to where the good and the truthful is that all have life, where jobs, land, food, housing, health care, education and a clean environment become fundamental ethical imperatives. Against an ethic of the market, where the basic ethical values are profit and gain, efficiency and power. Against a legal ethic, where private property and respect for contracts are imposed as an absolute, against human life itself.
If in the cultural and ethical terrains liberation theology has an immense area in which to develop and urgent contributions to make, it is particularly in the spiritual arena where liberation theology must carry out its most specific development. It is not a question of an abstract and alienating spiritual dimension, definitively idolatrous, created by the dominant system. It is rather a profound and necessary spiritual dimension that moves the new civil society and its alternative social movements forward, a spiritual dimension present in the option for life and in the reconstruction of hope. Since its inception, liberation theology has developed a historic and liberating theology, and today it is simply a question of reformulating it in the context of this new international order.
Liberation theology is born out of the experience of God in the world of the poor and excluded, and announces God as the God of life against the idols of death. For this reason it is a liberating and anti idolatrous theology. Liberation theology is not feared because it speaks of liberation or of being political, but because, from the poor themselves, it speaks of God as a God of life and hope. The Church also fears liberation theology for these very reasons. The Church has never feared politics, but it is afraid to be confronted with the living God, with the gospel of life and the teachings of Christ. This spirituality is intrinsic to liberation theology and from it comes its force and capacity to reconstruct hope.
Seeking Utopia?Within this essential, traditional and always relevant layout of the problem, there is an urgent need for liberation theology in the current context: the reconstruction of utopia. Liberation theology has always been utopian, to the degree that it is a theology that believes in the God of life. But today more than ever it must be utopian, within the context of the new international order, which radically destroys all utopias. The free market economy is considered the perfect society, one capable of resolving all problems. There is a messianism to the new world order, which demands that all believe in it and submit to it in order to save all human beings. But the reality is that those invited to the neoliberal banquet are very few indeed, and the party goes on in a world that is more destroyed as each day passes.
The system declares its perfection and its messianism, excluding many and destroying the earth. Life for all and the conservation of nature have no place in the neoliberal market economy. There is no longer a place for utopian thinking. In fact, life for all and life for the cosmos itself is a utopia that will destroy the free market economy. "Those who wish to construct the Kingdom of heaven on earth will transform earth into hell," was how Karl Popper put it. However, life for all and the conservation of the cosmos the advance of the Kingdom of God on earth is the utopia of the poor, the miserable, the excluded. This is the utopia that liberation theology searches to reconstruct and live.
What is the foundation of the utopia that liberation theology looks to reconstruct? Its faith in the God of life as a transcendent God. This transcendence is an essential dimension in all Utopian thought. The transcendent is what is beyond a limit the immanent is what is closer to that limit. In the biblical tradition, which is the tradition taken on by liberation theology, this transcendence is presented in two stages. At first, this limit, beyond which transcendence is defined, is oppression. God is transcendent, assuring a full life beyond oppression. Oppression limits human life. God does not accept this limit, and breaks through it. In this sense, the transcendent God is a liberating God, a God who breaks the chains of oppression, the God of Exodus, the God of justice, the God of life.
In a second stage of biblical revelation, the limit that defines the transcendent is not only oppression, but death. God is transcendent in assuring life beyond death. We find the greatest expression of transcendence as life beyond oppression in Isaiah 65 and the transcendence as life beyond death in Revelations 21. In both cases transcendence is symbolized as "new heavens and earth." In the first case, as a world without oppression, in the second case as a world without death. But in both cases, and throughout the Bible, this life beyond oppression and beyond death takes place always in this world, in this history.
The transcendent is not what is beyond history. Faith in a transcendent God is the foundation of the utopian dimension of liberation theology. This utopia has its foundation in God, depends on God, but it is demonstrated in our human actions and thought. Utopia is what orients action and thought. Liberation theology reconstructs the utopian dimension of its faith within the historical praxis of liberation.
This Reality Called the SouthThe term "South" refers geographically to the impoverished people of Latin America, Africa and Asia, but also symbolically includes all the poor and excluded of the rich countries throughout the world. The "North" refers to the centers of powers that tend to be found in the richest and most industrialized countries, and also refers to those rich and powerful who sustain, enjoy or manage these centers of power.
Numerically, the North is made up of 20% of the world's population around a billion people and the South, the remaining 80%, some four billion. From an economic point of view, we can sketch the North and South with United Nations Development Program statistics: the North, with 20% of the population, receives 82.7% of the world's wealth, while the South has access to 17.3% of the world's riches.
In addition, the richest 20% of the world's population controls 81.2% of world commerce, 94.6% of all loans, 80.6% of internal savings and 80.5% of investments. At a world level, it is all too clear who is rich and who is poor, and even starker is the tremendous gap between rich and poor. And the richest among the poor that second 20% who receives 11.7% of the world's wealth is quite poor with relation to the richest of the rich. Thus we can see that the middle class is virtually disappearing.
In addition, the 25% of humanity living in the rich countries consumes 70% of the world's energy, 75% of metals, 85% of the timber and 60% of the food. If the rest of the world were to consume at the level that the very rich do, the world would explode. The current international "order" functions only to the extent that it maintains inequality. Thus, in order to maintain this international order, an international elite has emerged which controls economic, financial, military and cultural powers, as well as transnational communication. Thus a sort of global parallel state, or more precisely, an international dictatorship, is born out of a configuration of the world's seven most industrialized countries. The international "order" is maintained at a world level through the expenditure of $900 billion in arms. This structure of power is maintained as well through the support of millions of citizens guided by charismatic personalities who take control of the media to manipulate emotions and logic.
So it is very clear who the North is and who the South is. After the fall of the historic socialisms, the end of the Cold War and the end as well of the East West conflict, what is becoming more and more evident on a daily basis is the international confrontation between North and South, the aggression of the North against the South, the wars and interventions of the North in the South. This aggression on the part of the North is structural and planned. Its objective is the destruction of the sovereignty of the poor countries of the South, indispensable base for the construction of "democracy."
This agenda for war and intervention is broadened each day with the struggle against "terrorism," the so called drug war, struggles against human rights violations and, most recently, attempts to impose democracy, security and peace to mitigate, in a "humanitarian" fashion, hunger and thus impede migrations to the countries of the North. With this agenda, any and all violations of international law are justified, as are violations of the right of different peoples to self determination. There is even talk of "flexible sovereignty" that is, flexible enough to be violated by the powers of the North.
This whole system of North South domination is justified ideologically by economic neoliberalism and religious neoconservatism, through all the "modern" ideologies smacking of racism, chauvinism, colonialism and authoritarianism. Many churches, with their condemnation of liberation theology, with their centrist, authoritarian and ethnocentric positions, also take the side of the North in the North South contradiction.
There is no doubt that this imbalance, this inequality, this aggression of the North against the South, this destruction of human beings and of nature itself, this destruction of values and of legality, provokes much more than a crisis of the capitalist system. It also causes a deep crisis of Western and Christian civilization, a crisis of modernity itself that emerged from the industrial revolution, with the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the current technological and technetronic revolution.
The South Responds to the Crisis of the WestIn this context of North South confrontation and the crisis of civilization itself, in the South and from the South, from this 80% of the planet's humanity, a new response is emerging, a movement, a consensus, a concertación, an alliance, an agenda, a strategy and, above all, a new conscience. The South exists. The South does not accept this death and destruction. The South does not accept inequality and other blows. The South will not renounce the sovereignty of its peoples and democracies. The South has a culture, an ethics, a spirituality and an identity of its own. The South wants to live, and live fully. The South wants the entire world, including the North, to have life and, as well, wants the cosmos to be re created, and saved, in its totality. It is in this context that liberation theology seeks to redefine itself as the theology of the South.
From the South, a concertación, or alliance, is emerging among the different movements representing the poor, or the different dimensions of the poor: work (the integrated working class and the excluded), culture (race, ethnicity: indigenous peoples, blacks and mestizos), gender (women), generation (young people who are not just the "hope of tomorrow," but a real historical subject today as well), sovereignty (nations) and nature (the cosmos, and the planet). We may also add the spirit (spirituality, religion) as an essential and almost universal dimension of the South's identity. Solidarity grows among alternative and social movements representing all these different dimensions.
A new consciousness also emerges, marked by this work culture gender generation sovereignty nature spirit alliance. The North South struggle is made explicit in the confrontation of labor against capital, of black and indigenous peoples against racism and colonial ethnocentrism, of women against the patriarchal system, of the young against authoritarianism, of poor nations against interventionism and the arrogance of Western powers, of nature against a system of development that is inexorably destroying it, of the spirit against a materialistic, consumer oriented and perverse system.
No Contradiction Between Soul and BodyFrom its inception, Western civilization has been based on the distinction between soul and body, in the affirmation of the necessary domination of the soul over the body and, finally, a contempt for the body. The soul is considered to be the space of the spiritual and of an encounter with God, the body as that which is material and, as well, the locus of sin. The domination of the soul over the body represents the rational, the natural: the soul dominates the body, as reason dominates appetite, as form dominates material, as the perfect dominates the imperfect.
The most important element is that this domination of the soul over the body is taken as a model or social paradigm for the domination of the owner over the slave, man over woman, adult over child, human beings over the natural and animal worlds. This was the theoretical framework of the Western conquest. One of its most famous intellectuals, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, says: "Being by nature slaves, these barbaric, uncultured and inhuman men refuse to admit the domination of those who are more prudent, powerful and perfect than them, a domination that will be of very great utility for them, and that is both just and natural...." Ginés de Sepúlveda used this framework to legitimize the domination of the Spaniards over the indigenous people, whom he referred to as "little men."
The new consciousness that springs from the South, from the non Western world, seeks precisely to subvert this Hellenistic Western colonial mindset. An historic movement is born where work (the body, the slave) enters into alliance with the movements to liberate women, young people, indigenous peoples, black people and nature itself. The most interesting thing is that as part of this new consciousness, these liberation movements are seen as spiritual, rational and natural. In this awakening of the oppressed peoples of the South, in this movement of the liberation of the body, of the workers, women, young people, black and indigenous peoples and nature, a profound redefinition emerges of what is authentically spiritual, rational, natural and perfect.
Thus we have a very deep revolution of natural law and spirituality. Spirituality is not channeled through a "soul" that dominates the body, but rather it is spirituality that gives power to the body in the affirmation of life over death. By the same token, spirituality is not channeled through a patriarchal system, an authoritarian system, dominant Western culture or an anti natural system. To the contrary: what is perfect, rational and spiritual today is the liberation of young people, of black and indigenous peoples, in their efforts to construct a world where life is for all.
Liberation Theology is the Theology of the SouthLiberation theology in its totality assumes this new consciousness, this redefinition of what is natural, rational and spiritual. And not only that, liberation theology affirms that this conception of what is authentically spiritual is the truest and most original inspiration of all Judeo Christian thought. Hellenistic colonial western liberal Christianity subverted this original inspiration of Christianity and transformed it in a contrary fashion. It wasn't Christianity that evangelized the Hellenistic world, but rather this philosophy that evangelized Christianity. Jesus was replaced by Aristotle, as made explicit by the presence of a Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.
In original Christian thought, the opposition is not between the soul and the body, but between life and death. The human being is a living body animated by the spirit. The spiritual is a tendency towards life, in both the body and the soul, which are never separated from each other. What is opposed to the spiritual is not the corporal, but rather the carnal. Flesh is not identified with the body, but rather with the tendency of all human beings, body and soul, towards death. The spirit is not identified with the soul, but rather with the tendency of all human beings, body and soul, towards life.
In each human being body and soul there are two tendencies: one towards life, which is the spiritual tendency, and one towards death, which is the carnal tendency. The Holy Ghost orients us spiritually towards life, in the body and in the soul. Sin orients us carnally towards death, in the body and in the soul. In original Christianity, salvation is not the salvation of the soul, but rather the salvation of the human being in body and soul. The soul is not saved from the body, as in Hellenistic philosophy, but rather the human being body and soul is saved from death. This is precisely faith in resurrection.
The IV Latin American Bishops' ConferenceThe IV Latin American Bishops' Conference was held in Santo Domingo from October 12 18, 1992. The conclusions were made public on the final day and approved on November 10 by Pope John Paul II. Any interpretation of this event should take into consideration the document of the Latin American Bishops titled "Secunda Relatio" (February 1992) and the working document (June 1992).
The essence of what took place in Santo Domingo is the affirmation of the identity of the Latin American and Caribbean Church. The Church recognized this identity and used it as a foundation in defining its future work. This identity is in clear and explicit continuation of the previous conferences at Medellín and Puebla and responds to our Church's practices during the last 30 years.
Coming to this recognition was not easy, as sectors of the Curia from Rome were clearly attempting to dismantle the identity of the Latin American Church. They rejected the working document and the traditional method of observe judge act and openly manipulated rules and appointments. Thus the Latin American church had to confront a "Roman fundamentalism" at Santo Domingo, which was expressed in a form very similar to that used by the fundamentalist sects in Latin America. In spite of everything, the local church was able to affirm its own identity, without breaking with the Church's institutional unity and at the same time affirming its Catholicism.
The essential elements of ecclesiastical identity as affirmed in Santo Domingo are:
1) A preferential option for the poor: "We make ours the clamor of the poor. We take on with renewed commitment the evangelical preferential option for the poor, in community with Medellín and Pueblo. This option is not exclusive nor excluding and will illuminate, in imitation of Jesus Christ, all our evangelizing actions." (SD 296 and 178 181).
2) Human promotion: In other words, development and liberation, as prioritized dimensions of the new evangelization (SD 157 163).
3) New signs of the times in the area of human promotion: Human rights, ecology, land, solidarity, work, migrations, democracy, the new economic order, Latin American integration (SD 164 209). These new signs shape a program for inserting the Church into civil society with a distinctly liberating and evangelizing character a very significant advance in relation to Medellín and Puebla.
4) Unity and plurality of indigenous, African American and mestizo culture (SD 243 251). Latin America and the Caribbean as a multiethnic and pluricultural continent (SD 244), demand for an evangelization based on culture (SD 243 and 299).
5) Women's participation (SD 104 110), participation of young people (SD 111 120) and children (SD 221).
6) Evangelization in the city and in the modern world: (SD 252 262).
7) Prioritized pastoral activities, in continuity with the Second Vatican Council, Medellín and Puebla (SD 290):
* A new evangelization of our peoples: commitment on the part of all, from the working communities, with special emphasis on lay people, especially young people, through catechism and liturgy, with a missionary sense (SD 293 295).
* Integral human promotion of Latin American and Caribbean peoples: taking on the clamor of the poor, a preferential option for the poor, demand for a new economic, social and political order and an affirmation of life and family (SD 296 297).
* An evangelization springing from the cultures of the large cities, among the indigenous and African American peoples, for effective educational action and modern communication (SD 298 301).
The problem with the final text as it came out of the Santo Domingo meeting is that it theoretically develops a Christology (SD 1 21) and an ecclesiology, particularly in the section titled "The New Evangelization" (23 156) that is not coherent with the liberating practice of some 30 years in the Latin American church, responding instead to a fundamentalist theological current, quite close to theology as espoused by those sects.
The identity of the Church, so clearly affirmed in the text, is thus "imprisoned" by this fundamentalist theology that is disconnected from the practice and history of our Church. An interpretive reading of the text of the Santo Domingo documents should thus free up the identity of the Latin American church based on its own historical practice. This reading should take place based on a preferential option for the poor, which is the fundamental framework for the practice and identity of our Latin American Church.
After Santo DomingoThe key task of liberation theology, in the context of the church after Santo Domingo, will be to recover the practice of the Latin American and Caribbean Church during these last 30 years; to rescuing the practice of the Church and make it conscious, in the framework of a Christology and ecclesiology coherent with its practice and that give force and shape to this practice.
Over these years, we have experienced an impressive ecclesiastical reform or renewal, sealed by the blood of thousands of martyrs. As part of this ecclesiastical renewal, we recognize the presence of the spirit of Jesus and his gospel among us. The privileged subjects of this ecclesiastical reform have been the poor, and their goal has been the construction of the Kingdom of God in Latin America. We must not forget, much less betray, this past and present of our Church. Here is the root and the basis of the identity of the Latin American Church. Only based on these foundations and with this identity can we continue working towards the future in a positive, constructive and credible manner.
The principal and most significant practice of our church will be the following:
1) The Christian Base Communities (CEBs). This is the most significant ecclesiastical and pastoral structure of the Latin American Church, root of the ecclesiastical reform and from which a new model of the Church or a new manner of being a Church is emerging. It is the CEBs that allow for people's participation in the Church, as well as for participation by the Church in the life of the people, especially the poorest, most oppressed and excluded. The CEBs are a necessary intermediate structure between the family and the parish. These two institutions are in crisis today where the CEBs are absent as this intermediate structure. As a reform, the CEBs should have greater ecclesiastical identity and spiritual dynamism, without neglecting their necessary insertion into the life of the people. We must also recognize a greater pluralism of models and types of communities and make them more flexible and open. At the same time, the CEBs urgently need greater support and accompaniment on the part of Bishops and pastoral agents. They also need greater autonomy, legitimacy and authority. In the CEBs we find the roots of a new spirituality and a new way of living and thinking about Jesus and his Church, the foundations for a new Christology and ecclesiology that are authentically Latin American.
2) New ministries and a new ministerial structure within the Church. Growth and strengthening of the ministers or lay pastoral agents, who assume the responsibility for the Church at the local level (promoters in communities, Delegates of the Word, catechists, singers, educators, lay theologians and missionaries, men and women). Renewal of a consecrated or professional ministry, reducing the clericalism and patriarchy of the ministry, overcoming a purely priestly conception of the ministry and opening to new missionary, prophetic, educational and testimonial forms. Theological and spiritual renewal of the ministers.
3) Religious Life. Specifically, the experiences of religious life within popular contexts. This movement represents more than 30 years of a rich and deep experience, root of the most significant spiritual renewal within the Church.
4) Communitarian, pastoral or popular Bible studies. The people of God are re appropriating the Bible and its interpretation. A reading of the Bible emerges that is at once communitarian and spiritual, committed to a liberating evangelization and loyal to Church tradition. The poor and oppressed are reading the Bible and increasing the authority of the Word of God in society and the Church. It is important to return the Bible to the people, so that the people may re appropriate it and thus transform themselves into the prophetic and priestly people of God.
5) Renewal of the catechism, liturgy and theology. Rescuing experiences in these areas. Still lacking is a greater cultural grounding of the catechism, of the liturgy and of the theology of popular cultural and religious traditions, particularly indigenous and African American traditions.
6) Spirituality. All the renewal within the Latin American church has had as its foundation a profound spiritual renovation, deeply rooted in the experience of God in the world of the poor and oppressed, in their resistance and liberation struggles. Spiritual practices have been radically renewed. The understanding of Jesus and testimony have become more authentic and demanding. The culmination has been the incalculable multitude of martyrs in our churches.
7) Ecumenicalism. Among Christians, and also a macro ecumenicalism, with non Christian religions. Recognition of religious and ecclesiastical pluralism at the service of the Kingdom of God in history.
8) Culture based and liberating evangelization. There is a rich experience of evangelization of religiosity and popular culture. In the future, it will be necessary to reinforce this evangelization from different cultures, a new evangelization that will definitively overcome all forms of dominating or colonial evangelization.
9) Political responsibility of the Church and of Christians. Also in this area is an entire history that must be rescued and corrected as well. Today, more than ever, we must strengthen the autonomy of the Church in all forms and at all levels vis a vis what is political, at the same time reaffirming the church's responsibility in this arena, a responsibility that the church must exercise without losing sight of its role as church.
Challenges Ahead: Roman FundamentalismIt is important to continually renew, with increasing vigor, liberation theology as the theology of life, of hope, the theology of South a Third World, non Western theology. It is important to continue reflecting and deepening thought in this direction. In the context of the new international order, the crisis of the West, after 500 years and after the Santo Domingo conference, it is imperative that theology recover the basic and fundamental sense of human life, of hope, of solidarity and of mercy.
The neo fundamentalist Catholicism that appeared with such force at Santo Domingo must be fought, particularly as expressed by representatives from Rome, who attempted to question our church's traditional method (observe judge act). They propose a theological method that disregards an analysis of reality and that proposes an option for Christ as the church's only option, and as an alternative to the preferential option for the poor. This Roman neo fundamentalism, in addition to being theologically mistaken, explicitly and directly seeks to destroy the tradition and identity of the Latin American church. In this Roman fundamentalism, very close to the discourse of the fundamentalist sects, any sense of history is completely lost, as is the sense of human life, of hope and of a utopia for the poor. This is humanly very serious, but is also theologically and spiritually perverse. When the Church loses a sense of history and of human life, it also loses the sense of the gospel and of the Kingdom of God, and its doctrine is transformed into an idolatrous Christianity. It becomes a Christianity "evangelized" by the "spirit" of the new world order, and a Church thus unable to transform the world, because the world has instead transformed the church. Christ becomes opposed to the poor, and an idolatrized Christ. It is like Christ the Pantocrator, represented beginning in the fourth century as a Roman emperor, who replaced the biblical Christ. Liberation theology is more necessary than ever in order to continue confronting all types of fundamentalisms and to rescue the spiritual sense of human life and the historic sense of the Kingdom of God.
"Modern" SpiritualismIn the new international order, with its fundamentalist and spiritual theology, a profound and structural crisis of world spirituality has been touched off. The crisis of civilization we are now experiencing also puts forth a radical reformulation of the sense of the spiritual. Modern spiritualisms are nothing more than the maximum expression of an idolatrous spirit emerging from a materialistic, consumeristic, patriarchal and militaristic system, bent on destroying life and hope.
Liberation theology thus has as a basic task this rescue of the sense of the spiritual, based on the recovery of the sense of life and hope, continuing with ancient biblical and ecclesiastical traditions. In this context, and with this spiritual sense, with this biblical faith, theology also puts forth a sense of God. It does not do this in a falsely abstract and universal form, but rather expounds a sense of God in this crisis of civilization generated by the new international order, a sense of God in the bosom of savage capitalism. It offers a sense of God from the South, based on a spiritual sense of human life.
Liberation theology seeks to recover the sense of life and of the spiritual, not only in society, but also within the Church itself. The Church is afraid of liberation theology, not because it speaks of liberation, but because it speaks of God. Our greatest fear as a Church is confronting the living God, the real and transcendent God of history, the God of Life who is present and revealed in the reproduction of life and the reconstruction of hope. There is nothing more disconcerting than speaking of God from the perspective of the poor and oppressed, from the perspective of indigenous peoples or women, young people or nature. This sense of God is disconcerting, because it is the sense of God that we find in the Biblical tradition.
This sense of God is challenging, then, because it is the transcendent God of history, and thus an anti idolatrous God. Liberation theology is, in its essence, anti idolatry and destructive of all false spirituality. It is opposed to the idolatrous underpinnings of the system, which so tempts the Church. In this context, we continue to need liberation theology to nourish our spirituality and to be able to continue believing in the God of life, amidst the world and within the Church.
An Apocalyptic TheologyFrom its inception, liberation theology was, more than anything, a prophetic theology. It will continue to be prophetic in the future, but in the historical situation we are living through now, under the new international order and savage capitalism, we must develop new forms of theology that move beyond prophecy.
In biblical terms, we can say that liberation theology must continue to continue its development as a prophetic theology, but must also assume the form of an apocalyptic theology. We must move from prophetic theology to apocalyptic theology. What does this mean? In biblical categories, the prophet acts and speaks fundamentally within an organized world, where the monarchy exists, along with the city, the temple, the mass, law, land, tribes, tribal organizations, etc. The prophet denounces injustices and announces the Word of God within this world. But, after the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem, after the destruction of this organized world, and particularly after 586 BC, the people of God lived through total destruction and chaos. It is within this context that the apocalyptic literature emerges, a literature that continues to develop much later in situations of extreme persecution and oppression.
In this new situation of chaos, oppression and persecution, the apocalyptic does not function as the prophet who denounces and acts, but rather takes on a new task reconstructing consciousness and spirituality in the midst of chaos and confusion. And this is done with symbols and visions. The apocalyptic is a literature of hope that sparks resistance and martyrdom. The oppressive system is not just an unjust system, but is represented as beasts acting with the force of the Devil. A new theology of history is developed, where the end is announced, not precisely of the world, but rather of the chaos and oppression within this world. The coming of the Kingdom of God before the final judgment is announced as well. History does not end, but lives a new creation new heavens and earth, new city, new men and women.
Today liberation theology is beginning to take on this apocalyptic form, without abandoning its prophetic side. Today, particularly among the excluded and in the Third World, we are living a situation of chaos and anomie, of extreme exclusion, oppression and persecution. In this world prophetic denunciations are no longer sufficient. What is needed is the reconstruction of consciousness, hope and a sense of history. We thus move from prophetic liberation theology to another, more apocalyptic, theology.
Liberation theology is being reformulated and recreated in new theological currents: indigenous theology, African American theology, a theology of women's liberation and eco theology. From Puebla a theology of young people is also being developed. We mention all these to demonstrate how, in the tradition of liberation theology, new liberating theologies are being born. All of this is a sign of the vitality of faith and hope among the poor, even in situations of extreme poverty, exclusion and chaos. This is also a sign that the God of Life and Hope continues to be present among us.