Liberation Theology Is a post-Enlightenment theological movement that seeks to unite theological and social concerns on an equal footing. Liberation Theology owes its genesis to the epistemological philosophies of Kant, Hegel and Marx. It has been greatly influenced by the European Political Theology movement and by the radical North American theologians J.B. Metz, Jügen Moltmann and Harvey Cox. These men have not really been criticizing Orthodox Christianity. It is not clear if they know what it is or if they care. Their dispute has been with Protestant liberal theology or the historical and individualistic nature of existential theology. According to them an emphasis must arise that shifts away from the individualism which is the whole focus of existentialism, and to the needy masses. The causes espoused by liberation theology are across the whole spectrum of modern movements: children are to be liberated from parents, women from men and particularly husbands, homosexuals from the bondage of normal heterosexual behavior, Christians from religion and the Bible, and the underprivileged of this world from ethical and material bondage.
To liberation theology, truth must alter itself to address the social needs of its time and culture as seen situational–not by any fixed set of moral and spiritual criteria. Liberation theologians feed their ego by building a noble reputation of being for the underdog, whoever and whatever he might be, with no thought given to the morality of his position or whether the unsolicited efforts of the liberation theologian are helping or hurting the underdog in the long run. It is often questioned whether the liberation theologian is for the underdog at all, or if he is merely playing the game to make personal merchandise out of his dilemma. His disadvantaged position makes it all right for the liberation theologian to take charge of his life and begin to help him, whether he wants it or not.
The theological device of Liberation Theology is Praxis. This term, which literally means practice rather than theory, refers to the discovery and formation of a theology that is a truth born of the situation through personal participation. It might be called Enlightenment, anthropological, epistemological, socially relevant, experiential truth. Liberation theology is basically a theology of autonomy, as per the Enlightenment perspectives of Immanuel Kant and his “autonomy of reason.” This theology is not worked out by any disclosure from God or the Bible. It comes from “outside” revelation born out of individual intercourse with history. And then Liberation Theology involves the political philosophy of Karl Marx. This argument is that man as a complete being can only emerge when he is able to throw off the impersonal and hostile economic establishment of society. While some theologians argue that Marxism and Liberation Theology are indistinguishable, others say that this is not quite accurate.
Marxism and Liberation Theology
Liberation theologians have drawn upon Marx’s infamous declaration: “Hitherto philosophers have explained the world; our task is to change it” (Mario Savio rephrased Marx at Cal-Berkeley, in the 1960’s, when he said: “I am tired of reading about history; I want to go out and make it”). They profess to truly believe that theology is not meant to be doctrinal but practically involved in the struggle to bring about social justice, with autonomy and anarchy as the guiding benchmarks as to how and when the struggle is won. In order to do this, Liberation Theology makes no secret of wanting to use Marx’s class analysis that divides between the oppressed and the oppressor and brands the authorities as the oppressor. Inevitably this means that morality lies on the side of the rebel, irrespective of any artificial biblical standards of right and wrong.
Marxism and Liberation Theology openly condemn Christianity for tolerating the status quo and for justifying the oppressor by defending the patriarchal system of authority. In Liberation Theology, the authority and the oppressor are one. Marxists and liberation theologians claim that they are not departing from ancient and original Christianity. They claim that Jesus was a revolutionary and a social activist and that He drew up a new theology that was born of the class struggle of His day where He opposed the religious and political authorities, who were inevitably the oppressors, and led an assault on them. That is why the radical 60s movement was infested with Messiah-types with long hair, flowing robes, and sandals. The Student revolutionh of the 60s was and is a Jesus People movement.
Communication with God in Libration Theology
In terms of communication with God, He is totally other. The only communication with God that we can have will come about when “the poor man, who is the ‘other,’ reveals the totally other to us.” All communication with God is defendant upon taking the side of the exploited classes, identifying with their plight, and sharing their fate. We can only understand God in terms of the history that we learn by becoming involved in the social struggle with oppressed human beings. God is not revealed in nature, he is not known by faith; but dialectically in the creature’s suffering and despair. In other words, this is the religious side of Existentialism and Nihilism, only there everything is “You’ve got to be you,” but here it’s “You’ve got to be you by being him.” But the abstract religious non-reality does not change.
There is no order, no plan, and no future hope. As Karl Barth taught, there is no God that can be known apart from his actions. There is no analogy of being (analogia entis: Church Dogmatics II, Vol. I, p. 270), there is only the analogy of deeds and behavior (analogia attributionis: Church Dogmatics II, Vol. I, p. 269). These are not liber forex lessons, but statements of abstract theology and philosophy. There is nothing to man and his being, or to God for that matter, except our experiences that cannot be defined, other than an identity with the oppressed. It is only in this that we have “analogy with God,” which is one and the same with “relationship to Him.” This relationship is not real, in a physical resurrection in the future somewhere, any more than God is real and physical. It is the abstract, metaphysical unreal reality behind these symbol words in the Bible. In this struggle, somewhere, though we will not and need not know where, we will have our authenticating experiences that will give meaning to our being. It is a meaning that will not last, for we are evolutionary accidents that must become extinct like all evolutionary things. But it is what there is, and it is all there is. Who are we to complain? Without it, we would be nothing now, even as we were in the past and as we shall be in the future. After all there is no intelligence or plan that brought us here and there is no utopia for us to go to. This is why Karl Barth taught that man is born to become extinct. Death is part of the good creation of God (Church Dogmatics III, Vol. II, p. 777). By this we go back into the cosmic order that exists in the midst of the chaos. The meaning to it all is that we have changed something while we have been here. In this way we have changed God and truth. By allowing this, God has changed Himself and His truth, which He felt the need to do. This is God or man or whatever, and this is salvation or northingness–or what would you like to call it?