Marxism and Religion: Sri Lanka, Libya, Central America and Liberation Theology
Louis R Godena
louisgodena at ids.net
Tue Aug 27 21:27:51 MDT 1996
Wei En Lin believes that, as least as far as Marxism and religion are
>..... Louis Godena and I are talking at cross purposes. I believe he is
>main point; and he believes I do not understand his.
And, so far as Liberation Theology is concerned, he offers this bit of
>....As to its power fading, I think Liberation theology is just beginning to
>make itself know to the broad masses, whereas in the beginning it was
>known only to some theorists and some revolutionaries. More and more
>priests are using the pulpit to denounce capitalism in Liberation
>theological terms, at least in Central America.
I think most observers would agree that the fastest growing religious
movements in Central America are the so-called evangelical Protestant
churches, which have reproduced like fruit flies especially in El Salvador,
Guatemala, and Honduras. In Nicaragua itself, the movement has grown
exponentially, especially in the rural areas of the north and west.
There are elements within the Catholic Church, particularly in El Salvador,
that still bear twinges of a vestigial leftist conscience, but there has
been a growing conservatism within the lower and middle echelons of the
Church that has shifted the public discourse of the Catholic community to
the right. "Compromise and Reconciliation Brings Peace" was the theme of
last summer's Inter-American Conference of Catholic Bishops in San Salvador.
Liberation Theology has, in most countries in Central America, endorsed
the laying down of arms by formerly Marxist rebels, and the "peaceful"
incorporation of struggle into the state apparatus.
Wei En Lin decides, categorically, that:
>...Christianity and Capitalism are incompatible, if one divorces the
sayings of prophets
>from the doctrines of ecclesiatical authorities)
But that's the whole point, Mr Wei; Christianity, as an organized
institution in capitalist society, fully supporting the edifice of
exploitation that is modern capitalism, is much more than the mere "sayings
of prophets. It is a fully developed agency of class control, with
rituals and political hierarchies fully consonant with its role in modern
capitalist society. One simply cannot, in the modern age, capriciously
divorce the "doctrines of ecclesiastical authorities" with their consonant
role as surrogate policemen for the capitalist state, meeting in this case
the "spiritual" and non-textural needs of a bewildered and, ultimately,
I would like to remind Mr Wei of another struggle in which the Church came
to play a major, though belated role; in South Africa. Throughout most
of the 1950s and 60s, both the Anglican and Dutch Reformed Church were
deafening in their silence concerning the Apartheid policies of the national
government. Those who did speak out, like Ambrose Reeves, Anglican
Bishop of Johannesburg who publicly opposed Bantu education, were simply
deported. The other 99% went along--because they had to. Many,
like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr Beyers Naude, and Archbishop Dennis
Hurley, became anti-communists and muted their criticisms of white racism
by pointing out the evils of Soviet Communism. It was the "progressive"
Archbishop Hurley who first gave international currency--in the right wing
British press--to the bogus charge (cooked up in the SADF) that Joe Slovo
was a "colonel" in the KGB--a cry that was taken up by Helen Suzman and
other "liberal" "opponents" of the apartheid regime. There was even talk
of putting up Desomond Tutu as an "acceptable" alternative to the
"communist" Nelson Mandela, and Tutu's 1984 Nobel Prize was widely seen as
an attempt by "moderate" South Africans to create a credible black
alternative to the imprisoned ANC leadership. The Reverand Allan Boesak,
another clerical "foe" of apartheid publicly stated his preference, in
1982, for the Botha regime over that of the "hammer and sickle of the
Umkhonto We Sizwe [Spear of the Nation, ANC's armed wing]. He, along
with most of the others, sucked up to de Klerk and, later when the
National Party was losing its grip on power, the "moderate" (e.g.
pro-capitalist) wing of the ANC.
The famed Kairos Document arose as an anguished cry against this
collaboration between the state and the major religious personalities that
had come to view the anti-apartheid struggle as a vehicle for satisfying
their own political appetites. Cobbled together by a group of grassroots
priests, pastors and nuns from a handful of townships, Kairos directly
challenged the theology of the main South African churches with its "applied
concepts" of "reconciliation", "justice", and "non-violence", deeming
them a "transplantation" of "stock ideas" from a "decrepit" Christian
tradition that was "totally unrelated to our revolutionary situation."
The Kairos document had an electrifying effect on those revolutionaries
working in tandem with religious groups throughout the country.
Their euphoria died quickly. Not only did major "progressive" church
leaders decline to endorse the document, many, including Nobel Laureate
Desmond Tutu, went on record in the public media as categorically rejecting it.
Most of the original drafters of the document distanced themselves from the
Church, and, ultimately from religious work altogether. A number of them
Mr Wei, what the Kairos Document and the ensuing controversy revealed was
that the "church in struggle" was not a "perfect and holy partner." By
openly endorsing and justifying the right of the oppressed to defend
themselves against the violence of the state, and by declaring the
apartheid regime an illegitimate tyranny, the Kairos Document, together
with the Communist Party initiated Lusaka Declaration of May, 1987 set the
standard--that the Church leaders were ultimately compelled to follow--for
revolutionary South African theology.
My point is that struggle against oppression can only be joined with
theology by an active struggle against its most cherished pretexts.
Struggles that grow "spontaneously" out of "religious" roots, such as
those that you have publcly hankered after in Sri Lanka, Central America
and elsewhere, will sooner or later collapse under the weight of their own
anti-revolutionary sectarianism. Revolutionary change cannot be directed
by remote hierarchies--secular or religious--regardless of how firmly they
claim to rest on the "sayings" of dead "prophets". Revolution today is
everywhere increasingly throwing off the dead hand of mortified
superstitions, not only those emanating from Church pulpit or Party
headquarters, but also from those whose priestly aspirations belie a feeble
attempt to substitue scripture for revolutionary action.
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