Liberation Theology in Crisis

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Fri Dec 29 09:42:53 MST 2000

*****   José-María Vigil, "Is There a Change of Paradigm in
Liberation Theology?"

Liberation theologian, José-María Vigil, writes from Central America,
about the possibility of a change of Paradigm in Liberation Theology.
This article is currently available:

in the Net, at: [in English]

published in paper in:
- em português, REB, "Mudança de paradigma na Teologia de la
liberação?" _Revista Eclesiástica Brasileira_ 58.230 (junho 1998):
311-328, Petrópolis;
- en castellano, "¿Cambio de paradigma en la Teología de la
liberación?" _Alternativas_ 8 (junio 97): 27-46, Managua, Nicaragua;
- en castellano, "¿Cambio de paradigma en la Teología de la
liberación?" _Christus_ 701 (agosto 1997): 7-15, México;
- in english, "Is there a Change of Paradigm in Liberation Theology?"
_LADOC_ XXVIII (sept-oct 1997): 1-13, Lima.

...1. The external crisis facing liberation theology

In the first place, there is a fall in the production of materials on
liberation theology (LT).  Theologians are writing very little,
meeting very little and with fewer people.  When they do meet they
say nothing in public.  All that is heard is their silence.
Neoliberalism and "globalisation", which are enemies of the poor and
are in full upswing, are not being discussed today by theologians the
same way they discussed the enemies of the poor in the past (military
dictatorship, and capitalism at that time).

Together with the silence of theologians is the silence of the many
courses, workshops and formation seminars on current reality and
"theological renewal" that were held throughout the continent only a
few years ago and have now disappeared.  There are also examples of
theological content being toned down, with authors avoiding the
issues that provoked the greatest amount of criticism.

Instead of concentrating on the theologians, other analysts have
focused on the grassroots base of LT, the base Christian communities,
saying that they are in "recession", that maybe they are too elitist
and have not managed to embed themselves in the social fabric.

Others say that LT's language is no longer appropriate for today: It
is no longer pertinent to talk about imperialism, revolution or the
poor as historic subjects.  LT supported an imaginary social
revolution that has been overcome.

Finally, there are others who say LT's silence is not only
understandable, but that it is the most coherent approach because it
is not the time to denounce or make prophetic proclamations.  It is
time for a "sapiential" silence that speaks to daily life not with
words but with actions.  "It is not a time for prophecy but for
wisdom", they say.

If we transcend the external symptoms mentioned above we can enter
into LT's internal situation and undertake a detailed examination of
the changes we are feeling in the world today....

2.2. Socio-Analytical Mediation: Analytic Appraisal of Today's Society

For some time we have been hearing that "the social sciences are in
crisis".  The "dependence theory" was abandoned, but it has not been
easy to substitute it with another theory and the vacuum that this
produced will continue in some way.  In addition, the neoliberal
analytic strategies have gained ground and hegemony.

Without any secure analytical instrument we have been forced to see
reality from the perspective of contradictory analyses.  It is easy
for us to start doubting and to end up thinking, along with the
neoliberal economists, that the poverty in poor nations is not due to
exploitation.  Our era is one in which people are somewhat sceptical
about the possibility of eliminating poverty.  From simple economic
mechanisms we begin to believe that poverty is inevitable and because
it is inevitable it cannot be morally perverse.  There is no need for
prophetic critiques, but for a silent form of welfare.  All of this
can be presented before us as "evidence" from social analysis,
something that is simply "scientific", above all forms of

>From the option for the poor (which also guides us when we chose the
scientific instrument to be used in social analysis) we cannot accept
that the terrible inequality that exists in the world today is not
ethically perverse, regardless of the mutations that technology has
introduced to the production process, the spectacular economic growth
of the "Dragons of South-eastern Asia" or the complexity of our
reality.  We recognise that there are substantial changes in some
areas, but our perception is that basic structural problems continue
to exist (qualitatively) and have even worsened (quantitatively) in
their most troubling aspects.

...We cannot accept the idolatry of neoliberal economic "scientific
criteria", as we were not able to accept the "scientific certainties"
of Marxism.  In the face of these kinds of "scientific reasons", we
have "utopian reasons" that are more powerful (God, justice,
compassion, the universal destiny of the earth's goods, the
centrality of the person, the non-absolute character of private

We reject a "theology of the inevitable", a "culture of desperation",
the idea that there is no way out and that we have arrived at "the
end of history".

We are not against development, but want "another" development,
another model, based on human ethical values.  We do not want a
development model designed with profit as the supreme value (as
"God").  We prefer, for example, a development model which creates
more jobs instead of offering higher profits.  And we know that what
we are told is impossible is not so in reality, but only in terms of
the current environment that demands a level of "confidence" in order
to attract investment capital.

When we end up thinking that this level of profit is "natural", or
that the high level of inequality in our world is not ethically
repugnant, we have introduced into our analysis the neoliberal
"scientific" reality created from the interest of capital that is
"not concerned for the affliction of my people" (cf. Am 6:6) and has
no feeling for the fate of the majority....

It is true that some processes of economic transformation, above all
from technological advances, can result in an apparent independence
of the productive processes in relation to the exploitation of raw
materials and manual labour, which previously were the principal
contribution of the Third World to world economies.  But this
transformation can never forget the historic roots that allowed it to
happen, which are not eliminated by the simple acquisition of
technology that will supposedly emancipate the productive process
from socio-labour concerns.

An uneven distribution of wealth, which continues to grow, as acute
as that which exists in the world today is unjust, even in the
hypothetical case that there does not exist a "causal" relationship
between the two.  A rich man who is just cannot stand next to a poor
man: This is what we are told in the parable of Lazarus and what
Matthew insinuated (cf. Mt 25:31)....

... 2.6. At the level of praxis: The liberation strategy

The militants of the past decade said (at the level of praxis both
within and outside LT) that the strategy for liberation was the
"individual emancipation of one country after another from the
capitalist system by taking power".  It was the "domino theory: If
Nicaragua won, El Salvador would win, Guatemala would follow".  A few
years ago, the domino theory worked but in the opposite way, contrary
of what these militants had hoped.  In today's world, which is so
different, that global strategy is no longer viable.

It is obvious that a liberation strategy cannot pursue the
emancipation of a country or take power through arms, but must create
a new power through civil society, from within.  Strategies and paths
different from those of only a few years ago need to be followed to
achieve the same goal of liberation.  Some actions that were
revolutionary are considered reformist today and vice versa.
Objectives that were a priority in the last decades, today are
considered secondary or have disappeared.  The "paradigm" (if we
understand this word as the "historic liberation strategy") has
certainly changed.  But if a liberation strategy has disappeared
another needs to be found, and if it is not possible to find it then
it has to be invented.  What has broken down is the model for a
liberation strategy, not liberation itself.

Only naïve people "toss out the baby with the bath water".  And only
through this naïveté can one confuse the break down of a strategy
with the break down of the utopia of liberation, of the Kingdom!  The
strategy was only a simple method of achieving this utopia.  There
are people who when they do not see a way out (or do not want to see
it) do not see the need for a way out.  There are people who cannot
see a clear strategy for liberation today, so they do not see the
need for a historic praxis of transformation, despite the fact that
there is more need for this today than before....   *****

José-María Vigil's article above makes clear that as actually
existing socialism & anti-colonial/neo-colonial national liberation
movements went into crisis (in large part due to the
politico-economic crisis & eventual collapse of the USSR, whose roots
date back to the late 70s), liberation theology, too, experienced
crisis.  This is not surprising, in that liberation theology was a
Christian _response_ to the upsurge of revolutionary Marxisms &
nationalisms in the Third World.  It is no mere coincidence that both
secular leftists & Liberation Theologians began to speak of change in
political paradigm & strategy: from "individual emancipation of one
country after another from the capitalist system by taking power" to
micro-politics of "civil society" (sometimes coupled with
"anti-systemic movements" a la Wallerstein and/or "regionalism" a la
Samir Amin).  What do posters think of this change?


More information about the Marxism mailing list