Friday, July 20, 2007

Am I Ernesto Cardenal?

Daniel Larison responds to my post on the relationship between God and freedom with an argument I wasn't expecting.
This liberation theology, not unlike Marxist liberation theology before it, is a perfect example of how Christians twist and distort the Faith to suit the supposed political needs of the moment.
This is interesting, because as a conservative and as a conservative Catholic, I've never had to defend myself against such charges before. So, sure, I guess insofar as we were discussing liberty from a perspective of religion, then yes, I guess you can call it "liberation theology" if you insist. But no, I don't see the connection between this argument and Marxist liberation theology. Let's go to the source of the Church's problem with Marxist liberation theology, Benedict XVI writing as Cardinal Ratzinger.
Nothing lies outside political commitment. Everything has a political color.

[...] An attempt is being made to recast the whole Christian reality in the categories of politico-social liberation praxis.
I'm making no attempt to "recast the whole Christian reality" or even part of the Christian reality. The salvation we receive because Christ died for us and rose from the dead is not contingent on joining some sort of worldwide crusade for democracy. I am not claiming that the "Christian reality" can only be seen through temporal political activism. I am pointing out that the teachings of the Catholic Church argues for political freedom, not that you're going to hell if you don't take up arms to create democracies everywhere you find injustice.
The view arose that the existing theological tradition was no longer adequate...

[...] [This] school...[cut] off the path to theology in its prior form and so encourag[ed] people all the more to produce new constructions.
Again, I don't see how this applies to me. I'm not reorienting the theological tradition Benedict speaks of in any way. I never even brought up theology.
The challenge evidently called for new answers which were not to be found in the existing tradition.
Again, I don't see how this applies to me. Benedict's illustrates his problem with Marixst liberation theology with the Sermon on the Mount. Liberation theology, he argues, takes an event in the Bible, such as the Sermon on the Mount where God sided with the poor, and chooses to interpret in according the "Marxist dialectic of history," arguing that God favored class struggle. Any attempt to disagree, furthermore, was a sign that you were part of the oppressor class, determined to hold on to power. Nevermind that this was all contrary to Church teaching and tradition, but it was the way they interpreted the Bible - and you had to agree.

Fortunately for me, the Church already has a position on the issue of temporal authority - and I happen to agree with it. Larison actually concedes this point when he turns the debate to which type of regime would best provide for a "society and government...well-ordered according to prudence, justice, charity, moderation."
To the extent that a liberal democratic government can realise these virtues or allows people to realise them, we can say that it does not stand in opposition to what God wills. It might even be argued (though I would not necessarily argue this) that this is the regime best suited for cultivating such virtues.

[...] Those who gave it much thought routinely came down, of course, in favour of monarchy...
Well, ok. But this isn't really what Bush and I are arguing. Bush has not argued that democracy, per se, is "God's gift to mankind," but that freedom is. I agree that there could be a distinction here. If freedom and liberty were still able to thrive in a monarchy, perhaps Larison would have a point. But in the last century, events have shown time and again that monarchy isn't up to the task, and that a democratic form of government is now the best suited to govern accordingly. That may not always be the case, but it is for now.

Larison also mentions a couple times that even today, Catholics are obligated to respect "legitimate authority," regardless of regime type. I also agree with this - particularly since he always qualifies authority with the word "legitimate." This is, indeed, also Church teaching.
The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them
But a regime is only legitimate if it serves the common good.
Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.
Further, the Catechism lays out what constitutes a legitimate regime.
Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility"

Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."
I'm hard pressed to think of a country today that this applies to that isn't a democracy.

Nevertheless, it is Larison's last two sentences that makes me realize we'll probably never agree on this issue.
Against the sweep of that tradition, the liberation theologians have on their side the Declaration of Independence and the occasional passage from Algernon Sydney. How could it be that I remain convinced that liberation theology is bunk?
If having the Declaration of Independence on my side makes me a liberation theologian, I'm ok with that.


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