The National Catholic Review

On Sunday, after his colossal “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington, D.C., Glenn Beck took aim at one of his favorite targets, Barack Obama, but in a novel way.  Beck regrets saying a few months ago that President Obama was a “racist.”  What he should have said instead, he now realizes, was that he didn’t agree with Obama’s “theology.”  And what is Obama’s theology, according to Beck?  Liberation theology, of all things. 

Here’s Beck’s definition:

I think that it is much more of a theological question that he is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim….That is a direct opposite of what the gospel is talking about…It's Marxism disguised as religion

As Ronald Reagan used to say, “There you go again.”  A few months ago, Beck decided that he would demolish the idea of “social justice,” by telling Christians if their priests, pastors or ministers use that buzz word on Sundays they should leave their churches.  As he may or may not have known, the tenets of “social justice” encourage one not only to help the poor but address the conditions that keep them poor.  He called that “communist.” 

That approach didn’t work all that well for Beck since so many Christian denominations, particularly the Catholic Church, espouse social justice explicitly.  But liberation theology?  Really? 

A little history: Liberation theology began in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, and was later was developed more systematically by Catholic theologians who began to reflect on experiences of the poor there.  The term was coined by the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, in his landmark book A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971.  Briefly put, liberation theology (and there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the status quo through the eyes of the poor.  Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn’t see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, work among them, advocate on their behalf, and help them advocate for themselves.  It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim.  It is, like all authentic Christian practices, “other-directed.” 

Perhaps more importantly (at least in my reading), it sees the figure of Jesus Christ as the “liberator,” who frees people from bondage and slavery of all kinds.  So, as he does in the Gospels, Christ not only frees us from sin and illness, Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished.  This is this kind of “liberation” being espoused.  Liberation theologians meditate deeply on Gospel stories that show Christ upending the social structures of the day, in order to bring more—uh oh—social justice into the world.  We are also asked to make, as the saying a “preferential option for the poor.” 

It’s not hard to see what Beck has against “liberation theology.”  It’s one of the same reasons some people are opposed to “social justice.”  Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor.  And that's disturbing.  Some liberation theologians even consider the poor to be privileged carriers of God’s grace.  In The True Church and the Poor, Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian, wrote, “The poor are accepted as constituting the primary recipients of the Good News and, therefore, as having an inherent capacity of understanding it better than anyone else."  That’s pretty threatening for any comfortable Christian.  For not only do we have to help the poor, not only do we have to advocate on their behalf, we also have to see them as perhaps understanding God better than we do.  

But that’s not a new idea: It goes back to Jesus.  The poor, the sick, the outcast simply "got" him better than the wealthy did.  Perhaps because there was less between God and the poor.  Maybe that’s why Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “If you wish to be perfect, sell all you have, and you will have treasure in heaven, and follow me.”  Like I said, pretty disturbing, then and now.

In its heyday, liberation theology was not without controversy: some in the church, and some in the Vatican, thought it skirted too close to Marxism--including Pope John Paul II.  On the other hand, John Paul didn’t shy away from personally involving himself in direct political activism in Poland.  It was the Latin American version of social action that seemed to bother him more.  But even John Paul affirmed the notion of “preferential option for the poor,” as did Paul VI before him.  “When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenseless and the poor have a claim to special consideration,” John Paul wrote in his great encyclical Centesimus Annus, which celebrated 100 years of—uh oh--Catholic Social Teaching.

“Liberation theology” is easy to be against.  For one thing, most people don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about.  (It even sounds vaguely suspicious, too.)  It’s also easier to ignore the concerns of the poor, particularly overseas, than it is to actually get to know them as individuals who make a moral claim on us.  For another, there are lots of overheated websites that facilely link it to Marxism.  My response to that last critique is to read the Gospels and count how many times Jesus tells us with should help the poor and even be poor.  In the Gospel of Matthew, in fact, Jesus tells us that the ones who are to enter the Kingdom of heaven are those who help “the least of my brothers and sisters,” i.e., the poor.   After that, read the Acts of the Apostles, and read about the apostles “sharing everything in common.”  Then let me know if helping the poor is communist or simply Christian.

I have no idea if President Obama subscribes to liberation theology.  But I do.  And for me, it’s somewhat personal.  Between 1992 and 1994, I worked with East African refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, and participated in Catholic parishes who tried to help poor parishioners (i.e., all the parishioners) reflect on their own struggles through lens of the Gospel.  And those Gospel passages that spoke of liberation for the poor were a lifeline to me and to those with whom I worked.  Oh, and it’s not only Jesus.  His mother had something to say about all that, too.  “He has filled the hungry with good things,” says Mary in the Gospel of Luke, “and sent the rich away empty.”  And more: "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly." 

Liberation theology has also animated some of the great Christian witnesses of our age. Several of my brother Jesuits (and their companions), some of whom wrote and taught liberation theology, were assassinated at the University of Central America in 1989, by elements of the Salvadoran military--precisely for their work with the poor, all as Christ had encouraged them to do.  Archbishop Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred in 1980, also heard the call of Christ the Liberator.  So did the four courageous Catholic churchwomen who were martyred that same year in El Salvador. 

These are my heroes.  These are the ones who “restore honor.”

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Jesus chose to be born poor; he worked as what many scholars now say was not simply a carpenter, but what might be called a day laborer; he spent his days and nights with the poor; he and his disciples lived with few if any possessions; he advocated tirelessly for the poor in a time when poverty was widely considered to be a curse; he placed the poor in many of his parables as over and above the rich; and he died an utterly poor man with only a single seamless garment to his name.  Jesus lived and died as a poor man.  Why is this so hard for modern-day Christians to see?  Liberation theology is not Marxism disguised as religion.  It is Christianity presented in all its disturbing fullness.

Glenn Beck’s opposition to “social justice” and “liberation theology” is all the more difficult to understand because of his cloaking of himself in the mantle of believer.  “Look to God and make your choice,” he said on Sunday. 

If he looked at Jesus more carefully he would see someone who already made a choice: for the poor.

James Martin, SJ


Show Comments (65)

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John Donaghy | 9/3/2010 - 4:17pm
A range of thoughts from Honduras.

Pope Paul VI's Evangelli Nuntiandi is an important work here in Latin America and I remember radical priests emphasizing its importance - the work of justice, struggling for the liberation from all types of sin and oppression are works of evanglization, not separated from but conneted with what traditionally is thought of as evangelization.

My experience is that liberation theology as a way of working pastorally has an integrity, at least here in the dicoese of Santa Rosa de Copán, since it functions side by side with a commitment to faith development, worship, and commitment to the Word of God. (People here quote scripture chapter and verse!) It is also found side by side with popular piety with the rosary, stations of the cross, and calls for frequent confession!

It is important to make this distinction between academic liberation theology and liberation theology at work in the trenches, though a good number of the "academics" are or have been, like Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, deeply involved in the lives of the poorest.

It is also important to distinguish between different liberation theologies and theologians. Some use Karl Marx's writings (especially those on alienation and fetishims) as analytical tools, much as Thomas Aquinas used Aristotle, though there are some who used Marxist solutions, rather than critique.

Lastly, the question of class. I fear that one of the greatest oversights of people outside places like Latin America is to fail to see the workings of class in countries like Honduras. Class is a reality. Class warfare is another thing altogether - pitting one class against the other so that the one class overcomes the other. That's not what's needed, nor is it what the best liberation theologians and practicioners want.

What I seek is that we all share in the Kingdom of God (fully in heaven) and that on earth we share in it as much as we can as we work to this end in our personal lives, in our lives together as the Church, and in soceity. That means that both rich and poor change - and experience real conversion.
Ken Johnson | 9/2/2010 - 9:45am
Continued from my previous post...

Pope Paul VI goes on, ''Between evangelization and human advancement- development and liberation- there are in fact profound links. These include links of an anthropological order, because the man who is to be evangelized is not an abstract being but is subject to social and economic questions. They also include links in the theological order, since one cannot dissociate the plan of creation from the plan of Redemption. The latter plan touches the very concrete situations of injustice to be combated and of justice to be restored. They include links of the eminently evangelical order, which is that of charity: how in fact can one proclaim the new commandment without promoting in justice and in peace the true, authentic advancement of man? We ourself have taken care to point this out, by recalling that it is impossible to accept that in evangelization one could or should ignore the importance of the problems so much discussed today, concerning justice, liberation, development and peace in the world. This would be to forget the lesson which comes to us from the Gospel concerning love of our neighbor who is suffering and in need.''

The roots of this theology go back very far indeed. Fr. Martin has done a good job of mentioning its biblical roots.  I'd like to add the following statement from John Chrysostom, cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: ''Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. the goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.''238 ''The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity'':239 (CCC #2446)

The second quote above is from Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Vatican II document on the laity.

(To be continued...)
Ken Johnson | 9/2/2010 - 9:25am
I think the responses to the original post have gone off track. The issue is not whether Liberation Theology is Marxist, but whether it is Catholic. The fact that the CDF/Ratzinger and Pope JPII took issue with certain elements of Latin American Liberation Theology does not mean that the magisterium has rejected it altogether. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The problem in Latin America was that so much emphasis was being placed on liberation from economic injustice, pitting the haves in a struggle against the have-nots and vice-versa, that some theologians were losing sight of Jesus' salvific work of redemption from the bonds of sin. Authentic Catholic theology emphasizes the importance of economic justice, also called distributive justice, but not at the expense of losing sight of the communal and personal dimensions of grace that redeems us from sin. In the end, the two aspects cannot be fully separated.

Pope Paul VI stated in Evangelii Nuntiandi that ''As the kernel and center of His Good News, Christ proclaims salvation, this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him.'' But he goes on to say ''But evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man's concrete life, both personal and social. This is why evangelization involves an explicit message, adapted to the different situations constantly being realized, about the rights and duties of every human being, about family life without which personal growth and development is hardly possible,[60] about life in society, about international life, peace, justice and development- a message especially energetic today about liberation...'' (to be continued)
Anonymous | 9/1/2010 - 4:02pm
I don't understand the defensiveness of suggesting that one give ear to what the Magisterium has said on this subject.  Nonetheless, I did not and do not intend to question anyone's "fealty".

At the risk of inflaming the situation more, I offer this quote from the "Instruction" with respect to Marxist "theory" vs. "reality":

The warning of Paul VI remains fully valid today: Marxism as it is actually lived out poses many distinct aspects and questions for Christians to reflect upon and act on. However, it would be "illusory and dangerous to ignore the intimate bond which radically unites them, and to accept elements of the Marxist analysis without recognizing its connections with the ideology, or to enter into the practice of class-struggle and of its Marxist interpretation while failing to see the kind of totalitarian society to which this process slowly leads." (emphasis added).
Anonymous | 8/31/2010 - 6:52pm
''To that point, you mention ''waiting for a benign Marxist dictator.'' Marx never did wait for one himself, that idea gets closer to Plato than Marx. Marx postulated a dictatorship of the proletariat, which would replace the dictatorship of the bourgeosie. He never spelled out how that would get installed, except to suggest it might work like the direct democracy of the Paris Communes.''
- I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree, as I'm pretty sure that the notion of ''proletariat'' dictatorship inevitably results in Leninism/Stalinism; but, hey, don't let facts get in the way.  I just find it hard to believe anyone actually still arguing that with a straight face these days (see more below).

''I only mean that in attempts to make sense out of how our current economic system functions, or more to the point, malfunctions, Marx is pretty useful.''
- Again, since it's been left in the ''dustbin of history'', I find it hard to believe someone still makes the argument about the usefulness of its critical dialectic; I think even the Europeans have moved on.

''Fortunately for me, I am not a theologian, but thank you for your concern that I might be on the wrong side of Pope Benedict's good graces and various prohibitions. I know I musn't, but I still think bad thoughts. I suspect there are other issues related to my fealty to the Curia which might come up before this one during my investigation.''
- I will take the tone of this to be sarcastic humor rather than outright derision.  Nonetheless, theologican or not, as an Associate Editor at a Catholic journal, I would have thunk one would take one's ''fealty'' to Catholic theology a bit more seriously and undertake at least some defense of how it is that you set aside the philosophical problems the Instruction pointed out.  Unless, that is, your view is that Catholics needn't be burdened with such troubles as their relationship to Magisterial authority, or, barring that, be bothered by the likes of a pretty darn smart intellectual like Ratzinger?

''As for the ''80s-nish'' of this conversation, I assume you mean the 1880s? ''
- finally, no, I mean instead the 1980s.  As in, after the defeat of Communisim and its dehumanizing statism, I can't believe people are still saying with a straightface that is intellectual framework is ''still useful for its critical analysis.''  Again, I think most serious intellectual thought has moved on.

So, bottomline, if you're critique is that critics of Marxist analysis make an invalid step in equating Communism in its historical form with Marxist theory, I say, no we are not so misstepping and the burden of proof, given the history of the last 50 years or so, is on those propping up Marxist theory to show otherwise.  I believe history is on our side.
Helena Loflin | 8/31/2010 - 4:36pm
The new rug in the Oval Office includes notable quotes from five of our greatest leaders:

“The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Government of the People, By the People, For the People” – President Abraham Lincoln
“No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings” – President John F. Kennedy
“The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us” – President Theodore Roosevelt
There's that collective salvation again.  I had no idea that President Theodore Roosevelt was a Marxist and supporter of Liberation Theology.

Beck must be hyperventilating.

Anonymous | 8/31/2010 - 4:09pm
Mr. Clarke,

I remain perplexed.  You admit that Marxism has its problems when it is played out as a "political structure" or movement, yet still hold to its theoretical usefulness for analysis.  How, if the theory fails in reality, does that not indict the theory in itself?  We're talking about economics, after all, which purports to be a social science, i.e. its theory has to be translated and workable in "the real world", so to speak.  Are you content, then, to wait for a benign Marxist dictator to implement the theory? You will, I am afraid, be waiting a while.  Moreover, I may not have my theology correct, but wasn't Card. Ratzinger's "Instruction" on Liberation Theology aimed precisely at the incompatibiilty of Marxist analysis with Roman Catholic theology?  If I am correct, then how haven't you just admitted to continuing an analysis which, in the view of not only the current Pope, but a pretty darn smart theologian (whom I do not endorse 100% of the time) is incompatible with our theological anthropology?  I don't see how one can do that & still find it useful for analysis or without placing oneself outside the Catholic tradition.

This whole conversation seems so awfully 80s-ish to me.
Gabriel Marcella | 8/31/2010 - 1:52pm
Let's not elevate Beck to the exalted status of theologian or historian. Beckification is dumming down our culture by reducing theological principles, sociology, economics, history, international relations, foreign policy, and political theory to sound bytes, catchy slogans, and theater.  God help us!
Helena Loflin | 8/31/2010 - 1:20pm
Try 1776 on for size: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Sounds like a Declaration made in the name of collective salvation to me.
Helena Loflin | 8/31/2010 - 1:06pm
If been a Catholic for 61 years and nine months.  This is the first time I've been told that Catholic social justice is just politics.
Helena Loflin | 8/31/2010 - 1:02pm
PRESIDENT OBAMA: "You can take your diploma, walk off this stage and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and the other things that our money culture says you should buy, you can choose to narrow your concerns and live life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America's, but I hope you don't, not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although I believe you do have that obligation; not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get to where you are today, although I do believe you have that debt to pay. It's because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation."

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "And recognizing that my fate remains tied up with their fates, that my individual salvation is not going to come about without a collective salvation for the country."

Sounds like "Love thy neighbor as thyself" to me.  Why else are Catholics taught to pray for others?  To do good for others?  Why else do we pray for the souls of the deceased? Why else do Catholics believe that we must do good works as well as have faith?  If all I care about is my own salvation on earth, how can I ever achieve Eternal Salvation?    

I'm thinking that "Prosperity Gospel" Christians would have something very good to learn from the president's words about how to achieve their own salvations.
Anonymous | 8/31/2010 - 12:14pm
Mr. Clarke,

Socialism, whatever form it has taken has always failed except once and in that case the people abandoned it after one generation.  Even if it didn't fail, it is a poisonous philosophy that stifles incentive because incentives would cause someone to arise above others.  Socialism cannot handle incentive because it cannot be shared equally.  It is socialism's basic flaw even if it coudl work.

Socialism can work in small voluntary organizations and as one person said to me while discussing it, it can work only til the horizon.  Beyond the horizon we are unwilling to share  what we have gained.  Unfortunately for a large percentage of human beings  they are unable to share beyond their own walls.
Anonymous | 8/31/2010 - 12:04pm
Jeff Landry, Tom Maher,

I believe the ''Clarke'' above is Kevin Clarke from this site.
Anonymous | 8/31/2010 - 11:57am
There are places which shows Obama embracing Jerimiah Wright and plenty of places where Wright embraces Black Liberation Theology.  And there are clips on Beck's show which show Obama  talking about salvation.  I suggest everyone watch the Beck show on this.  At least everyone will be on the same page
Anonymous | 8/31/2010 - 11:53am

This topic has nothing to do with religion.  When people use the term ''social justice'' think politics not religion.  When people use the term ''liberation theology'', think politics not religion.   People are using their own personal politics to hijack religion for their  political objectives.  So to talk about heresy is meaningless in this  discussion.

If you have the time, watch the four videos of the Beck show on this.  It is all about politics, and power politics more than just an occasion.

The use of religion on this site  to promote one's personal politics is rampant.  So consider it in this context.
Helena Loflin | 8/31/2010 - 11:33am
Only Democrats can be heretics.

Can someone please provide links to President Obama's speeches or comments about his belief in or support of Liberation Theology?  How about Obama's personal definition of Liberation Theology?

Oh, there are none?  I thought so.  "Christianity expert Glenn Beck" once again making it up as he goes along...laughing all the way to the bank.
Anonymous | 8/31/2010 - 10:43am
Why is it that liberals always have to disagree by reducing their opponents' positions to money, thus reducing their opponents to corrupt shills bought and paid for?  Funny you only mention the Reagan administration, Mr. Mahon.  It was actually the Carter administration, more precisely its Polish-descended Nat. Security Advisor, that got Pope John Paul II more involved (as if he needed any prompting).  So, under your telling, JP II's concern for the poor was simply the result of the fact that the Reagan Admin. "dump(ing) piles of cash into Poland"?  If so, pls. provide some actual evidence for your assertion.  Until then, you are simply casting unsubstantiated assertions, which amounts to slander.  And I thought conservatives were supposed to be the jaded, cynical people.

And exactly what "American economic interests in the Global South" are you referring to?  Our oil primarily comes from the Middle East, as Venezuela has become more unstable under that great champion of social justice, Hugo Chavez.  Most of our manufacturing comes from the Far East.  Our technology is mostly invented in Silicon Valley.  So what dominant Latin American economic interest is so threatned? Argentinian wine?  Cocaine?

Finally, you set up a false dichotomy in your last sentence: JP II's "rushed" canonization vs. a "true Gospel bishop".  That is sad.
Joseph Mahon | 8/31/2010 - 10:22am
It is a little reported fact that John Paul II had great concern for the poor; however, under pressure from the Reagan administration which dumped piles of cash into Poland, John Paul II sounded the death knell for liberation theology. Why? Because, if its principles are followed as the Gospel which they are, then American economic interests in the Global South would have been seriously threatened. It is to our economic advantage to keep people in the Global South poor. With regard to concern for the poor, John Paul's suppression of liberation theology was then quite disingenuous. BTW why the rush to canonize John Paul II and no movement on a true Gospel bishop-Ocscar Romero?
Anonymous | 8/31/2010 - 9:49am

I'm amazed to learn people still subscribe to the time-worn argument that "Marxism isn't Communism, its never been tried."

Show me where Marxism has been tried, and you'll more than likely show me a place where Communism has grown up in its place & state-control is pervasive.

This, by the way, helps explain the difference in JP II's actions with respect to Poland vs. Latin America which Fr. Martin pointed out (although I'm unsure of whether he intends to criticize the Pope for it).  In Poland, there was a viable alternative ready & available in the Solidarity Movement.  This is quite different from the situation in Latin America wherein you had a violent rabble incapable of securing basic order had the dictatorships fallen.
Tom Maher | 8/31/2010 - 9:35am
Dear Clarke,

Give me a break.  
 Please.  You did not know Marx ultimately did not advocate the domination of anything? 
Marx was a control freak of the first order. It might be better to ask what part of time and space didn't Marxism want to dominate.  And all Marx's idea were implemented by communist nations worldwide.  So domination wasn't just an idea from the 1830s communist  total control by the state of all sapects of life  domination was a observable reality in all commuist nations for most of the 20th centuery.

Central Marxist doctrine wa the "dictatorship of the prolateriat" meaning one pasrty control by the communist party everywhere.  And then there was the explicit Marcist goal of "world dominatation" whcih the commusit were dutiflly carring out over the decades before its collapse.  

Futher religion was prohibited. So was free speech and press. Private property was nto allowed or private ownership.  Everhthing including the familty was subordinate to the state.  And the state was strickly controlled by the communsit party, no debates or opposition party are allowed by Marxism.
   Ironically this dictatorship principle was one of the weakest link of Marxism nobody want to prepetuate dictatorship and dictatorships are hard to prepetuate on there own. . This is not anciet history.  The entire Soviet Union and allits allies renounced Marxist communism only twenty years ago. Marxism is a failed  political and economic system massivley rejected by all the people that lived under it.   

Nobody is liberated by Marxism.  Marxism does not work. Mawxism is monolithically totalitarian - all controlling and dominating by the expressed words of Karl Marx.
Brendan McGrath | 8/31/2010 - 1:19am
You know, stepping back a bit, I'm both bemused and bothered by an element of all this that I don't think people have really focused on too much: at least from a Catholic perspective, what we have here is a heretical talk show host (or non-orthodox, or whatever - are Protestants, Mormons, etc. considered heretics in the same way Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites, etc. are?) criticizing a heretical president for his theology and lecturing us on what Christianity is all about, and yet somehow that escapes many people.  I simply use the harsh term "heretic" without all the relevant nuances and footnotes in order to make the situation clearer. The same could apply to any non-Mormon Christian denomination: if you're a Presbyterian, you've got an error-ridden (heretical?) non-Presbyterian lecturing you on what Christianity is all about, etc.  It never ceases to bemuse and bother me that in America, religion matters, but not theology/doctrine. 

Recently I heard Glenn Beck telling people (I'm paraphrasing here) to get in touch with truth or something, to find truth at chuch, and he said it didn't matter what church, just find truth, etc.  Does anyone else see how bizarre that is?  If it's truth/correctness/accuracy in belief you're after, then of course it matters which church you're going to, because they disagree on various questions about what the truth is.

Similar oddities occur with the issue of who should be allowed to speak or receive awards at Catholic colleges.  Many see no problem with allowing George W. Bush to receive an award or speak at a Catholci college, but from a Catholic perspective, isn't he a heretic, or doesn't he hold heretical ideas?  Doesn't he reject the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, Transubstantiation, various sacraments, Purgatory, the Catholic views of justification, original sin, merit, etc., etc., not to mention infallibility and the primacy of the pope?  When did dogmatic theology (as contrasted with moral theology) cease to matter, with the only considerations being one's views on abortion, homosexual activity, etc.?  Certainly it mattered to Pope Pius IX, who, in "Ineffabilis Deus," in which he proclaimed ex cathedra the Immaculate Conception, wrote that it " is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."  Moreover, "if anyone shall dare - which God forbid! - to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart."   And yet it's OK to have Bush, Glenn Beck, or any non-Catholic speak at a Catholic college, just as long as they agree on the hot-button social issues?  It's OK to give them awards?  Isn't it giving scandal, allowing the youth to admire and honor someone who's "suffered shipwreck in the faith," etc.?

Obviously I'm not saying that Bush or whoever shouldn't be allowed to speak at a Catholic college - I'm only saying that I do not see how you can include Bush but exclude Obama, or exclude a dissenting Catholic, etc.  And as I said, my overall point, returning to Glenn Beck here, is that it's frustrating to see how nobody seems to care about doctrine/theology/belief anymore - hence nobody finds it odd to have a Mormon criticizing the president for holding views out of the theological mainstream!
Anonymous | 8/30/2010 - 10:54pm
''I was expecting anyone who watched the videos to be appalled!''

Actually I was appalled but was being polite not to mention it because of all the people here who support Obama.  I was appalled at how we could elect a president who subscribed to the theology of James Cone.  I had seen Beck's analysis before in other places but thought he presented it fairly clearly. for black liberation theology but his conflating of Catholic liberation theology with it did not come through as coherent.  I would be interested in the similarities and differences between the two.

His analysis of the social justice issue is dead on correct.  People mouth this concept and think it excuses them of any further thinking.  Its use has become a joke and the term no longer has any meaning.

So I am not sure what I am supposed to be appalled at.  He comes across a little bit clownish but apparently his analysis was correct as the author of the book on  the subject who was there testified.
David Nickol | 8/30/2010 - 8:16pm
JR Cosgrove says: I watched the four episodes of Glen Beck on liberation theology that David Nickol recommended. . . . These videos were quite good and I am one who has rarely seen Beck before. 

I was expecting anyone who watched the videos to be appalled!
Helena Loflin | 8/30/2010 - 7:11pm

Mormons believe that God created multiple worlds and each world has people living on it. They also believe that multiple Gods exist but each has their own universe. We are only subject to our God and if we obtain the highest level of heaven we can become gods ourselves.

The Book of Mormon is a book of LDS scripture that takes place during the same time as the Bible and takes place on the American continent. It follows the stories of two tribes who descended from the family of Lehi. After Jesus' resurrection LDS people believe he visited the peoples of the Americas.
While most religions believe in God, the LDS religion believes in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as separate beings. They also believe that God, Jesus and resurrected beings have bodies of “flesh and bone.”
In the LDS religion any worthy male can be given the priesthood and is given specific duties. Black people were not allowed to have the priesthood until 1978. Females are not allowed to have the priesthood.
There are three heavens: the Celestial Kingdom, Terrestrial Kingdom, and Telestial Kingdom. The Celestial is the highest, where God and the ones who followed his law reside. The Terrestrial is the middle, where people who followed the Law of Moses reside. The Telestial is the lowest, where the ones who followed carnal law reside.
Mormon Scriptures include the Old and New Testament (the King James Version of the Bible), the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Mormons also believe in the doctrine of continuing revelation - the belief that God has not changed since biblical times and continues to call prophets (men of God given Priesthood authority to act in the name of God for the benefit of humanity) in modern times as well as in times of old. Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was the first to be called as a prophet in this dispensation and was the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was through him that the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price were translated, and most of Doctrine and Covenants was recorded by him.
Anything that the current prophet says in official capacity is considered official canon.
Anonymous | 8/30/2010 - 7:07pm
I also have watched or listened to Beck very little (only to try to see what the fuss was all about).  My comments about Beck's Washington event have more to do with the coverage.  It seems that even the liberals have not noticed much racism and/or violence at this event.  In fact the coverage has been strangely neutral or positive in general.

I have been saying that the "Tea Party" is an under-represented movement because the media has so successfully demonized the movement.  There are many people who in general support the libertarian-bent Tea Party movement but would not want to be seen at a rally lest they be called out as a racist and a bigot.

This Beck event, I think, is a very significant development in this so called Tea Party Movement.  I think the movement gains by at least seeming sensible and peaceful.

I would suggest that the prospects for the Democrats will look even worse because of this event whether you agree with Beck or not.
Anonymous | 8/30/2010 - 6:23pm
It appears First Things editor is also against Beckian revival:

PS- if not clear in earlier posts, I find Beck's civic religion and "liberation theology" equally suspect.
Anonymous | 8/30/2010 - 4:44pm
I watched the four episodes of Glen Beck on liberation theology that David Nickol recommended.  Beck does conflate Black Liberation Theology with t he South American version a lot though his main focus is on Black Liberation Theology.  These videos were quite good and I am one who has rarely seen Beck before.  It seemed like standard Protestant theology but he does  bring in James and works.  So I am not sure if he misrepresented much.  I do not know all the differences between Black Liberaton Theology and the South American variety though there are some obvious difference.  Beck had an expert on Black Liberation Theology essentially approve all  he had said.

He also identified himself clearly as a Mormon and I would not know where Mormonism fits into in all this.  Beck was once a Catholic so it seems a lot of Catholicism slipped into the discussion.
Anonymous | 8/30/2010 - 4:26pm
People get all worked up over the issue of "socialism" or Marxism; however, the origins of Marx's critique of society and his particular form of historicism is found in Hegel's idea of the dialectic.  Without Hegel there would be no Marx and both believe in the idea of historial progress for the temporal perfection of man.

Let us call the leftist theologans what they really are - modern gnostics...

David Nickol | 8/30/2010 - 4:11pm
Professor Lee

What I thought I saw in your post was an implication that Fr. Martin didn't ''get'' Glenn Beck. You faulted Fr. Martin for failing ''to draw the distinction between the liberation theologies of Sorbino and Gutierrez and the Black Liberation Theology of James Cone.'' It seemed to me (and I am willing to accept that I misread you) that somehow Beck himself actually made this distinction. In fact, he lumps all liberation theologies together and even seems to single out South American Catholic liberation theology as a particularly clear-cut and pernicious example of an attempt to pervert Christianity. This is from the transcript of the show on Youtube that I linked to:

BECK:  . . . . Latin America — why don't you explain Latin America, because Latin America, in the '80s and '90s, the church actually was the thing that they used to be able to have this really take off. This is probably the most successful of liberation theology, correct?
BRADLEY: Yes. One of the odd interpretations of Marxist thought and theology happened in central and south America, right in the church. And it was really the fantastic work of the current pope, who actually rooted out liberation theology from that region. And that is something we talk about at the Acton Institute all the time. That's a very good resource for that.
BECK: So Ratzinger — he was the prefect of the congregation in 1981. He said that liberation theology movement — he saw it sweeping across. He said, and I quote, ''It is a fundamental threat to the faith of the church.''
Fortunately, it didn't work, but it came close. The church was strong enough to root them out. Now, why did they use the church? They wanted control of the government. But the Catholic Church is so strong in Latin America that they couldn't make any headway. They had to get in the church and pervert it.
It's about social justice. They used that as vehicle right into the church. They used the media. In our case, in this — today, they want the economic engine for the world. This is a global thing. It's what makes it, to me, seem much more sinister.

You said on Mirror of Justice, ''It is very important to the national conversation on race that Beck is seeking, that we try to understand Black theology, which is complexly related to Martin Luther King's pacificism and the Black Power movement of Malcom X.'' Actually, what I believe Beck is trying to do is not seek a national dialogue on race, but to totally discredit Black liberation theology and Barack Obama (and all ''social justice types'') along with it. Beck's guest on the show I linked to was Anthony B. Bradley, author of Liberating Black Theology, with whom Beck says on the show that he worked intensively to get his information right. On, there is a quote about the book (which I assume to be a blurb taken from the back cover) by Craig Vincent Mitchell, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that says in part:

''Anthony Bradley's analysis of black liberation theology is by far the best thing that I have read on the subject. Anthony's book is comprehensive and in-depth. He covers all of the bases, and thereby provides the reader with all of the information that he needs to understand the critical issues involved with black liberation theology. By covering such figures as James Cone, Cornell West, and Jeremiah Wright, we see all of the nuances involved with their approaches to the subject. His explanation of victimology, Marxism, and aberrant Christian doctrine make a noxious mix of ideas that would make any true Christian wary of anything even approaching black liberation theology. 

Beck condemns all liberation theology and apparently thinks any talk of social justice is a way for leftists or Marxists to get their foot in the door and take over the government and then the world. To quote Beck, "If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, 'Excuse me, are you down with this whole social justice thing?' If it's my church, I'm alerting the church authorities: 'Excuse me, what's this social justice thing?' And if they say, 'Yeah, we're all in on this social justice thing,' I am in the wrong place."
Anonymous | 8/30/2010 - 3:46pm

Any sane American is bound to go after Modern Liberation Theology (derived from the Marxist corruption of the original.) It is a false teaching that is a blight on the landscape of American Christendom.
My loyalties lie with Christ. Obviously. He had little or no preoccupation with the value of wealth as is evidenced by many of the things he said and did. My two favorite examples are of the “tax collector” (this provided in the article by Fr. James Martin S.J., thank you—the importance of which we both agree on) and the account of the demon who asked to be sent into the herd of pigs. The tax collector was told to give up his riches and follow Christ in order to gain heaven. Christ sent the herd of pigs (wherein resided the demon) over a cliff, evidencing his lack of regard for things of material value.
By what I gleaned from the article, regarding todays version or what I choose to call “Modern Liberation Theology,” Fr. Martin believes, it reflects the above account(s) of Christ's disdain for wealth; but isn't the acquistion of wealth and material provision promised by “Modern Liberation Theology” a contradiction of this? Modern Liberation Theology is not a support of the notion of religious freedom wrought by freedom from material bonds. Quite the opposite. So Beck is the bad guy? I think not. Didn't Beck echo the sentiments of Christ? Are we quashing that because a false teaching isn't the problem? What is? A Marxist Communism?
O-kay let's go after Marxist Communism for a minute. Yes, we as a society are leaning toward it, and it is the biggest manifestation of the enemy that modern man has to contend with today. Shall we minimize this because there are worse things? There aren't worse things. Communism = the absence of religion. Modern Liberation Theology = the absence of religion. Both are enemies to Christendom. Both should be addressed.
Tell me again why we are going after a guy who is going after the enemy?
Cloaking a false teaching with the inaccurate label of “social justice” is just another trick of the enemy.
The ultra-conservatives are not in opposition to social justice. This proof is provided in the pro-life movement. We defend and honor the lowliest of the lowly, the “unborn,” a voiceless class of the most oppressed people in the history of history. While doing so, we are accused of not supporting the “Social Justice” teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. If we are not, who is?
Vince Killoran | 8/30/2010 - 2:49pm
Marx wore a lot of hats but I think his 1844 MANUSCRIPTS come close to capturing the relationship of work to value.  The authors of papal encyclicals as well as the mid 20th century Catholic corporativists were careful to put distance between themselves and Marx but they share considerable ground in considering the alienation of modern men and women from the wage labor system.
Thomas Farrelly | 8/30/2010 - 1:38pm
It would save us all a lot of confusion, if we would admit that Liberation Theology is misnamed.  It is in no sense a theology, but rather a political movement that favors a number of social and economic initiatives, and is based on certain assumptions about society and morality that reflect the biases and preferences of the authors.  Dressing these up with carefully selected Biblical passages does not make them a Theology.

So, the ideas propounded by so-called Liberation Theologians and their disciples should be judged, like any other political and social ideas, on their own merits.
Are they based on reality, are they practical, do they make sense to an American who works, has a family, and has very real problems of his own to deal with.
David Malham | 8/30/2010 - 1:08pm
It was a joy to read Fr. Martin's defense of tolerance and social justice. Many of us need this response (as antidote) to Glenn Beck's hate-mongering, phony Christianity. 
Martin Gallagher | 8/30/2010 - 12:46pm
Fr. Martin,

I do not think we disagree about authentic Christian liberation theology.  I do think you do not give JPII enough credit for his concern for the poor - in Latin America, Africa etc.  You state that  "he favored political action in one part of the globe but not in others-for a variety of reasons." What political action in these regions do you think he should have supported? Do you think his "variety of reasons" were valid?  I would love to see an article addressing this. 

You also say, "yes, I see the Marxist influence in liberation theology, mainly in its call for an analysis of those structures that keep the poor poor.  (That is, Karl Marx wasn't a complete fool: he did have some intelligent insights.)" 

What do you make of the CDF's response to the Marxist elements in liberation theology?  I am concerned that people hijack the term "liberation theology" to reinterpret the Gospel into a political message rather than a salvific one.  I am also concerned that some Catholics use some tenets of "liberation theology" to discount the Magisterium of the Catholic Church as yet another power structure.  Do you share those concerns?

Catholic response to Marxism in liberation theology

Helena Loflin | 8/30/2010 - 11:55am
Beck frequently invokes Christianity and Jesus Christ. 

Glenn Beck is a Mormon by choice/conversion.  He never mentions that during his appearances or broadcasts.

Apparently, Beck's followers and apologists believe he is an expert on Christian teaching. 

Is Mormonism a Christian faith?

Kevin Lee | 8/30/2010 - 11:19am
I have never defended Glenn Beck, as it seemed to me that David Nickol's post suggested. (If I am wrong in that, I apologize in advance.) The truth of the matter is that I don’t watch him, and I only know of him through what I’ve read.  I am, however, a reader and great  admirer of Fr. Martin, who is cautious and thoughtful.
 In my Mirror of Justice post, I sought to advance the cause of hermeneutic good will and accuracy. I think it is best to let experts like James Cone and Dwight Hopkins describe what Black theology is and where it comes from. I also think that it is of vital importance that we have a open discourse on race-which seems to underlie a great deal of political rhetoric today. I assume that David is correct in his post that Beck gets it all wrong. But, we should be careful to ensure that the African-American voice is not silenced by attributing Black theology to others. 
HOLYTRINITY | 8/30/2010 - 11:13am
Thanks Jim for your accurate assessment of Glenn Beck's demagoguery. He is a wolf in sheep clothing. I pray for the poor souls he is leading astray.Keep up giving good news to the poor.
Anonymous | 8/30/2010 - 10:58am
My guess is that Marx would be a capitalist today.  Nearly all his ideas played out wrong.  He was looking at the negative consequences of the industrial revolution and these were all faux concerns over time but very real problems in the short term.  Marx was after a long term solution but his ideas actually made things  worse and capitalism over time actually solved the problems better than any other method.  Thus, today if Marx was an honest man, he would reject any form of collectivism and embrace capitalism.
Stanley Kopacz | 8/30/2010 - 10:46am
All this quibbling about Marxism as a beginning for liberation theology analysis is interesting.  Aren't the liberation theologians starting with this secular philosophy the way Big Tom Aquinas started with Aristotelianism.  Is Marxism any more wrong than Aristotelianism, which seemed to be wrong about a lot?  As Fr. Martin said, Marx didn't have to be wrong about everything.  I suppose Aristotle wasn't wrong about everything, either, but I'd need some help on that.
JOHN CREAMER JR MR | 8/30/2010 - 10:39am
Thank you for this thoughtful reflection. 

I think David Nickol raises an important point.  Was Beck really talking about Catholic liberation theology or did he have in mind black liberation theology, like Obama's pastor in Chichago, whose name fails me for a moment? 

Most of black liberation theology is probably based on the Gospel, however, I recall that Obama's pastor and Pat Robertson agreed that God allowed 9/11 to happen to punish America (for different sins, of course.)  This is not the loving God of the Gospels.
Livia Fiordelisi | 8/30/2010 - 9:39am
In my opinion, the caricature of Christianity The Religion presented by Mr. Beck and others (including some bishops) stands in opposition to the living Christ, which we discern in our hearts. We must choose wisely.
Beth Cioffoletti | 8/30/2010 - 8:35am
Sorry, that last comment got away from me before it was ready to go!

The economics of liberation theology are rooted in learning from the poor.  How to trust each other.  How to know God.  How not to be afraid.

Then we wouldn't need to hoard weapons, bank accounts, insurance policies.  That change in attitude, alone, would go a long way toward redistributing the fruits of the earth.
Beth Cioffoletti | 8/30/2010 - 8:22am
if you have ever been poor, or lived with people who are truly poor, you know that the poor are different.  They live differently.  They do not hedge themselves with bank accounts and insurance policies like the rest of us.  They trust and depend on each other a lot more than the rest of us.  Their concept of and relationship with God is immediate - "give us this day, our daily bread" - is taken at its word.

The poor of the world have something to say and give to those of us who are slaves to our insecurities and fear.

This is how I understand liberation theology.

Glenn Beck's is popular because he is a master deciever and people want to be deceived.
Anonymous | 8/30/2010 - 7:55am
I did not bring up Father Coughlin and he was introduced in the first comment and wrongly so.  He was always a man of the left, a redistributive advocate of economic assets as was Huey Long.  So to lump him with Huey Long would be just another indication that he was another progressive advocate of left economic policies.  There is a tendency of people to think that if two people protest the same thing, they are the same.  Coughlin was always on  the left, till he was silenced.  Because he protested Roosevelt does make him somehow right wing.  That is sloppy thinking.

In no way am I defending Coughlin.  He was just another dysfunctional member of the left but one cannot just arbitrarily throw him into one's hated opposition by saying he did not like my hero.

Coughlin is not an issue here but just what are the so called ideas of liberation theology and what is social justice.   Beck nailed that use of the term social justice is a charade and there is no better example than as it is used here.  People hide behind the term but in reality often hurt the poor than help them when they do this.
David Nickol | 8/30/2010 - 7:25am
There is a post on Mirror of Justice that says, ''Martin, despite his typical erudition, fails to draw the distinction between the liberation theologies of Sorbino and Gutierrez and the Black Liberation Theology of James Cone.'' It should be noted that Glenn Beck does not make this distinction himself. See his show on liberation theology posted on Youtube in four parts here, here, here (especially), and here. He presents black liberation theology and South American liberation theology as two examples of how Christianity is perverted.
John Stabeno | 8/30/2010 - 3:19am
In defense of Glen Beck, I think one needs to understand his background and appreciate his own amazement of how he strikes a chord with so many Americans. Glen Beck is a recovering alcoholic. That is, one who has come to terms with their own darkness, demons, and humanity. He has had a spiritual awakening and continues to manifest humility. He professes to be a seeker of wisdom and is open to correction and criticism, realizing that his opinionated tendencies and character defects will continually manifest themselves throughout his human existence. I have found it a pleasure to watch him mature and grow as his innate leadership talents unfold.

As this particular blog focuses on his views and criticism of liberation theology, I have to say, that as I watched Beck give this interview today, I said to myself that he is more of a liberation theologian than he realizes. However, his liberation theology is not one focused on economic or ethnic (racial) barriers as those who espoused LT in South America were. I believe his LT is more of a spiritual poverty and challenges people to bring God back into their lives and live by spiritual, not political principles.

It was said by the interviewer on this program that Beck is a unique figure in American media. He is creating his own path. I believe that path is that of a bringing spiritual principles back into American life. I do believe that it is the next phase of American development and one deserving of sharing the same platform of great Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. I find Glen Beck to be so much more sincere and worthy of developing American conscientiousness than I do of trusting that to the media mongrel and politically driven egomaniac (Rev.?) Al Sharpton. (But that is a whole other issue!)

The Glen Beck effect and chapter in American History has yet to unfold and be written. I believe he will eventually be assassinated because he is a threat to power. Hence, following in the footsteps of the Christ and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Not that I am equating him to either - so calm down folks!). But I do believe that he is a sincere man who, through personal experience, knows what ails the human spirit and what troubles souls, yet, also knows where true salvation is found . . . in a spiritual awakening recognizing a higher power (whom he and I believe is the God of Jesus Christ).
Vince Killoran | 8/30/2010 - 1:28am
It seems like Glen Beck is as lousy a student of theology as he is of history (his understanding of the Progressive Movement is abysmal).

So too with the cranky, if not predictable, replies to Fr. Martin's post. I mean, really guys: did you actually read the post? I took it to be a reading on the broad, Gospel-informed message that has shaped so many lives in Latin America and elsewhere. You do know that the intellectual currents of LT are diverse and not shared by all adherents, right?  The real issue is whether you all agree with Fr. Martin's argument that LT "is Christianity presented in all its disturbing fullness."

p.s. Cosgrove: I think that you are incorrect about Fr. Coughlin. This from Alan Brinkley's authoritative VOICES OF PROTESTS: HUEY LONG, FATHER COUGHLIN, AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION (1983): by the late 1930s C.'s denunications of the New Deal for its "'dictatorial' and 'communistic' policies were becoming virtually indistinguishable from those of the Liberty Leaguers and other right-wing critics.  His appeals for progressive reform became both less frequent and and less forceful." (266)
Helena Loflin | 8/30/2010 - 12:08am
"James Martin has given a clear, understandable, and succinct explanation of Liberation Theology; it would be nice to see this in the print edition of, 'America'."

Julius Cornelius | 8/30/2010 - 12:07am
''James Martin S.J.''?

First off, what happened to ''Fr.''/''Father'', Father?

Second, you write of Liberation Theology as if it was not something which the Pope had to correct the Jesuits regarding.

You do grave dishonor to the deaths of your fellow Jesuits by painting a flattering, martyr filled image of Liberation Theology.    The fact is those in the Catholic Church, primarily Jesuits, who promoted and ''developed'' the theology of Liberation Theology in South America did follow the same dark paths of error that Communism followed.  I do not doubt that the Jesuits were well intentioned and did their best to live their vows.  However, that is a far different thing than being immune to theological or ideological error.  And John Paul II clearly and publically corrected the Jesuits precisely because of their involvement in Liberation Theology and its errors; going so far as to order their disassociation with the movement.

As for Glenn Beck, it's understandable that he was not able to express clearly the fullness of truth regarding Liberation Theology.  To be fair and honest, he did well given his formation and background.  A formation which most likely rests upon the shoulders of Catholic priests and nuns, who during the time of his childhood were more interested in changing the Mass to be more ''in tune'' with people's feelings.

However you Father, the eye of the needle through you must pass is far different than Mr. Beck's.   If you plan to write more on this topic I think you should remember that and Mark 9.41.

By the way, the scripture today was focused on humility, was it not.

Helena Loflin | 8/30/2010 - 12:03am
Sadly, there are those Catholics and other Christians who think that being poor is a sin, a loathsome character disorder.

It's convenient to be "confused" about the meaning or intent of Catholic social justice when you want to feel justified in despising, or at least blaming, the poor for being poor. 

Such a belief must certainly make "the comfortable" feel much more comfortable about their interpretations of what Catholic social justice is.

Try this: social justice is Christ-like behavior towards the least among us.