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James Martin, S.J.August 29, 2010

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


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13 years 8 months ago
Beck's POV and statements are no more alarming, racist, or insert your own preferred opinion here than are Jeremiah Wright's or Al Sharpston's rhetoric.  I don't recall the liberal sturm und drag over Jeremiah Wright's denunciation of American society; I don't recall the outright alarmism with Jessee Jackson's rant about Jews in NYC.  Reihan Salam has a smart essay on National Review comparing Beck's gathering with the Million Man March that deserves a read.

Otherwise, Beck, like most pop-politicians/talking heads today remains a veritable Rorschach test for liberals and conservatives to vent.  And I'm a conservative who has never watched one minute of Beck.

The man impulse I gather for Beck's gathering is to restore a certain civic culture that has largely evaporated since the advent of the Great Society.  The state has increasingly crowded out other ''mediating'' civil institutions such as the church, the neighborhood, the local school, the local shops, etc.  The best critique of this is by Michael Sandel of Harvard.  In the sense that Marxism wholeheartedly endorses the domination of the state, it remains a threat to human dignity, and thus, liberation theology, too.  I'm disappointed to see the comment by Fr. Martin above to the effect that Beck & his followers are not interested in helping the poor.  According to this telling, voting for a Democrat is the sole means of helping the poor (although you're going to have to ignore some inconvenient facts about whose funding the Democratic party in the process).
Ken Johnson
13 years 8 months ago
Continued from my previous post...

I could go on with many more quotes from Laborem Exercens, Gaudium et Spes, Pacem in Terris... In fact the whole set of papal encyclicals on social justice give ample evidence that working for ''social justice'' and ''integral liberation'' is not the heresy of a fringe Christian group as Glenn Beck would have it, but it is an integral part of Catholic Tradition. To exclude these themes from Christian belief and practice is to distort the message and work of Jesus Christ. In short, we cannot fulfill our mission as the Church that Christ established without constantly working to overcome social injustice and to liberate those who are held captive as Jesus did, whether that captivity is due to their own personal sin, the sins of others, or the collective sin that still permeates the structures of our social order.

It is in this regard the I view Glenn Beck to be vehemently anti-Catholic and a real stumbling block to well-intentioned Catholics who want to make the world a better place but do not (in some cases choose not to) see the contradiction between what he proposes and the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church. So thank you, Fr. Martin, for this wake-up call to Tea Party Catholics everywhere. Times are hard right now in our beloved country, but we cannot use that as an excuse to limit government in a way that places the heaviest burden on the poor, all the while claiming that we do so in the name of God.
ed gleason
13 years 8 months ago
Beck also said he was against 'Social Justice' because this was the name of the newspaper published by Fr. Coughlin of rabid right wing  radio fame in the 1930s.. Beck probably thinks Coughlin was the founder of liberation theology! It's also worth pointing out that Beck as a radio guy probably studied Coughlin's wacko  track record.  Beck's apology for saying Obama is a racist is  Beck seeing the big turnout as a reason to start tacking with the wind and modifying his wackiness so to build on his base. Now that he has built a bigger base and has more money..it's something like the  crook Al Capone contributing to Chicago charities to build a bigger PR audience. The USA is famous for letting wackiness become  financially successful..and some of the 'successful' ones learn modification behavior rather quickly. See Beck sailing toward the center very soon.   
Leo Zanchettin
13 years 8 months ago
Thanks, Fr. Jim, for that brief overview of liberation theology and the critique of Glenn Beck. It's refreshing to read balanced analysis from a Catholic perspective.

I would like to suggest another reason why liberation theology tends to get a bad rap in the U.S., and especially among Tea Party proponents and other folks of a conservative stripe. In this land of rugged individualism and bootstrap-pulling success stories, the concept of solidarity can seem quite foreign-even communist. It's hard to swallow Jesus' teaching that we belong to one another when the world around us tells us to protect our own turf and to distrust the "others" among us. It doesn't help, either, that we have become so materialistic. We have so many "things" that are threatened by the supposedly socialistic leanings of those in power.

What's more, the current polarized culture feeds this sense of isolation. People "other" than us are dehumanized, branded with labels like illegals, dissenters, pro-aborts, anchor babies, liberals, conservatives, socialists, etc. Labeled thus, they become problems to be solved, or at the very least, objects to be handled or discarded. And when people are turned into objects, their claim on our lives is diminished, which means we don't have to care for them. We just have to deal with them as perfunctorily as possible so that we can move on with our own lives.

All of this is in opposition to the theology of communion that is at the heart of Catholic teaching-a theology that is not as prevalent among many of our Protestant and Evangelical brothers and sisters.

I am getting more and more convinced that one reason why Beck and Palin have so many uncritical Catholic followers is a lack of catechesis. We as a church have not done a good enough job explaining Catholic teaching, so the gap created by our silence has been filled by other philosophies that co-opt parts of our teaching but ignore others.

(Of course, we could say the same thing about Catholics who are comfortably pro-choice and who are uncritical members of the Democratic Party. But that's not what you were posting about. I just felt I had to say this to avoid being labeled a liberal or being given some other dehumanizing tag.)
Helena Loflin
13 years 8 months ago
"The poorest among us are still some of the richest in the world," Beck declared. "The poorest among us have blessings beyond the wildest imagination of anyone that Mother Theresa visited. And yet we don't recognize it."

Is Beck saying that failed trickle-down has actually worked too generously, that America's poor could stand to be a lot poorer?

Dave Dowd
13 years 8 months ago
Following Christ in a Consumer Society was written by a Jesuit Father from St. Louis University. I corresponded with Jesuit Father John Kavanaugh SJ, the author in 1988.

I asked him why would he introduce Marxist values to a generation of young Catholics who pay tuition at SJ schools with money their parents earn in this country.

I did not know at the time that the Lenin influence in Liberation Theology results in providing an attack on the morals of a country as part of the strategy to weaken the resolve and breakdown the moral fiber of the country.

The Marxist Christian matrix he presented in this book clearly demonstrated the relationship between the "values" of Marxism being used as a basis for criticism of capitalism.

Father Martin's article is disengenuous insofar as he clearly does not discuss the censor of Leonardo Buff, the South American Franciscan and Fr. Martin is contradicted by Jesuit Father Kavanaugh's own text book.... which was being used in a Redemptorist seminary.

For America Magazine to publish such misrepresentative commentary is a good reason why some of us have lost trust for an order which we love and benefited, educationally, by.


Dave Dowd
Tamzin Simmons
13 years 8 months ago
"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."

Is it really that hard for us to see? Or do we just not want to see it because it is disturbing?

That said, however, I get the impression that Liberation Theology, while having good aims, has sometimes been altered by a Marxism that does not correlate with the Gospel. Perhaps this is partly why it is so controversial?

And do the attempts made by some to distance themselves from it spring from a genuine concern about radical politics or are they simply using that concerns as a means to preserve the affluence of the few and thus the status quo?

I suspect it's a mixture of both.

Just a thought.
13 years 8 months ago
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". 
Tamzin Simmons
13 years 8 months ago
I think also that the issue that many people have with Liberation Theology is that there are differing ideas of how the poor should be 'helped'. Many people, rightly or wrongly, would say (and honestly believe) that if they gave some material assistance to the poor without addressing the cause of their poverty, then they have done all that the Gospel requires of them, because Jesus doesn't explicitly call for economic overhall to address the causes of poverty...

Martin Gallagher
13 years 8 months ago
Fr. Martin,

Were you implying that Pope John Paul II was being hypocritical for supporting Polish Solidatrity, but not *some* aspects of Latin American liberation theology? 

I think JPII was criticizing *deviations" from true liberation theology that were corrupted by Marxism. 

For those who are interested, the CDF document, "Instruction on Certain Aspects of 'Theology of Liberation'" makes a clear distinction.

"The present Instruction has a much more limited and precise purpose: to draw the attention of pastors, theologians, and all the faithful to the deviations, and risks of deviation, damaging to the faith and to Christian living, that are brought about by certain forms of liberation theology which use, in an insufficiently critical manner, concepts borrowed from various currents of Marxist thought."

Tom Maher
13 years 8 months ago
You do not adequately address or deal with the depth of objections to "Liberation Theology" by Glenn Beck or anyone else.   Glenn Beck's genius is to articulate social and theological excesses that have turned into absurdities.  The concepts and justificatioin for  "Liberation Theology"  invites misunderstanding and very stong  attack.   Glenn Beck is saying what needs to be said out loud about Liberation Theology.  

Beck claimed in the interwiew that Pope Benedict has recently come out strongly against  Liberation Theology. warning it could be used for demonic purposes.  Certainly such a broad concept is readily subject to abuse.
The Gospel should not be used to justify and require society to act on partisan political goals. 

Could it be that Marxist utilitarianism is more attractive to some Catholics than Christian sprituality?  Leberation of the masses is vintage Marxism.  Could it be some just got tired of just preaching the Gospel and wanted somehing more like political power?  But is this not a corruption of what the Gospel message is?   And if so should't someone say so, like maybe even the pope? 
13 years 8 months ago
A couple things:

Father Coughlin was a socialist and left wing.  He was anti communist because communism was atheistic but he was anything but a person of the right no matter how one uses the term.

How the term social justice is  used  on thie site is not what I would call social justice.  Anybody can use the term and then define  it as helping the poor  but that does not mean that anything they recommend is socially just or will help t he poor.

After this topic appeared in June I explored a little to see what Beck meant and I happen to agree with Beck  How people use it in general and in most specifics is not really socially just.  It has become a meaningless term.  Here is a comment made about it a couple months ago


Christopher Scaperlanda
13 years 8 months ago
Fr. James,

Not to be pithy, but have you read Guttierrez's "A Theology of Liberation?"  Because it is self-consciously, explicity marxist in its anthropology.  I don't mean that in the modern Conservative, "call everything you don't like 'Marxist'" way, but in the purely descriptive, it takes its anthropology directly from Marx and means to way. And not simply in a "take care of the poor way" but in a "society is always about a deep clash between the rich and poor kind of way."

I guess I find your post disappointing because you are right to call out Beck for essentially ignoring the poor and for attacking those who dare to think that faith in Christ might occassionally require us to get our hands dirty.

But, that said, the liberation theology I have read - and the parts of it that make the last two Popes uncomfortable - begins with an anthropology that is fundamentally contrary to the on taught by Christ and the Church.  It, as the previous poster above, can often emphasize the coming on the kingdom on this earth at the expense of the heavenly kingdom.  More insidiously, it begins with the conflict between rich and poor rather than the proposed unity of the Kingdom; as such it can often be fundamentally a-Eucharistic, since the Eucharist, as the basis of our lives, is a moment of unity, not division.  

To believe in a preferential option for the poor, to believe that the poor have much to offer us as we do them, and to believe that we are all one body is to be Catholic.  Insofar as those things share something in common with liberation theology, it is because liberation theology is a derivation of Catholicism, and not vice versa.

I find the work of Bill Cavanaugh, a professor at St. Thomas in Minneapolis, and Mike Baxter, a Catholic Worker guy, to be far more successful at articulating a clear, compelling case that Catholicism requires us to live life taking seriously the poor and how much we have.  And they don't fall into the troublesome anthropology that so often plagues liberation theology.

As a final note - if you (or anyone) is interested, Cavanaugh's "Being Consumed" is an incredibly fast read that does a fantastic job articulating what a Catholic social and economic life should look like.  More importantly, despite being deeply theological, it also offers real, practical suggestions for how modern Americans can live out Communion in our economic and social lives.
Pearce Shea
13 years 8 months ago
Thanks, Chris S. I couldn't have said it better (or as well) myself. A lot of people seem to rush to the defense of lib. theo., I think because they strongly associate with at least some of its closely-held teachings.

It's worth reiterating that our current Pope and his predecessor came down on the "con" side of lib. theo. not because they opposed serving the poor, etc. (it's pretty absurd to suggest as much, though some have done just that), but because a number of elements of its theology and popular practice were in direct odds with the magesterium. 
13 years 8 months ago
I find it disconcerting that Father James Martin resorts to straw-man arguments and demonization of conservatives in order to press his theological points.  He is mirroring the exact tactics that he rails against...(Rene Girard has something to say about this pheonmon and I hope that Fr. Martin has looked into his writings, esp. "I See Satan Fall like lightening")

Here is the straw man that Fr. Martin uses:  "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."

Do you really think that the only reason for someone to be against Marxist leaning theological anthropology is because they are afraid of the poor, as you seem to suggest here?  Can one be against centralized state planning without being labeled as anti-poor by liberal theologians?  Martin seems to say that only the ideology that he promotes is compassionate and that his model of compassion the true structure that Christ desired for society.  If you question the liberation theology then you are "right-wing" perhaps even fascist - you are certainly not Christian...

If anything, many extremes of liberation theology are a form or progressive gnosticism that seeks a historical dynamic for the perfection of man via politics and the state.  This basic gnosticsim is expressed quite clearly by Fr. Martin in the following passage:  "Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished."

Christ freed us from spiritual impoverisment (violence, hate, envy, bloodlust) NOT from temproal or economic impoverishment.  In fact, Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. 

This conflation or manipulation of the theological idea of liberation is done, unfortunately, for political ends - to promote a system for perfecting man via the state that often produces radically anti-human results as shown in Russia, China and, now, even in the US.

The issue here is not "liberation theology" it is the gnostic ideas that underlie our modern liberal politics and theology.  PS - Eric Voegelin's short book "Science, Politics, and Gnosticism" sums up this trend very nicely.

Helena Loflin
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Julius Cornelius
13 years 8 months ago
''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
13 years 8 months ago
"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'."

Vince Killoran
13 years 8 months ago
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)
John Stabeno
13 years 8 months ago
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).
David Nickol
13 years 8 months ago
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.
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Beth Cioffoletti
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Beth Cioffoletti
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Livia Fiordelisi
13 years 8 months ago
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.
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Stanley Kopacz
13 years 8 months ago
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.
13 years 8 months ago
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.
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Kevin Lee
13 years 8 months ago
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. 
Helena Loflin
13 years 8 months ago
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?

Martin Gallagher
13 years 8 months ago
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

David Malham
13 years 8 months ago
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. 
Thomas Farrelly
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Vince Killoran
13 years 8 months ago
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.
13 years 8 months ago

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?
David Nickol
13 years 8 months ago
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 Amazon.com, 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."
13 years 8 months ago
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...

13 years 8 months ago
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.
13 years 8 months ago
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.
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Helena Loflin
13 years 8 months ago

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.
David Nickol
13 years 8 months ago
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!
13 years 8 months ago
''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.
Brendan McGrath
13 years 8 months ago
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!
Tom Maher
13 years 8 months ago
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.
13 years 8 months ago

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.
Joseph Mahon
13 years 8 months ago
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?
13 years 8 months ago
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.
Helena Loflin
13 years 8 months ago
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.

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