In the second installment in my series on “The Invisible Schism,” I said that the Church today is a bit like a “junk drawer” in which we find a few things we actually need, but also odds and ends of once-useful or even never-useful items that we’ve kept until now only because we haven’t sorted through them.
In other words, an awful lot that really doesn’t belong in the Church coexists with those things that do, right now, and I’m not just talking about the problem of the wheat and the tares that Christ will sort out at the Second Coming (Matthew 13:24–30).
Among the “junk” in the junk drawer are the various “theologies of liberation” that transpose Marxism or Neo-Marxism in a Christian key. These “theologies of liberation” aren’t Christian at all, but they’ve been taken for Christianity because they’ve recast its narrative and imagery within an entirely different meaning framework than the one that had been handed down to us from the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church.
For liberation theologians, the story of salvation is a story of class-struggle, in which God represents the moral authority of the rights of the oppressed over their oppressors. Just as God liberates the Hebrew People from their more powerful neighbors (the Philistines, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and so on), so God liberates all the oppressed from those who employ power disparities or disparities of privilege to secure their own advantage at the expense of the vulnerable. These—the vulnerable—are God’s “chosen,” while the rich, the powerful, the privileged, are Pharaoh and his armies.
It’s not hard to see how Christianity could be interpreted this way if all our emphasis is placed on the so-called “social gospel” and none on literal bodily resurrection and eternal life, and the return of creation to creator.
For the original theologies of liberation, Jesus’ discourse on the Judgment of Nations (Matthew 35:31–46), the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31), and the encounter with the rich young man (Matthew 19: 16–24, Mark 10:17–35, Luke 18:18–25), were among the central texts. The Kingdom of Heaven was the realization in history of the ideals of socio-economic equality, wherein no one profited at the expense of others and no one went hungry or unsheltered because those who had more than they needed to live refused to share with those who found themselves wanting. The problem isn’t locating such concerns in the Gospel but locating only such concerns in the Gospel. Such was the case with Marxist liberation theology with its thoroughly materialistic worldview and entirely horizontal aspirations.
Even Christ himself was transmuted, along these lines, into a Marxist myth. A symbol (not a reality) of divine self-emptying, Jesus appeared as the ultimate renunciation of power and privilege. In him, “God” gave himself to us—the poor. Offending the powerful, his life became sacrifice at their hands, as he disrupted the system by alleviating the plight of the poor. Through the hands of his disciples, he continues to do so, symbolically, most importantly in the charitable works they do in the name of his movement, but, figuratively, in the ritual of the Eucharist, understood as a communal meal at “the table of plenty.”
Once more, Jesus suffered like us, at the hands of the powerful, and established a movement in which worldly privilege is of no account. Finally, he was “raised” and “ascended,” and will “return” again, to Judge the world and take his chosen people to himself—all of which now stand no longer for literal historical claims about Jesus of Nazareth but appear as allegorical representations of the final triumph of the downtrodden written, according to Marx, into the very fabric of history, personified in Jesus of Nazareth.
This view was profoundly influential in the Catholic Church from the 1960’s to the present day, especially in the 1970’s and 80’s. The so-called “Jesus Seminar” understood the “Jesus of Faith” as a construct of the “orthodoxy” that prevailed in the Church during the fourth and fifth centuries, supplanting alternative and often purer forms of Christianity and enshrining the power of its adherents. They sought to “de-mythologize” and thereby “deconstruct” this Jesus in favor of what they called the “Jesus of History,” which was really just a re-mythologized Jesus in the form of a political revolutionary and champion of the Proletariat.
This version of Christianity still has its true believers living and acting within the visible Church, in universities, in politics, in NGO’s, in local parishes, and even in the clergy. But it isn’t really Christianity at all, and it needs to be thrown out.
Today, however, Marxism has evolved and with it, liberation theology. Today’s Neo-Marxist liberation theology is even less Christian than before, because it advocates for intrinsic grave evils and against the foundational goods of the divine and natural law.
Neo-Marxism is concerned not only with economic inequality but all forms of inequality. It seeks to overturn all distinctions until it becomes a form of “transhumanism.” If what we traditionally understand by “the basic human condition” involves treating people differently according to recognized differences in sex, then human nature itself has to be transcended. For Marxist and Neo-Marxist liberation theologians alike, heaven is only a future historical condition, not an extra-temporal reality as it is in orthodox Christian teaching. So, if St. Paul teaches that, in heaven, there is no longer “male nor female” (Galatians 3:28), when Neo-Marxism displaces Christianity in the form of a theology of liberation, it becomes the job of the Church to work, in history, for the “deconstruction” of sexual differentiation.
In this way, for today’s liberation theologians, contemporary gender theory appears to emerge organically from the Gospel itself. With it, we see the promotion of contraception, and even abortion, as social goods, as well as same-sex marriage and the embrace of gender dysphoria as a normal human variant in the sphere of sexuality and gender. Accordingly, “equal access” to all the goods of the Church, and even to all the ministries exercised within the Church, irrespective of biological sex or gender identity, come to be promoted as the most authentic expression of eschatological hope the Church could have.
But once again, however much this narrative relies on biblical imagery and the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, it simply cannot claim to be Christianity in any form that would have been recognizable to any of the authors of the New Testament, to any of the Fathers of the Church, or to any of the great doctors of the Church from any time or region.
For either form of liberation theology, of course, the Church’s claims to exclusive, infallible revelation, to the unicity of Christ for salvation, and to the Church’s uniqueness in God’s saving plan for humanity, come to be seen as expressions of privilege, to be abandoned in favor of inclusivity and the brotherhood of all humankind. The Church is thus seen as a kind of paradox, which itself seeks a resolution. As an institutional structure, the Church symbolizes the hording of wealth, power, and privilege, and, as such, it has to be deconstructed. But as a “mystical body,” it symbolizes “equality” and “inclusion,” and, as such, it’s charged to take the shape of a contemporary “equal opportunity” statement as seen appended to every academic job posting or college welcome page. “Building the Kingdom” now means promoting “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” as defined by today’s Neo-Marxist and Progressive Left.
Once again, this isn’t Christianity, but it has its true believers among the laity, the religious, and the clergy, some in positions of great power and influence. Picture a Catholic priest or bishop “taking a knee” before a phalanx of Black Lives Matter Protesters, hanging a rainbow banner in honor of Pride Month, or formally blessing same-sex couples.
Even though they adopt familiar symbols and language, and even though they may still involve the sacraments and rituals of the Church, the meaning of what’s being professed and done has changed from the spiritualization of creation in Christ to the historical realization of “spiritual ideals” in the material order. Once again, the vertical horizon characteristic of the biblical faith has completely collapsed, leaving only the horizontal, so Christianity has been redefined as a pagan religion, bound to the limitations of the physical, historical universe, the goal of which is to “change the world” rather than to overcome death and hell.
Besides Marxist and Neo-Marxist theologies of liberation, other tendencies can be found in the ecclesial “junk drawer” that can’t be reconciled with the Catholic faith, but we’ll have to sort through those in another installment.