Analysis of Liberation Theology

On Christianity and Political Theology

Essay, 2017

18 Pages, Grade: MA


Liberation theology


The relevance of the study is determined by the fact that the variability of Christianity in the modern period has increased and made it extremely dependent on social processes. The all-human spiritual crisis promotes the spread of so-called “religiosity without faith.” In some cases, this happens not spontaneously, but through the active transformation of the traditional religious system. More and more extremist and nationalist groupings turn to Christianity as an ideological basis, while they modify Christian theology in such a way that it justifies their methods of political struggle and supports their slogans. These groups rely on the experience of building similar ideologies using the dominant Christian confession as a religious component, namely, liberation theology.

Liberation theology or, otherwise, political theology is a modification of Christianity used by freedom fighters as an ideology. In fact, it is a specialized consciousness of a separate social group, and it aims to liberate members of this group from oppression. The content and characteristics of the liberation theology are determined by the characteristics and interests of one or another oppressed social group. There are several types of liberation theology, in which there are three main ones: Latin American, Black, and feminist, created, respectively, in the interests of the poor, Negroes or women.

All the forms of liberation theology are created by the same method of social identification: the image of Jesus Christ is revised from the point of view of the interests of this social group; at this, the external features of the characteristic representative of this group are attached to Him, along with appeals for the release of this social group from oppression and exploitation, i.e. the Messiah is identified with a representative of the oppressed social group, with the bearer of the mass consciousness of this social group (Brown 1993).

The external features of the image of Jesus Christ are not only metaphorical, they are ontological. Theologians-liberators do not simply bring religion closer to the masses; they do not simply translate it into a ‘language/ accessible to ordinary people, but radically revise the Christian concept of God.

Although the image of Christ in liberation theology can be interpreted as a metaphor in comparison with the canonical image of Christ, in the process of constructing an ideology, He acquires ontological characteristics. From the point of view of Christian theology, liberation theology is the extreme form of the modification of Christianity, where God attributes the property of radical immanence to the detriment of His transcendence. God becomes so immanent to the oppressed human that He no longer exists outside the social group; moreover, every representative of an oppressed social group becomes a real, ontologically justified particle of the Image of God (Rowland 2007).

This transformation of Christian dogmatics determines the social role of liberation theology as a means of eliminating exploitation. In the eyes of the oppressed, the actions of the liberators become identical with the actions of God, and their words are identical to the words of Jesus Christ. From the point of view of liberation theology, one who criticizes liberation theologians criticizes the Lord God Himself, and therefore deserves a curse (Rowland 2007).

Thus, theology is becoming an effective means of transforming reality. The social role of liberation theology is to eliminate exploitation, and in its functioning, the liberation theology can be divided into two directions: radical (allowing and even approving the use of violence against exploiters) and reformist (advocating for peaceful methods of achieving the same goals). The choice of the form of functioning is determined by some social factors (the size of the oppressed social group, the nature of oppression, the readiness of the dominant group to compromise).

Despite the seeming effectiveness of the first method of liberation, the second is capable of achieving greater results. Violence turns against the theologian-revolutionaries themselves: first, they can be physically destroyed by the defending exploiters; secondly, after the victory of the theologians, former comrades-in-arms, who were interested only in power and their own liberation, can destroy them. In this case, the oppressed masses, as a rule, do not receive the desired liberation. On the contrary, with a peaceful approach to the issues of liberation, theologians manage to “re-educate” exploiters and put them in such conditions that they themselves initiate changes in society, because they see certain benefits in them (Nash 1984).


Liberation theology as a radical direction of Catholic theology originated in Latin America in the 1970-ies and 1980-ies and developed not only as original theological and philosophical searches, but also as a broad social movement. The largest founders and theorists of liberation theology were Gustavo Gutiérrez (Peru), Hugo Assmann, Leonardo Boff, Juan Sobrino (Brazil), Juan Scannone (Mexico), Juan Luis Segundo (Uruguay), and others.

The theologians of the Latin American and Black liberation movements were inclined to radical methods of struggle. G. Guitierrez declared that the liberation theology must frighten (Guitierrez 1988), and the same views were held by J. Cone: “Do not tell the victims of violence - the poor and oppressed inhabitants of the Earth - that they must avoid violence and passively carry their cross” (Cone 2010). In practice, the activity of radical theologians-liberators, as a rule, did not lead to qualitative changes in society. In the struggle, such an idea of political liberation under Christian slogans justified brutal methods of dealing with opponents, but the response from the powers was appropriate; as a result, the suffering of the oppressed masses often were only intensified (Cox 1988).

The development of liberation theology was greatly influenced by the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965), in which the social doctrine of the Catholic Church was radically modernized in accordance with the “signs of the times.” At the Second Vatican Council, held from 1962 to 1965, important documents were adopted that determined the views of the Catholic Church in its place in the modern world. A social doctrine was adopted, which took the course to help the needy. The Second Vatican Council also stated, in addition to caring for the public good, the need of overcoming “individualistic ethics” (Sigmund 1992).

However, the words “inattention to the course of events,” “stagnation” in these documents - all this has nothing to do with ethics, even if it is individualistic, because it does not imply self-realization at the expense of other people. “Avoiding just taxes and public debt,” “deceptions and tricks” are sins born of vanity and pride.

Despite the fact that the primacy of private property was not touched, the Vatican stated that “earthly goods should be provided to all people,” set the goal of achieving justice for all, protecting the oppressed. All these words received a lively response in the hearts of many priests who saw suffering and injustice around them.

In Latin America, these ideas fell on ‘fertile soil.’ Researchers, describing the “social hell” in this part of the world, indicate that throughout the 20th century, Latin America was characterized by profound social contrasts - the evocative richness of some and the hopeless poverty of others, the luxurious palaces and slums, the abundance of food and hunger. Large families appeared in a particularly difficult situation. Even in such a relatively prosperous country, like Argentina, many children were malnourished, especially in the western provinces. In the capital of the country, as noted by contemporaries, “the children of families who live on wages did not fell much better” (Smith 1991, p.32).

Naturally, the Council of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), held after the Council in 1968, completely adopted a new social doctrine: the Church was to become an “ally of the poor.” Thus, the Second Conference of CELAM - the Latin American Episcopal Council - held in 1968 in Medellin (Colombia), and marked by a noticeable “turning to the left” of the Latin American Church, greatly influenced the development of liberation theology. In the latter, there was a split - into a traditional church with its non-interference in politics, fulfilling the traditional tasks of the church, individual salvation of the soul, preaching patience, humility, and renewal, “liberalization,” which theoretical expression was the theology of liberation. The new theological direction was characterized by the clear social position of its supporters: participation in the struggle for the liberation of the peoples of Latin America from social, political, economic oppression, entering the arena of political struggle not with weapons in hand, but with the updated “Word of God” (Sigmund 1992).

At the Medellin Council of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) in 1968, a document was adopted in which a distinction was made between the three meanings of the concept of “poverty.” First, it is material poverty as a lack of resources for a worthy existence. Secondly, it is spiritual poverty, understood as a willingness to do the will of God. Thirdly, it is poverty as solidarity with the poor and protest against a system that causes and preserves poverty. This distinction between the three types of poverty became normative in the “liberation theology” (Sigmund 1992).

The solidarity of the Church with the poor implies that it views the history in their eyes and itself becomes “poor” - as in the sense of “spiritual poverty” (fulfilling God's call and opening to the world), and in the literal sense (limiting self in material goods).

Poverty, generated by an unjust social system, oppression, according to the “liberation theologians,” is a phenomenon caused by sin; this is lack of love. These are conditions that are contrary to the Kingdom of God, so overcoming them, fighting the “social hell” is the fulfillment of God's will. Marxism became the instrument that was taken as a basis for the transformation of society (Löwy 1988). “Theology of liberation” was impressed by Marxism. Marxism explained the injustice of the existing socio-economic system. For the countries of Latin America, dependent on developed countries, with mainly the commodity economy, it was obvious that rich countries live at the expense of their resources, and the very people of these countries suffer from hunger. The stratification of society was also very great: there was great contract between the richness of the rich and the poverty of the poor.

The “liberation theologians” considered private property to be an element of enslavement, so the scientific validity of replacing capitalism with another economic system that Marxism gave was taken up by them (Löwy 1988).

The desire to transform the world, the “historicity” of Marxism, the lack of passivity - all this was close to the followers of the “liberation theology,” which wanted to transform society.

Nevertheless, Marxism was used only as an instrument. Claudovis Boff formulated the rules for the theological use of Marxism: first, Marxism must be perceived as a science, and not as a religion, a prophecy or an infallible text; secondly, this science should be used as a scientific method. Any method is quite flexible and can be verified or improved. Thirdly, Marxism must be used as a theory about historical reality and one should not see in it some sort of universal theory that explains the structure of the universe; fourthly, Marxism is a means and therefore plays only an instrumental role. It is not Marxism that is important in itself, but the understanding of the reality that it reveals. Fifthly, Marxism should not substitute for faith. It is only a means that begins with faith and is governed by faith (Dussel 2003).

The founders of liberation theology were trained in the largest theological centers in Europe and the US, were well acquainted with European philosophy, with the theologies that have a political ‘coloring’ – “theology of revolution,” “theology of hope,” “political theology.” Initially, representatives of liberation theology basically repeated the concepts that they were taught in Europe, but later, following the instructions of CELAM, began to study the specific situation in Latin America, conducting sociological studies, organizing courses, seminars on which the dominant theme was “faith and development “gradually turned into the theme of “faith and liberation.” The main idea of the emerging direction of theology was politicization and historicalization of the consciousness of believers: interpersonal relations (father-son, man-woman, sister-brother, master-worker) are political. The leitmotif of liberation theology was also the understanding of the fact of the oppression of the popular masses in Latin America. Representatives of this trend tried to rethink the whole content of Christianity, proceeding from the requirements of liberation and taking into account the specific conditions of the countries of the continent. G. Guitierrez calls the theology of liberation “the political hermeneutics of Scripture,” a critical reflection of Christian practice in the light of the Word of God. In connection with this main task, traditional theological themes are radically revised: eschatology, ecclesiology, exegesis of the Bible (Rowland 2007).


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Analysis of Liberation Theology
On Christianity and Political Theology
Yale University
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Liberation theology, Black theology, theology in Latin America
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Nadiia Kudriashova (Author), 2017, Analysis of Liberation Theology, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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