(Since his death on March 5, I’ve learned a hundred times more about Hugo Chavez than I ever had when he was alive.  Added to that, I’ve been learning about the Central and South American revolutions, CIA death squads, coups and their connection to Liberation Theology).  I’ll get back to it after this brief message from Noam Chomsky.)

This post’s title came from a piece by Daniel Kovalik at Counterpunch.  As a long-time human rights attorney, he’d been keeping track of the many murders of priests and nuns in Central and South American, and had concluded that it is ‘both state policy of Colombia as well as the United States which is propping up that military with billions of dollars of assistance, and which views organized movements for social justice in Latin America as a threat to its economic domination of the region.’

He wrote that Noam Chomsky, a close friend of Father Javier Giraldo, had first opened his eyes to it during a lecture at Columbia in 2009.  (This may be the one.)  Kovalik summarized it in part like this:

In 1962, Pope John XXIII, through the Second Vatican Council, attempted to reclaim the early roots of the Church; the Church of the first 300 years when it was the “persecuted Church,” the Church of the martyrs.  The nature of the Church had changed with Constantine’s declaration in 324 A.D. that the Catholic Church would be the official Church of the Roman Empire, thereby making it the “persecuting Church,” with the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and complicity with Nazism among the numerous crimes which flowed from this.

With the Second Vatican Council in 1962, the Church worldwide began to reevaluate itself.  In Latin America, this took the form of “Liberation Theology” – a philosophy which took a “preferential treatment for the poor” and which called for active support for social justice movements on behalf of workers, landless peasants and indigenous peoples and active opposition to military rule and corporate domination.

This philosophy, which combined Christianity with Marxism, was first formulated at a meeting of Latin American theologians, spearheaded by Gustavo Gutierrez, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1964. Brazil became ground zero for this new movement and Christian “base communities” dedicated to Liberation Theology began to spring up in that country and to spread throughout Latin America, with more theological meetings to develop Liberation Theology held in Havana, Cuba; Bogotá, Colombia and Cuernavaca, Mexico in June and July 1965.

Accounts differ as to Liberation Theology’s promotion of both socio-political *and* violent activism or not, but this page, for instance, says that ‘Jesus was often portrayed as a revolutionary dressed in guerrilla fatigues and carrying a rifle’.  Some New Testament quotes I’d seen as underpinning the movement made mention of swords, perhaps ‘swords of justice and truth’, so I don’t know, nor for the purpose of this post do I care much.  The discussion would soon reach the place where someone would remind us of Angela Davis’s reductio ad absurdum assertion:

Yes, the Zapatistas did in fact create some major hell when NAFTA’s provisions began, and they made life untenable for the 99% in Chiapas.  Their bit of hell was answered by a shock-and-awe response from the government, including bombing.  When the Sandanistas overthrew the evil Samoza dynasty, yes, it would have been bloody.  But when the CIA trained and the US funded the Contras (Iran-Contra here), well, there went the ballgame.  And it kept going and going from Brazil to…in all likelihood, the coming election in Venezuela (Hugo, RIP).  He mentions some of the graduates of the School of the Americas as the ‘intellectual authors’ of the killings of priests, brothers and sisters in Latin America.

A fifteen-month Guardian  investigation on torture centers in Iraq led to the discovery that Colonel Jim Steele who trained the militias that tortured prisoners there, had gotten his start in El Salvador and Nicaragua as a Special Forces Commander in charge of training ‘counterinsurgency forces.  David Petraeus was in close contact with him there and in Iraq, as well as a second commander, Col. James Cofman, who helped him set up a string of US-funded detention centers in which interrogators tortured detainees.  Cofman reported directly to Petraeus in Iraq, to Rumsfeld in the States.

But back to Liberation Theology, and here we’re speaking not of Black or Feminist Liberation Theology, but that embraced by so many people in the global South.

From their several books on the movement, Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff:

How are we to be Christians in a world of destitution and injustice? There can be only one answer: we can be followers of Jesus and true Christians only by making common cause with the poor and working out the gospel of liberation… [snip]

Liberation is emerging as the strategy of the poor themselves, confident in themselves and in their instruments of struggle: free trade unions, peasant organizations, local associations, action groups and study groups, popular political parties, base Christian communities. They are being joined by groups and individuals from other social classes who have opted to change society and join the poor in their struggle to bring about change.  The growth of regimes of “national security” (for which read “capital security”), of military dictatorships, with their repression of popular movements in many countries of Latin America, is a reaction against the transforming and liberating power of the organized poor. [snip]

The gospel is not aimed chiefly at “modern” men and women with their critical spirit, but first and foremost at “nonpersons,” those whose basic dignity and rights are denied them. This leads to reflection in a spirit of prophecy and solidarity aimed at making nonpersons full human beings, and then new men and women, according to the design of the “new Adam,” Jesus Christ. [snip]

The base ecclesial community is also the place where a true democracy of the people is practiced, where everything is discussed and decided together, where critical thought is encouraged. For a people who have been oppressed for centuries, whose “say” has always been denied, the simple fact of having a say is the first stage in taking control and shaping their own destiny.

Well, no; that wasn’t going to fly with the Catholic Church, was it?  Add in this from the Wiki: ‘The Vatican criticized certain strains of liberation theology for focusing on institutionalized or systemic sin, apparently to the exclusion of individual offenders/offences; and for identifying Catholic Church hierarchy in South America as members of the same privileged class that had long been oppressing indigenous populations since the arrival of Pizarro onward’.

The ‘base Christian Communities’ actually work from the ground and are horizontal, rather than a top-down hierarchical system.  That flies in the face of the conventional church as reinstituted since the death of Pope John XXIII.  There are not a few questions online asking, ‘Will the next Pope embrace Liberation Theology?’  Right, when pigs fly.

Kovalik wrote that he’d recently been motivated to search the Wikileaks for ‘liberation theology’, and had found 31 of them.  The number isn’t large, but what he found certainly is: a de facto agreement of the dangers the philosophy poses for both the Church and the US State Department in its ‘challenge to the unjust market structures which perpetuate poverty’. (Wiki Cable here)  He cites a May 6, 2007 Embassy cable relating to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Brazil and the section entitled ‘“The ‘Threat’ of Liberation Theology”; it mentions the Bishops questioning the mal-distribution of wealth and resources in Brazil, and discusses what the answers should look like (link here).  After citing six or seven other cables as evidence that the US believes that Liberation Theology is ‘in cahoots’ with both terrorism and Communism, he says:

The cables on this subject go on and on, but suffice it to say that they are consistent in vilifying both religious and political leaders who either are, or who the U.S. believes to be, linked with Liberation Theology.  This list includes Fernando Lugo, the sandal-wearing former Catholic Bishop, who was just overthrown in a “legal” coup in Paraguay which the U.S. instantly ratified (7); Jean Betrand Aristide, the President of Haiti who was forced into exile by the joint efforts of U.S., Canada and France (8); Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa (9); Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (10); and even a Shia leader in Lebanon, Sheikh Ahmed Taleb, who the U.S. claims had, during his misguided youth, “taught a Lebananese Shia version of liberation theology; its rhetoric colored with insults aimed at the U.S. and Israel.” (11)

The next real life consequences he mentions in Colombia are hard, but there will obviously be many more to come.  Kill a Commie for Christ stuff.  I haven’t created hyperlinks for all the cables, but they are on his piece at Counterpunch.   The most recent was from 2009, so one might ask if US policy is still underpinned by this fear; my guess is that it certainly is.  Think how the Powers worked to kill OWS, for instance.  No People Power allowed.

This is former Catholic priest Matthew Fox who was expelled from the church by then Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) on Democracy Now.  He speaks about Liberation Theology and the Church at 7:33.  He’s been developing what he calls a ‘Creation Spirituality’; the small university he founded in Oakland was shut down by Cardinal Ratzinger; he has other interesting projects in the works, and hopes to help bring about a non-violent global revolution.  He might be a little bit wacky, but in a good way, lol.  Here’s info about his book Occupy Spirituality, and ‘Sacred Activism’.

These are the words of the dangerous Gustavo Gutierrez:

“Love of neighbor is an essential component of Christian life. But as long as I apply that term only to people who cross my path, and come asking me for help, my world will remain pretty much the same. Individual almsgiving is a type of love that never leaves its front porch… On the other hand, my world will change greatly if I go out to meet other people on their path and consider them as my neighbor… the gospel tells us that the poor are the supreme embodiment of our neighbor.”

If churches were gatherings of people who simply wanted to promote the way Christ lived his life, and taught ways to find our own Light and Truth within…even I might go; but the music and singing would have to be awesome as hell, too.