Magazine article The Christian Century

Liberation Theology in a Post-Marxist World

Magazine article The Christian Century

Liberation Theology in a Post-Marxist World

Article excerpt

In the shaded quadrangle of a prominent American seminary, visiting liberation theologian Pablo Richard cannot shake the desperation of the Third World, where individual lives and entire communities are being torn asunder by economic chaos and violence. According to Richard, the collapse of communism has not improved the lives of people who live in the shantytowns and, crowded streets of Latin America, Asia and Africa. "The Third World has become useless and people are seen as expendable," said Richard, a 54-year-old Chilean-born Catholic priest.

"Before, people were exploited. But now they don't even count for that. To be exploited [meant that] you were in some sense, |included' in society," he said. "Now people are seen as worthless. This has resulted in a new kind of violence and desperation: poor against poor." Richard remains a leading proponent of a theology that originated 30 years ago in Latin America and seeks to combine Christian scripture and socialist-Marxist analysis to improve the lot of the poor. In a new, postcommunist world order, where the free market reigns supreme in all but a few nations, Richard contends that liberation theology is not dead but faces new challenges.

There is still great need, in Richard's View, for the church to be an agent of political and social change. But the church's more urgent task is to work on a smaller scale: to build communities of hope among the poor. "Now is not a time of oppression, but of chaos. We need people who can dream, who can come up with alternatives, to reorganize consciousness."

Such a shift represents a change of attitude about the basic notion of power, said Richard. "If it's not possible to take political power, we need to create a new power at the grass roots. We need to develop a new theology, a new ethic of life that discerns between the God of life and the idols of the market. We need to construct an alternative to the logic of the market." Richard, who teaches at the National University of Costa Rica, has just concluded a teaching stint at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Richard has repeatedly argued that those eager to deliver the eulogies for liberation theology have spoken too hastily. But just as forcefully he acknowledges that the large-scale political dreams that fueled a Cuban or Nicaraguan revolution can no longer be sustained. "To construct a macro alternative to the free-market economy may be impossible," he said. …

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