220: RED CHRISTIANS #26: Gustavo Gutierrez

“Thank you for visiting the 220th Post of Zingcreed, the one-and-only Christian/Atheist blog, where I may unintentionally offend in my search for the truth about religious belief in the world today. But this is my personal polemic and I’ll write what I find in my research. If you don’t like it, don’t read it!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

Gustavo Gutiérrez is a Peruvian Jesuit liberation theologian. After 10 years of discussions with Latin American colleagues about the problems facing their continent (especially poverty and military dictatorships) he put pen to paper. The resulting book “Liberation theology – perspectives” (1974) put the cat among the pigeons:

  • Greek dualism is obsolete; no more sacred v. profane, or spiritual v. temporal
  • so it is in this world that redemption and the Kingdom must be realised
  • no more waiting passively for salvation from above
  • the biblical Exodus is the model for salvation where human beings reconstruct themselves through historical political struggle
  •  salvation is not individual and private but communitarian and public; it’s not the soul of one individual that’s at stake, it’s the redemption and liberation of a whole enslaved people
  • the poor are no longer objects of pity or charity, they are the agents of their own emancipation, like the Hebrew slaves.
  • the poor of Latin America are in exile in their own land but at the same time on an Exodus march towards their redemption
  • a transition to a socialist society was a matter of urgency (even Latin American communist parties didn’t go this far!)

In his own words: “Only a radical destruction of the present state of things, a profound transformation of the ownership system, the coming to power of the exploited class, a social revolution will put an end to this dependency. They alone will allow a transition to a socialist society.”

He emphasized the importance of Marxism, especially its values, its scientific analysis, its ethical/political choices, and its vision of a utopian future. Not surprisingly, Gutiérrez emphasized certain Marxist themes (humanism, alienation, praxis, utopia) and rejected others (‘materialist ideology’, atheism). Many progressive Christians used Marxism because it appeared to be the most systematic, coherent and global explanation of the causes of Latin American poverty, and the only sufficiently radical proposition for abolishing it.

As Gutiérrez stated in 1971: “To deny the reality of the class struggle means in practice taking a position in favour of the dominant social sectors. Neutrality on this question is impossible. What is needed is to eliminate the appropriation by a few of the surplus value produced by the work of the great majority, and not lyrical appeals in favour of social harmony. We need to build a socialist society which is more just, more free and more humane and not a society of false conciliation and apparent equality.”
Thus: “Building a just society today necessarily means being consciously and actively involved in the class struggle taking place in front of us.”

This, as Christians, involves loving the oppressors too. We do not hate our oppressors, we want to liberate them too, by freeing them from their own alienation, their ambition, their egoism – in a word from their inhumanity. But to do that we must resolutely choose the side of the oppressed and concretely and effectively fight the oppressor class.

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Liberation theology, dead or alive?
The Kingdom of God, a kingdom of nuisances and nobodies
Alienation according to Karl Marx
Marx’s 3 criticisms of Christianity
Marx’s Christian roots
Who is my brother?

Löwy, M. “The war of gods. Religion and politics in Latin America.” Verso (1996) pp.45-46, 72, 74


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