Society’s Salvation

It may not be fashionable, but it is very much on my mind. Tomorrow evening my plane will descend through perennial clouds to land in a chaotic and fragmented, but somehow functional, third world city, Lima, Peru. On the way from the airport I may well go by a walled in area of ancient pyramids; Lima has experienced some ten millennia of human habitation. Near one set of pyramids, in an intriguing continuity, opens the impressive modern campus of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.

Once, one of its professors created a tsunami in Catholic and other Christian thought. Pope Benedict XVI, when he was just Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, built sea walls to weaken this thought’s flood. It began when the professor, Father Gustavo Gutierrez, traveled to an international conference while thinking about theological responses to the poverty of so much of Latin America. He coined a term hat has gone on to have a life of its own, not unlike the t-shirts and coffee mugs of his contemporaries, Che Guevarra and Chairman Mao, one can buy in any market these days. Just like them, it too shook the world.

Liberation theology he called it. A simple idea: the ills of society, such as those that lead to poverty, are sinful and a matter of concern for God. Society too must find salvation; it too must walk a more holy road that will lead to human liberation/ salvation. At the conference, Gutierrez’ colleagues spoke of development but Gutierrez dared to use the politically charged term liberation at the time nationalist movements around the world sought independence and the West feared a worker’s revolution.

Gutierrez’ simple idea, that society must grow spiritually and that society, not just individuals, were subjects of Christ’s saving sacrifice, flooded Latin America and many other areas of the world. It spawned concern for the sinfulness of poverty and how to alleviate it, while helping people shed the oppression, inner and outer, which bound them. It questioned a Church tied to the well-off and said that if the Church must choose a social group with which to side it must claim a preferential option for the poor as the social group the quality of whose existence is the measure of social salvation. It led to a vision of Christ as one who questioned inequalities in society, not just of individuals, and challenged the status quo as Christ sought liberation for the souls of human kind and the societies they live in.

Embraced by CEPAL, the Latin American Bishops Conference, in Medellin and then in Puebla, this set of ideas took hold and shifted much of the pastoral work of the Latin American Church to a concern with saving society and improving the condition of the poor. It was an activist vision and it drew the ire of a Polish pope and his German theological pinscher. They began to attack it for many things, including a concern with class analysis while forgetting about the mystery and universality of the Church, a concern with social politics over individual spirituality as guided by the Church, and so on. By carefully appointing conservative Bishops and censuring key theologians, except for Father Gutierrez, the Vatican pushed the movement underground. But Father Gutierrez and his ideas still reach out from Lima.

The ideas are not sexy these days. But they do take you to neighborhoods, like the shanty town of Villa El Salvador, where undoubtedly not too long ago new constructions of mats were thrown up almost overnight by homeless men, women, and children in order to claim a floor and a roof. On the sand dunes where they build, one still finds priests, nuns, and lay workers who have drunk deeply from Gutierrez’ sea working with them.

Curiously, the poor themselves do not seem much moved by Gutierrez ideas, although the Catholic religious orders among them have been. Instead the poor are shaken, often literally, by charismatic Christianity, Pentecostalism and its Catholic form. Here they embrace a kind of theology of prosperity, a hope for what the well off seem to have. In so many ways this is not surprising. People want a house and they would also like other material things in a consumer-driven world. That seems much of the measure of life.

Still there is spiritual power to Gutierrez ideas of liberation. They give eternal weight to how societies are organized; they measure societies according to the standards of salvation and liberation. One can argue the economics and political theory of what might constitute liberation. But the simple idea, that God is concerned that we humans attain a spiritually optimal society that includes equality and human freedom in the here and now, stands as a challenge for Catholics and other Christians. Just the other day a BYU professor asked me if I knew of anyone working on a Mormon liberation theology.

My taxi will not traverse the city in which Father Gutierrez wrote, but its descendant stirring with neoliberal vigor. McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Ripleys, and Casinos thrive in many neighborhoods. Nevertheless, there are still people who seek a piece of sand on which to throw up some reeds and wonder how to get money to taste a Big Mac. And Gustavo Gutierrez? His ideas are still there too—although he also spends time in Notre Dame. Peru has an ancient myth that times will change. The old and forgotten may lie buried like mummies in the desert sands. But someday they will return to walk under a new sun.

Comments

  1. Brilliant David! I would think that a notion of Mormon liberation theology would fall under the umbrellas of the call for members to be politically active and only tangentially under the official church. Folks such as yourself concerning yourselves with the notion and propagating a theory (if you come up with your own theses, start posting them over at Council of Fifty where I’d like to see more intermingling of faith and politics versus the present emphasis on us political junkies talking politics like anyone else we just happen to be Mormon).

    Tangentially though, if such ideas gain currency and start to be translated into LDS NGOs, LDS politicians focused on these issues (especially in the third world but even in the developed world perhaps manifested in growing numbers of leftist members – the kind overrepresented in the bloggernacle but underrepresented in most wards), and LDS political theoreticians expounding the notions and gaining currency among the poor and working classes. Though our minority status almost everywhere compared to Catholic majority status likely means that such liberation theology notions will probably have to be couched in very secular or else very least-common-denominator religious overtones if they are to gain broader appeal. Though actual social programs aimed first at the LDS communities’ poor around the world, if successful, could go on to gain broader appeal.

    And this is where “tangentially” the official church could intersect some. We already have a large internal welfare organization that does show a concern for these issues and now programs like the Perpetual Education Fund that shows church leadership does recognize the challenges to the church cycles of poverty have for our members. These might find expansion if the work of members around the world on these points picks up steam, gains prominence, and is couched in terms of the need to follow Christ’s injunctions to aid the poor and lift up our fellow brothers and sisters. A real challenge I think will be to overcome the very strong Americanized notions that anyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps – not that there isn’t great truth in that notion, but in practical terms Americans often forget there are many (most?) people around the world stuck in systems where access to opportunities to do so is itself lacking and that more needs to be done both from a safety net and structural opportunity-creating perspective. The church welfare system is actually well structured in theory to work with that view and the PEF theoretically seems to get that as well, but there’s still a long journey ahead to do greater good.

  2. These kinds of ideas could stand in stark contrast to the conservative, capitalist, benevolent-Marriott-school-of-management Christianity of prosperity most members of the Church tend to espouse right now. With Non-Arab Arab, I agree that the PEF may be the biggest key step in that direction we’ve made in a while, but the basic attitudes of “I gave at the chapel” need to be overcome. As has been pointed out elsewhere, by Steve Evans most recently (http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2008/04/ye-have-the-poor-always-with-you/), the Lord’s canon is not the principle of maximum utility (a funny idea we use to justify any accrual of wealth in LDS communities) but the widow’s mite.

    Perhaps the integration of further microcredit schemes into Church welfare and charitable giving would be useful. It seems to me as well that part of the liberation theology has to focus not only on society’s salvation, as it were, and on elevating individuals, but also on eliminating the bureaucracy and contradictions which bedevil modern governments in order to focus on those individuals, as did Christ.

    My two cents.

  3. The poor have never embraced liberation theology because it is an academic achievement that doesn’t touch their world or needs. They want to be empowered to be rich, not be pandered to as poor. It is ironic that the liberation theologians want to recognize the poor as such while the poor seek something different for themselves. It seems to amount to telling people what they should want rather than what they want for themselves and therefore becomes a form of judgmental pandering — a kind of marxist imperative that turns into imperialism when it gets implemented.

    For all of the faults of capitalism, it has the virtue of at least honoring the choices made by each.

  4. One could argue that Nibley was engaged in a kind of Mormon liberationist project. I believe Dennis Potter is also working on a manuscript on Mormon liberation, though I’m not sure on any details. Reading Gutierrez’s work was paradigm-altering for me, had an enormous impact.

    It should be pointed out that Liberation Theology is not just neo-Marxist social justice superficially clothed in the language of the Gospels. In addition to its socioeconomic relevance, part of what makes it so salient and compelling are its roots in the Gospel texts themselves. The work of Gutierrez and his successors is firmly grounded in the life and teachings of the Savior and is far from a stretched reading of the NT. Before dismissing Liberationism as an out of touch academic aberration, judgmental pandering, or marxist imperialism, one should carefully engage what folks like Father Gutierrez are actually writing and make a judgment based not on where it fits on the contemporary world-political spectrum but on the compellingness (or lack thereof) of its mobilization of the teachings and example of Jesus, regardless of politico-economic palatability.

  5. this set of ideas took hold and shifted much of the pastoral work of the Latin American Church to a concern with saving society and improving the condition of the poor.

    This is incomplete in that it neglects to address the political aspect, and the aligning with Marxism. The Sandanistas & Aristide are pretty good examples. Liberation theology proponents never seem to be able to explain why, empirically, its practitioners seem to be unable to create an experiment that doesn’t morph into something that looks like 99% Marxism and 1% Christianity.

    Personaly, I don’t see the difference between liberation theology and “Christianity of prosperity” (for ex. Joel Osteen) in that both fail to separate economic condition from spiritual condition. One takes pride in affluence that other in poverty.

  6. #*&$^% …typo

    I meant “One takes pride in affluence the other in poverty”

  7. For anyone who wants to read some interesting, older works on Liberation Theology, Harvey Cox is a good place to start.

  8. Sterling says:

    The New York Times reported last year that “nearly one million ‘Bible circles’ meet regularly [in Brazil] to read and discuss scripture from the viewpoint of the theology of liberation.” If this is true, then are Latin American Catholics flocking to evangelical and charismatic Christianity while still holding on to their dreams of liberation theology?

  9. Sterling’s right that liberation ideas are much more popular among the poor in Brazil (and at times in Nicaragua, among other places) than they have been in Peru. It’s also noteworthy that ideas from liberation theology — particularly that theology’s biblical hermeneutics and its emphasis on prophetic calls for societal repentance and renewal — have been hugely influential among the black church in the U.S. and in feminist approaches to Christianity.

    On a personal level, I have a testimony of Father Gutierrez’s work. Reading his thought helped me retain a belief in God at some of my darkest hours; God’s spirit surely spoke to me through his words. In a very real sense, liberation theology is mainly a theology calling the non-poor to repentance and a change of heart and of life practices; the faithful Christian poor are always already living liberation theology and thus stand in less need of its explicit prophetic call.

    In addition to the other Mormon liberationist projects mentioned above, I’d humbly link to the old blog my wife and I ran, which has at least a few posts that wander toward a Mormon liberationism.

  10. A group of people have started a new LDS blog that addresses liberation ideas. Check it out.

  11. A great thing one could do to get people to embrace Liberation Theology would be to divorce it from its Marxist ideas and ground it in well thought out economics. If it really is a theology and is not inextricably tied to a political and economic message then this is both do-able and would radically increase its appeal. On the other hand, unwillingness to do this strongly suggests that Liberation Theology is fundamentally tied to its unworkable Marxist roots.

  12. “nearly one million ‘Bible circles’ meet regularly [in Brazil] to read and discuss scripture from the viewpoint of the theology of liberation.”

    There are about 180 million Brazilians. I would be really surprised if there were anywhere close to a million Bible circles devoted to liberation theology. Bear in mind that a non-trivial portion of the country has less than four or fewer years of schooling.

  13. liberation theology is mainly a theology calling the non-poor to repentance and a change of heart and of life practices; the faithful Christian poor are always already living liberation theology and thus stand in less need of its explicit prophetic call.

    If the poor are removed from poverty are they then in need of repentance?

    Poverty is a relative condition, thus a certain percentage of people are always going to be in a state of economic sin?

    I get this mental image of tax table salvation. An inverse relationship between wealth and celestial glory.

  14. Poverty is a relative condition, thus a certain percentage of people are always going to be in a state of economic sin?

    MAC, the answer is simple and is in the Doctrine and Covenants: economic inequality prevents us from receiving full celestial blessings. So the relative condition of poverty is itself the sin; if we make ourselves materially equal, we will receive Zion.

    Frank, part of the point of liberation theology is to teach the Bible to people with inadequate schooling. Your argument is pretty moot. Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out that liberation theology’s primary arguments are not based on proposing economic systems at all, so your demand that Marxism be separated out is basically moot. Sound economic theory cannot possibly rebut the argument that economic inequality is sinful; economic theory doesn’t do sin, right?

  15. economic theory doesn’t do sin, right?

    It depends who you ask…

  16. For those who insist that Liberation Theology is “99% Marxism” I offer the following passages from Father Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation:

    “Many agree with Sartre that ‘Marxism, as the formal framework of all contemporary philosophical thought, cannot be superseded.’ Be that as it may, contemporary theology does in fact find itself in direct and fruitful confrontation with Marxism, and it is to a large extent due to Marxism’s influence that theological thought, searching for its own sources, has begun to reflect on the meaning of the transformation of this world and human action in history” (p. 8).

    “This model [the Workers' Catholic Action] presupposes and facilitates…a theoretical dialogue with Marxism in a way which holds little interest for Latin America. On this continent, the oppressed and those who seek to identify with them face ever more resolutely a common adversary, and therefore, the relationship between Marxists and Christians takes on characteristics different from those in other places” (p. 60).

    “The bishops of the most poverty-stricken and exploited areas are the ones who have denounced most energetically the injustices they witness. But in exposing the deep causes of these injustices, they have had to confront the great economical and political forces of their countries. They naturally leave themselves open to being accused of meddling in affairs outside their competence and even of being friendly to Marxist ideas. Often this accusation is made, and vigorously, in conservative sectors, both Catholic and non-Catholic” (p. 62).

  17. Those, by the way, are the only references to Marx or Marxism in the whole volume (aside from a footnote referencing the writings of Paul VI and Father Arrupe on the discernment necessary for bringing social scientific theory into contemporary Christian theology and praxis.

    Relative percentage of influence on the development of liberation theology of Gustavo Gutierrez and Karl Marx, respectively: 99, 1.

  18. david knowlton says:

    Hi Everyone, Sorry to have disappeared from this but I was traveling. I am in Lima now, in a cafe, just listening to a group of American and Peruvian businessmen discuss the textile industry and a possible deal between the two sets of interest. A very different world from that of the poorer neighborhoods.

    mac and Frank, Lib theo has often been accused of being Marxist. My read, and I have read quite a bit at different times, is that the only real Marx drawn into the formation fo the core theology is class analysis, and that can easily be done without Marx. The broader Marxist framework of economics and politics was one common in most intellectual and many social sectors of Latin America at
    the time. It is still common in many. As a result it does not seem proper to me to lay that at Lib Theo’s door.

    With Frank, I think it important to get into the issues of what constitutes the good society, or a less sinful society, since that seems to the the emphasis of lib theo. Here contemporary economists have a lot to offer, even if htey do not speak with a uniform voice. However, there is an ontological problem. Much of economics looks at individual actors as the grounds for their models. Here, more like the institutionalists, the issue is the nature of the society itself, not society as an aggregate of individual actions. Lib theo draws a lot from Teilhard de Chardin and his neoHegelian notions of wholes.

    This may be an important difference to think through.

    I think this debate, and its theological implications would be a salutary one.

    As for Christian Base Communtiies, they have been very important in Brazil and elsewhere. But their numerical importance pales before the embrace of Pentecostalism by the poor, in Brazil and elsewhere in South America. In Brazil the hierarchy of the Church embraced Lib Teho and implemented it. That is part of its growth there. Other places, such as Colombia, had more conservative Bishops and were able to limit the role of Lib Theo.

    There still seem to me to be issues around the role of Charismatic Christianity versus the more intellectualist Lib Theo in popular neighborhoods. However one must not sell short Lib Theo. It has had major impact on many peoples lives, if no other way than through the lives of the religious who have wrought major social change.

    On poverty. It is a relative condition, Mac. But Lib Theo by speaking of sin and society raises questions such as what would be a “Zion society” to use Mormon terms. What kinds of limits and inequalities are acceptable and which must be done away with? The notions link people in poverty with people of other socioeconomic strata in a spiritual obligation to each other, and to the society which surrounds them, favors some, and limits others.

    Thanks for the links. I will look at them when I have time down here.

    Dennis Potter’s work is valuable and is a stab at some of these issue.

    I want to second J. Nelson-Seawright. Reading Gutierrez, and others such as Sobrino, was important for me as well during a time of spiritual struggle.

  19. Brad,,

    Right, but it isn’t just the critics of liberation tehology who make the unfortunate assumptions.

    David’s post motivated me to google around a little bit in an effort to educate myself (pathetic, I know), and at least half of liberationism’s proponents appear to have mistaken Che for Jesus, and think Marx was one of the original 12 disciples.

  20. david knowlton says:

    Mark IV. The confusion of Che and Mark for spiritual figures speaks in part to the hunger of many Latin Americans for a more just society. Those figures symbolize such, whether good or bad.

    American critics of Lib Theo have over emphasized the Marxist connection. as I said, I find that mostly part of the Latin American context. Marx has been strong down here. I do not see it as primary for LIb Theo, in my reading.

    Let me give an example. Father Ernesto Cardenal, who embraced the Sandinistas and was part of their administration. One could emphasize the Marxist issues in his writing. One can also emphasize his relationship with his mentor Father Robert Merton.

    One has to read the ways in which Marx is drawn on, not dismiss thought simply because there is something Marxist.

    I do not wish to derail this post with a discussion of Marx and Marxism. As a result I will insist that as far as I am concerned, whatever the merits of Marxism, it is not the key to Lib Theo. But it is part of the social context in which Gutierrez wrote. As a result there is a need to sift the arguments, not because of their origin, but because of what they might contribute to the realization of a more holy society.

    Castro may have developed a rapprochment at a time, with Liebration Theologians, but the mere emphasis on God and religion brought a separation between orthodox Marxist movements in latin America and Christian based movements, such as those derived from Lib Theo. I can easily see an argument that Lib Theo is far too bourgeois in its basic ideas to be acceptable in any form of Marxism.

    It is sad when such a rich set of ideas gets caught in accusations of Marxism and accusation of not being Marxist. believes those are the dominant among the militant left. Many practitioners of Lib Theo lost their life, down here, in the eighties and nineties to Maoist and Leninist guerrillas. They were a “dangerous” competition for revolution and were weakening the possibility of the poor as a revolutionary class.

    We may see Marx, but his main followers do not!

  21. david knowlton says:

    sorry for the typos. I am kind of in a hurry. Sorry.

  22. Brad,

    My use of 99% was arbitrary, assign whatever percentage of the total system represents Marx antagonism to religion and the rest is not markedly different than Liberation theology.

    Saying Marxism isn’t Latin American enough, and co-opting the existing Catholic structure, isn’t sufficient distance from the basic ideas of Marx to argue material difference. Equivalent to saying “if we don’t reference Marx, then it isn’t Marxism right?”

    And the ad hominem attack on “conservative” sectors may undermine the argument.

  23. David,

    Oh, I agree completely, and I apologize for probably detracting from your very good post. I’ll look forward to more on this topic, if you want to write about it.

  24. David,

    I get the social context argument you are making and I agree that it is important to the discussion. I also have to agree with your final statement, that how it is perceived is not necessarily content, but perspective. That said I don’t think that the cross-pollination of what are both very leftist ideas can be denied, even on the ground.

  25. david knowlton says:

    Mac,

    I do not disagree there was cross pollination. Rather my disagreement is with the relative weight given to the Marxism. What specifically do you find objectionable in Lib theo, whether Marxist or otherwise?

  26. MAC, I don’t think your comments are really adding much here. If you think the idea that poverty and inequality are wrong is an inherently Marxist idea, then your comments go through logically — but that assumption is deeply problematic. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work. Sobrino and Gutierrez — the two main liberationists that I’ve read — simply don’t make much use of Marxist ideas. And at least some liberationists had the explicit goal of countering Marxism’s appeal by developing a framework of ideas that offered both temporal and spiritual hope to the economically marginalized within a non-Marxist worldview.

    But there’s another point to be made: not everything in Marxism is wrong. Some ideas are certainly unhelpful, and others strike me as morally wrong — but some are surely correct. Marxism is not equal to evil.

  27. David, RE the potential relevance of economics for this discussion, I suppose it matters how we define the boundaries of “economics.” The sort of positive modeling and explanatory agendas that dominate economics (and, indeed, most of the social sciences) seem to me to have little to contribute to theological discussions — because they don’t speak to issues of good or bad. Instead, they answer questions about what is better or worse for achieving some specified goal. The specification of the goal, though, is not a part of the conversation. This sort of normative exploration is what we need, and I think you actually find more of it in political philosophy, for example, than in the profession of economics today. That said, some people like Amartya Sen have obviously made relevant contributions to thinking through normative as well as positive issues…

  28. Marxism is not equal to evil.

    Again, it depends on who you ask.

  29. Brad, sure — but people who are willing to make a blanket equation of Marxism and evil will probably be surprised to learn that at least some ideas that they agree with are “Marxist.”

  30. David, #26

    I have political differences with leftist ideas. But I don’t think that those are what you are asking for, if I am wrong please ask again and I will answer.

    I am by no means a expert of Liberation Theology and a lot of what I read was back in the 90’s, including Malachi Martin, which I am sure influenced my perception.

    As I understand your question, the issue I have with Liberation theology specifically is that it interprets salvation as a non-spiritual state. In the same way that the Jews were waiting for a political savior from Roman rule, Liberation Theology uses Christ as a economic/political savior, which is why IMO it is so easy to replace Christ with a messianic figure like Che Guevara or Simon Bolivar. Salvation becomes external, impersonal and a matter of social policy.

  31. david knowlton says:

    I agree with you J. However economics, and other social sciences, have embedded within them assumptions that can make the evaluation problematic when placed within the ethical-moral questions of lib theo. Those also need to be discussed. I think part that needs thinking through is the individualist model of society and social thinking, with its ontological implications that suggest a particular ethos, as opposed to a more group oriented notion that proposes a different set of ethical concerns.

  32. MAC, I think your reading of liberation theology as defining salvation as a non-spiritual state is an uncharitable one, and indeed one that many or most liberationists would reject. Consider, for example, Gutierrez’s simple definition of salvation, from Teologia de Liberacion pg. 185: salvation is “the communion of people with God and the communion of people among themselves.” This is not strikingly different from Mormon notions of exaltation. Nor is the notion of trying to build a more heaven-like world in this life alien to Joseph Smith’s thought, for example.

  33. David, I’ll bracket the individualist vs. group orientation issue for the moment — I’d guess we would have to explore this a bit more before I’m sure exactly what you have in mind. More broadly, though, I absolutely agree that the “positive” social sciences end up making assumptions or at least adopting boundary conditions that cause difficulties in interaction with frankly idealistic worldviews such as liberation theology. In particular, social scientists are generally (and I think commendably) reluctant to speculate about the consequences of institutions that are qualitatively unlike any that have existed in the real world. This has the implication that the resulting theory is valid only in situations that broadly replicate the parameters of whatever society or set of societies has formed the basis for social-scientific analysis. Yet obviously the Christian message envisions a fundamental transformation in the nature of society and of human relations. How would markets work in a society in which everyone fully adhered to the Christian dictum to love and value others equally with one’s self? A wise social scientist would admit that our existing analytic tools can’t answer the question…

  34. MAC,
    What JNS said. You don’t have to go any farther than Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon or the synoptic Gospels to find a notion of salvation that is at once “spiritual” and “temporal,” individual and social, this-worldly and other-worldly. Indeed, those divisions are arbitrary and, as Nephi points out, not pertinent to a discussion of salvation. Latin American Liberationists no more worship Che or Bolivar or conflate them with Christ than Mormons do Joseph of Brigham.

  35. (And I’ll parenthetically note that I’m jealous that you’re in Peru. Taryn and I haven’t been able to get to Lima for a few years now and we badly miss the place.)

  36. er, “Joseph or Brigham.”

  37. J. Nelson-Seawright, #27

    If Marxism not equal to evil, why take umbrage at the comparison?

    But to be accurate I didn’t say that the ideas underlying Liberation Theology where Marxist, I said that “empirically, its practitioners seem to be unable to create an experiment that doesn’t morph into something that looks like 99% Marxism and 1% Christianity.”

    It does this by distorting the Gospel of Christ in a way that gives salvation a socio-economic emphasis. Once theology of salvation has been reoriented in this way righteousness is an external “status,” dictated by ones material condition, relative to the wealthy guy, of European descent. One no longer needs a contrite spirit, one only needs to be indigenous and poor. As you stated earlier “faithful Christian poor are always already living liberation theology and thus stand in less need of its explicit prophetic call.”

  38. david knowlton says:

    I see your point Mac, however I think there is an important nuance here that makes a difference. The issue hinges, in part, on what you mean as spiritual. I do not think the Lib Theologians I have read would agree with your assessment that their ideas make salvation external and impersonal.

    There are at least two interelated notions of salvation, here, and hence of spirituality. One involves the level of individuals to be sure. But the second is of the social whole, call it the relational fabric or some such. Here the argument is that it too needs salvation. This is importantly part of a set of notions that may ultimately stem from a kind of Neo-Hegelian social whole where the measure of progress is the syustem as a whole.

    This reworks emphases on spirituality. This is, of course, part of the pope´s concern with the ideas. Instead of being an internal, emotional state of connection with God, it sees the Spirit of God involved and invested in the World. Spirituality ios also external and relational. The degree of sinfulness of the world can block–i.e. reject– the movement of God and the ability of people to benefit from it.

    Here may well be the heresy, in that it means that an individual´s possibility of sacred interaction is contingent upon society´s degree of sinfulness. But is this notion really so strange for those of us from an LDS background, with notions of worthiness and ability to accept things like the law of consecration.

    As a result the concern is far more than political or economic. It is deeply theocentric and deeply spiritual.

    This actually is a big part of why Lib Theo is so troubling for Marxists. Economic-political salvation is only small portion, and yet for many Marxists that is the end. Lib Theo places a much bigger goal which is that of unity with God.

  39. david knowlton says:

    J. Nelson-Seawright. I would love to hear of your experiences in Peru, perhaps privately. I deeply love this place. My mission was in Bolivia, but Peru has been an important place for my intellectual and personal development. part of why I love to come down here is because it always makes me rethink some kind of foundational proposition or another.

  40. david knowlton says:

    Brad, The LDS arguments create an important parallel with LIberationist thinking. Can you develop them more?

  41. MAC, I understand that you have some genuine concerns here. My worry, and the reason that I’m continuing in this dialogue, is that it seems to me that your legitimate concerns are coupled with a few misconceptions and a few instances of over-interpreting specific claims.

    For example, you say, “empirically, its practitioners seem to be unable to create an experiment that doesn’t morph into something that looks like 99% Marxism and 1% Christianity.” I’m not at all sure that I can accept this. Many Brazilian liberation theological congregations are places where the major projects which are undertaken are teaching people to read, reading and discussing the Bible, and helping people pool community surpluses to aid those who are in situations of extreme crisis. Does that sound Marxist to you? Not to me in any noticeable sense. Yet it is a legitimate, real-world implementation of liberation-theological ideas. Some people associate liberation theology so strongly with, for example, the Sandinistas that they fail to realize that at least many liberationists seek to do God’s work in the world through small-scale engagement with specific communities, rather than through projects of direct large-scale political transformation.

    Likewise, you say, “One no longer needs a contrite spirit, one only needs to be indigenous and poor. As you stated earlier ‘faithful Christian poor are always already living liberation theology and thus stand in less need of its explicit prophetic call.'” I especially have to respond to this quote because it entails a profound misinterpretation of a comment I made earlier. My point in the earlier comment is that the special message of liberation theology is one that I think is designed to prick the consciences of the wealthy — it makes us more aware of the sins we try to hide from ourselves. That doesn’t mean that the poor don’t need salvation through Christ, or that they don’t need the pursuit of righteousness. If you read my comment, I specifically said that the faithful Christian poor escape the sharpest edges of liberation theology’s message. The poor, in liberation theology, absolutely need faith and Christ.

  42. RE the question of Mormon liberationist texts, and of whether society as a whole can be in a state of sin in Mormon thought, a leading case in my view is Doctrine and Covenants section 49. In that text, Joseph Smith gives us God rejecting mandatory vegetarianism, endorsing the notion that all should enjoy basic material goods in abundance, and proscribing the waste of meat and of animal life. All of this is “temporal” in focus, yet our God seems to see it as being of sufficient spiritual importance to give Smith a revelation on the topic. Consider in particular verse 20, which seems cut from purely liberationist cloth: “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.”

    This idea, that the world as a collective, i.e., society as a whole, can be in a state of sin is one of the most controversial concepts in liberation thinking. Yet we find it in our canon.

  43. J. Nelson-Seawright, #42

    Just my point of view. But the edges of the message should be equally sharp for all. The challenge of the atonement should be equal to our ability to implement it based on Christ personal knowledge of who we are, not the temporal status of the individual.

  44. david knowlton says:

    J. Makes powerful points. I think being on the ground and seeing Christian Base communtiies struggle with what it means to be Christian in a sinful world, and seeing the amazing work of the religious (i.e. priests and nuns)in local communities across the continent, gives a very different sense to the argument than simply a reading of political critics of the first world.

    This liberation praxis, as it is called, is walking in solidarity with the needy and not simply providing an otherworldly spiritual message while ignoring real social distress, but helping people find skills and possibilities to resolve some of those concerns.

    People should come to some places where it is practiced, like a community I will be in next week. The Australian nun has dedicated her life to the people of the community. Her concern is spiritual but also involves the concrete difficulties people face in their life. She lives with them and walks with them. Her reality is very different from the distant, class conscious, traditional religious leaders of the area. To be fair, you do not have to travel half a world away to see Liberatiuon Praxis in action. It is also found all over the US.

    One should not confuse a preferential option for the poor, which is saying that the Church of necessity takes a position with one group or another and that should be the poor–with an idea that the poor are in some way more moral or less in need of repentence that the rich. They are separable ideas that make a difference.

  45. It occurs to me that I have no idea what MAC even has in mind behind the straw man “Marxism.” Is it, like, the Stalinist purges of the ’30s? Is it any critique whatsoever of wealth disparities? The Cultural Revolution? No offense, MAC, you sound like a Richard Dawkins wannabe trying to pass summary judgment on religion.

  46. As I recall, Marx characterized the poorest of the poor as the “lumpenproletariat” and saw them a counter-revolutionary force. In other words, he didn’t like them much, and, interestingly enough, as I read it, would expect them to be hangin’ out in the Charismatic churches, confusing God and Mammon.

    Liberation theology, in my imperfect understanding, is the exact opposite, as expressed in “the option for the poor.” That is, give help to those who need it most, rather than cozying up to the rich. Wow. The fact that Marxist terminology is occasionaly in the more-or-less canonical documents shoudn’t obscure the opposite nature of these two philosophies.

    FWIW, this is yet another salvo in a long war within Catholicism–the liberation theologists are the intellectual/spiritual heirs of the Franciscians, Pope Benedict XVI is, as shown by his name, firmly in the camp of the Benedictines.

  47. The challenge of the atonement should be equal to our ability to implement it based on Christ personal knowledge of who we are, not the temporal status of the individual.

    Except that presupposes that our temporal status has no bearing whatsoever on our sinful condition. It’s a theology that interiorizes both sin and salvation, pushing both exclusively into the realm of the mind. Appealing as such a vision of Christian salvation might be to people enjoying the luxuries of living in the first world (and placating ourselves with absurd suggestions that our challenges today–porn, gay marriage, Marxist intellectuals–are more severe than those faced by the pioneers or the Christian martyrs), they have no foundation in either the Gospel texts, the Book of Mormon, the D&C (see, for example, the verse cited above by JNS, which flies directly in the face of an assertion that salvation through Christ is not tied directly to temporal, material conditions), or the history of the Church.

  48. David,

    The positive tools for economics are available, as JNS rightly points out, whatever the underlying philosophy. They are about smart ways to get to objectives. I get the impression that many people who espouse liberation theology also espouse bad policy. The correlation is high enough that when I hear “Liberation Theology” I am usually not impressed with what comes next (and it often is not theology but policy).

    Now if the claims of liberation theology boil down to:

    1. we must help the poor to be saved and
    2. salvation is as a group

    then 1 is obvious and explicit (see King Benjamin, for example) and 2 is goofy and strongly rejected in so many places that it would be silly to try to list them all (but see King Benjamin again!). So what else is there besides 1 and 2?

    “This idea, that the world as a collective, i.e., society as a whole, can be in a state of sin is one of the most controversial concepts in liberation thinking. Yet we find it in our canon.”

    JNS, you want to make D&C 49 into a statement of sin as a group apart from the individual, but surely you see that it is just as easy to read the text as the aggregation of individual sin, and so still individualistic. You are going to have to keep looking if you want to convince anyone. Show me where Liberation Theology and its tenets have gotten support in the last thirty years of General Conference and then we’ll have something interesting to talk about.

  49. From lds.org:

    Your search for “liberation theology” has returned 0 results in All Church Content.

  50. “Your search for Gustavo Gutierrez has returned 0 results in All Church Content.”

  51. “Your search for ‘milton friedman’ has returned 0 results in All Church Content.”

    “Your search for ‘free market’ has returned 2 results in All Church Content.”

    The two results:

    From the News of the Church section of the December 1991 Ensign, under the subheading “LDS Experts Help Poland Evaluate Food Production”:

    “The request for assistance came in December of 1990,” explained Brother Lifferth. “Due to recent changes in the country’s government, agriculture in Poland is in a transitional stage. When they changed from a planned economy to a free market economy, farmers were unsure of what to do.”

    Previously, the government had directed farmers what to produce and where to take their crops. Under the new system, all that has changed.

    “There was increasing unemployment, crops going to waste, and a lot of uncertainty about the future,” Brother Lifferth said. At that point, Polish Senator Zbigniew Romaszewski turned to TechnoServe, a nonprofit humanitarian organization based in Connecticut, for help.

    and from a piece entitled “How Beautiful to Live in These Times and Be Prepared!” by Enzio Busche:

    Let me tell you why this has such personal meaning for me. With a European heritage and educational background, one readily develops a perspective of how in the last 250 years people have fought, struggled, and hoped for a just society that would overcome the destructiveness of slavery, poverty, and injustice so prevalent through the history of mankind. For example, the doctrines and philosophies of Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau, forerunners of the French Revolution, envisioned establishing a just society founded on their understanding of the principles of liberty, equality, and the brotherhood of man. Similarly, many other philosophers, teachers, poets, and dreamers, mainly from England and Germany, stirred up the minds and expectations of the people. Even Karl Marx, who was the intellectual offspring of Hegel and the constructing architect of communism, had as an initial vision the elimination of poverty and the establishment of a just and free society, developing restless expectations among many people of the world.

    When we think in terms of our own year’s supply of those foods and materials we use on a regular basis, we may feel that every family will have to store everything. This, of course, is not easy and seems to make storage difficult. However, let me offer this comforting idea based on past experience. We need to take into consideration that in difficult times, so long as there survives more than one family, there will be trading of valuable items. A free market will begin immediately to satisfy the needs of people, and items in greatest demand will set the price, bypassing the use of money.

  52. Elder Busche’s piece is from the June 1982 Ensign.

  53. 1. we must help the poor to be saved and
    2. salvation is as a group

    then 1 is obvious and explicit (see King Benjamin, for example) and 2 is goofy and strongly rejected in so many places that it would be silly to try to list them all (but see King Benjamin again!). So what else is there besides 1 and 2?

    If you modify #2 to “salvation is, to some extent, as a group” it is far from goofy or strongly rejected in so many places…

    The fact is, our theology — in particular the teachings of the temple — teaches us that sin can be structural, a state of affairs flowing from how society is organized, and that only by making and walking up to specific covenants can we extricate ourselves, individually and collectively, from the causal nexus of sin and suffering in which our commitments to the world and the philosophies of men enmesh us, rendering us guilty of the blood and sins of an entire generation. Such a notion might not jive well with neoliberal economic theory, but the fullness of the restored gospel is positively saturated with it.

  54. Brad,

    1. I hope you’re joking :) “Free market” is not a religious orientation whereas Liberation Theology clearly is.

    2. The fact that sin can increase or decrease because of how society is organized is, I think, non-controversial. But where do we get a societal failure damning any person without first being mediated by their own personal choices– and thus being individual.

    3. I think your own comment refutes your point. One of the amazing things about the atonement is that it frees us from those social sins _through_ covenants to Christ. And those covenants are not taken as a society. In fact, even the sealing is not enough to make an unworthy person saved or to unsave a worthy person. Rather the “society” of the marriage is abolished should such an issue arise. Clearly the individual is paramount.

    4. Brad, “neoliberal economic theory” is what exactly?

    Help me out. What defines Liberation Theology that makes it different from what most Christians already believe? Why should I embrace it and what would it mean if I did?

  55. Frank, ideas central to liberation theology have always been in Mormonism. However, if you’re going to brush them aside as “goofy” and so obviously false that you aren’t going to bother to rebut them, this conversation is pointless. If you aren’t really taking this seriously, then there’s little point.

    Let’s assume that you are taking this seriously and let’s turn to your list of two points. Do you really think that salvation isn’t relevant to groups? If so, then you’ve lost a lot of Joseph Smith’s message. Zion isn’t just a bunch of autonomous individuals, is it? Joseph Smith built communities; he didn’t just teach individuals.

    Liberation theologians are of multiple minds about the theological details regarding the collective, societal aspect of salvation. Some believe that individuals can only obtain salvation by first seeking redemption of the society, while others suggest that the two processes work hand in hand. Few if any would suggest that salvation is purely societal and not at all individual.

    But is it really so controversial to claim that salvation has a social aspect? Don’t we make a similar claim when we say that our dead can’t be saved without us and we can’t be saved without our dead? If salvation is purely individual, then the salvation of the dead is the dead’s problem, right, not ours. But Mormonism sees salvation and exaltation as something that entails, at least, a family context and perhaps a broader communal context. When Joseph Smith talks about the same sociality existing among exalted beings as among the Saints on Earth, we see hints of this broader communal soteriology; the same also appears in his application of the Law of Adoption. Everyone must be tied together into a giant web of sealings so that we can all be saved together. How is this not an account of salvation with a societal aspect.

    Regarding the claim that D&C 49 can be given an individualistic reading, I think this is problematic. Most (perhaps all?) such readings are incoherent on examination. In particular, inequality is inherently a social and collective state; when the scripture condemns inequality as a source of worldwide sin, it condemns a state that no one individual can — even in principle — single-handedly change. So the sin is inherently communal, because inequality is inherently relational and systemic.

  56. What defines Liberation Theology that makes it different from what most Christians already believe? Why should I embrace it and what would it mean if I did?

    Why don’t you read a bit of it and see? I recommend Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation. If it’s just what Christians already believe, then you’ll have exposed yourself to a harmless and well-intentioned homiletic. And if it speaks to you, then you’ll have gained more. (I feel a bit like I’m giving a missionary challenge here.)

    The bigger challenge, though, is to experience liberation praxis. I find the liberation theology texts to be rich, but the texts themselves tell us that true liberation theology is found in the act of serving poor communities. I don’t know if anyone can immerse themselves in that day-to-day experience without coming away spiritually transformed.

  57. “Free market” is not a religious orientation whereas Liberation Theology clearly is.

    Whether “free market” is or isn’t a religious orientation, I think, is an open question, especially for Mormons. It’s also a bit disingenuous to set it up as in inapt comparison if you’re really reducing Liberation Theology to Marxist economics.

    I think your own comment refutes your point. One of the amazing things about the atonement is that it frees us from those social sins _through_ covenants to Christ. And those covenants are not taken as a society.

    Do you really believe that the law of consecration can be lived in its fullness by autonomous individuals? Your comment acknowledges the existence of social sins but fails to acknowledge that the culminating covenant by which we extricate ourselves from sinful social structures is by creating new kinds of social and economic relationships with our fellow men.

    But where do we get a societal failure damning any person without first being mediated by their own personal choices– and thus being individual.

    From the temple. To the degree that we do not commit ourselves to and participate in a set of socioeconomic relations dictated by the imperatives of Zion, our individual autonomy as actors is compromised, we are under the power of other agents, and we share in the guilt of the sins of our fellow human beings and the collective consequences of said iniquity. Satan uses the institutions of the world (military, social, religious, political, economic) to produce suffering, blood, and horror, and exploits the very things that temple covenants demand we eschew — culminating in the setting aside of self-interest and personal, atomistic economic utility maximization — to keep us in his power and render us guilty of the blood and sins of our entire generation. A condition from which we can only extricate ourselves to the degree that we commit and attach ourselves to a wholly different kind of sociality.

    It is the assertions that temple covenants — especially the culminating covenant — are solely about individual, interiorized, “spiritual” salvation or that “economic inequalities=world lieth in sin” is really just about an aggregation of individual choices that requires defending.

  58. Brad, #46

    If you are just going to call me names … If you really wanted to know what my take on Marxism vis-a-vis Liberation Theology was you might have asked, instead of belittling. You may find it shocking, but I am not the first person to make a connection between Liberation Theology and Marxism.

    #48

    “Except that presupposes that our temporal status has no bearing whatsoever on our sinful condition.” I’m okay with presupposing that, but no one said “that interiorizes both sin and salvation, pushing both exclusively into the realm of the mind.” The second idea does not forcibly follow the first.

    #54

    teaches us that sin can be structural, a state of affairs flowing from how society is organized, and that only by making and walking up to specific covenants can we extricate ourselves, individually and collectively, from the causal nexus of sin and suffering in which our commitments to the world and the philosophies of men enmesh us, rendering us guilty of the blood and sins of an entire generation.

    Fine, but where is the part that makes the lack of complete economic equality the sin that trumps all others, that makes a society sinful? I don’t think that D&C 49:20 is sufficient to make that claim. I’m with Frank, can you do better?

  59. MAC,
    I did not accuse you of being the first person to connect Liberationism with Marxism (on the contrary, I furnished quotations that acknowledged how common that conflation is); I accused you suggesting that the any connection between the two is, in itself, a delegitimation of the former. What, for you, is Marxism that makes it, and everything associated with it, irredeemably evil?

    where is the part that makes the lack of complete economic equality the sin that trumps all others, that makes a society sinful?

    No one claimed that it is the sin that trumps all others, just that the claim made by the text in question should be taken at face value. Economic inequality and poverty make society an inherently sinful place, a sinfulness that is relational and collective, meaning that one cannot fully escape it or its consequences as an individual. It is a kind of sin from which we must be saved together by radically restructuring the relations between us. That claim does not rest on the assumption that economic inequality is the only sin that matters. Just that, like all other sin, we must abstain from it in order to repent of it. Liberationist praxis is about Christians freely working together to reshape the social and economic relations under which we live.

    The dichotomy of viewing the structural sin of economic inequality as either the only thing that matters or as mattering so little that Liberation Theology can be passed off as an irrelevant Marxist aberration is a false one.

  60. Frank, I was going to say almost exactly what JNS said in #56. Salvation as a group is as central to Mormonism as any concept I can imagine. The central concept of the temple is that the power of godliness binds people in a way that would make the very creation of the earth “wasted” without “communal salvation”.

    Also, as mentioned previously, Joseph was a Zion builder, not an individual saver. Our great mortal target is to replicate the City of Enoch, not the scholar in the tower.

  61. I know this is so simplistic as to invite ridicule, but Liberation Theology is grounded in the life of Jesus. Harvey Cox often emphasized this point in his lectures and seminars – that Jesus’ kingdom building appeared to be almost exclusively about giving voice to those who had none.

    Brad wrote a post on December 8th (cited below) that used a phrase that has seared itself into my memory ever since I read it – “Christ’s kingdom of nobodies”. To dismiss Liberation Theology as Marxist is to miss much of Jesus’ mortal focus – and also much of Pres. Hinckley’s mission, imho. The Perpetual Education fund and his statement about not being able to save a man while allowing his physical demise (source anyone?) would put him squarely in the Liberation Theology camp according to many of its proponents. (I’m not saying he would use that label for himself; I don’t have a clue how he would self-identify.)

    “http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2007/12/thoughts-on-the-meaning-of-the-birth-of-jesus/

  62. Thanks, Ray, though credit for the phrase “Christ’s kingdom of nobodies” goes to the (highly Liberationist-influenced) Catholic New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan.

  63. JNS,

    “Joseph Smith built communities; he didn’t just teach individuals.”

    This is perfectly consistent with salvation being between the individual and the Savior, even if it must be worked out by helping others in a social setting.

    “If salvation is purely individual, then the salvation of the dead is the dead’s problem, right, not ours. ”

    How am I not supposed to call this goofy :). Saying salvation is individual in no way means that I am indifferent to the salvation of others. And “social aspect” is a vague enough phrase that it can’t be falsified. If that is all you mean there is nothing to discuss. If you are drawing some implications from this “social aspect”, well then there might be something that could be refuted or agreed to.

    “when the scripture condemns inequality as a source of worldwide sin, it condemns a state that no one individual can — even in principle — single-handedly change.”

    This is true for all the important sins. What sin is there that one mortal could rid the world of? Is that the best you can do. And will any righteous person who personally helps the poor arrive at the pearly gates and be denied entry because one group of people had more money than some other people? If so, the brethren are failing in their duties for not identifying this rather startling doctrine.

    “Why don’t you read a bit of it and see? ”

    Opportunity cost. The list of books I know are good but haven’t read is startlingly long. But I’ll be sure to pick it up if I get the urge to

  64. What sin is there that one mortal could rid the world of?

    You’re missing the entire point. It’s not a question of ridding the whole world of lust or gluttony. The point is that economic inequality is a social state that entangles us as individuals in sin and that we cannot extricate ourselves from it without fundamentally changing the social relations in question. You don’t have to rid the world of lying to fully repent from lying; you have to rid the world of economic inequality to fully repent from the sin of economic inequality because you cannot cease to commit it while remaining entangled in said relations. You need a source of power greater than the power that underlies the structural injustices and blood and horror they produce. The temple obligates you in the solemnest of terms to extricate yourself and recreate a new set of relations, and furnishes a source of power capable of enabling such a radical transformation — the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and fidelity to the covenants through which that power is actualized.

  65. Brad,

    “It’s also a bit disingenuous to set it up as in inapt comparison if you’re really reducing Liberation Theology to Marxist economics.”

    I didn’t reduce it to Marxism and if you thought I did let me disabuse you of that notion. Although, Frankly, methinks thou dost protest too much.

    As for the rest of your comment, let me see if I understand you and you me:

    Suppose I, as an autonomous individual, of my own free will, attach myself to a Zion community along with others who do the same. Any person who fails to live up to the ideals of the community and does not repent is not saved. Those who, individually, obey the commandments and live up to the ideals of the community and repent are saved. Do you consider this communal salvation? If so I heartily agree that salvation is “communal” in that sense. If not, tell me what you mean so that I can determine if I agree or not.

    By the way, I would not consider that communal salvation. I’d call that individual salvation, because one’s salvation is based on one’s own thoughts, actions, and desires. Nor do I, incidentally, see it as having any implications for a statist income redistribution policy.

  66. “You don’t have to rid the world of lying to fully repent from lying; you have to rid the world of economic inequality to fully repent from the sin of economic inequality because you cannot cease to commit it while remaining entangled in said relations.”

    This is a reading of the D&C 49 scripture, but far from the only one. Although I do not wish to discuss it on blog, the temple ceremony never makes this explicit connection to economic inequality as being the sin from which we must free ourselves. That’s Brad doctrine.

    But suppose that were true. Well then the atonement along with my covenants lets me free myself from that sin. It does not let me free anyone else from that sin. And so I still consider it individual. See my previous comment and let me know what you think.

  67. Although I do not wish to discuss it on blog, the temple ceremony never makes this explicit connection to economic inequality as being the sin from which we must free ourselves. That’s Brad doctrine.

    That’s neither temple doctrine nor Brad doctrine. The temple makes clear that the kinds of sin from which we must free ourselves are structural in nature and require a power beyond our individual desire or conscious will, and that the cumulative effect of said structural sin is the suffering of innocents, blood, horror, and oppression. Still, the D&C makes clear that the world is saturated with sin by virtue of the unequal economic relations among human beings.

    Suppose I, as an autonomous individual, of my own free will, attach myself to a Zion community along with others who do the same. Any person who fails to live up to the ideals of the community and does not repent is not saved. Those who, individually, obey the commandments and live up to the ideals of the community and repent are saved.

    The Zion community does not exist simply by virtue of individuals freely attaching themselves to it. It comprises a kind of socioeconomic relations that banish poverty and economic stratification. One does not just nominally attach oneself to such a system; on either actively participates in and supports such an order, or withdraws. We can detach ourselves from Zion as individuals, but we can only participate in it collectively. Conversely, we cannot extricate ourselves fully from an intrinsically sinful set of relations without an alternative. But that alternative cannot be taken for granted. Your individual salvation is made possible not just by your individual choice to ally yourself with Zion but by the collective relations that enable you to materially survive without participating in the exploitative, sinful relations of the world we now live in. Total withdrawal from any and all socioeconomic relations is the only option in the absence of Zion, but Zion cannot exist except upon a celestial law that dictates the kinds of collective social relations that obtain therein. And none of this takes into account the other ways in which our scriptures and what goes on in the temple tie our salvation as individuals to our salvation as a collectivity — as families, across generations, as a society, and as a human family.

    You are the only person in this discussion to mention statist income redistribution policies.

  68. Frank, I doubt anyone is arguing that salvation is not individual, in a very real and important way. What I think we are saying is that it isn’t *completely* individual – that you can’t gain salvation (exaltation, in our terminology) by sitting in a monastery and getting to know Jesus on an individual level. (I actually have heard if called “chillin’ with Christ” and extolled as the ultimate form of worship.) According to *everything* Jesus is credited with saying and doing, that isn’t compatible with what he wants.

    What I believe he wants is for us to lose our individual lives in the service of others – specifically those who are down-trodden and victimized and shunned and marginalized – socially and economically and politically and in any other way. If they have no voice, we are to be their voice; if they have no food, we are to provide it; if they are naked, we are to clothe them. Otherwise, He will say to us,”Depart from me.”

    It seems painfully clear to me that there is a “work of salvation” that includes the temporal condition of humanity. Seriously, go through the Gospels and tally up the instances of Jesus “preaching” and “ministering”. I think it is an enlightening exercise, and it leads me to believe that salvation in fact is NOT an individual thing, but rather a communal thing spread by individuals. I can’t be exalted by myself, as an individual. According to everything we teach, that simply isn’t possible – assuming I have enough accountability to understand my responsibility to others. Even in those cases, exaltation comes at the very least as a couple.

    That’s my take, anyway. If we disagree, we disagree – and probably have no chance of changing each other’s minds.

  69. Who’s taking bets on Frank getting the urge?
    Are there other topics about which you are uneducated that you’d like to enlighten us on? How about cricket rules?

  70. Ray, yes, yes, yes. This is what I have been saying.

    Brad,

    “You are the only person in this discussion to mention statist income redistribution policies.”

    But I would be far from the first to make claims about them derived from Liberation Theology.

    “The Zion community does not exist simply by virtue of individuals freely attaching themselves to it. It comprises a kind of socioeconomic relations that banish poverty and economic stratification. One does not just nominally attach oneself to such a system; on either actively participates in and supports such an order, or withdraws.”

    I do not know what you are saying here. I said “attach” and you changed it to “just nominally attach”. Why? Did you answer my question, because I can’t tell.

    “Your individual salvation is made possible not just by your individual choice to ally yourself with Zion but by the collective relations that enable you to materially survive without participating in the exploitative, sinful relations of the world we now live in.”

    Where is this doctrine outlined in Church materials outside of your extrapolations from the Temple and an idiosyncratic reading of D&C 49? Since many people have materially survived while participating in standard market relations with the world and have presumably gone on to be saved, what am I to make of this? Are you saying those people repented in the next life of having owned index funds? That seems trivial compared to the much larger sins we commit every day. Ignorably trivial, in fact.

  71. blt,

    I’ll be happy to take that bet, on either side, as long as you are willing to put up enough money. :)

    As for cricket, I have repeatedly asked Brad and JNS to explain what they mean by Liberation Theology and what the takeaway lesson is. So far I haven’t gotten a very clear picture, and so I’m beginning to wonder if there really is a core. The parts where I “enlighten” them aren’t LT, but things I actually know something about.

  72. Frank,
    I wouldn’t dare insult you by claiming that you were merely summarizing Liberation Theology. You, my beautiful friend, are already refuting it. Well done.
    Now to the real question: If you successfully lure me into your web of deceit, bet on yourself not reading, subsequently lose because JNS pulls a Jedi mind trick on you and end up owing me a year’s salary (don’t worry, I pull a rickshaw (spelling?) for a living), is everyone guilty before God or just Brad?

  73. I think the “takeaway lesson” of Liberation Theology is that “salvation” is not simply a “spiritual” pursuit with rewards exclusive to the “afterlife”. At least, that “spiritual only” view of salvation is what Liberation Theology addresses at its core, because that view justifies ignoring and even abusing (grinding the faces) of the poor. That view says not only that it’s OK for a lender to take advantage of the desperate by charging them 30+% interest and institutionally ensuring their lifelong destitution, but that such a lender has just as good a chance at heaven as those he is using as his financial grist.

    Liberation Theology is set against that type of theology, which some LTists call Oppression Theology. (I don’t know if that is an official, published title, but it was a favorite in some of the lectures I attended in college.)

  74. PS–Feel free to interpret my final line either . . .
    ” . . . is everyone guilty before God or is it just Brad?”
    OR
    ” . . . is everyone guilty before God or just before Brad?”

  75. “That view says not only that it’s OK for a lender to take advantage of the desperate by charging them 30+% interest and institutionally ensuring their lifelong destitution, but that such a lender has just as good a chance at heaven as those he is using as his financial grist.”

    Ray, this is particularly funny to me because, as I recall, a fair number of microlenders charge interest rates over 30%. In any case, if your discussion of LT is correct, then I ihave no objection to those ideas but nor do I see that as adding anything beyond simple Christianity. It amounts to my (1) point above that we all already know.

  76. Rather, I agree with the part about it not being okay to ignore helping others. I don’t think a 30% interest rate is prima facie evidence of bad intent. But I’m pretty sure that was not your point :).

  77. There’s a thread on economics. Frank turns up and burns the house down. People get frustrated. Frank expresses disinterest in doing any informed reading. People get frustrated. Frank posts a smiley face. People get frustrated. Rinse. Repeat.

    Everyone: do not engage Frank. It will only lead to heartbreak and tears.

  78. Having said that, Brad’s #52 is a solid p0wn. Made my day, that. Still, don’t feed the pigeons.

  79. Frank,
    I construed your individual attaching as nominal attaching because the kind of attaching an individual can do is only a formality — an expression of commitment or attachment to a community. Even such an individualistic act presupposes the prior existence of that community, a community constituted by more than just an aggregation of similar acts of lip service. Ultimately, what makes this particular community Zion is not the fact that separate individuals have individually expressed formal (read: nominal) attachment to the community but that they participate in and uphold radically different kinds of socio-economic (no rich or poor, commonly held property, unity of purpose and mind, no manner of “-ites”, etc.) relations with one another and with the community as a whole than exist outside Zion. We can break from Zion or refuse entry into it as individuals; but we can only participate in it collectively. Our salvation. our ability to fully walk up to the sacred obligations upon which our exaltation is contingent, depends not just upon ourselves as individuals but upon others freely accepting and living up to the same obligations and all of us collectively forging and maintaining social relations characterized not by the great and spacious high-rise that embody the pride of this world, but by the wholly different ambiance on the other side of the great and yawning gulf (where, you’ll recall, individual salvation was inadequate to a prophet who faced the prospect of enjoying it alone, absent the relationships with the people he cared about). There’s a reason Joseph said he’d prefer sharing hell with the Saints than be stuck in heaven without them.

    And, to turn a phrase I already used here, it is the notion that the statement in question from D&C 49 can be read individualistically or that my (and others’ here) reading of it is “idiosyncratic” that requires defense.

  80. “but that they participate in and uphold radically different kinds of socio-economic (no rich or poor, commonly held property, unity of purpose and mind, no manner of “-ites”, etc.) relations with one another and with the community as a whole than exist outside Zion.”

    I’m glad I asked, because when I said “attach” and “live up to the ideals”, this is what I meant. Your quote above (assuming a careful definition of communal property) is what I mean by attaching: making a covenant to the community and keeping it. So now can you answer my question? I’ll paste it here again in case you lost track of it.

    Suppose I, as an autonomous individual, of my own free will, attach myself to a Zion community along with others who do the same. Any person who fails to live up to the ideals of the community and does not repent is not saved. Those who, individually, obey the commandments and live up to the ideals of the community and repent are saved. Do you consider this communal salvation?

  81. Yes, I consider it communal salvation in that the possibility for an individual to meet its requirements is dependent upon others — on their collective, shared constitution of and participation in a set of socioeconomic relations that is not inherently sinful. Without Zion, there can be no individual salvation. And Zion is not just an aggregation of atomistic, individual choices. It is a particular kind of material relations in the here and now that stands against the kinds of material relations that prevail in the world as we know it. Zion is constituted not just through inward individual commitments; it is a product of how we live and interact materially and socially, politically and economically. If we cannot be one in material things, how can we be one in heavenly things? No one here, and no LT advocate that I’m aware of, has argued that salvation is exclusively collective or communal or social. The argument is that individual salvation in the fullest sense is inextricably bound up with with the socioeconomic structures and relations that prevail in society. Indeed, the ontologized distinction between the individual and the collective becomes less and less meaningful the nearer the discussion approaches what the Gospels — and more importantly the Restored Gospel and the temple — teach us about salvation and exaltation in their fullest senses.

  82. OK, so if your argument is that we must work out our salvation in a community of Saints. I agree. I am not sure what to make of the Zion as a withdrawal stuff since obviously we are currently expected to live in the world not apart from it. But should the prophet ask us to form such communities apart from the world, I’d be happy to oblige.

    Here is, I think, an important point. A Zion community is formed of people who are righteous. If someone is not righteous and won’t repent then they are not going to be able to continue as part of the community. Thus the community is important, but because there is free entry and exit there is a composition problem when talking about it. Of course everyone in the community is saved and they are saved as a community, because anybody who doesn’t qualify has left!

    If someone else is not meeting the requirements of the community, they don’t stop my salvation. If no one else in your country were righteous God could still save you and put you in a Zion community in the next life.

    Anyway, now I think I have some sense of your position. I am told that many people think LT has political and, indeed, economic implications. What political implications, if any, do you draw from your views stated above?

  83. The only major political/economic policy implications I see flowing from taking LT seriously is that it challenges the axiomatic orthodoxy of classical liberal political economy. I don’t think LT compels in a positive sense any speciic policies, merely points out that Christianity cannot be invoked as a trump card against more progressive economic policies regarding taxation, income redistribution, state welfare, limitations on private property, corporate liability, monetary policy, etc. LT is an argument against the notion that Christianity = Classical Liberal Economic Policy, but not necessarily an argument that Christianity = Progressive or Marxist or Democratic Socialist or Keynesian or Liberal (Rawlsian) economic policies.

    My own opinion on such matters is influenced by LT but also by a number of other variables, and I would not argue that my views flow necessarily and self-evidently from the imperatives of LT.

  84. “points out that Christianity cannot be invoked as a trump card against more progressive economic policies ”

    Trump card? I think Christianity, and certainly Mormonism, makes very compelling arguments against lefty policy, but I am not sure that it was ever a trump card and, for some hypothetical person who thinks it is, I doubt exposure to LT would change their minds. But I guess that is an empirical question.

  85. Steve Evans says:

    (yawns, stretches, rubs eyes)

    You guys still going on about this LT nonsense? Frank, you’ve already admitted you’ve read no direct LT literature. Brad, you’ve surely learned by now there’s no arguing with Frank. Can you all please start talking about something interesting and relevant? I say this from the perspective of the common man, who finds the last 30 or so comments to be a total drag.

  86. I, contra Steve, have found the past 30 or so comments quite interesting. I’m not sure what it says about my common-ness or my man-ness, but I say, “Carry on!”

  87. Edje, it shows that you have uncommon patience and intellect. More power to you!

  88. Thanks, Edje. What are you doing these days, by the way?

  89. Thanks for asking. These days, in particular, I’m avoiding my end of semester assignments. In general I’m going into the last year of a three-year master’s in History and figuring out how to market myself to Ph.D. programs; I might quote Steve (90).

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