It is a corrosive way of thinking and acting about Catholicism that infected the Church—and still resonates with many, including those in the dissenting movement Call to Action—with its ideas that politics is a path to redemption.
Pope Benedict XVI, while acknowledging its lingering impact, demolished its intellectual foundations in several documents and books, which in one, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, I just reread the section on liberation theology.
“In the eighties, the theology of liberation, in its radical forms, appeared as the most urgent challenge facing the belief of the Church, demanding response and clarification. For it offered a new, plausible, and at the same time practical answer to the basic question of Christianity: the question of redemption. The word liberation was supposed to express, in another, more readily comprehensible way, what in the traditional language of the Church had been called redemption. In fact the same underlying question is always there: we experience a world that does not correspond to a just God. Poverty, oppression, unjust domination of every kind, the suffering of the righteous and of the innocent are the signs of the times—in every age. And each person is suffering; no one can say about the world, or about his own life: Stay yet awhile, you are so lovely. Liberation theology said, in response to this experience of ours: This state of affairs, which cannot be allowed to continue, can only be overcome by a radical change in the structures of the world, which are sinful structures, evil structures. If, then, sin applies its power through structures, and if our reduction to misery is preprogrammed through them, then sin cannot be overcome by individual conversion but only by a struggle against the structures of injustice. Yet this struggle, it was said, would have to be a political struggle, because the structures were strengthened and maintained by politics. Thus redemption became a political process, for which Marxist philosophy offered the essential directions. It became a task that men themselves could—indeed had to—take in hand and became, at the same time, the object of quite practical hopes: faith was changed from “theory” into practice, into concrete redeeming action in the liberation process.
“The collapse of the Marxist-inspired governments of Europe was for this theology of redeeming political practice a kind of twilight of the gods: precisely there where the Marist ideology of liberation had been consistently applied, a total lack of freedom had developed, whose horrors were now laid bare before the eyes of the entire world. Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes, not divine, but demonic. The political events of 1989 have thus also changed the theological landscape. Marxism had been the most recent attempt to formulate a universally valid code for determining the correct action to be taken in history. It believed it knew the fundamental structure by which the history of the world is built up and that it was therefore able to show how this history could finally be brought onto the right track. The fact that it underpinned all this with what seemed to be strictly scientific methods, and thus completely replaced belief by science and turned knowledge into practice, made it enormously, monstrously fascinating. It seemed as though all the unfulfilled promises of religion could be realized by means of a system of political practice with a scientific basis. The collapse of this hope inevitably brought with it an immense disillusionment that is still far from having been worked through. It seems to me quite conceivable that we will meet with new forms of the Marxist view of the world. At first people were at a loss. The failure of the one system incorporating a scientifically-based solution to human problems could only favor nihilism or at any rate absolute relativism.
“Relativism—the Dominant Philosophy
“So in fact relativism has become the central problem for faith in our time…..”
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. (2004). Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (pp. 115-117)