Sunday, April 24, 2005

On Liberation Theology --
Also posted at Daily Kos.

I'll be the first to admit that I am not a theologian, so my understanding may be deficient in that regard. I am merely a Catholic who went to a Jesuit high school and who tries to read about religion. Given that Benedict XVI's involvement in opposition to liberation theology has come up a lot, I think it would be helpful if I tried to share what I know about liberation theology. I would be happy if anyone can correct or add to what I have written. If it saves you time from reading, my general outlook is that I am sympathetic toward the concerns of liberation theology, but concerned about its practice in the past.

Simply put, there's liberation theology, and then there's liberation theology. One is a liberation theology as it has been done in the past, the other is a liberation theology that could be.

One version of liberation theology is that espoused by the Maryknoll priest Miguel D'Escoto and the brothers Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal, who served in the Cabinet of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. It is the same liberation theology espoused by priests who served as chaplains for Marxist guerillas in Honduras and El Salvador. Some went so far as to bear arms. (This is the thing that, frankly, makes me feel horrified at the way liberation theology was practiced in Latin America, though not at the theology itself.) It is a dichotomous mindset that capitalism is flawed and that the only alternative is communism. Accepting Marxism, liberation theologists endorsed struggle and revolution, armed if necessary, as the path toward freeing the poor. The name of God was invoked to support violence, although war is rarely a moral means to remove an oppressive regime.

This liberation theology calls for liberation from political oppression, not from spiritual fetters and sin. Ironically, although it criticizes materialistic capitalism, it is itself materialistic, being concerned more with economics here on Earth rather than on the traditional Catholic concern of eternal life and the next world. Liberation theology became an explicitly political and religious movement.

I was taught that the Jews expected a Messiah who would be a military and political leader, throwing off Roman rule. In the Christian tradition, the Messiah was a non-political figure more concerned with spiritual things, telling people to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Liberation theology returned to a political conception of the Messiah. (Yet liberation theology without theology is nothing at all.)

Although originally conceived as a commitment toward the concerns of the poor, the preferential option for the poor in practice became a preferential option for the proletariat. Rather than criticizing the spiritual dangers that rich men often fall victim to, instead this new theology asserted that because Christ was poor and often interacted with the poor, that there was something inherently moral about being poor (or, rather, being proletarian). Personally, I find the reasoning rather similar to those who argue that because Christ was male, that there is something inherently superior about being masculine.

If the poor as "the people of God" were to be favored, then the source of theology became "the people." Liberation theology became anti-hierarchical. Just as Andrew Jackson sneered at the Supreme Court, telling it that it had "made its decision, now let them enforce it," so too did priests ignore Vatican orders to desist from political activity, despite in some cases a personal vow of loyalty to the pope. (Robert Drinan, by comparison, obeyed the directive that Catholic priests should not hold political office and resigned from Congress.) This version of liberation theology seemingly identified the bishops as bourgeoisie and promoted struggle against the Vatican. (The United States was also singled out as a villain.) Liberation theology, as practiced, promoted class warfare and struggle between the people of God and, by default, the people not of God.

In all, I think that the history of liberation theology shows the dangers of mixing faith and politics directly. I think that a lot of Catholics who meant well on issues of poverty got caught up in a movement that ended up with them justifying a regime that committed human rights abuses. For example, like Abu Ghraib, the Sandinistas used torture on political prisoners. I find it similar to many well-meaning conservative Christian Americans who get caught up in certain issues so that they turn a blind eye to the other flaws of the Republican Party. Just as a supposedly pro-life Republican Party has done little to actually stop abortions, so too did liberation theology fail to actually mitigate poverty in Latin America. (Although the U.S. embargo and support of the Contras did much to damage the Nicaraguan economy, I somehow doubt the Sandinistas were hampered geniuses who otherwise would have brought great prosperity to the masses.)

Still, there is much to be said for the basics of a liberation theology. The "preferential option for the poor" is an interesting tenet. Catholicism, unlike Protestantism, stresses good works such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked in addition to faith. This option is a commitment to treat the poor as significant because they possess the basic human dignity that all share. Of course, part of this concern is that material poverty prevents people from concentrating on God and salvation. I personally interpret the "preferential option for the poor" as a manifestation of the belief that it is people themselves who are important, that there exist basic human rights that all possess and none can forfeit. This influences my political stance that human rights must take precedence over property rights. The Gospel says, "whatsoever you do to the least of My people, that you do unto Me." This is the spirit that inspires the option for the poor, answering in the affirmative to Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Liberation theology may allow agitation for political change to be a form of good works. Certainly, not all change is good and some changes have unforeseen consequences, yet there is an awareness that how we structure society and how we vote has moral implications. I would not go so far as to say one must absolutely vote in this or that fashion, but I would say that faith informs us as to what issues we must consider and it is up to our own moral compasses to weigh these issues according to their proportion and up to our own initiative to gather information that will help us decide. Liberation theology calls on us to be aware of politics and the need for social action. However, it should not go so far as to say we must vote for a specific candidate.

Liberation theology was a Third World response to poverty. It points the way to globalization and imbalances between different regions of the world as an area of concern. A faith-based approach to economics must be concerned for the poor in other parts of the world, not just our own. Too often, anti-globalization forces think only of protecting domestic jobs rather than creating a just international economic system that is fair to all. A preferential option for the poor must not devolve into an option for the American poor.

So, to sum up, liberation theology has a lot going for it. However, it carries with it a lot of historical baggage because, like the Bush administration's forged documents, it has been used to justify some senseless and unnecessary violence. It might almost be for the best if much of liberation theology was taken and reworked under a different name, combined with a preference for non-violent means, for what good is it to win a superficial economic liberation by giving in to the spirit of war and losing one's soul? Liberation theology is both promising and dangerous, but it cannot be ignored.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ratzinger the Moderate --
According to Rae Stabosz, the new pope prevented John Paul II from invoking papal infallibility in holding that women could not be ordained.
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Ratzinger and Relativism --
In commenting to this Matthew Yglesias thread, I noted:

I actually find it quite similar to the internal struggles played out within the Democratic Party. On the one hand, you have people who say the group has lost its way and needs to embrace orthodoxy to rediscover its soul rather than pragmaticly trying to reach out to the most people. If the new pope has been opposed to dissenters, he is is not unlike the Democratic left that calls for the head of Joe Liebermann, the DLC, and (to a lesser extent) pro-life Democrats like Jim Langevin and Bob Casey, Jr.
(12:04 AM) 2 comments

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What's In a Name: Pope Benedict --
Crossposted to Daily Kos

John XXIII, who opened a window and let fresh air into the Roman Catholic Church, was widely expected to take the name Pius, signalling a conservative continuation of past policy. Instead, his choice of the name John was was the first notice that his tenure would be different.

So, what does it mean that Joseph Ratzinger has chosen to be called Benedict XVI?

Let us first consider the last Pope Benedict. Benedict XV was pope during World War I. Elected in 1914, he wrote a letter the belligerent parties which, some say, included many points that were incorporated into Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points.

Benedict XIV is best known for rejecting the Jesuit attempt to incorporate Chinese rites into Catholicism.

Benedict XII and XIII were reformist popes who tried to end the luxurious lifestyles of the clergy.

Benedict XI is suspected of being poisoned and after his pontificate, the Babylonian Captivity began.

St. Benedict of Nursia founded an ideal of monasticism.

Based on this, I expect this pope, to be very concerned with foreign policy and war with views similar to John Paul II (perhaps influenced by being drafted into service by the Nazis). I expect him to continue his predecessor's distaste for Western materialism. I expect him to address Catholicism in the context of democracy (earlier, he wrote that Catholics could vote for pro-abortion candidates so long as they weren't voting because of abortion and if there existed proportionate other reasons to favor the candidate, although he did not define what was proportionate). I also would not be surprised if his legacy becomes an honest addressing of priestly abuse scandals, now that it has come out that problems are more prevalent than he intially believed.

In all, I think that one should take a wait-and-see approach before rushing to judgement on what exactly the papacy of Benedict XVI will entail, although I will predict that conservatives and liberals alike will be surprised on at least some issues.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

It's a Miracle? --
Steven I. Weiss suggests that Marc Rich is the wealthy American Jew who recovered from incurable cancer after taking Communion from the hands of John Paul II.
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Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Right Wing Tries to Frame the Media....Again --
From a diary I posted to Daily Kos:

Instapundit points to Dinocrat's claim that the New York Times plagiarized an inaccurate Wikipedia article on the Margrave virus.

The line is not present in a revision dated 12:01, 9 Apr 2005.  It first appears in a revision dated 15:28, 9 Apr 2005.  The line was added by an anonymous person who also added an article on the oldest known object on Earth and added recent news on homosexual Republican consultant Arthur Finkelstein to an article on gay rights.

It is true that the New York Times should be rebuked for any inaccurate information its article may contain.  However, it is clear that the right wing blogosphere is itching to jump all over this as another case of the liberal media using inaccurate documents once again.  Instead, we have a case of Wikipedia once again plagiarizing a newspaper article.

Hmmm...maybe I should have waited until Powerline got their mitts on this.

UPDATE: As I forgot to point out and a commenter noted, the new York Times itself was cited in the Wikipedia article.

(2:37 AM) 1 comments

Friday, April 08, 2005

Framing the Role of Government --
Inspired by the back-and-forth between Ezra Klein and Lindsay Beyerstein here, here, and here, I offer my own ideas on framing that completely bypass the "strict father" vs. "nurturant parent" debate.

Warning: I haven't actually read Lakoff, but every blog I read that mentions Lakoff refers to the concept of framing and the concept of the nurturing parent vs. the strict father. The basic idea is that the Republicans have crafted an image of the role of government and their party best fits that image. Lakoff's solution, it seems, is to craft a different image to fill that same role of government.

Can anyone else see what is wrong here? Lakoff is accepting the Republican framing of government as parent. Keeping with this image, dissent from government is then cast in the role of rebellious punk teenager, a role which Democrats seem very happy to play.

What is needed is to come up with a new frame for the role of government. First, though, we must come up with the reality of the role of government before we can come up with a symbolic frame. What does progressivism see as the role of government? Well, progressive government is clearly activist and interventionist at times; certainly it is no where near the libertarian desire for the minimal state. At the same time, it is run for the benefit of actual, living, breathing citizens, not for the benefit of "the state" as national security hawks might argue, nor for the benefit of specific group identities within the state, although it is sensitive to both those concerns.

What Lakoff at least realizes is that if we can't say in a nutshell what we are about, then we have no message. Where he fails is in being a copycat rather than an innovator. The parental framing of government is flawed because it puts government above the people. The public becomes but children in the eyes of government, which explains why conservatives often see liberals as the aforementioned punk teen.

The Lockean tradition holds that the people come together and form a social contract. By this contract, a government is created, but which can be abolished when the contract is broken. Let us take that further and say that the people coming together breathe life into this thing we call government and, once established, it becomes separate from the people, yet hopefully of, by, and for the people. Government seeks to protect its own existence; it is its own entity. This is evident in the fact that we have a representative democracy. The Founding Fathers set up a system to elect a government yet insulate from the day-to-day pressures of the masses, and this has served well.

Corporations seek to enslave government to their will. So, too, do other factions. In some countries, the military tries to take over government. Instead, we should seek a mutually beneficial association between government and people. This symbiosis means that government serves to protect the people. In return, we uphold the legitimacy of government. We do not seek to tear it down. The people create government and form a symbiotic partnership with it, to protect against potential threats from the likes of business or other nations (although, of course, businesses or foreign nations are inherently harmful to government or the people). So long as government becomes a partner of the people rather than a tool to be exploited, independent enough to be an impartial instrument of justice, dependent enough to never stray too far from the needs of the people.

This conception of government is a useful artificiality that points the way to a non-parental framing of government's rule. Rather than Republicans implying that government works best when government adopts the strong father role, instead Democrats should imply that government works best when government adopts an "equal partners" spousal role. Rather than a government of unquestionable authority, we have a government which fulfills duties to its spouse, the people, who in term fulfill duties (taxes, jury duty, voting, etc.). Just like any household, necessary tasks are split up. In creating a well-ordered society, government takes care of those things that government does best and leaves to the people what is best done by individual initiative. Government creates public goods, the people create private goods. This is not limited government, but neither is it a nanny-state; this is government doing what it can and it is the people's responsibility to not place on government's back more than it can handle. The struggle for the Democrats is deciding which problems are best addressed by government and which problems are are best left up to the people, a dilemma in which the party has not always chosen wisely. The pro-gun control sentiment (as opposed to the Howard Dean position on gun control which earned the former Vermont governor an A rating from the National Rifle Association) is one example of placing an excessive burden on government.

The "equal partners" spousal framing of the role of government works to the Democrats advantage. It also places the Republicans in the role of the dominating, or even abusive, spouse, which often fits the language already in use by critics of the Bush administratin.
(7:45 AM) 1 comments

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Bush v. Pope --
Julia at The American Street runs down the differences between George W. Bush and John Paul II.
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A Conspiracy Theory --
The Telegraph reports:

According to the rumours, said to have come from sources in the Italian government and believed by senior cardinals, the Pope actually died on Friday.

The theory goes that conservatives close to the Pope decided that if they had an extra day they could mobilise many more sympathetic Roman Catholics from around the world to converge on Rome for the Pope’s funeral.

The event would then become one of the biggest mass rallies in Catholic history and increase the momentum in favour of the Pope being elevated to sainthood in record time. In this heady atmosphere, the speculation goes, the conservative plotters could then ensure the election of another doctrinally conservative figure in the mould of John Paul II.
(8:44 PM) 0 comments

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

On Faith --
A comment I posted to this thread:

I already answered your questions on American Street, so I will address your statement that "progressives get painted with a brush that doesn't accurately reflect the impact spiritual values have on their approach to public policy and political ideology."

Going back to my post on The American Street, I noted that: "I feel that my Catholicism is the reason that I am a liberal Democrat and that had I been raised Protestant or Jewish, I would be a soulless Republican. As such, I often interject religion into political discussions, and I won’t let it drop when someone else brings it up first. I understand now that Catholicism is as much a cultural thing as it is a religious thing and I could no more ignore being a Catholic than a black man could ignore the color of his skin or a woman can ignore her ovaries in day to day life."

The American left in recent decades seems to have the worldview that there is a place for religion in private life, but that there is no place for religion in public life. At times, it seems that the private sphere is given primacy over the public sphere, that the individual is always deemed more important than society as a whole. Modern American liberalism has been about expanding the size of the private sphere at the expense of the public sphere, and it is a valid concern to question whether there is a point when such expansion becomes detrimental to society.

In conservatism, the belief is that the rules should be the same for the private and public spheres, although the punishment for rules violations may be different between the two spheres.

(Personally, I prefer a more postmodern understanding that these two spheres have an indefinite boundary, that some things belong in both public and private life.)

Many progressives speak as though religion is something that belongs solely in the private sphere, while politics is a matter of the public sphere. As such, they choose not to demonstrate any linkage between religion and politics, since those things that are part of the private sphere ought to remain there. In fact, some progressives take great pains to show how they could come to political opinions in the public sphere as if the private sphere did not exist in some stupid approximation of the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. It is not entirely unsurprising that some people get the impression that progressive thinkers are uninformed by religion.

Another factor is that the more libertarian-minded lefties place the individual as more important than group identity (except in certain cases such as labor unions and minority group identities such as "African-American" or "Hispanic"). For many religious people, their conception of religion is communal, at least on Sundays. A church, a parish, a congregation, these are primary groups formed around religion. A good number of the progressive blogs I have read recently reflecting on faith seem to mention going off on a more solitary form of spirituality, leaving groups because they grow unhappy.

To sum up, for most people, religion is something that is communal in nature; as such, it cannot be restrained to the private sphere of life. For many progressives, religion seems to be more individualistic; as such, it becomes compartmentalizable and separable from the rest of human existence.

One of the problems with modern liberalism is that it has become too concerned with individualism and with justifying hedonistic behavior by idiots in order to permit liberties to more responsible individuals. I can point to the abortion debate, as few on the left are willing to take a stand and say that there are people having sex who shouldn't be having sex and that some restraint is within the realm of human capability (and I am happy that Democrats are trying to reduce the desire for abortions). This hedonism is the same thing that leads people to buy exurban houses causing urban sprawl so that they can commute for an hour to work in their SUV in an era of global warming and rising oil prices. It is the same hedonism that fuels unrestrained capitalism and the desire for profits without any corporate responsibility. Progressivism should be about opposing this culture of selfishness.
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Carnival of the Un-Capitalists --
The first Carnival of the Un-Capitalists is up.
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Monday, April 04, 2005

The Pope's Trinity --
PGL at Angry Bear complains about George Will comparing John Paul II to Ronald Reagan and Maragaret Thatcher, noting that "to suggest the Pope was either a Republican or a Tory insults all Christians."

I comment in response:
We should instead enshrine this pope in the pantheon of those who favored peace and non-violent resistance to oppression. Compare this man and his opposition to the evils of communism while at same time opposing militarism and nuclear weapons as an option in that fight to the similarly peaceful paths of Martin Luther King Jr. in the face of racial oppression or Gandhi in the face of colonial oppression.

John Paul II has more in common with these two men than with Reagan or Thatcher.
(1:29 AM) 0 comments

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Ronald Reagan = Murders --
From Elaine Supkis:

The first shuttle destruction: President Reagan wanted to feature in major speech, the teacher in space program which was launching the first teacher. Unfortunately, a very fierce cold front swooped down deep into Florida. Winds up in NYC were ferocious. I had a dental appointment that day. Before leaving, I called my dad at his home in California to warn him about launching the shuttle. He said, "Don't worry, we never will launch under these conditions". I said, "According to the news, they are going to put the astronauts aboard now. You better stop it". He agreed and called a special meeting where they debated launching it. After consideration, they canelled the launch.

The head of NASA nixed this because Reagan was adamant. He wanted to talk to the teacher before the whole nation. Great PR for NASA and himself.

Rot in hell, Reagan.
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Friday, April 01, 2005

Team Enterprise --
Funny fake news story on saving Enterprise.
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In Soviet America, Pravda Biases You --
Michael at Here's What's Left notes that Brit Hume is making an ad hominem attack in the guise of reporting.
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There Are No Last Rites --
A quick theology lesson, since it has come up in discussions of the pope's impending death. There is no sacrament of Last Rites (or Extreme Unction). Or not anymore. The sacrament is the Anointing of the Sick. It is a sacrament that may be given multiple times.
(1:52 PM) 0 comments

I Don't Expect to Ever End Up Like This Guy --
Scary poker story here.
(1:58 AM) 0 comments