One of the things which amuses me is to watch online commentary on liberation theology by people who obviously have not studied any of its major texts. You will find people assuming liberation theology has been condemned by the Church. It has not. Officials have questioned some forms of liberation theology, criticizing some ways liberation theologians have engaged liberation theology. In the 1984 Instruction on Certain Aspects Of The “Theologies of Liberation, the Vatican stated:
Faced with the urgency of certain problems, some are tempted to emphasize, unilaterally, the liberation from servitude of an earthly and temporal kind. They do so in such a way that they seem to put liberation from sin in second place, and so fail to give it the primary importance it is due. Thus, their very presentation of the problems is confused and ambiguous. Others, in an effort to learn more precisely what are the causes of the slavery which they want to end, make use of different concepts without sufficient critical caution. It is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to purify these borrowed concepts of an ideological inspiration which is compatible with Christian faith and the ethical requirements which flow from it.
The concern in this document was the way some theologians have engaged Marxist thought, corrupting Christian theology. However, the Vatican made it clear: this is not to be seen as a rejection of the principle behind liberation theology, that is, the preferential option for the poor:
This warning should in no way be interpreted as a disavowal of all those who want to respond generously and with an authentic evangelical spirit to the “preferential option for the poor.”
What was questioned was the proposed methodology of dealing with earthly problems. Strangely enough, the concern expressed here does not have to end with Marxist thought. We must remember the capitalistic system we live in also is a materialistic ideology which runs contrary to the Christian faith, and it is a system which is used to create rival, and equally erroneous, forms of liberation theology. It is as atheistic as Marxism. It is founded upon a sin, greed. It promises utopia, telling us that if we allow capitalist systems to exist without regulation, everyone, including the poor, will end up being saved. The whole “if we allow the rich to be rich, they will give jobs to the poor” is just as much a failed ideology as Marxist collectivism. It is also as evangelical as Marxism. And it is just as spiritually dead as Marxism, especially since it ignores the sinful structures of greed which lie behind a capitalist society, structures that capitalistic liberation theologians not only ignore but try to reinforce by saying this capitalism is natural.
While the human person is indeed essentially good, people are no longer following their essence, but the perverse desires of a fallen mode of being. To ignore this and therefore say “capitalism just follows the natural way of life” is really to say “capitalism is just about the fallen way of life.” And it promotes this fallen existence, with its desires, because it is the way which capital is to be gained; it wants people to ignore the sinful root of society. For if we moved away from individualistic egotism which tries to make the world a slave to one’s passions, the capitalistic system, which is geared towards the further accumulation of wealth (whether or not such accumulation is necessary), cannot continue.
In saying this, we must remember that the Vatican promotes the concerns expressed by liberation theologians. The Vatican wants us to remember, however, that the material problems are connected to spiritual problems. True liberation is liberation from sin; overcoming sin, both personal and social, is what is necessary to create a better society. While sin remains in the world, there will be no utopia. But this does not mean we should give up striving for perfection. That is what we are called to do as Christians, and it is what we cry out for when we say the Our Father: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” To point out that there can be no utopias outside of the eschaton is not to say we should not strive for the best possible society we can create. It is just as silly as to say, outside of the eschaton, sin will remain, so it is fine to keep on sinning.