Monday, May 23, 2011

Breaking the Silence

After far too long, Joseph Fromm has reached out to engage in a discussion of my - perhaps overly strident - criticism of some of his blogging tactics. Since the topic we are discussing is important, I thought it should be moved from the comment boxes to a place of greater prominence.

If you recall, I penned a piece not long ago about Fromm's use of "liberation theology" and took exception to what I saw, and continue to see, as a too-facile application of the phrase.

In response, Joseph commented:

Dear Ryan,Thank you for your post. It is important that we can communicate with each other. I labeled the post about Fr. George with the "Liberation Theology" tag because of his quote in the article, "“My priority is to show the world that an artist can be a social activist too." It had nothing to do with his dancing.
This is, indeed, helpful to know. Now we have an arena for discussion: 'social activism'. Hence my follow-up question:
Joe, I agree. I do wonder, though, if you really mean what you say: you deleted a reference to my name in a blog post (that you took from another site) in regard to Brother Boynton's work in Haiti. Is that good communication, to edit what you didn't write?
So, Joseph, if the quote "my priority is to show the world that an artist can be a social activist too" merits the label "liberation theology" then this leaves me with a question. When I tell my students to pray and comport themselves in a way that both abortion and capital punishment are unthinkable, in ways that that are "socially activist," does this merit the label of liberation theology? When I encourage students to take seriously Jesus' message about the Kingdom of God, does this merit the title liberation theology? 
Please enlighten me on this, for surely I encourage people toward social activism in regard to the Kingdom of God. Is this, then, liberation theology? Or is "liberation theology" simply a cipher for things you do not like? Some elaboration would be most helpful.
 Joseph's response:
Fr. George goes on to say,“My priority is to show the world that an artist can be a social activist too. I want to cater to the real needs of poor." One does not have to reach to far to get to Liberation Theology.
A vast majority of people never use the words, "Social Activist".
"Liberation Theology" is not my code word, it is a code word or umbrella word used by others.
I do believe that "Liberation Theology" unhinges a Jesuit from the "Spiritual Exercises".
So, here's my quandary. If I protest outside of an abortion clinic to advocate for the right to life of an unborn child, a right so often and often so easily ignored, isn't this social activism? If I try to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, or take seriously any of the corporal works of mercy...well, isn't this social activism? If so, then am I to be accused of 'liberation theology' and do such practices tear me from the Spiritual Exercises? If not, then is Jesus a liar when he enjoins us to care not only for the spiritual needs but also the physical needs of the least of our brethren?

I'm hopeful that Joseph and I can continue this conversation. I think it is important because it is profoundly unhelpful to throw around labels without a strong sense of what those labels actually mean. If by working together we gain clarity on the meaning of terms such as 'social activism' or 'liberation theology' then perhaps we as a pilgrim people will be better and wiser for it.


TonyD said...

Fr. Duns,

I’m a long-time reader of Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit (in fact, for the first year or so I thought I was the only reader of that blog).

From my perspective, I would argue that Joseph Fromm’s position makes sense if you distinguish between values and judgment. So, for example, Biblical admonitions to help the poor reflect judgment – a judgment based on values. Under different circumstances, those same values would require that you don’t help the poor. So helping the poor is not the underlying value. Seen in that context, social activism is usually an admirable judgment, but only poorly reflects actual Biblical values.

So while Joseph and I probably disagree on this topic – I , too, feel uneasy when a priest presents his role as social activism. I can’t help but feel that the important gospel messages are being overlooked – replaced by pre-packaged judgments suitable for mass consumption. I would prefer to see a priest emphasize teaching the Bible in its complexity. There are competing admonitions. There are trade-offs which must be evaluated. There is situation specific judgment.

We are trying to become a people worthy of standing beside God. Ultimately, that will take more than pre-packaged judgments and unthinking obedience to any worldly authority.

Eric Styles SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Styles SJ said...

Blessed John Paul II heavily criticized liberation theology for it's use of Marx and yet he spent a great deal of his own pastoral and political capital "liberating" the people of Poland. He was a true advocate of human rights and pushed "solidarity" as an essential social virtue for the Christian community.

All of this and liberation theology becomes a bad word? Please help me understand this.

I agree with Ryan that a kind of blanket use of liberation theology as code for "heretical liberal" theology is extremely suspect. Its like calling President Obama a Muslim and then chiding him for refusing to respond and refute. If he does it makes it look like being Muslim is like being a leper. This liberal use of the label liberation theology is a not-so-covert hegemonic tool for policing orthodoxy.

By the way, I know Duns pretty well; a liberationist he is not. And that is not necessarily a complement.

E.T.S., SJ

Maria said...

Ryan: I think definition of terms is always helpful in these discussions. Your deceased confrere, Servant of God, John Hardon SJ, provides us with a defintion and masterful summary of liberation theology:


LIBERATION THEOLOGY. A movement in the Roman Catholic Church that makes criticism of oppression essential to the task of theology. The forms of oppression to be criticized are mainly social and economic evils. Originating in Latin America, liberation theology has held as its main concern the exploitation of the poor, but it also seeks to defend the rights of minority and ethnic groups and to support women's liberation. It is, therefore, a theory of deliverance from the injustices caused to people by the power structures of modern society.

It is a new approach to theology, and its leaders urge a reinterpretation of the Christian faith to concentrate on the main task of the Church today, to deliver people everywhere from the inhumanity to which they are being subjected, especially by those in political power. Accordingly all the main doctrines of historic Christianity are to be reassessed and, if need be, revised. Christ becomes an inspired human deliverer of the weak and oppressed; God's kingdom centers on this world, and not on the next; sin is essentially social evil and not an offense against God; the Church's mission is mainly sociopolitical and not eschatological; and objective divine revelation is subordinated to personal experience.

Aware of both the potential and risks of liberation theology, Pope John Paul II addressed himself mainly to this subject on his visit to Mexico in early 1979. He told the bishops of Latin America, met at Puebla for their General Conference: "The Church feels the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human beings, the duty to help this liberation become firmly established." At the same time, ". . . she also feels the corresponding duty to proclaim liberation in its integral and profound meaning, as Jesus proclaimed and realized it." Then, drawing on Pope Paul VI's teaching, he declared that it is "above all, liberation from sin and the evil one, in the joy of knowing God and being known by him."

The Pope finally set down the norms "that help to distinguish when the liberation in question is Christian and when on the other hand it is based rather on ideologies that rob it of consistency with an evangelical point of view." Basically these norms refer to the content "of what the evangelizers proclaim" and to "the concrete attitudes that they adopt." On the level of content, "one must see what is their fidelity to the word of God, to the Church's living Tradition and to her Magisterium." On the level of attitudes, "one must consider what sense of communion they have with the bishops, in the first place, and with the other sectors of the People of God; what contribution they make to the real building up of the community; in what form they lovingly show care for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, the neglected and the oppressed, and in what way they find in them the image of the poor and suffering Jesus, and strive to relieve their need and serve Christ in them" (address to the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, January 28, 1979)".

Christ came to save us from sin, not social injustice, right?

Maria said...

Fr Hardon was also able to help out with the definition of actvism:

ACTIVISM. Preoccupation with activity instead of mental reflection. As a philosophical theory, it emphasizes the active character of the mind. The principal value of thinking is to serve man and society outside the mind. *Activism is part of the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, which holds that the main purpose of thought is not to discover and contemplate the truth but to change reality, especially social reality, in the world*.

Anonymous said...

Those don't sound like "masterful summaries." They sound like the deluded and ignorant rantings of an extremely misinformed and overly judgmental person.

Maria said...

Well, if he is deluded, misinformed and ignorant, then I suppose the Church erred when declaring Fr. Hardon a Servant of God. Right you are though, humility gets us everywhere.

"The gate of Heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it".
--St. Elizabeth Seaton

Anonymous said...

Is this respondant suggesting that because John Hardon is a Servant of God, his writings should be accepted unquestioned? What kind of sick ultramontanism is this?

The two quotes provided are so riddled with logical fallacies (as well as absurdly biased historical recountings) as to make them seem the work of a simpleton; indeed, as Maria notes, humility might be the attribute this quack sought after most!

By the way: is this the same "Maria" who, on another blog, was making vaguely threatening remarks about how Jim Martin "must be stopped"?

Hope you're printing out and saving the comments, Duns. And locking your windows.

B said...

Have you listened to this new audio challenge to Pope Benedict that has recently come online.

It asks Pope Benedict to come clean about his misdeeds ....

Here's the intro to the audio:
Hear my first message to you, a prophecy that both you and I know is true. It describes how and why, within 13 months of this audio recording, you will be executed by the people of Rome, exactly as prophesized in St Malachy’s Prophecies and in the real 3rd Secret of Fatima.

Here's a snippet:

Petrus Romanus will feed the people of Rome the truth about Jesus during the last days before Judgment Day on December 21, 2012, after you, Pope Benedict, are executed by Rome’s Catholics for withholding documents about me and the True Jesus.

The full audio can be heard at:

Spread the word ... or not. Your choice.

Maria said...

See how they love one another...

Ryan Duns, SJ said...

Hi Maria,

Thank you for posting Father Hardon's material. As you may be aware, simply because a saint, or venerable, or blessed individual holds an opinion does not make it true or normative for all believers. Surely, you would not think Thomas Aquinas correct in thinking that the 'rational soul' enters the fetus at the moment of the quickening -- a human is a human from the moment of conception! The Angelic Doctor was, just as Father Hardon, conditioned by his times and his opinions must be examined as rigorously as possible.

One might point out that your comment, "Christ came to save us from sin, not social injustice" is itself an indication of liberation: we are freed, or liberated, from sin. Then again, I would question you to tell me what sin is - if abortion, crippling poverty, and the marginalization of women and men is not sin, then what is?

Maria, it seems to me that what you value is a hermetically sealed Catholicism that allows you to rest, self-assured, within your own beliefs. You don't seem very much interested in in the horizontal dimension of faith. Please don't forget the admonition in Matthew 25...surely our Lord's encouragement trumps that of Father Hardon?

Anonymous said...

WOW. See how they love one another, indeed!

"Within short order of posting such a piece, the reader in inevitably drawn to a post regarding the Saints, in this case, we have a long post about his new book, accompanied by a picture of St. Ignatius. Most people do not seem on to the game. The mistake of hubris is always to assume that one is so clever that no one could possibly understand its modus operandi. It is the frequent error of common thieves. Unfortunately for the thief, not every one at the precinct is an intellectual cretin. Inarguably, Fr. Martin is charming, witty, engaging and most likable, but then, so too was Lucifer. This is precisely what renders him particularly dangerous. His dissent leads others into sin. He confirms others in their sin. Someone needs to call this by its name: scandal. And someone needs to rein him in.

Maria H. Byrd"

Maria said...

Hi Ryan:

Thank you for your response. I think your anonymous poster was attempting to posit an argument I myself did not make: namely, that because Fr. Hardon has been declared a Servant of God that these definitions "should be accepted unquestioned". The definitions I provided were extracted from the Modern Catholic Dictionary which Fr. Hardon wrote. Wiki tells us that Fr. Hardon wrote: "The Catholic Catechism (1975), a defining volume of Catholic orthodoxy; and the Modern Catholic Dictionary[5](1980), the first major Catholic reference dictionary published after the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Father Hardon's Catholic Catechism was a significant post–Vatican II work in the sense that it essentially brought modern Catholic teaching and faith into one book, unlike any other before, and was a precursor to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the official codified teaching of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992. Hardon served as a consultant for the drafting of that document. So, Ryan, for these reasons, I trust Fr. Hardon. I think it unlikely that Fr. Hardon could lead me into error. Ryan, I am not a theolgian so I look to others to educate and lead me in my faith.

SIN. "A word, deed or desire in opposition to the eternal law" (St. Augustine). Sin is a deliberate transgression of a law of God, which identifies the four essentials of every sin. A law is involved, implying that there are physical laws that operate with necessity, and moral laws that can be disregarded by human beings. God is offended, so that the divine dimension is never absent from any sin. Sin is a transgression, since Catholicism holds that grace is resistible and the divine will can be disobeyed. And the transgression is deliberate, which means that a sin is committed whenever a person knows that something is contrary to the law of God and then freely does the action anyway. (Etym. Old English synn, syn, sin; Old High German sunta, suntea, perhaps to Latin sons, guilty.)

INJUSTICE. The deliberate failure to give another what is due to him or her. It may be a single act or an acquired habit (vice).

Our vertical relationship to Christ is important. If we know him, isn't our first instinct is to make Him known to others? Yes, the admonitions in Matthew 25 are real; however, is our impulse to correct wrongs driven by ideology or our love for Christ? That is the question. For if our efforts are not founded upon this relationship w/ him, then " Christ becomes an inspired human deliverer of the weak and oppressed; God's kingdom centers on this world, and not on the next; sin is essentially social evil and not an offense against God; the Church's mission is mainly sociopolitical and not eschatological; and objective divine revelation is subordinated to personal experience".

PS--With regard to whether I my faith has a horizontal dimension, I am clinical social worker who has spent the last twenty five years working with the mentally ill, addicted and impovershied.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Fr. Duns. Also, let's not forget that Fr. Hardon, along with Fr. Fessio, were both mightily responsible for ensuring that the former priest, Donald McGuire, was able to carry out his evil deeds against young boys for many years. The authorities have all the written documentation, there is no way to deny it any longer... here is the list, and many of the letters and memos are available online on another site. Not sure why folks like Maria insist on venerating these two especially.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, here's the list

Anonymous said...

For those who love God, this is not the way.

Ryan Duns, SJ said...

Okay, you win. The "Anonymous" individual who dares not reveal his/her identity tells me under the cloak of darkness what God's way is. Makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Is the quote from Maria Byrd real?

If so, has anyone asked Maria what she means by it?

It's troubling, to say the least.

Jason said...

I really just don't understand the mindset that since Jesus saves us from sin, therefore we Christians need not perform the corporal works of mercy, a mindset which seems implied by previous posts.

Such a point-of-view seems a little to close to a sola fide theology, and somewhat ignorant of the Church's rich social encyclicals.

Also, on the point of potential saints, lots of holy people have done and said all manner of foolish things. We are missing the point of sainthood if we assume blameless livelihoods is the main qualification.