Is it Skepticism or Class Warfare?

(A Humanist Perspective on Liberation Theology & Poverty)

 

Brian Worley

 

Dear Christian, I know you see it... and many of you are disgusted. You're partially right, Christianity is under attack and skeptical writers (like myself) remain targets of your wrath. If only the world were this simple!

 

We're not supposed to discuss class in society; it's a taboo that we pretend just doesn't exist. However, matters of class pervade Christianity. Those that understand how it plays itself out are confronted with a dilemma that will likely reframe the whole secular/religious outlook.

 

Believers should know that the greatest enemy of true Christianity has gone virtually undetected and that an uninformed portion of the secular movement unwittingly does their dirty work! While secularism and religion tangle over the creed; this enemy exploits issues of hatred, which facilitates their greed. Humanity suffers for this, especially the poor. What enables them is our preoccupation with epistemological truth rather than our being informed of the more significant humane issues in this global game of class warfare.

 

When I see skeptics against religion and believers against skepticism it tells me that society is confused and upset with something they don't understand.

There shouldn't be skeptical vs. religious friction in society! A humanist esteems the important role each side plays. If both sides were functioning properly we would be mutually focused upon the greatest problem afflicting society today; that being the character issue of greed. 

 

We can't fix what we don't understand. Few Christians understand how they came to be divided; now they seem to think of secularism as their great foe. Meanwhile, some secularists seem to think that religion poisons everything and is the world's greatest problem. One thing does lead to another; this is why we are unnecessarily pitted against each other.   

If I may, Christians are not upset with us for asking questions... are you? Doesn't skepticism come in handy whenever someone is trying to take advantage or to play a practical joke on you? It's a fact; Christians employ skepticism as well (but to lesser degrees). If I have correctly understood you, you're more upset with the residual effects of the skeptical movement directly or indirectly harming your charitable work in society. 

Christianity is "thick skinned" enough to handle skepticism, especially if you were to compare it with Islam. Christianity has matured to such a point to where a critic's life isn't threatened like it is with Islam (example Salmon Rushdie). This should go without saying, certainly no person of faith takes kindly when one tries to "show you up" or to poke fun or belittle you. Personally, I look forward to the day when skepticism matures enough to permanently discard inflammatory disparaging of religion.

 

Most movements eventually have factions that often distort the core values of its founders. These factions predictably seek to re-direct the original design/direction resulting in consternation in its posterity that frequently pits one man against another. It's certainly a distraction away from the founder's intent. Nowhere is this more evident than in religion; skepticism has had it's own rifts as well.  

The Great Tradition vs. The Lesser Tradition 

To develop the title's thesis without writing a book, I need to delve into the little known schism within Christianity concerning what the revolutionary Jesus (expressed as a compliment) taught and how that directly impacts the human condition still today. The grand point of conflict didn't originate with skepticism... it started within religion itself soon after Jesus' death. It's a bigger, more newsworthy story than the current religious/secular clash of today is. In my opinion, nobody explains this better than the exceptional essay How Jesus' Message Was Hijacked written by Howard Bess. [Note: this subject matter must be understood to comprehend what is transpiring today... please stop and read].

 

Poor Christianity IS under attack. Please don't confuse my employing a homonym (poor) as patronizing or pity... there is a version of Christianity favored by wealth and another version that is attuned to those in poverty. Rich Christianity is the favored son and "Teflon coated" while Poor Christianity has some powerful enemies that a casual observer wouldn't normally identify as the "usual suspects" in opposition to religion.

 

Rich Christianity pumps up the Justin Bieber's and the Tim Tebow's but hardly a word is heard about the poor Catholic or Lutheran community difference maker toiling on the other side of town. They want to project the "proper" image of success, which is far different than the message of sacrifice and compassion that Jesus spoke. Just recently the Vatican reached out to boxing champ Manny Pacquiao to be more like Tebow...I hope the heart of the champ would be more like Jesus and side with the lesser tradition!

 

While David Limbaugh's "Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christianity" takes one down the expected but well trodden "left vs. right" path; he misses his mark because nowhere can one find reference to the warfare against the verboten subjects involving poverty and societal class as expressed by the enemies of the lesser tradition. Seems that nearly all the attention goes to contrived "rich cat fights" of religion rather than the basic essentials of humanity that Jesus was obviously more concerned about.

 

Secularism gets way too much credit... or should I say blame for the deterioration of religion within society. Ex-minister isn't against religion, nor does it disparage it. Bigger than the secular movement are forces that have great ability to manipulate terms of the human condition. What routinely gets referred to as aggressive secularism (truth be known) could well be the work of aggressive capitalism! However, the man in the pew doesn't call it this though; he calls it aggressive secularism.

 

Our movement is unimportant in the scheme of humanity unless we make a significant contribution to improve the human condition. En route to this objective we must be wise to avoid clever manipulations that routinely occur due to being uninformed or being biased against religion.  At this point "does it improve the human condition" is the great defining/dividing line within both secularism/skepticism and religion (specifically Christianity).

 

Personally, I don't care for rich Christianity (great tradition) but I recognize that it is intrinsically bound with poor Christianity (lesser tradition).  If I were to choose to fight the great tradition, I understand that ultimately my efforts will harm those that benefit from the lesser tradition (that being those in poverty). I've been critical of skepticism for being used as unwitting pawns in this game of class warfare.

 

Jesus was right when he stated "for ye have the poor always with you". Jesus' response to the poor is the reason for the divide within Christianity. Could secularism's wedge issue be our response to poverty? Question, does skepticism/secularism even have a response to poverty? Is it our business?

 

When this writer looks at the skeptical movement, I see plenty of intelligent people that are voracious readers absorbing everything they can consume that could be used to advance the human condition. As an "armchair historian" that has perused humanist literature, this ex-minister finds these words from the Humanist Manifesto III quite compelling:

"aspire to the greater good of humanity. The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully."

 

A critical eye upon our movement notices the absences of the above fighting for the heart of humanism. They assume our name but betray our principles. Essentially the same thing that happened in Christianity has recently occurred with secularism. Ex-Minister hasn't been accommodating of this new fangled arrangement; yet I'm labeled as an accommodationalist within our movement and shunned. Skepticism/secularism uninformed by poverty must not be allowed to identify as humanists! We should only accept those heartily accepting our principles rather than following leadership of those provoking us to fight religion.

 

Skepticism/secularism has a great ability/capacity for performing good deeds or for facilitating bad ones. Ultimately, any quantifiable assessment distinguishing the good from the bad guys hovers around the question  "does it improve the human condition?" Skepticism certainly doesn't operate in a vacuum. We can make a difference if we are informed of the socioeconomic ramifications that are so woven into societal day-to-day activities by the lesser tradition of Christianity. 

Those following the lesser tradition of Christianity are the great caretakers of those in need (they are religious humanists). My questions to organized secularism are: 1) should we choose to fight or belittle them? 2) should we seek to better understand their work and serve as diplomatic or statesmen like guardians as humanists?  3) should we try to compete and place our financial resources into the fray to show that we are somehow better than they? I think our best option is to allow the lesser tradition their "high ground" and pick the second option. Humanists pick option 2, atheists pick options 1 or 3. This in good measure is how to distinguish a humanist from an atheist. 

Christianity's response to poverty is what this ex-minister understands to be pure Christianity (lesser tradition). I think it is difficult to understand poverty with what I like to call the traditional American "one size fits all" mindset that people are poor because they are lazy. Truth is that there are many other ways to fall into poverty. This writer's years of absorbing life in a poor country as well as our own struggles to escape poverty has definitely shaped my opinion upon secularism and a proper response as a secularist towards Christianity. 

I agree with the Apostle Paul when he states, "if any would not work, neither should he eat"( 2 Thessalonians 3:10)... basically if a man is able but unwilling (lazy) we shouldn't have to provide for their lazy carcass. I'd also agree with Paul concerning the importance of a man providing for his own: "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (I Tim 5:8).  Paul's strong words are rational and make good fiscal sense. Yes, there are people worse than us infidels... the Bible says so (with laughs). 

Liberation Theology 

Thus far, we have discussed theory without any real world application. Some may have thought I have been referring to some ancient philosophical change that is merely historical. What happens though whenever someone attempts to "plug into" the lesser tradition in our modern society? Answer: fierce conflict, revolution and bloodshed! 

 

Could this really be? Enter El Salvador and a humanist evaluation of Liberation Theology. At this point the reader should click these two links from Noam Chomsky concerning our subject matter.

1)    "one of the more or less hidden stories of the past generation is the story of Liberation Theology."

2)    The Crucifixion of El Salvador 

In South America, they don't call it the lesser tradition... it is referred to as Liberation Theology! Liberation Theology is a term that most skeptics have heard about and most would categorize it as something negatively radical. Unfortunately, (no pun intended) the buzzword is theology rather than liberation. Liberation from what? That would be freeing people from poverty! In layman's terms, Liberation Theology is taking the lesser tradition (pure Christianity) and using it to alleviate or free people from poverty. 

I had a most interesting discussion with a Christian landowner from Nigeria about the human condition in his country. He told me that they run oil pipes throughout the land (some of it his) and of the ecological mess that the inevitable spills leave behind. Not only are these spills not cleaned up, finding uncontaminated water is difficult which creates a multitude of health concerns. If this wasn't bad enough, what really upset him is how foreigners make a mess and take the money and run! What to him should be a wealthy country due to the oil is impoverished because of the blinding greed that those oblivious to the human condition could care less about. 

Two points about the last two paragraphs are in order. In Nigeria, there is little to no regard for the poor and you have a multi-cultural clashing of religion (Christianity and Islam) with bloodshed. It should be duly noted that poverty/economics is a key element of the Arab Spring uprising within the Middle East. 

On the South American Continent you have a movement that has been so moved by poverty that within Christianity a yearning for the lesser tradition has resurfaced. One country has a preferential option for the poor being adopted by the head of state of an oil wealthy nation. This leader has been generously supplying heating oil to poor North American homes for many years through Citizens Energy. 

Who is the "leader" of Liberation Theology in South America? Hint, it isn't some clergyman! Before I reveal this person's name, let me ask you a question. What would your response be to a politician that reduced his country's poverty rate in half during his term in office? 

According to The Washington Post, citing statistics from the United Nations, poverty in Venezuela stood at 28% in 2008,[257] down from 55.44% in 1998 before Chávez got into office.[25 

If an American President were to cut our poverty rate in half you could figure that it was me that lined the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue with Palm branches! Now, I'd consider that a great accomplishment, perhaps worthy of chiseling out a new bust in South Dakota for. 

For the following, see the  (original link) which was dated April 5, 2010 

The main proponent of liberation theology in Latin America is no longer a Roman Catholic clergyman susceptible to censorship and crozier-bashing but a layman. None other than President Chavez Frias.

V Headline News Editor Patrick J. O'Donoghue writes:

The President's Holy Week "Line Drives" column started off with a reflection on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Chavez quickly defined who Jesus Christ is for him and many Christians ... "who in our hearts and souls bear a commitment to Christ the Redeemer, the Libertarian Christ, Christ of the poor."

The key point of Palm Sunday, the President told readers, is that Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the humble donkey, followed by the ordinary people greeting him, waving palms. The same flowering of love, Chavez meditated, would lead the Christ to confront the powerful of his time.

The dialectics of the Cross is no problem for Chavez as he contrasts those who welcomed Christ with open arms, namely "the needy of always and of today, hungry and thirsty for justice and those who did not rest until they saw him crucified ... the same then and today who never satiate their appetite for power."

The President's theological contribution to Latin America is contained very simply in the last line of his column. "In observing this sacred Sunday, we reiterate that our revolution has in Christ of the dispossessed the greatest guide in the struggle for human dignity ... we follow in his footsteps."

The faithful will not hear that message from the country's bishops but instead one of nebulous reconciliation and national unity, which is precisely the opposition's message. The bishops cannot even stop the spread of evangelism and Pentecostalism in Venezuela, never mind deal with Chavez.


As Jesuit priest, Jose Gazo pointed out in an Correo del Orinoco article: Chavez is the best of all preachers together because Chavez believes what he feels and has the advantage of loving the people and loving Jesus.

Some of the top dogs in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are not happy with the President's Christian discourse nor is the White House, the US State Department or the Pentagon. It is much harder to combat Christ than Marx.

The Catholic bishops have no answer to Chavez, whom I would call the harbinger and most vocal representative of Venezuelan popular religiosity or the People's Catholicism but contributing a new reading, which is political. One of the key tenets of liberation theology is the preferential option for the poor and that has been embraced by Chavez as key to his concept of 21st century Socialism.

Gazo analyzed the gospel text that one cannot serve two masters at the same time: money or God, capitalism or socialism. Capitalism seeks capital and profit. When money turns into capital, it becomes a god who kills, who excludes.

Chavez has become a unlikely prophet for his own backward Catholic Church and a possible inspiration to a revival of liberation theology for Catholics and evangelicals.

Much to the dismay of Rome and Washington, liberation theology could be back ... thanks to Hugo Chavez!

Patrick J. O'Donoghue 

Wow, has your understanding of our world radically changed since reading this? These episodes and our understanding of poverty should inform our secularism and our approach towards religion. 

Humanist response to Liberation Theology 

Generally, Ex-Minister eschews politics largely for its inability to focus upon goodness due to selfishness. Most of America's politicians are rich, religious and out of touch. I regret to say that most suffer from spiritual problems despite their Christian claims. There is a scene from Godfather III when Michael Corleone meets with Cardinal Lamberto that best describes how I view their profession of faith. 

<Cardinal Lamberto moves toward a fountain> 

Cardinal Lamberto: Look at this stone. It has been lying in water for a very long time, but the water has not penetrated it. 

<He breaks the stone> 

Cardinal Lamberto: Look, perfectly dry. The same thing has happened to men in Europe. For centuries they have been surrounded by Christianity, but Christ has not penetrated. Christ doesn't breathe within them. 

I love America and realize that if this essay is widely read it just might or should open a political firestorm in an election year. There are plenty of issues within this realm that should be brought to the forefront. I agree with Chomsky's assessment that what went down in South America was horrible. 

Liberation Theology (LT) is a matter that should rightfully concern every thinking person upon the planet. In my opinion, America overreacted through proxy in El Salvador in response to the implementation or seeding of LT. Hasn't history shown that persecution of religious movements only serves to fortify resolve for the long term? America struck a severe blow to LT but couldn't fully eradicate it. Thirty something years after El Salvador it is back with a vengeance in South America because we suppressed religious freedom and poverty hasn't been alleviated. 

As much as I admire Chavez from afar for his achievements to reduce poverty, LT greatly concerns me as a humanist. The very fact that LT is an option tells me that society has turned a blind eye towards the human condition. LT is literally a poor man's version of a theocracy. One thing could easily lead to another. 

LT poses a unique question/challenge to the extent in which religious freedom should be extended. You cannot have "carte blanche" religious freedom with LT because it would by its nature be subversive to a secular state. 

LT drives this humanist and US Constitution (Bill of Rights) admirer to his wits end. First, I believe that the state must be secular and should be receptive of religion as long as it helps build a nation without rivaling against it's sovereignty. LT is a theocratic state wherein secular liberty is imperiled. Religious people should reject LT as well. What if the particular sect of LT doesn't esteem your Protestant/Catholic, Calvinistic, Charismatic, etc. vantage point? It is unlikely that LT would be accommodating of religious pluralism. 

The US State Department has taken on a great amount of criticism regarding religious freedom the past few years (its in a tough position). Now lest anyone accuse me of speaking with a forked duplicitous tongue, let me state that religious freedom has its limits! Sharia law and LT are two religious ideologies that would clash with democracy. They are self-governing rivals lusting for power and control. In a world full of "masks" with smiling religious people, one should understand if the US State Department "smells of smoke when they are continually dealing with many fires". If anyone is going to lead the world, I want it to be Anglo's that wouldn't tolerate a theocracy being built! 

One shouldn't state that religion be allowed a free reign due to a naïve romanticized understanding of our First Amendment. With this type of interpretation, it could lead to a Muslim under the thumb of LT or a Christian bound by Sharia law. No way would a non-religious person with a secular way of life want either "straight jacket" placed upon them!  It's in all of our best interests to maintain a secular state that allows a measure of religious freedom. Unchecked religious freedom carried to its sectarian extremes is radical; boundaries need to be set! 

The pretense of religious freedom needs reworking that results with pre-set clearly defined parameters that are in place before the next crisis arises. Staunch secularists can be just as prone to lusting for power and control as greedy clerics can be, why not nail down religious freedom boundaries beforehand and leave matters of trust out of the equation? 

Secular Response to Poverty; Mollifying Liberation Theology 

If a frank discussion and a careful, informed consideration of a means to alleviate poverty doesn't influence your approach towards Christianity, you just might be a heartless SOB (in my opinion).  If secularism wants to have intellectual "high ground" it must acknowledge and properly respond (respect) the lesser tradition. Organized secularism has mightily failed in this realm. Its one thing to be uninformed on a particular matter that could be obscure; its quite another to ignore something that isn't... either way, ignorance isn't a trait of truly intelligent people. 

I admire Christianity's lesser tradition work with those in need. I shake my head in disbelief that well-balanced people could conceivably want to do away with Christianity. This is where the "rubber meets the road" and precisely the point where I jump off the secular bandwagon with its disconnect concerning poverty. 

I haven't been to Venezuela. I have no way of knowing if what is happening is indeed LT (as some have reported) or a harmless application of the lesser tradition of Christianity that offends greedy capitalists' sense of entitlement. Regardless, poverty is a growing problem that needs resolution. 

While you didn't ask me, I am dissatisfied with several of the "solutions" being bandied about: taking from the rich to give to the poor (Robin Hood), social justice, Marx, and "trickle down" charity. Rich Christianity proclaims a returning Savior that is too late to help. Poor Christianity emphasizes present day nurture and is actively engaged with those in need. Secularism needs to get to work on this issue! What was our plan again? 

My bone of contention with skepticism is this. We don't have a viable plan for poverty! I see the organized movement as obtuse, failing to recognize that they are warriors against the great caretakers that are making a difference in our world. They evidentially think they are saving the world from religion but in reality are tampering with the supply chain to those with needs. I think it is cold blooded for the group without a plan to attack the religious humanist (Christian) group that actually has a plan for poverty. 

To actively pursue the destruction of Christianity and to somehow seek to justify that destruction with a token secular flail at the alleviation of poverty results with an astounding net loss of the common good. Those that are inspired by compassion would do well to follow the lead of pioneers like Ted Turner and Jon Bon Jovi (they worked with the church rather than against it to meet human need). 

We are all in this thing together and somehow need to find a way to work together for a solution. While there is a tender place in my heart for the lesser tradition churches engaged in tending to those in need; this ex-minister doesn't want to see churches relegated to merely being caretakers of the poor when their higher function or niche is in the shaping of human character and the nurturing of souls. 

In my opinion, secularism's viable plan would not war against the lesser tradition but rather esteem it. Religion isn't full proof and I wish it were better... more effective in communities where poverty perpetuates due to children being born into out of wedlock/single parent homes. These kids need to be cared for and nurtured to enhance the odds to break the cycle of poverty. 

What message does our movement have to prevent the perpetuation of the poverty that follows many of these kids? What? Are we going to ask them to watch a biologist's video of what happens whenever a man acts with the "head" below his belt rather than thinking with the head upon his shoulders? What kind of response do you think you will get when you try to tell someone not to do something? Right, expect the "lack of authority" response... "who are you to tell me?" "God" doesn't have that limitation! 

Until secular studies advance to such a point where we have a message that conceivably extends and resonates with the poor, undisciplined and uneducated men; religion is a viable alternative that should be recognized not as a literal epistemological truth but rather as a pragmatic venture that needs to endure to build society. 

Happy was the day when I finally recognized mythology; better was the day that I came to accept the ancient wisdom of those setting it up! 

Rambunctious secularists need to embrace the lesser tradition as a tonic to soothe the annoyances of rich Christianity while reminding the hypocrites of what Jesus was concerned about! Christianity needs to get back to Christianity and secularism needs to be about our business. Inspired by compassion should mean that we don't impede compassionate actions of others!

 

Brian Worley    Ex-Minister.org     February 24, 2012    All rights reserved  

 


 

 

 

 

 

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