By Boyd Collins at Aug 17, 2008
Progressive political movements often speak about history as if it were a conscious agent:. Marxists in particular personify history by making economics deterministic. But a materialistic viewpoint cannot really sustain a personified historical tendency because it cannot consistently attribute personal agency to what after all is simply transient conglomerations of material forces.
Those of us who are not materialists, however, can see an intelligent hand working in the midst of historical forces, bending the universe toward justice in the words of Martin Luther King. Those of us who continue to develop the insights of liberation theology use Moltmann's words as a guidepost, "...theological concepts do not limp after reality... They illuminate reality by displaying its future." And Gustavo Gutierrez, "...[Theology] is to penetrate the present reality, the movement of history, that which is driving history toward the future. To reflect on the basis of the historical praxis of liberation is to reflect in the light of the future which is believed in and hoped for. It is to reflect with a view to action which transforms the present. But it does not mean doing this from an armchair; rather it means sinking roots where the pulse of history is beating at this moment and illuminating history with the Word of the Lord of History, who irreversibly committed himself to the present moment of humankind to carry it to its fulfillment." - Gustavo Gutierrez, "A Theology of Liberation"
One of the central insights of liberation theology is formulated by Paul, "For freedom, Christ has set us free." (Gal. 5:1). What is the nature of this freedom? We are now free to love. "In the language of the Bible," writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "freedom is not something man has for himself but something he has for others... It is not a possession, a presence, an object, ... but a relationship between two persons. Being free means 'being free for the other,' because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free." In other words, human freedom is freedom from all the social structures that reinforce our selfishness, as well as the personal decisions that result in a fixation on self.
The economic practice that incarnates this spirit of freedom is well summarized in the Communist Manifesto, "an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." Or in words closer to the present, "Solidarity is for me to do well, I have to be concerned with others doing well and vice versa. The economy causes me to seek benefits in ways that benefit others too." - Michael Albert, "Parecon and Solidarity"
The "freedom" which Paul speaks of is the primordial condition for the free development of humanity. In contrast to those forms of Christianity that treat humanity as the passive recipient of spiritual gifts dispensed as heavenly commodities, liberation theology sees human development as the field of grace, where we receive God's gifts through participation in liberating action, in which growth in consciousness, the awareness of the economic determinants of our ideological creations and therefore, the freedom to reorder those determinants, is the outward expression of the inward transformation.
In this perspective, temporal progress in the sense of greater control over natural processes, accompanied by an ever-deeper insight into how human societies repress their own potentiality for freedom, is seen as the continuation of the work of creation. The central project of Christian economics and politics becomes the overturning of the structures of sin, understood as those social structures which incarnate the spirit of selfishness, which reduce one segment of humanity to objects for another segment, which represent breaches in the solidarity that God wills for humanity, the humanization which is incarnate in Jesus Christ.
The theological correlative of economic and social liberation is participatory salvation, a spiritual praxis in which human beings create their own salvation through growth in consciousness by reflection on liberating action. According to Gutierrez, "...only the concept of the mediation of human self-creation in history can lead us to an accurate and fruitful understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption." - Gustavo Gutierrez, "A Theology of Liberation"
"The human work, the transformation of nature, continues creation only if it is a human act, that is to say, if it is not alienated by unjust socio-economic structures." - Gustavo Gutierrez, "A Theology of Liberation" The praxis of salvation is therefore the humanization of those socio-economic structures so that human beings can assume their own destiny. From this perspective, faith, far from being a hindrance to social liberation, actually sheds a new light on the process of liberation which would not be available without that faith. Progress is not simply a process of greater and greater control over nature through the application of reason, but is guided by an intelligence that pulses at the heart of the world, bending us toward justice in a way that lives beyond our material interests.