Part 2 of 4 (15 min read time)
By Albert Joon-Ho Hur
[Edited by J]
RADICAL LOVE AS PRAXIS
“God is Love.”
– 1 John 4:8
“There can be no Love without Justice.”
– bell hooks
What is Radical Love?
The best scholarly articulation I’ve personally seen of Radical Love is by American sociologist George N. Katsiaficas, who refers to it as the “Eros Effect”¹⁹. During his presentation to the 1989 American Sociological Association National Meeting in San Francisco, Katsiaficas described the Eros Effect as the:
“transcendental qualities of social movements, to what occurs in moments of suddenly popular social upheavals which dramatically transform established social orders. …The Eros Effect occurs in moments when the basic assumptions of a society — patriotic nationalism and the authority of the government; hierarchy, the division of labor, and specialization — vanish overnight. During moments of the Eros Effect, popular movements not only imagine a new way of life and a different social reality but millions of people live according to transformed norms, values, and beliefs.”
That’s the Power of Eros — Passionate, Radical Love — it’s transformative.
It’s also empirically documented. Within the discipline of sociology, the Eros Effect addresses some of the categories of what was formerly known as “crowd behaviors” exhibited during the epoch of industrialization. These so-called “crowd behaviors” — fashions, fads, panics, crazes, and riots — were previously thought to be fundamentally irrational episodes, as opposed to the “normal”, rational, regulated forms of behavior by the State and her institutions. However, the eruption of worldwide movements in the 1960s against white supremacist imperialism and colonization — along with their attendant detailed critiques of white supremacy, male domination, and capitalism — fundamentally altered our understanding of the role of social movements in the social order. Collective action, formerly derided as emotional and spontaneous mob behavior, could be impassioned and yet rational and consistent.
This severed these types of social justice movements from the field of “collective behavior”, and under the purview of the Eros Effect, which reaffirmed the centrality of human beings and the emotional content of social movements as erotic action, action which according to Katsiaficas, may be considered “collective liberatory sublimation — a rational way of clearing collective psychological blockages.” As Fanon uncovered the positive psychological effects on the individual who resists colonialism, Katsiaficas posited similar positive psychological benefits of group opposition to the established structures of domination, racism, and patriarchy. This is the real “affective power” of Radical Love — mental and spiritual healing arising from collective resistance against material injustice and oppression here on Earth.
Perhaps the best example of this Radical Love, this Eros Effect, can be found in the Church. Throughout the 1800s, the Catholic Church aligned itself with the upper classes in Latin America, and only minimally addressed the grievances of the poor and oppressed indigenous people²⁰. The great Latin American independence movements, which had promised liberation and new hope through separation from the Iberian Empire of Portuguese slavers and Spanish colonizers, only benefited an elite sector of society: the light-skinned creoles, who quickly assumed the gaps in governance left behind by the peninsulares, and gorged themselves on the spoils of society while doing nothing to alleviate the struggles of the lower classes.
Since Catholicism had played a major role in the conquering of Latin America — as it had in the Philippines in Southeast Asia during the 16th century — the Church sided with the ruling elite, of which it was a large part. In fact, by the time the wars of independence occurred throughout Latin America, the Church was not only the largest landowner but was also the most politically conservative, rightist force in the region. It had accumulated remarkable wealth through these earthly-going concerns, all the while preaching an “otherworldly” spirituality to the racially oppressed and economically miserable: the meek and the humble. Inherit a different Earth in the afterlife, not our Earth in the here and now! The early church of Jesus Christ had been thoroughly corrupted, and now acted as a privileged model of success and power rather than as a reflection of the people. The modern parallel here is obvious; one need only look at the proudly white supremacist tradition of right-wing evangelicalism in the United States and their façade of concern for early life as a political vehicle to promote anti-Black racism²¹.
But during the early 20th century, elements of change — the seeds of love — began to stir within the Church. Rather than simply encouraging individual charity (donations), they began to acknowledge redistributive and social justice, inspired by Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 “Rerum Novarum (Of New Matters)” which included the notion of “an option for the poor”. By then, independence from the Spanish had been gained throughout most of Latin America. Unfortunately, this promptly led to another round of neo-colonization and imperialism by the white supremacist British, and later the United States, for the next 100 years²². Both Five Eyes countries gained vast economic and political influence in the region, and they began to further exploit the already struggling peoples in collusion with the Church and the Vatican.
As with all nations of the Earth affected by the white supremacist Anglo-American Order, including those in Asia and Africa, the social and economic problems that followed were entirely predictable. By the 1980s, close to 200 million people lived in poverty in Latin America. Two-thirds of the population were undernourished and starving²³. Eighty percent of the wealth was held in the light-skinned hands of five percent of the population, who eagerly tithed their white imperialist masters. The masses remained landless, with two-thirds of usable land possessed by mostly foreign multinational corporations through arrangements brokered by their traitorous Latin American lapdogs. “Structural adjustments” by the IMF in the 1990s only deepened the stark crises in both the material and spiritual realms²⁴.
Such rapid economic and social disenfranchisement of the Brown masses led to a theological and liturgical revival in the Latin American Church. Radical change forced the Church to either fall behind, or re-evaluate its practices if it wished to maintain its cultural relevancy and social position. One of the most important manifestations of these reforms was the advent of the Catholic Action Movement. In Peru, this movement was spearheaded by Holguin of Arequipa and Farfán of Cusco, who established a greater degree of separation between the Church and the ruling elite and introduced a more militant Catholicism. Catholic Action fundamentally altered the role of religion in society by helping to link the Church to political action, setting the wheels of praxis in motion. It did this by cultivating a network of social activists and leftists with religious figures, such as the Jesuits in El Salvador, who would later work to create what became known as Liberation Theology.
Among these participants in the Catholic Action Movement was Gustavo Gutiérrez, the most famous figure and founder of Liberation Theology. Gutiérrez was a Peruvian theologian, priest, and later lay militant, who was ordained in 1959, the same year that Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries finally overthrew the brutally repressive U.S.-backed government of Cuban President Batista with the backing of Mao’s China.
At the time, Mao was starving his own people to death by the millions during the Great Leap Forward to send grain abroad to the people of Cuba. During the early to mid-1960s, it was not unusual for Cuban leaders like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Raúl Castro to come to the Chinese embassy without warning (sometimes even through the back door after normal business hours) to enjoy Chinese cuisine²⁵. The taste of the Yellow Man is truly a global export. (Cuban-Sino relations later soured after the Sino-Soviet split and the ousting of Nikita Khrushchev, and especially once China began to experiment with economic liberalization and capitulation to the Anglo-American Order under Deng.)
Part Quechua Indian, Gutiérrez was not a member of Lima’s aristocracy. He rose from the oppressed class, and this had inculcated within his breast a genuine sympathy for the downtrodden, the weak, and the widow. His intellectual prowess allowed him to study abroad in Europe, where he was exposed to traditional European theology, but he was struck by how little such white supremacist theories accounted for the poverty and racial oppression in Latin America. Gutiérrez felt that the Church had a duty to recognize these structural inadequacies and to help the impoverished in Latin America. As he said in his later years:
“Poor people can begin to have hope, for they are discovering that things do not have to remain the way they are. Change is possible. That has never been part of the life of the poor until recently. They thought that they were fated to remain just as they were.
Indeed, it was the message of the church for hundreds of years that things would not change, and that one’s task on Earth was simply to accept wherever one was on the social-economic scale as God’s will. But now, the poor are discovering that it cannot be God’s will for most of God’s children to suffer. God wills life and love and fullness for all and not just a few. And God wants our help to bring that about.”
This is Radical Love: Life and Love and Fullness for All, and not just a Few, and the collective actions necessary to bring that state about here on Earth. The success of the 1959 revolution and the forcible overthrow of the military dictator installed by the imperialist U.S. in Cuba, put pressure on clergy members to begin a series of meetings to discuss the future of the Church and its role in the politics of society. The Latin American Episcopal Conference, known as CELAM, worked to push through a series of meetings from 1962 to 1965 that focused on Church unity and renewal towards a more progressive stance. These meetings were called the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican or Vatican II, and the last ones were held in the same year that the imperialist U.S. began bombing Laos and then Cambodia during its protracted war of racist white supremacist aggression against Vietnam.
Subsequently, in 1968, CELAM organized a meeting in Medellin, Colombia, with the hope of supporting base ecclesiastic communities and continued reformation of the Church. It was at this conference that Gustavo Gutiérrez first presented the term “Liberation Theology” in a paper called “Toward a Theology of Liberation”, in which he articulated a commitment to actions and the importance of theology as critical evaluation. The concepts referenced during this talk were more clearly laid out in his 1971 magnum opus, “A Theology of Liberation.”
THE WRATH OF THE LAMB
Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
— Matthew 10:34
Because of the booming population growth and worsening social and economic conditions generated by the U.S. and the Anglo-American Order throughout the 20th century, Latin America was ripe for a massive social revolution, the contagion of Radical Love. As the documents of the Vatican II began to circulate and reach Latin American bishops, priests, and laypersons, they were able to finally experience the healing draught of the Eros Effect: psychological validation and “confirmation of what they themselves had come to see as the role of the Church in building the new social order”. The Church of Latin America began to separate from the Church in Europe and began to share and practice its own theology: combat gospel.
A new age had begun for the people of Latin America and their relationship to religion. This mid-20th century era of militant Brown Catholicism was relentlessly grounded in empiricism and earthly matters, eschewed any form of “otherworldliness”, and saw it as the salvific mission of Christ to destroy political and economic domination in order to lift the masses out of inconceivable poverty and injustice. The central dogma of the Brown Church was a “concern for the poor, resistance to the privileged few, distrust of the established order, and protest against the prevailing structures of social order.” Liberation Theology arose like St. George to slay the Dragon of White Supremacist Imperialism and Neo-Colonization in Latin America, and conquer racial oppression and poverty.
The major components of liberation theology look to understand Christianity and religion through the practice and process — praxis — of liberation. People are encouraged to become active agents of their own destiny in order to liberate themselves from the confines of injustice. It requires an active revolt against economic exploitation and racial injustice, freedom from fatalism and hopelessness, and a standing commitment to bringing about the Will of God here on Earth, as outlined in Isaiah 61:1:
“The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
This was the moral justification. This was Radical God’s Love. Alfred T. Hennelly, a scholar of Liberation Theology, describes it as “one of the most astonishing and lasting phenomena in the Catholic Church during the second half of the 20th century”, precisely because its deepest insights came not from scholars in the European Church, but from “small communities of the poorest and least literate men and women in Latin America”.
Unlike traditional Western theology, which uses the philosophical literature of aristocratic, white supremacist, European Christian men as its base, Liberation Theology employs “critical and liberating perspectives of the social sciences to identify the root causes of oppression and to reflect critically on acting to overcome this oppression in society.” Rather than small, often ineffective reforms, Liberation Theology supports work towards systemic change, and even the possibility of armed revolution as a means of freeing the oppressed. For the first time in thousands of years, since the days of Jesus and Peter and Paul, formal religious theology used Biblical interpretation to promote the political and social influence of the Church in the empowerment of the poor and the downtrodden.
What was the result of this praxis of Radical Love? The civil war in El Salvador and the revolution in Nicaragua during the 1980s provide good case studies into the application of this innovative Brown theology against the white supremacist oppressor and his cronies. By assisting the poor and racially oppressed to realize that they deserve more than having their faces ground into dirt — that they deserve an inherent human dignity, and that they too, like the Hebrew slaves, could experience liberation — Liberation Theology spurred on a large mass popular following on the side of the revolutionaries in both countries. The gospel of Gustavo Gutiérrez inspired people of the church to come together for these causes and to create action.
How did this process occur? First, hundreds of Christian Base Communities were implemented. During this time, the Latin American Church also trained over 15,000 “delegates of the Word”. This is what it means to mobilize for action. These actions sought to highlight and spread awareness of the “unjust nature of the Salvadoran political and economic system and spurred protests, peasant organization, and other forms of pressure for change.” Jesuit schools in San Salvador, which had used to predominantly teach the children of the elite, began to take on the struggle for social justice. Many of the people motivated by the Christian Base Communities and the delegates of the word joined guerrilla movements, with the overarching group being the FMLN, otherwise known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, named after the 1932 resistance organizer, Augustin Farabundo Martí.
The FMLN then launched a civil war in 1980, one that pitted leftist revolutionaries and Church militants against the white supremacist imperialist U.S. and its puppet regime of oligarchs and generals that had ruled over El Salvador for decades and kept the huddled masses illiterate and impoverished. The war was bloody, brutal, and dirty. According to the Atlantic in 2018²⁶: “More than 75,000 Salvadorans were killed in the fighting, most of whom were victims of the military and its death squads. Peasants were shot en masse, often while trying to flee. Student and union leaders had their thumbs tied behind their backs before being shot in the head, their bodies left on roadsides as a warning to others.”
President Ronald Reagan was, of course, pouring billions of dollars of economic and military aid into this tiny Latin American country to prop up Washington’s oppressive client regime. In El Mozote and the surrounding villages, forensic experts are still digging up the bodies of women, children, and old men who were murdered in 1981 by the Salvadoran army in one of the worst massacres in Latin American history. Some 1,200 men, women, and children were killed during the operation, which tortured and executed old men, raped and executed mothers after separating them from their children, and pressed children into convents. The genocide was carried out by Atlacatl Battalion, who had recently completed a three-month counterinsurgency training course in the United States to prepare them for the slaughter, which ironically was supposed to teach them to “respect human rights”.
Throughout the civil war, the U.S.-backed military government also murdered numerous priests and liberation theologians who had sided with poor and indigenous folks in their desire for Justice. They were accused of “leftist sympathies” and summarily executed, just like the USMGIK had done to the innocent people of Cheju Island in South Korea leading up to the Korean War. Propaganda was circulated with the message: “Be a Patriot, Kill a Priest.” Their sin was that they believed that the Church’s mission included political involvement, that the gospel had a special concern for the poor that must be translated into the actions and policies of a nation, and that bishops often have to speak out and act in ways that are critical of the government. For this, they were slaughtered.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was one of these accused and assassinated liberation theologians. During a sermon on September 23, 1979, Archbishop Romero stated:
“I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an end to violence, we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.”
Archbishop Romero’s recognition of these causes and the existing oppression on Earth was ultimately his death sentence. In El Salvador, his face is still seen in graffiti and murals throughout the country — a true martyr who is remembered as part of the continuing struggle for justice. Although human rights violations and killings continued to occur for some time afterward, the civil war officially ended in 1992 and the FMLN was officially recognized as a congressional party. In 2009, the FMLN’s candidate, Mauricio Funes, won the Presidential election. The people of El Salvador had been liberated.
THE IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR
“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake.”
— Revelations 16:15
— Childish Gambino, Redbone
What about Nicaragua? In the 1960s and 70s, during the Civil Rights Movement and the various racial minority Power movements here in the United States, priests and lay people again established Christian Base Communities as they had done in El Salvador. Delegates of the Word were also trained in Nicaragua and then sent out to the rural areas to introduce the ideas and beliefs of Liberation Theology to the oppressed and the poor. As Fernando Cardenal, a Jesuit in Nicaragua, stated: “I don’t understand how you can read the Gospels and get spiritual lessons for your life out of it and not get involved in the Revolution.” Indeed.
The revolutionary movement, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) founded in 1961, created strong alliances with the Christian community of liberation theologians. The environment of oppression and the spread of the Eros Effect under Liberation Theology led to the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979 by the FSLN. The Somoza family of military dictators had ruled Nicaragua for decades with the aid of the white supremacist imperialist United States. General Somoza, head of the U.S.-trained Nicaraguan National Guard, had engineered the assassination of liberal opposition rebel Augusto C. Sandino in 1934 and held fraudulent elections to become president in 1937. His progeny ruled over Nicaragua for decades after he was shot dead in 1956, until the 1979 overthrow of Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza DeBayle, who famously said “I don’t want an educated population; I want oxen.”²⁷
The U.S. government, which had supported the Somozas until the end, was alarmed that the Nicaraguans and Liberation Theology were setting a dangerous example for the region. Ronald Reagan promptly suspended aid to Nicaragua, and allocated $10 million dollars to the organization of counter-revolutionary groups known as the Contras²⁸], forcing the FSLN to use most of the nation’s resources they had inherited to defend itself against a U.S.-funded insurgency. In 1985, the imperialist U.S. also imposed a trade embargo which lasted five years and strangled Nicaragua’s economy. By then, it had become widely known that the U.S. was funding the Contras, often covertly through the CIA. The secret funding did not end until the Iran-Contra scandal²⁹ that revealed the CIA had illegally sold weapons to Iran to fund the Contras. Then, of course, Nicaragua was “structurally adjusted” by the IMF in the 90s, leading to a return of widespread economic devastation and poverty once again.
White supremacist neoliberalization and neo-colonization had risen up in retaliation against the Latin American Radical Love revolutions that had toppled petty tyrants backed by the Mightiest Tyrant on Earth (good ol’ Uncle Sam). Yet despite this grim turn of events, Liberation Theology lived on, although buried for decades³⁰. It inspired offshoots such as Black Liberation Theology here in the United States, Palestinian Liberation Theology, Dalit Theology in India, and the Mingju Theology in South Korea³¹. On June 8th of 2018, Pope Francis wished a happy 90th birthday to the “father of Liberation Theology”, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and thanked him for his contributions “to the Church and humanity through your theological service and your preferential love for the poor and discarded of society.”³² A conciliatory branch extended from Italy. “I encourage you to continue with your prayer and service to others, giving witness to the Joy of the Gospel.”
Such is a sterling example of the wonderful, transformative power of Radical Love as Praxis! Not only had Liberation Theology fundamentally reconfigured the social relationship of the Church to the people of Latin America and of the Church to itself, but it had also taken an active role in bringing about the transformation of those relationships through militancy and the sword. It had successfully won Accommodation from the Anglo-American Order and the imperialist U.S. under Ronald Reagan for the nation states of Nicaragua and El Salvador, proving its thesis empirically here in the material world: that it is indeed possible to bring about God’s Kingdom, at least temporarily. Liberation Theology had also reformed the corrupt and decaying institution of which it was a part, despite decades of resistance from Pharisees and hypocrites, and transformed it until even the Holy See embraced its ideology. This was Integration in the highest form: direct acceptance from God’s Representative here on Earth.
Any sort of movement for social justice, including any feminism, should look up to this as an uplifting example of the radical Power of Human Love and Kindness, Truth to Power, Justice, Compassion, Mercy, and Self-Sacrifice HERE ON EARTH. As the Lord’s Prayer goes: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, ON EARTH as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts.”
This is the realm of the Sacred Eros. In the battle between Good and Evil, one should always be partisan.