The Marxist philosopher and devout atheist, Ernst Bloch, once argued that if you really want to read a revolutionary text you should read the Old Testament. As a student in the 1980s I was heavily influenced by Liberation Theology, a movement which took root throughout Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on helping the poor and oppressed, even if that meant confronting political powers. It was a Theology that was later to be severely criticised as a "fundamental threat" to the church by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Liberation theologians like Gutiérrez, Romero and Boff argued that when the Catholic Church failed to speak for the poor and the oppressed and when it refused to take the side of the persecuted and downtrodden, it did not exercise neutrality it abandoned its moral responsibility.
Yet the movement seems to have all but disappeared. The Catholic Church of today encourages its flock to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, it advocates the view that politics and faith are separate arenas and that the two cannot, indeed should not, mix. The result of such a narrow-minded stance is that the Church is in danger of becoming completely irrelevant to the life of the modern man. By modern man I of course mean the poor man - it is easy to forget that the vast majority of people who inhabit the planet with us live below the poverty line, the vast majority live in poor housing, have no access to proper health care and have a life expectancy that is decades shorter than that of the minority who live in the affluent west.
A faith that offers hope – not a jam tomorrow kind of hope, rather the hope that Kierkegaard described as the ‘passion for the possible’ – understands that what people need is to believe that things will and can be better. A theology that seeks the liberation of people from poverty, injustice and persecution can be a powerful force for change. Yet the message of liberation will always result in some people feeling uneasy. To side, as many Liberation theologians in the 1960s and 1970s did, against injustice, to commit one’s life to the poor is not a political stance but a moral one.
Bloch was right, the true message of hope, of a promise that the world can be fairer, more just and less divided often results in giving comfort to the afflicted and in afflicting the comfortable.