Summary – Alistair Kee Beyond Liberation Theology

July 13, 2018
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Marx and Liberation Theology

Alistair Kee, “Beyond Liberation Theology” – a summary

Chapter 11: Marx and the Failure of Liberation Theology

Marx’s Three Criticisms of religion:

1) Religion is an opiate for the poor (it numbs their senses so they don’t feel the injustice)

2) Religion is an inversion of reality (it places the hope in another world). Marx calls this the ontological critique where ‘ontological’ refers to the general considerations about existence, reality, and being.

3) Religion is an ideology in favour of the rich (it is used to bolster the status quo)

Kee’s Three Criticisms of Liberation Theology:

1) Liberation theology is not Marxist enough, only makes selective use of Marx’s thought, ignores the second criticism of religion

2) Liberation theology has an unqualified embrace of ‘peasant theology’

3) Liberation theology fails the very people it means to liberate

Kee’s Argument

  • Liberation theology has ignored and/or rejected Marx’s second critique, which is the ontological critique. Marx is referring to his second critique (the ontological critique) when he says that “the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism”
  • The ironic result is that liberation theology unwittingly supports the conservative side of the ideological divide by giving unwitting sanction to the status quo
  • Liberation theology has failed as an intellectual movement because it is based on theological/religious premises that cannot be affirmed in the modern world
  • Liberation theology has also failed the very people to whom it is committed because as ‘primitive’ societies are ‘modernised,’ the people will find themselves increasingly alienated from the religious interpretation of reality offered to them by the liberationists.  In other words, it is outdated from the start.
  • By maintaining a theological interpretation of reality, this guarantees not an ideological critique of society, but an ideological view of society.
  • This is what Kee means when he says that LT has not been Marxist enough.  Its resistance to Marx’s full critique of religion is the cause of its failure.
  • Kee does not question the Christian commitment or moral integrity of the LT; rather, his concern is with their misappropriation and limited use of Marx – specifically, with how Marx is used only as a specialised consultant in a highly selective way. Marx is used in a piecemeal fashion fails to appreciate the internal integrity of his thought as a whole.  His is a systematic critique.  You cannot just pick and choose what you want.
  • LT provides a theological reading of Marxism, not a Marxist reading of theology.
    • This is much less dangerous.
    • LT = Marxism made safe; Marx domesticated.

“The failure of LT arises not from too much attention to Marx’s social analysis, but from too little attention to his criticism of religion.” (p. 267)

Chapter 12: Religion in the Next Epoch

Kee’s argument:

  • Basic distinction between the superstructure and the base = the superstructure is determined by the base.
  • Liberal democracy (which according to Kee is one aspect of the ideological superstructure of modern society) grows out of bourgeois society.
  • Therefore, liberal democracy cannot be superseded by socialism until bourgeois capitalism has been superseded by communism.
  • Irony = “It is capitalism which creates the necessary conditions for communism: without the transformation of society by capitalism, communism is impossible.”
    • It is not possible to move directly from feudalism to communism.
    • Marx actually provides a positive (albeit qualified) assessment of capitalism:  “It [capitalism] has rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of the rural life.”
  • Double Irony = The rejection (which is not to say the criticism) of capitalism is at the same time a repudiation of the very process by which peasants might be rescued from their lot.
    • “Capitalism is therefore an instrument of civilisation” (p. 272)
    • “Marx has no romantic tendencies whatsoever with regard to the rural life and the conditions of the peasants.” (p. 272)
    • “Capitalism, colonialism, civilization – in short, Europeanization – are the necessary means by which socialism can eventually be achieved.  It is ironic to think that all of these have been rejected in the name of Marx!” (p. 272)
  • Kee’s calls for the “Supersession of Capitalism”
    • Criticizes both the religious proponents and opponents of capitalism (pp. 274-275)
    • “According to Marx, there must be something better than a capitalist society, but the route to it lies through capitalism beyond capitalism.” (p. 275)
    • “It means that on moral and religious grounds capitalism must be superseded, but that on historical material grounds it must be genuinely superseded and not simply rejected.” (p. 275)

Question: Is this an implicit argument for globalisation? There is a link here to business ethics.


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