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Liberation Theology, Economic Inequality, and Social Justice

Liberation Theology, Economic Inequality, and Social Justice


This lesson discusses the origin and growth of liberation theology, which aims to use religion as the basis for social action in combatting the perceived evils of economic and social inequality.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on liberation theology, economic inequality, and social justice. Liberation theology was a movement within Catholic theology that had a big influence on theology of all different stripes in the last half of the 20th century and going forward into the 21st century. Liberation theologians see themselves as recapturing the economic message of the Gospels. So many of the parables of Jesus speak to the necessity for justice of rich people who give away all that they have in order to follow Jesus.

Liberation theology sees Jesus as concerned foremost with helping the poor, giving them some kind of better life. The term "liberation theology" was coined in 1971 by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez who wrote a book called A Theology of Liberation. This book was very influential. It spawned all different sort of flavors of theology, everything from feminist theology, to black liberation theology, to Korean theology and so forth. This book inspired a whole swathe of different strands of theology.

One of the criticisms of liberation theology is that it is just a warmed over Marxism. Well, we might ask whether that's the case or not. And if it is the case, is it really a bad thing? Perhaps Marxism itself, even though it is opposed to religious ideas, perhaps Marxism helps to uncover something that was actually essential about the message of Christ that the church has subsequently lost sight of. For liberation theologians, they see themselves as just recovering something that the church had ignored for a long time and if Marxism helps to do that, then great.

Liberation theology is a theology of action. And some of those actions are listed here, protesting and lobbying against practices that would negatively impact the poor, the weak, the powerless. Throughout Latin America the priests lobbied for land reform to try to make sure that land was distributed fairly to directly care for the poor and to stand in solidarity with the poor. Many liberation theologians and people inspired by liberation theology were killed in various different Latin American countries specifically because they expressed solidarity with the poor.

Also labor organizing, trying to make sure that people had fair working conditions and safe working conditions. This brings us to the idea of social justice which is a pretty important strand of much of Christian belief and practice. Social justice is an outcomes-based view which says that when we observe the disparity in society that this disparity results from a lack of basic fairness. In other words, the reason that there's poverty is because society is unjust. If society were not unjust, there would not be poverty.

Thanks for watching this tutorial on liberation theology. We said that liberation theology sees itself as returning to the core teachings of Jesus. That Christianity is about uplifting the poor. We said that critics of liberation theology accuse liberation theology of being a sort of Marxism with a thin Christian veneer, but that those who believe in liberation theology just see Marxism as a vehicle for uncovering the true message of Jesus.

We said that liberation theology leads to an idea of social justice that is outcomes-based in which the inequalities in society result from basic unfairness in the social system. Let's take a look at the vocabulary. Liberation theology, we said this is a movement within Roman Catholicism but which inspired other movements in theology that demands a sort of social action. We talked about social justice, the belief that groups should be held to the same standards of justice as individuals, especially with respect to economic and social inequality.

In other words, we teach children in kindergarten to share with one another. And liberation theology says that this applies on the societal level as well. Next redistribution of wealth, the taking of wealth usually in the form of money from one party to another generally in the form of taxation or land redistribution. So liberation theology would call upon Christians to support forms of redistribution of wealth that would make society more fair.

Terms to Know
Liberation Theology

A movement within Roman Catholicism, in which Jesus' teachings are held to demand, or at least strongly incline one toward, social action of a fairly particular sort.

Redistribution of Wealth

The taking of wealth, usually in the form of money, from one party to another, generally in the form of taxation of land redistribution.

Social Justice

The belief that groups should be held to the same standards of justice as individuals, especially with respect to economic and social inequality.