Luis Martinez Andrade gives an overview of his new essay collection, Religion without Redemption.
‘Since 1492, the history and the appearance of the Americas (Abya Yala) acquire a new nature. The Invasion of the Conquistadores is a critical moment not only in the constitution of modern Western subjectivity but also in shaping the pattern of world domination, in the words of Aníbal Quijano, “modernity, capitalism and Latin America were born the same day”. Indeed, to understand the paradoxes and challenges of the Latin American people one has to understand the self-destructive logic of capitalist´s modernity-coloniality. Therefore, inspired by Walter Benjamin’s project, this work proposes a contrary reading of history in order to track both major colonial paradigms as well as liberation struggles of its victims.
Through evangelization, religion played an important role in the colonization of indigenous imagination: myths, beliefs lines and legends of the Christian world were imposed on dominated societies. However, religion as “sigh of the oppressed creature” (Marx) enabled the emergence of liberation Christianity: an ethos against colonial domination and against the idols of death. The theoretical expression of this liberating ethos was a school of thought that emerged in the mid-twentieth century in Latin America and today is known as Liberation Theology.
The theoretical and historical importance of liberation theology lies in its critique of the ideology of development, in its denunciation of the dynamics of modernity and in its fight against the idolatry of the market. Supported by Marxist and critical analysis applying categories of social sciences, liberation theologians(of both sexes) made a radical reading of the Gospel and thus showed the fetish character of capitalism and the destructive dynamics of modernity. However, such criticism was always articulated to organizations and popular movements fighting for radical transformation of society.
While it is true that some parts of Latin America are undergoing profound changes, – some profound others not so Radical- at various levels (political, economic, cultural, etc.), changes that a few decades ago (i.e. during the National Security Doctrine and its extension in the Long neoliberal night) would be inconceivable, it is also true that it has not broken with dependence (both theoretical and material) from the pattern of neo-colonial domination. Although the launch of “Socialism of the XXI Century” has been proclaim from the rooftops by some governments called “progressive”, it is clear that the dynamics of capital continues to set the tenor of existing social relations in Latin American. Currently, through the extractivist logic and the destruction of nature, the chameleon-like ability of capitalism tries to hide its death dynamics of the really existing modernity. Therefore, if we want to break with the capitalist continuum and renounce its dogmas of faith, we need the theoretical arsenal that liberation theologians have contributed to the emancipation of peoples and up in arms communities.
The epochal change that is being experienced in Latin America cannot be understood if the influence and legacy of liberation theology in what concerns the development of a new political culture and the formation of social movements is not addressed. Needless to say that theological reflection follows a particular practice, in this sense, the variety of claims and demands from popular movements has led to the development of new trends in the Theology of Liberation where gender, racial, inter-cultural and ecological dialogue have become more intense. Therefore, the prophetic message, the radical critique of “structural sin” and the denouncing fetishistic logic of liberation theology has not lost actuality today.
Facing a bleak picture (environmental disaster, increased poverty, food crisis, hedonistic individualism, alienation), where the “pessimism of reason” is imposed it is also important to recover the “optimism of the will”, i.e. resume the awaken dreams of the wretched of the earth to continue the struggle for liberation. Tradition as subversion, concrete utopia as criticism of reality, memory as terrain of struggle and solidarity as communion with the crucified of history are some of the features of this school of thought. The XXI century is the last chance for humanity to choose between the will of life or ecocidal dynamics, among the gods of life or death idols, and Eco-socialism or barbarism.’
Luis Martínez Andrade is a Mexican essayist, with a PhD in sociology from EHESS in Paris. His research interests focus on the sociology of religion, Latin American contemporary thought and political ecology. His previous work has been published in Mexico, Poland and France. In 2009 he received the internationally acclaimed “Thinking Against the Mainstream” essay award in Havana.
Religion Without Redemption: Social Contradictions and Awakened Dreams in Latin America is available to buy from Pluto Press here.