Atheism in Liberation Theology

Jon Sobrino: atheism and the poor
The true Church and the poor (Orbis: NY 1984)

atheism: 31-33 ...The fundamental problem faced in Latin American theology has not been the restoration of meaning to a threatened faith but the restoration of meaning to a reality that is not merely threatened but is actually in a wretched state. To carry out the liberating function of theology has meant to assist in the transformation of a sinful reality. The enemy of theology has been less the atheist that the inhuman.

The alternative to doing justice is doing injustice; more harshly put, the alternative to giving life to human beings is to kill them. Here we discover the real alternative to faith in God. The alternative, strictly speaking, is not atheism but idolatry. In the name of the true God we give life to other human beings; in the name of false gods we give death to them.

Consequently, those who believe in the resurrection of a crucified man will be called "heretics from the synagogue" (as the Jews called them long ago) or "atheists" (as the pagans called them long ago) by those who have not undergone such a conversion

In Latin America--at least in the way it is generally experienced--conversion does not mean a turning toward God in the face of agnosticism and atheism, but rather a turning toward the true God in the presence of other gods who cause death. ...
Thus, conversion as a theological experience is not a turning toward God in the face of atheism, but rather in the face of idolatry.

According to the Puebla document, then, persecution is widespread and occasions the perfect form of witness. In addition persecution cannot be understood according to the classical model of the persecution of the early centuries nor according to the model of mission countries with their nonchristian religions or of countries with an official and militantly atheistic ideology.

There is another fundamental point that must be kept in mind. The socialist states that are based on a form of the Marxist ideology are logically atheist in principle, whether or not this finds explicit mention in the constitutions of these states. The atheistic starting point can be also be seen at work, depending on cases, in systematic campaigns against religion. This model differs therefore from the model taken from Church history in that it adds the presupposition that is the ultimate theological basis for persecution of the Catholic Church: atheism.

It follows from this that the crises in evangelization are the most radical crises now affecting the Church. Evangelii nuntiandi names three of the most fundamental crises. The first is the enveloping atheism that prevails in various parts of the world. As a result of it the Church is no longer taken for granted as a social and cultural phenomenon, but is an entity that will be meaningful only if it can offer an encompassing meaning for life and history superior to the meaning, or meaninglessness, offered by atheistic ideologies.
The widespread atmosphere of atheism calls into radical question the Church's nature and mission. It can no longer be taken for granted in the work of evangelization that human beings are naturally religious and that the Church can simply come along and offer them the "true" religion. The need is rather to provide a global alternative meaning for life and history, an alternative in which the God of Jesus is beyond conventional atheism and theism.

The poor "place before the Latin American Church a challenge and a mission that [it] cannot sidestep." Moreover, a new kind of atheism exists, a rejection of the Lord himself, wherever unjust "social, political, economic and cultural inequalities" exist (Peace 14).
[statement from Medellín] 292

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