When Jesus Ate with the Poorest
Interview with Jon Sobrino
The Jesuit Jon Sobrino on an historical law that existed long before the theology of liberation and Karl Marx
[This interview originally published in: "Freitag", a Berlin weekly, on May 23, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.elsalvador-info.org/htm/sobrino.htm. Jon Sobrino, one of El Salvador's best-known liberation theologians, survived the massacre in November 1989 because he was abroad.]
Many things suggest that liberation theology no longer enjoys the same rank in Central America today as ten or fifteen years ago because it is helpless toward the real living conditions of the poor. Is that your impression?
Jon Sobrino: Firstly, liberation theology touches the reality of this world more directly than any other theology of our days. For liberation theology, reality always rules. The six Jesuit fathers at my university were not murdered by accident. The self-image of liberation theology is not put in question but its present-day observance.
Liberation theology is certainly not surrounded by the same worldly brilliance as in earlier years. Most students in El Salvador are hardly still interested. We experience a globalization of disinterest. We witness the globalization of the conviction that money is most important in life, not a mission or commitment. In the meantime, there are few books about this theology, few open bishops and few base communities. Still I believe the teaching of Leonardo Boff or Gustavo Gutierrez is still present in the collective consciousness of Christians. Why else would so many people be searching?
Have living conditions changed so much in El Salvador after the civil war that the social mission of liberation theology could be exhausted?
Jon Sobrino: On the contrary, there is more poverty today than in the eighties and nineties. That is a gift of the privatization of democracy. Poverty has increased in all Latin America. Chile and Uruguay are the only exceptions. It is cynical to speculate what could be left of liberation theology without asking why more people live in poverty.
What remains of the founding intention of your religious doctrine?
Jon Sobrino: What the disciples of our movement have said from the beginning. The world lives with a great sin. The needy and oppressed die slowly and violently. Believing in God means being in solidarity with them... In this connection, liberation theology has often been reproached for being a carrier of Marxist theory. Liberation theologians, the prophets and the archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Arnulfo Romero murdered in 1980 have all said: The accumulation of riches is a horrible scandal! This is true - with or without Marx.
The Vatican has constantly urged that liberation theologians argue offensively and critically with Marx.
Jon Sobrino: Certainly, but firstly Marx was an important theoretician. Secondly, there was always a very specific definition of Marxism in El Salvador. Marxism is what may not be, what is simply evil. When Jesus ate with the poorest, they called him a drunkard. When he made friends with sinners and prostitutes, he was despised and scorned. Whenever someone exposes the hypocritical conduct of the powerful, he is insulted, defamed and sometimes killed. That is an historical law that has existed long before liberation theology and before Karl Marx.