You know, when I was growing up as a Catholic, I was given many differing views of Jesus Christ. Virtually all of them were speculative, of course, and as I grew older, I became aware that most of them were based on the teacher’s particular political and cultural persuasion. The Pallotinian nuns that taught me in the first and second grades were always telling us horror stories about the communists in the Soviet Union and China and had us pray for the souls of their children every morning. The Jesuits I knew in high school provided me and my fellow catechism students with a different view of Jesus. Indeed, for most of these men Jesus was a revolutionary. How much of his revolution was spiritual and how much was social depended on their level of social and political involvement. Being a very political person, I saw Jesus as a revolutionary communist with a small “c.” Of course, there were a number of men with Roman collars at the time who were taking this perception and turning it into the basis for a social movement in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America. Many of them were Jesuits.
It is this tradition that Hugo Chavez of Venezuela recalls in his speeches and social programs. It is also this tradition, known today as liberation theology that the late pope John Paul II attacked within months of his appointment in 1978. John Paul II’s opposition to this perception of Jesus and his works were also part of the reason for the demotion of the Jesuit order as the pope’s protectors and the ascension of the right wing Catholic organization Opus Dei into that role. The new pope is even less sympathetic to this train of thought. The underlying reason for this vehement opposition to liberation theology among the Catholic hierarchy stems from its alliances with nonreligious leftists and its attacks on the Church’s role as part of the oppressive structure in the world of the peasantry. Nowhere is this role greater than it is in Latin America.
Ever since Chavez began his popular upheaval in Venezuela he has been under attack by the Catholic hierarchy in that country. In fact, members of Opus Dei were involved in the failed coup of 2000 and have been instrumental in the CIA-funded opposition movement since the coup, just as they were intimately involved in the murderous CIA-sponsored coup in September 1973 in Chile. Last month, Bishop Baltazar Porras, president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, said proponents of radical liberation theology are using it to weaken and divide the Church. “This is part of a plan to debilitate the Church,” Porras told The Associated Press in an interview last week. He cited a recent forum in which the Church was accused of turning her back on the poor, where Chavez garners most of his political support. “This is a new program led by a group of theologians like the ones in the times of the Sandinista rule in Nicaragua with the same arguments,” said Porras. “The argument is fundamentally anti-Catholic, anti-hierarchy.” (Catholic World New, 8/15/2005) It is quite interesting to note Porras equating being anti-hierarchy with being anti-Catholic. I wonder how the Jesus who threw the moneychangers out of the temple and challenged the Scribes and the Pharisees would feel about that equation.
Now, in addition to having the Catholic hierarchy opposed to him, Mr. Chavez has incurred the wrath of some in the evangelical community. Given the generally political conservatism of much of this community, this is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is the vehemence of this wrath. Pat Robertson, former US presidential candidate and head of the multimillion-dollar Christian Broadcast Network, called for Chavez’s assassination in a broadcast Monday night. Calling assassination ” a whole lot cheaper than starting a war” Robertson went on to say that if Chavez were killed by US covert operatives he didn’t “think any oil shipments will stop.”
Of course, for those who keep their religion close to their heart or use it only when necessary to cynically convince the public of the rightness of their actions, the comments regarding oil must strike a chord. After all, that’s the underlying reason for Washington’s (and the old guard in Venezuela) opposition to Chavez in the first place. Not only does he using Venezuelan oil revenues to help the perennially poor in Venezuela, he is also selling it to Cuba at cut rates and making deals with China, much to the chagrin of Washington. Chavez and his supporters understand this. In addition, they also understand the Jesus who inspired Father Gutierrez and his liberation theology. That was the Jesus who said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Unfortunately, if Mr. Robertson and many others in Washington, Caracas and the Vatican have their way, Hugo Chavez may get his chance to enter that kingdom well before they do. Although I still like to think that if there is a heaven, Mr. Robertson and his ilk will be denied admission.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org