Liberation Theology – Called Upon to Serve the Querfront!

Herbert Böttcher

Now liberation theology has also been hit. Roland Rottenfußer, who worked as a journalist for the spiritual magazine connection from 2001 to 2005 and is currently editor-in-chief of Rubikon, has called upon it to serve the Querfront. In his article “Der Schrel der Armen [The Cry of the Poor]”[1] he draws on approaches to the critique of capitalism associated with liberation theology. This serves the purpose of giving a theological impetus to the resistance against Covid policyand the subsequently staged crises around war, inflation and gas shortages, and charging them with a blessed aura.

His points of contact with liberation theology include taking the side of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed, and the associated opposition to the rich and powerful. For him, the biblical basis for this is the Gospel of Luke, which contains a striking number of passages that address the social differences between the rich and the poor. Even before the birth of Jesus, Mary had proclaimed something socially revolutionary: the reversal of the relationship between the poor and the rich, the humble and the powerful (cf. Lk 1:51-53). In this context, the rich are exhorted to see their attachment to material gain as an obstacle to salvation. They should cancel debts, return unjustly appropriated property and, in general, donate a large part of their possessions to the poor. Although this is primarily a spiritual theology, it also contains the fundamental outlines of a social order that, in contrast to the modern economic order, is capable of closing the gap between rich and poor.

The content taken up is certainly covered in the biblical texts. But their immediate appropriation and instrumentalization is problematic. The differences between ancient and modern power relations are consistently ignored. The personalizing biblical talk of the rich and powerful reflects personalized and religiously legitimized power relations. Capitalist domination, as subjugation and the irrational end in itself of the multiplication of money/capital and as the dissociation of the reproductive spheres, represents an abstract domination that cannot be directly represented in the roles of the poor and the powerful or the exploited and the capitalists, the ruling political class and the powerless masses. Moreover, the biblical traditions fail to show that their talk of rich and poor, powerful and powerless, is bound up with the distinction between God and idols (fetishes). On the cultural-symbolic level, idols legitimize a structuring social context of domination, manifested, for example, in the rule of kingdoms and their ties back to the world of the gods. Biblical texts not only criticize the actions of individuals, but also delegitimize the structuring context of domination in which the actions of individuals are situated. Not only the direct criticism of the rich and powerful should be taken up, but also the biblical distinction between God and idols, i.e. the biblical criticism of domination. And here, too, a distinction must be made again between the ancient personalized domination, which was limited in its reach, and the modern abstract domination, which reaches out to the social totality and thus penetrates into the body and psyche of human beings. The latter is the submission to the objective constraints connected with the law of value. It constitutes the form of capitalist society and reaches out to the whole of this society. It cannot be used to immediately ignite anger and indignation and mobilize the masses to vent their frustrations. Before such immediate and confused outbursts, critical, i.e. theoretical, reflection, which seeks to gain knowledge of social conditions, is necessary. Only on this basis can there be a purposeful overcoming of the constitution of capitalist socialization.

Crisscross, But Always Direct: On Positioning in The Present

Those statements of liberation theologians that seem to be compatible with the understanding of social processes and events as the expression of the will of social elites and their targeted control are used for positioning in the present. The elites suppress the will of the people through manipulation of the media and authoritarian measures up to the state of emergency of a Covid dictatorship. A cosmopolitan program of the ruling elites, which is supposed to corrode the sovereignty of the peoples and national identities, is hallucinated. Against this, elements of liberation theology are now being positioned. All this happens in a crisscross manner, but the domination is always direct. Part of this immediacy is the appeal to the movement of the poor, through which liberation theology was set in motion. They interpreted the biblical stories as something that had immediate (sic!) consequences for their daily lives. Without questioning any forms of mediation, the poor are ascribed a higher quality of knowledge, seemingly independent of social fetish relations. Those who speak of the poor with a false immediacy will speak of their counterpart, the rich, in such a way as to make their wealth directly responsible for the poverty of the poor.

The reflection on the capitalist social context of domination developed within the framework of liberation theology, a social context criticized as fetishistic on the basis of the biblical tradition of the distinction between God and idols, is largely ignored. Taking it up, however, would sharpen the view on structuring contexts of social mediation. In this respect, such a critique represents an immanent corrective to a way of thinking that, probably inspired by categories of the class struggle, associates the poor in their struggle against the rich with the revolutionary subjects of the class struggle without reflecting on social contexts. Rottenfußer does not really know what to do with reflections critical of fetishism that aim at the structural social context of domination. He takes up Boff’s critique of neoliberalism, a critique that understands social exclusion as a consequence of the new modes of production, the world market and neoliberalism. But he immediately lands on the financial economy driven by greed for wealth and the rich who profit from interest and financial investments. In addition to Heiner Geißler, with his equally agile and confused tirades against capital interests measured in stock market value and share price, he identifies the theologian Ulrich Duchrow and Pope Francis as benchmarks for his position.

Rottenfußer refers to Duchrow’s speech on poverty-creating wealth and to Pope Francis’ statement that “this economy kills.” With regard to poverty-creating wealth, Duchrow is quoted with reference to mechanisms of enrichment, which are declared as natural necessities and are thus idolized. The mechanisms of enrichment are located on the legal level with the reference to private property. The right to property is thus the reason that one can pursue wealth enrichment according to the laws of the market. Thus, according to Duchrow, the following is made possible: if the interest rate is higher than the growth rate, the owner of monetary assets robs the others involved in the economic process, i.e. mainly the working people, of their fair share of what they have jointly earned. The Pope’s criticism of capitalism is similar. His criticism of the dogma of the neoliberal credo, according to which the market solves all problems, is quoted, as well as his demand to renounce the absolute autonomy of the markets and to address the structural causes of the unequal distribution of income. Last but not least, the pope’s criticism of the tendency toward uniformity in world culture fits into the worldview of the opponents of erased ethnic, national, and/or regional identities. Accordingly, Francis is quoted as saying: “Local conflicts and disinterest in the common good are exploited by the global economy to impose a single cultural model. Such a culture unites the world but divides people and nations.”

Duty to Resist

At the end of the text it finally becomes clear what the discussion about liberation theology is aiming at: the resistance against the Covid narrative, before which the churches had folded in their conformism, even though Jesus had embraced lepers. Their failure in the face of the cultural rupture sparked by Covid forbids them from muddling along any further. The issue of Covid does not exist independently of the discourse on capitalism. After all, the Pope and others, with their insistence on a moral obligation to vaccinate, have helped to swell the coffers of a few pharmaceutical giants. Above all, growing poverty will be the big issue of the next few years. The culprits for worsening poverty are easily identified: de facto occupational bans in the lockdowns, investments in armaments, and inflation wantonly caused by politicians through disastrous energy policies. Against this, a sentence from the Acts of the Apostles is invoked: “We must obey God rather than men.”

A Twisted Way of Thinking

A common thread running through the text is the attempt to identify victims and pinpoint perpetrators. This is also reflected where structural factors linked to capitalism come into play. They are not understood as structures that have become independent as abstract domination, but rather are traced back to the immediate actions of the actors: to those of the rich, who enrich themselves within the framework of these structures and make the poor their victims. Of course, this critique does not imply a simple determinism. Rather, the point is that the form of abstract domination cannot be deliberately bypassed, and the conditions that drive people into poverty cannot be overcome by a change of direction on the part of the elites.

Such a critique of capitalism also remains truncated in that it is limited to the level of circulation, and there again to the circulation of finance capital. There, the greedy actions of the profiteers can be scandalized particularly drastically. The proximity to (structural) anti-Semitism, with its distinction between rapacious and creative capital, is no problem for lateral thinkers anyway. The fact that Jesus was not the founder of a religion, but a Jew, and that Christianity is rooted in the Jewish tradition, and is therefore not simply a new religion, is consistently overlooked by Rottenfußer.[2] After all, the rootedness in the Jewish tradition is inherent to Christianity: Christians refer to no other God than the God of the Jews.

In the fixation of the critique on (Jewish) rapacious finance capital, the critique of commodity production remains hidden, i.e. the law of value (M-C-M’) and thus the production of capital itself, together with its irrational goal of increasing capital for its own sake and subjugating the globe to this madness. Thus, the crisis of this madness must also remain unrecognized: the logical and historical barrier to the multiplication of capital, which was reached with the replacement of labor by technology and, since the microelectronic revolution, can no longer be compensated for, despite the expansion of commodity production and markets. For a while, the inflow of money from the money multiplication simulated on the financial markets, i.e. money without value (R. Kurz), could serve as compensation. The bursting of the resulting bubbles and, above all, the coincidence of inflation and economic crises signal that the end of this possibility of compensation is rapidly approaching.

This cannot be grasped directly, but only through theoretical reflection that shows how social phenomena are mediated by the social whole. But such insight does not provide an immediate target for the expression of anger and indignation, accompanied by illusions of agency and fantasies of power in the midst of real powerlessness. Lateral thinkers prefer to cling to the cult of immediacy (Günter Frankenberg).[3] It promises to be concrete instead of abstract, practice-oriented instead of concerned with theoretical explanations far removed from practice. This addiction to immediacy is also connected with the recourse to elements of liberation theology and its connections to biblical traditions. Reflection on different historical social contexts, which should be critically related, is ignored. Instead, elements such as the question of the poor are taken up and placed in direct relation to lateral-thinking world views.

Questions for Liberation Theology

It is also not enough to indignantly reject the instrumentalization of elements of liberation theology by lateral thinkers and Querfrontler. Rather, it would be important to reflect critically on where and why such points of contact are offered and how liberation theology needs to be corrected and further developed. This is all the more true since it emerged in social contexts in which it seemed possible to achieve alternatives, up to and including socialist options, through political changes and thus through the state. Liberation seemed conceivable within the horizon of the liberation of labor from capital. In addition, the various variants of liberation theology, which also existed in Africa and Asia, were concerned with liberation from colonial dependence. But this, too, remained largely stuck in the transfer of political power to indigenous elites.

Against this, it would be necessary to recognize that labor, as well as the levels of state and politics, are elementary components of the formal structuring context of capitalist socialization, and that the more the crisis of commodity production progresses, the more the possibilities of regulation collapse. Furthermore, the possibilities of crisis management reach their limits, and state structures collapse and go wild in the interplay and struggles of remnants of the state and gangs.

The tradition of fetish critique in liberation theology could be critically continued. But here, too, it would have to be taken into account that the critique of the market as a fetish remains limited to the level of circulation, that it is not enough to single out individual fetishes such as the market, money and power from the fetishistic social structure of the whole. Rather, it would be important to reflect on the social whole as an in-itself broken totality and to recognize it on the most abstract level in its constitution through commodity production and the dissociation of the femininely connoted and subordinated areas of reproduction, which unfolds in the structuring forms of labor, state, subject, etc. It would be crucial here to recognize this fetishistic social structure as crisis-ridden in its potential for destruction, not discounting the possibility of a destruction of the world. In this framework there can be no emancipatory developments, but only an emancipatory break. Only a consequent negation can open up horizons for emancipatory action.

What this means for theological reflection should also be considered:[4] For the theologically central option for the poor, for speaking of God in the face of suffering and the ever-advancing catastrophe, for connecting with biblical traditions, the Samaritan action and a practice that aims at overcoming the capitalist constitution through negation. Indispensable is the demarcation from identitarian thinking and all temptations to immediacy, and in this sense from all Querfront-like lateral thinking.

Ulrich Duchrow and Pope Francis, who are mentioned in Rottenfußer’s text, must also allow themselves to be questioned. When Ulrich Duchrow speaks of greedy money he does not mean direct personal greed, but a structural social context that is greedy for money, i.e. for the multiplication of capital.[5] Nevertheless, his analysis also focuses more on finance capital than on that of production and circulation and its related crisis. Accordingly, the alternative approaches listed in the book are not adequate attempts to break with capitalism.[6] The same applies to Pope Francis. His critique is courageous because it takes on conservative-reactionary forces, and helpful because it opens doors within the Church for a more radical critique of capitalism. Nevertheless, it is far from the indispensable critique of fetishism.[7] It clings to the ethical regulation of the market, to the illusion that money can serve instead of rule.[8] Furthermore, positions and strategies in the ecclesial sphere that do not or insufficiently include the fetishistic social context of capitalist commodity production and its crisis are worthy of criticism. In this context, the positioning of the Institute for Theology and Politics with regard to Covid policies must be criticized,[9] as well as the insufficient reflections and practical orientations in the environment of Kairos Europa.[10]

In view of the necessity of a consistent demarcation from all lateral thinking, the acceptance and consistent continuation of the critique of fetishism, which can be connected theologically to the biblically central distinction between God and idols, is of decisive importance. It is within this framework that the crisis that is destroying the foundations of life is to be located. The destructive irrationalism of capitalist self-purpose seems to determine more and more the thoughts and actions of people in the struggles for self-assertion in the crisis. Combined with the structural impossibility of rigorous action, this can also explain the confusion in the actions of political-economic actors and the lateral thinking resistance against them. Critical reflection is all the more important if there are to be paths to liberation.

[1] Cf.

[2] The impression that Christianity is a new religion is suggested by the history of Christianity, insofar as Christianity separated itself from Judaism in anti-Judaic tirades. This is expressed, among other things, in the (anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic) view that the Church has taken the place of Judaism, which became obsolete with the advent of Christianity. To speak of Christianity as a new religion would confirm this, but it is not immune to the danger of Christian appropriation of Jewish tradition. It is crucial to understand Judaism and Christianity as two variants of the search for liberation, connected in their (fetish-critical) reference to the one God of Israel.

[3] Günter Frankenberg talks about this in his book Autoritarianism, Berlin 2020.

[4] Cf. Herbert Böttcher, “Kapitalismuskritik und Theologie. Versuch eines Gesprächs zwischen wert-abspaltungskritischem und theologischem Denken,” in: Ökumenisches Netz Rhein-Mosel-Saar (ed.). Nein zum Kapitalismus, aber wie? Unterschiedliche Ansätze der Kapitalismuskritik, Koblenz 2013/2015, 117 163, online:; cf. ders, Der Krisenkapitalismus und seine Katstrophen. Challenge for Theological Reflection, in: Netztelegramm. Information of the Ecumenical Network Rhine-Moselle-Saar, Koblenz 2016, online:

[5] Ulrich Duchrow, Gieriges Geld. Auswege aus der Kapitalismusfalle. Befreiungstheologische Perspektiven, Munich 2012.

[6] Cf. Dominic Kloos, “Alternativen zum Kapitalismus. Im Check: Gemeinwohlökonomie,” in: Ökumenisches Netz Rhein-Mosel-Saar (ed.): Die Frage nach dem Ganzen, Koblenz 2018, 299-356, online:; cf. also Thomas Meyer, “Alternativen zum Kapitalismus. In Check: Buen Vivir und das Ende der nachholenden Entwicklung,” in: Ökumenisches Netz Rhein-Mosel-Saar (ed.): Bruch mit der Form, Koblenz 2020, 465-479, online:

[7] Cf. Herbert Böttcher, “In der Freude des Evangeliums. Aufstehen gegen Repression und Depression. Der Papst wechselt die Perspektiven, in: Perspektivenwechsel!? Eine Herausforderung für die Kirche angesichts sich verschärfender gesellschaftlicher Krisen. Eine Intervention zur Synode und daruber hinaus,” 14-32, online:

[8] Cf. Evangelii gaudium, 57f. For a critique of the Vatican positions on financial markets, see Dominic Kloos, “Die Himmelfahrt des Geldes in den Prinzipienhimmel Zur Finanzialisierung des Kapitalismus und den Grenzen christlicher Sozialethik,” Bielefeld 2022.

[9] Cf. AK Theologische Orientierung, “An Corona und am Kapitalismus vorbei Anmerkungen zu Corona und die Kirchen. Eine Kritik,” Koblenz 2021, online:

[10] Cf. the Zacchaeus Tax Campaign (cf. critically Kloos, note 8) and the call of casa comun on the occasion of the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe in September 2022:

Originally published in Net Telegram in October 2022

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