Much of the Religious Left has abandoned its old infatuation with Marxism, having long since moved on to radical environmentalism or performing apologetics for radical Islam. But quaintly, some relics still hang on to the old causes, chief of which is the 50 year love affair with Fidel Castro and his Cuban despotism.
During May 15-20, the Religious Left hosted an interfaith symposium in Cuba called "Spirituality of Resistance, Liberation and Transformation" (http://warc.jalb.de/)." Tragically, the event originally was to have convened in Lebanon. But the "continuing illegal occupation of Palestine by the forces of empire" in the Middle East cut short that possibility, the organizers fretted. Is not Lebanon's strife owing to the Iranian "empire's interference through its Hezbollah surrogates? Of course, the Religious Left is not concerned about that kind of "empire."
Instead, in Cuba's intoxicatingly supportive atmosphere, the Religious Left chatted about how to resist the true evil "empire," i.e. America, and that empire's supportive "destructive spiritualities" on the Religious Right. The event, hosted by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the London-based Council for World Mission, apparently thought Cuba, as "liberated" territory, was the best vantage point from which to organize against the "empire."
"The (Cuban) people's suffering is acute because of the United States-imposed blockade and the general forces of empire," explained the communiqué of the religious liberationists. "By 'empire' we mean the complex and dynamic international regime of power anchored by the United States, with its military power, neoliberal globalization, racist and patriarchal ideologies and policies of environmental degradation."
Hopefully Fidel was still sufficiently coherent in his hospital bed to read what must have been glowing Cuban media reports about all the solidarity that the WCC et al were offering his sagging regime. "In spite of these forces of empire and Cubans' relentless suffering, isolation and impoverization, we have been inspired by the ways Cubans persevere in struggle, embodying joy and resistance, dignity and self-esteem," gushed the church bureaucrats from Geneva and elsewhere.
Until 16 years ago, Cuba's communist rulers were themselves an outpost of the Soviet empire, happily performing as surrogates for their masters in Moscow in Africa, Central America and elsewhere where the cause of revolution was ripening. Since that empire's collapse, the isolated Cuban regime has fossilized while its once revolutionary allies quickly chose "neoliberal globalization" over the static theories of Marx and Lenin.
Wonderfully oblivious, the Religious Left confab pretended that the last 20 years of history never happened, and instead focused on the threats posed by the only modern "empire" that ever distressed it: the United States. "We affirm that the problems of empire, amid which justice movements struggle, are not only political problems but spiritual challenges," the communiqué decreed. "Empire spawns its own destructive spiritualities, such as the 'religious right,' and thus it seeks always to co-opt the powers of religion for imperial aims."
Apparently trying to conclude on an upbeat note, the convo of theologians and pastor-activists from the around the world celebrated that "new spiritualities are coming forth to oppose imperial spiritualities." How these "new spiritualities" substantively differ from the old Liberation Theology of 30 and 40 years ago, which conflated the Gospel with Marxist revolution, was not explained by the Religious Left enthusiasts.
"All organized religions have a special challenge of resisting the tactics of division, such as forms of denominationalism and fundamentalism, which often fuel ethnic, racial, nationalist and regional strife, and so strengthen the powers of empire," the WCC et al fretted in Cuba. They were obliquely referring to the reality that Pentecostalism and conservative Roman Catholicism are sweeping the Global South, including Cuba, much to the consternation of the Religious Left, which struggles to find support outside declining Western seminaries or left-wing church bureaucracies.
The WCC et al incorporated some token Hindus and Muslims in their Cuban get together, to showcase the cause's supposedly universal appeal. "Justice movements require a new solidarity among religious groups and all peoples of conscience (secular and religious) and thus we affirm and honour the full multiplicity of spiritualities that enliven such movements," the communiqué enthused. There was a strong focus on "indigenous" peoples," who of course are among the "empire's" chief victims.
An official with the hosting World Alliance of Reformed Churches sagely observed: "Connecting with the struggle, resilience and vision of the Cuban people and the spiritualities of aboriginal peoples and various faith traditions brings fresh impetus in our struggle for justice." Meeting in Cuba was probably a catharsis for many Western ecclesiastics and seminary professors, so otherwise oppressed. Such freedom to speak their minds without fear!
"We are in Cuba, a country that approaches the celebration of 50 years of its revolution," was how the Western prelates opened their communiqué. "Cubans describe the present period as a 'Kairotic' passage, a time of crisis and opportunity." For the Religious Left over the last 40 years, "Kairos" moments are historic tipping points when the revolution appears to be on the cusp of consummation. So there is hope that true Marxism will prevail yet in Cuba! But there are struggles ahead. The religious communiqué bemoaned that Cuba's "earlier revolutionary successes in agrarian reform have been set back by the empire's brutal blockade." But gloriously, the undefeated Cuban proletariat is still pressing forward.
Of course, the Religious Left communiqué denounced the American "empire's worldwide 'war on terror,'" which has "created a virulent form of Islamophobia that compounds other related racisms." The WCC et al insisted that "emergent spiritualities must stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers and work with them for a more just world for all peoples."
The Religious Left communiqué urged "positive values that can energize and focus revolutionary change" and invited leaders of the arts around the world to join in "strengthening the spiritualities that can resist regimes of injustice." Naturally, such oppressive regimes do not include Fidel Castro's communist dictatorship. The targeted regimes that the Religious Left has in mind are the ones that were actually elected by their populations. Apparently such democratic governments are merely tools of "colonization, racism and patriarchy," and puppets of the "empire."
That remnants of the Religious Left are still spouting such anachronisms in even in the year 2008 should not be altogether surprising. That they should do so in Fidel Castro's Cuba, which has become the ossified Disneyworld for unreconstructed Marxists, is perfectly appropriate.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.