Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred pastor of Berlin, was so horrified by his hierarchy’s insistence on Luther’s doctrine of non-intervention in politics that he issued his famous call for a ‘Christianity without religion’. And I myself, growing up when memories of the war were still all around me, often heard of the martyred Stauffenberg’s attempt to kill Hitler, but could not name a single German bishop who was remembered for rebelling against the Reich. Certainly for my own spiritual journey, the old images of Christ, solace of pacifists and ineffectual dreamers, were less impressive than the new icons of a truly socially responsible human being drawn by Bonhoeffer and, more especially, the liberation theologians. Sometimes I believe that there is significance in the fact that I was baptised by Father Jack Putterill (1892-1980), best known of all radical priests in his day, who insisted that true religion is not pacifist or apolitical, but must be a revolutionary challenge to the rich and the autocratic. Putterill, to my knowledge, went to his grave without knowing the Prophet whose Lord was Lord of the Poor, who actively championed their cause and adopted their way of life, who challenged great empires instead of meekly submitting to them. That Prophet, hailed by the socialist Bernard Shaw as ‘a princely genius’, turns out to be a spiritual type close to the urgent but hidden needs of a comfortable, bourgeois consumer culture, which in its heart yearns not for faint chanting in distant oratories, but a willingness to engage in a virile way with the real issues of poverty and injustice. Such, of course, was the motivation which drove Roger Garaudy, whose Communism was of the empathetic kind, and who therefore broke with Stalinism and entered the free, non-hierarchical space of Islam. For Garaudy, like Putterill and Shaw, secularity could only produce freedom within the confines of the ‘cage of steel’. True freedom lay beyond, but it had to be promote itself, and therefore incorporate a willingness to challenge those who degrade God’s earth and His servants. Faced with radical evil, preaching and witnessing alone are tragically inadequate.
Liberation from the cage, whether that cage be capitalist or Marxist, should be a real liberation for society as well as for the spirit.