With my belated discovery of Netflix (coinciding with an adjustment of habits to bring some balance to my daily life), I watched Romero last night. It’s about Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.
Inasmuch as the oppressors in power in that country at that time were an alliance of capitalists and militarists, the movie implies sympathy for the Marxists on the other side (although not as strongly as I’d expected). At least as portrayed in the movie, Romero wasn’t interested in communism, but he couldn’t remain passive about the real violence against the people, including some of the more-radical priests under his authority.
Given his concern for the poor (sounding very much like Pope Francis), Archbishop Romero brings out an important theme that those who watch the world more with a political eye than a theological one might miss. Those who oppress the poor are the enemies of morality, but acknowledging as much doesn’t, of itself, make their opponents its heroes.
That is, Marxists who leverage the ire of the poor in order to foment revolution and bring themselves into power aren’t made moral (or intellectually correct) just because they’re fighting real oppression by somebody else. Even within the narrow realm of movies about political violence against the Catholic Church in Latin America, one can support this truism with For Greater Glory, a story about the Cristero War in Mexico, when Catholics resisted the oppression of Plutarco Elías Calles, who more or less fit the mold of a Marxist revolutionary and who governed that country in the early part of the Twentieth Century.
Properly understood, the collection of views that currently fall under the banner of conservatism in the United States provides a basis for society that resists these unstable extremes. Archbishop Romero was a heroic figure, and when, in the movie about him, he led a group of El Salvadoran peasants into a church that the military had made into a barracks, it occurred to me that conservatives have ceded ground that is rightfully ours when it comes to supporting the poor and oppressed, balancing order and economic liberty with a moral culture, concern for charity, and belief in equality.
Waking up with these thoughts on a gray February morning brought something of a melancholy feel to the morning. Today we’ll have further indication whether the United States is truly prepared to give itself a presidential choice between a devotee of the socialist fantasy and a dangerous egomaniac who’s won his popularity as a reality TV cult of personality. Either way, I suppose, we’ll have opportunity for heroes and martyrs, and after all, a well-balanced sword must be ground from both sides.
But this intellectual understanding doesn’t change the sense of foreboding, which is something like the Garden of Gethsemane or its parallel in Romero, when the archbishop kneels in the road and says, “I can’t… you must… I’m yours… show me the way.”