Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Caritatis in Veritate": View(s) from the Left

It is interesting to note the differences between Frei Betto's largely positive view of the Pope's new encyclical and Leonardo Boff's more critical perspective. Interesting, because those two are usually on the same page with respect to their analyses of the world situation and our Church's role -- or lack thereof -- in it. Not this time. English translations of Frei Betto by Rebel Girl and of Leonardo Boff by Refugio del Rio Grande with a number of modifications by Rebel Girl.

FREI BETTO: The Pope and the World Crisis

"Love in Truth" is the title of Benedict XVI's recent encyclical, published on June 29th. In it, the Pope emphasizes the social dimension of love: "To desire the common good" -- all quotes are from the original text -- "and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the pólis, or 'city'. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them." (n. 7)

The document pays homage to Paul VI by echoing Populorum progresio (1967), one of the mosst progressive encyclicals in the last two centuries. Benedict XVI states that "underdevelopment [is] not due to chance or historical necessity, but... attributable to human responsibility. This is why 'the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance'...Paul VI had a keen sense of the importance of economic structures and institutions, but he had an equally clear sense of their nature as instruments of human freedom." (n. 17)

Since in Brazil we talk about "gorwth", the Pope recalls that "Paul VI had an articulated vision of development. He understood the term to indicate the goal of rescuing peoples, first and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy. From the economic point of view, this meant their active participation, on equal terms, in the international economic process; from the social point of view, it meant their evolution into educated societies marked by solidarity; from the political point of view, it meant the consolidation of democratic regimes capable of ensuring freedom and peace." (n. 21)

Benedict XVI then criticizes neoliberalism: "Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty...Yet it must be acknowledged that this same economic growth has been and continues to be weighed down by malfunctions and dramatic problems, highlighted even further by the current crisis. This presents us with choices that cannot be postponed concerning nothing less than the destiny of man, who, moreover, cannot prescind from his nature. The technical forces in play, the global interrelations, the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing, large-scale migration of peoples, often provoked by some particular circumstance and then given insufficient attention, the unregulated exploitation of the earth's resources: all this leads us today to reflect on the measures that would be necessary to provide a solution to problems that are not only new in comparison to those addressed by Pope Paul VI, but also, and above all, of decisive impact upon the present and future good of humanity...The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time." (n. 21)

The encyclical reports that "[t]he world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of 'superdevelopment' of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. 'The scandal of glaring inequalities' continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones. Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries." (n. 22)

And some people think that liberation theology is dead...Not only is it still alive but now it can even be found in papal documents.

LEONARDO BOFF: The Pope Lacks a Bit of Marxism

In Pope Benedict XVI's new July 7th encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, the Church sets forth her position on the present crisis. A prophetic text charged with urgency is called for, given all the crises that affect humanity and severely threaten the life system and its future.

But that is not what we received. Instead, we got a long and detailed reflection on most of our present problems, ranging from the economic crisis to tourism, from biotechnology to the environmental crisis, and projections about a globalized world government.

The genre is not prophetic which "would presuppose a concrete analysis of a concrete situation" and would make it possible to pass judgment on the problems in view, in a denunciation-announcement form. But it is not in the nature of this Pope to prophesize.

He is a doctor and a teacher. He elaborates the official position of the Magisterium, whose perspective comes not from below, from the real and conflictive life, but from above, from an orthodox doctrine that softens the contradictions and minimizes conflicts. The dominant tone is not of analysis, but of ethics, of what should be.

Since it does not analyze the extremely complex, present reality, the magisterial statement sticks to principles, to balancing, and defines itself by what it does not define. The subtext of the text, that which is not said in what is said, betrays a theoretic innocence that unconsciously assumes the functional ideology of the dominant society.

It is already noticeable in the central topic — development — the subject of so much criticism now for not taking into account the ecological limits of the Earth. The encyclical says nothing about this. Its view is that the world system is fundamentally right. What exists are dysfunctions, not contradictions.

The diagnosis suggests the following cure, similar to that of the G-20: rectifications but not changes, improvements but not a change of paradigm, reforms but not liberations. It is the imperative of the teacher: "correct"; not the imperative of the prophet: "convert".

Reading the text, long and heavy, we end up thinking: How good a dose of Marxism would be for the current Pope! Marxism, starting from the oppressed, has the merit of unmasking the contradictions present in the system today, bringing to light the conflicts of power, and denouncing the uncontrolled voracity of the market society: competitive, consumerist, non-cooperative and unjust.

It represents a social and structural sin that sacrifices millions on the altar of production for unlimited consumption. This should be prophetically denounced by the Pope. But he does not do that.

The text of the Magisterium, blithely out of and above the present conflictive situation, is not as ideologically "neutral" as it claims to be. It is a text that propagates the prevailing system, one that makes everyone suffer, especially the poor. It is not a question of whether or not this is what Benedict XVI wants, but it is the structural logic of his magisterial discourse. By renouncing a serious critical analysis, he pays a high price in theoretical and practical inefficacy. He does not innovate, he repeats.

And thus he misses an enormous opportunity to address humanity at a dramatic moment in history, from the symbolic capital of transformation and hope that is contained in the Christian message.

This Pope does not value the new heaven and the new Earth that could be brought forward through human efforts; he only knows this decadent life, unsustainable in itself (his cultural pessimism), and the eternal life and the heaven that will come. He thus distances himself from the great biblical message that has revolutionary political consequences, when it affirms that the final utopia of the Kingdom of justice, love and liberty will only be achieved to the degree those virtues are built up and brought forward among us, within the limits of historical space and time.

Curiously, though making abstractions out of recurrent theological notions ("only through Christian charity is integral development possible"), when he "forgets" the magisterial tone in the final part of the encyclical, he talks of sensible things, such as the reform of the UN, the new international economic-financial architecture, the concept of World Common Good and the inclusive relationship of the human family.

To paraphrase Nietzsche: "How much critical analysis is the Magisterium of the Church capable of incorporating?"

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