Saturday, March 26, 2011

Orthodoxy vs. critical theology

Spanish theologian Juan José Tamayo, professor at the Carlos III University in Madrid and president of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII makes short shrift of Pope Benedict XVI's second volume on Jesus of Nazareth.

by Juan José Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 19, 2011

For thirty years Benedict XVI has been rigidly setting the boundaries between orthodoxy and heterodoxy in Catholic theology in all arenas: seminaries, Catholic universities, schools of theology, research, church publications, and in all settings where Catholicism is in place. He did it first as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position to which he was raised by John Paul II, whom he will beatify on May 1st, as a demonstration of syntony in life and in death. Now, as pope, he continues to define orthodoxy and condemn relativism, which he calls a dictatorship.

He has exercised the magisterial function authoritarily without blinking an eye when it comes time to warn, bring to judgment or sign the convictions of theologians who do not think and feel as he does, be they renowned specialists, colleagues in the conciliar hall, colleagues with whom he has shared teaching, and even students to whom, as a professor, he awarded the highest scores and helped publish their first works. Too bad he hasn't shown the same diligence and determination with the proven cases of recalcitrant pedophilia of priests and religious!

This approach that represses freedom of expression, both academic and in research, flies in the opposite direction of the Second Vatican Council, to which he was a theological adviser, that invited us to exercise "the most acute critical spirit" that frees "religious life from a magical concept of the world and superstitious waste" and provides "a truly personal and active membership in the faith."

Today he is resetting the contours of right doctrine in the second volume of his Christology, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection, which has just appeared with dramatic fanfare, preceded by a leak, by the Vatican, of the chapter that exonerates the Jewish people in Jesus' death. A thesis that is nothing new. It is true that this is not a magisterial statement of dogma, but a theological essay, but it bears the papal mark on the same cover where the double name appears: Benedict XVI Joseph Ratzinger.

The image offered by the Pope is of a Jesus considered and experienced from the faith of the Church and depoliticized, one who passes through the world as over coals without being involved in the social life of His people, who does not constitute a danger to the Roman Empire, who announces a kingdom of God based on the "truth that is in the mind of God" and doesn't set foot in history. A Jesus who neatly separates religion and politics, says Ratzinger, ignoring the results of recent research on the subversive political consequences and destabilizing economic implications of the figure and message of Jesus, whose death, he continues, is not a consequence of His ongoing confrontation with power, but a vicarious self-surrender to reconcile humanity with God. Spiritualization at a rising pitch!

Benedict XVI distances himself from liberal exegesis and mistrusts historical-critical methods, as he did in the first volume published in 2007. He goes on to say that "the quest for the historical Jesus, as conducted in mainstream critical exegesis in accordance with its hermeneutical presuppositions, lacks sufficient content to exert any significant historical impact" (p. 9). But at the same time, and from an unspoken hermeneutic naivete, he says he is trying to "get to the certainty of the true historic figure of Jesus" -- mission impossible, as Albert Schweitzer already demonstrated at the beginning of the 20th century.

The papal Christology mutes the results of research in sociology, archeology, cultural anthropology and social history about the historical Jesus and early Christianity. He discredits the contributions of political theology and theology of revolution. He ignores some of the most important and influential christologies of the second half of the 20th century written by his colleagues such as Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner and Hans Küng. He mutes the reflections of liberation theology on the historical praxis of Jesus which was guided by the option for the poor. He bypasses the gender hermeneutics of feminist theology and remains within patriarchal Christology. The bibliographic references are largely confined to German authors, but very selectively, excluding the creators of political theology and theology of hope, Johan Baptist Metz and Jürgen Moltmann, respectively, and exegetes such as Marxen and Gerd Lüdemann.

The books of Ratzinger-Benedict XVI are now the new church canon to be followed when doing theology, while some of the most important christologies thought out from the perspective of liberation, religious pluralism and research on the historical Jesus are condemned, such as Jesucristo liberador ("Jesus the Liberator") and La fe en Jesucristo ("Christ the Liberator" in English) by Jon Sobrino, Jesus Symbol of God by Roger Haight, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism by Jacques Dupuis, Jesus: An Historical Approximation by José Antonio Pagola, and others. It's the imposition of uniformity of thought over pluralism, dogma over symbol, metaphysics over metaphor, orthodoxy over praxis, Vatican theology over critical theology and, in the end, the Church over Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity turned upside down!

Lessons my hip has taught me

Next week, I'm going into surgery for the third time on my right hip. In 1987, the natural hip was replaced with a new titanium one, ending months of agony and living on anti-inflammatories. Ten years later, the stem portion of the prosthesis loosened and was replaced. Now the hip has dislocated and it's time for an "acetabular revision" -- fixing the cup portion of the prosthesis.

The doctor is quite casual about it: "We'll replace the lining of the cup which has worn out. If the cup has loosened, we'll replace that too. Enlarge the femoral head to make it snugger. Oh, and there's a bit of the trochanter that's broken off and we'll find it and reattach it." "How long's all that gonna take, doctor?" "Oh...about an hour and a half." So simple. I feel like my hip is a car that's being taken in to be serviced.

The first operation was the hardest. I curled up in the hospital bed and threw a pity party for myself. Barely in my 30s, I had lost my natural hip. As far as I was concerned, life was officially over. Then God sent me an angel in the form of a nun who brought me communion. That nun had not one, but three artificial joints, and here she was, making her rounds and ministering to patients. There was life after joint replacement! Several weeks after being discharged, I taught my first ESL class on crutches.

My hip has taught me many things over the years. It has taught me to let go of vanity. I will never look good in a bathing suit with a long hypertrophic scar running down my thigh, but it doesn't stop me from suiting up, plunging in and enjoying myself.

My hip has taught me to be prepared and ahead of time. I can't run for a bus if I'm running late. I have to allow extra time for airport security since the hip sets off the detectors every time. Right now, I also have to be mindful of the hip at all times to make sure I don't put too much weight on it or turn it at an awkward angle that would cause it to dislocate again.

My hip has taught me to solve problems in my household and workplace quickly and through verbal communication because I can't run away from them, literally.

My hip has taught me empathy and patience with those who aren't as quick. I have personally experienced how people with disabilities can be left out -- a circle dance I must withdraw from as the leader steps it up to a pace my hip can't keep up with, so many places that are still not accessible to those of us who are wheeling or crutching, being left alone because I lag behind, those who push and rush to get on the Metro without caring who they run over and (a special place in hell is reserved for them) those able-bodied but self-absorbed folks who will look at someone standing before them with a cane or crutches and still not give up their seat. "Let the rats keep on racing," I think, as I walk slowly and steadily. It's hard, it hurts, this letting go and letting go of the fast lane I used to be part of, but it's good for my soul. It has made me a better human being.

Finally, each hip surgery temporarily turns the tables. I, who glory so much in being the giver, am forced to become the recipient of others' help. We have an illusion of being independent, and hip surgery exposes this pseudo-autonomy for its falseness, forcing us to acknowledge our interdependency, our dependence on others and on God. And -- I comfort myself with this thought -- allowing others to help us raises their self-esteem as they become the givers.

Some Catholics suggest identifying this suffering with Christ's or offering it up as reparation for sin, but that's not my theology. I prefer the words of another priest friend who describes these trials as ways in which God purifies us so that we will eventually become so bright that He will be able to see His image and likeness in us. I'm a practical person and this strikes me as a much more practical theological perspective, a way of making lemonade out of the lemons life tosses at us.

So I'm thankful for the one hip that still functions well, for the prosthetic one that needs fixing, for a practical surgeon, a practical pastor, an inspirational nun, lots of friends who have helped keep my spirits up for the last 24 years and for all the lessons my hip has taught me.

Compassion: The most human of virtues

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Three terrifying scenes -- the earthquake in Japan, followed by a devastating tsunami, the loss of radioactive gases from the affected nuclear plants -- and the landslides that occurred in the highland cities of Rio de Janeiro, have undoubtedly provoked two attitudes in us: compassion and solidarity.

First, compassion bursts forth. Among human virtues, it is perhaps the most human of all, because it not only opens us up to the other as an expression of suffering love, but to the other who is more victimized and mortified. The ideology, religion, social and cultural status of people matter little. Compassion cancels out those differences and makes us lend a hand to the victims. Remaining cynically indifferent shows an utter inhumanity that transforms us into enemies of our own humanity. Faced with the other's misfortune, there is no way not to be the compassionate Samaritans of the biblical parable.

Compassion means taking on the passion of another. It's moving to the other's place to be at his side, to suffer with him, to mourn with him, to feel heartbroken with him. Maybe we have nothing to give him and words die in our throat, but the important thing is to be by his side and not let him suffer alone. Although we are thousands of miles away from our brothers and sisters in Japan and close to our neighbors in the Cariocan hillside towns, their suffering is our suffering, their despair is our despair, the piercing cries they raise to Heaven asking "why, My God, why?" are our piercing screams. And we share the same pain of not receiving any reasonable explanation. And even if there were one, it wouldn't nullify the devastation, would not raise the destroyed houses, or resurrect loved ones, especially the innocent children.

Compassion is something unique: it does not require any prior reflexion, or arguments therefor. It simply imposes itself on us because we are essentially com-passive beings. Compassion in itself refutes the notion of biologist Richard Dawkins's "selfish gene." Or Charles Darwin's assumption that competition and the triumph of the strongest govern the dynamics of evolution. On the contrary: there are no solitary genes, all are inter-retro-connected and we humans are part of countless webs of relationships that make us beings of cooperation and solidarity.

Increasingly, scientists from quantum mechanics, astrophysics and bioanthropology, support the thesis that the supreme law of the cosmogenic process is the intertwining of all with all, and not competition that excludes. The subtle balance of the Earth, thought of as a self-regulating superorganism, requires the cooperation of a number of factors that interact with each other, with the energies of the universe, with the atmosphere, the biosphere and our own system-Earth. This cooperation is responsible for its balance, now disturbed by the excessive pressure that our wasteful consumer society makes on all ecosystems and that is manifested by the widespread ecological crisis.

In compassion there is a meeting of all religions, East and West, of all ethics, of all philosophies and all cultures. In the center is the dignity and authority of those who suffer, provoking active compassion in us.

The second attitude, akin to compassion, is solidarity. It follows the same logic as compassion. We go out to meet the other to save his life, to bring him water, food, shelter and, especially, human warmth. We know from anthropogenesis that we became human when we passed the phase of searching individually for the means of subsistence and started to seek them collectively and distribute them cooperatively among all. What humanized us yesterday, also humanizes us today. That's why it's so touching to see so many people everywhere mobilizing to help the victims and, through solidarity, give them what they need and above all the hope that, despite the misfortune, it is still worth living.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bishop Raul Vera calls for the Church to accept gay people


Mexican Bishop Raul Vera (photo), of the Diocese of Saltillo, northern state of Coahuila, called today for the acceptance of "gays within the Church" and "fighting injustice, defending the poor, human rights and building peace."

The prelate, a proponent of liberation theology, proclaimed the "Diocesan Plan for Pastoral Renewal", which aims to "evangelize and reach out to all the baptized to be imitators of Jesus," including homosexuals. The project "aims to overcome indifference and dehumanization, to get people to be good Christians, to help the needy, prisoners, migrants, the sick, the kidnapped and the disappeared," he said.

Vera insisted on the need to accept "gays and lesbians, who are still discriminated against by society." The bishop, who was formerly in charge of the diocese of San Cristobal in the southern state of Chiapas, stronghold of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, called for promoting "universal values among all people of good will."

"God does not want the death of sinners, but for them to convert and live," he said, quoting a biblical phrase.

The diocesan plan was unveiled before about 10,000 faithful from 18 municipalities.

Mons. Vera has already drawn some flak from conservative Catholics for his support of the Catholic GLBT organization Comunidad San Elredo.