Friday, August 31, 2012

Teresa Forcades: The VilaWeb interview

By Montserrat Serra (English translation by Rebel Girl)
VilaWeb (in Catalan)

We interviewed theologian Teresa Forcades in depth (see video below). In these turbulent times, full of confusion, Forcades offers a didactic discourse and her own ideas, and is making herself heard. A few days ago, she gave the inaugural lecture at the Trobada Empresarial al Pirineu. She, who puts herself in the liberation theology camp, opposes the bank bailout, proposes a change in the economic system, calls for the imprisonment of the managers of Goldman Sachs ... She also talks about some of the more controversial issues that appear in the book Converses amb Teresa Forcades ("Conversations with Teresa Forcades" - DAU Edicions) -- homosexuality, euthanasia, and abortion -- within Christian principles. The theologian is particularly sharp at the end of the interview when talking about abortion and how she was questioned by the Vatican, which sanctioned her three years ago.

How was the inaugural lecture at the Trobada Empresarial al Pirineu? It seems a good sign that business people want to listen to you.

This is a gathering of business people, the most important one in Catalonia, I think. This year about six hundred people participated -- not all business people, I think --there were three hundred or so entrepreneurs. There were many small and medium entrepreneurs. My position is absolutely pro business, but not capitalist business -- that's how it could be summarized. Here in the monastery, we're business people. We have a pottery workshop and shop, and we can't keep up with the orders and have an outside person who works there. We pay that person a salary. This is having a business. I wish this were a possibility for everyone -- taking initiatives and having a space to turn into a business (a store, a workshop ... whatever you want). So, I'm not imagining an 'ideal society' where the state tells you what you can and can't do, for example. But it's one thing to advocate for the room to exercise one's own capacities and another to put together a "company" (we need a new name for this ...) under capitalism. What does the capitalist framework mean to me? So in this lecture, I summarized it in three aspects.

One is agreeing that there is something called a market and that it is free. To me, this is a lie because throughout history, the market has never been free. It has always been regulated in favor of certain interests -- royalty, protectionist interests, the ruling class, the dominant entrepreneurs of the day, the relatives of the rulers of the day ... And today, the WTO -- the World Trade Organization -- which already in 1994 was managing to hinder a number of emerging economies that could become competition, for example. There's regulation. So therefore, what free market are we talking about today? On the other hand, there are no taxes on financial capital, there's an increase in legislation on labor mobility (immigration), etc.. Thinking that we can put our notion of business in a so-called "free market" context is hypocritical; it's a fallacy. This is the first thing I wanted to discredit.

The second, which is very important, is what we would call the "global framework" of the business or company activity, what in capitalism is called "the maximum profit". That is, the best way to encourage people, their creativity, economic activity, and ultimately, growth ... is that the maximum benefit? This is absurd, from the anthropological and human point of view. So I ask myself, if they don't show me some cash, I don't move? I don't think that's true. But beyond having the basic needs covered, money isn't what stimulates me. Intellectual curiosity stimulates me, the challenge of having potential and finding someone to help you put it into practice, that colleagues appreciate you, that the work you do is valued, that you see the work changing people's lives for the better. There are many things we value more than being shown the bucks. For me, money isn't the greatest incentive. So why can't I think that it isn't for my neighbor either? And if it isn't for me or for my neighbor, maybe for the whole society, the real interest lies elsewhere. Well, why not create a society based on this, based on what we really like? It's so basic but so important! The global framework might not be the one of greatest profit. Here we have something called the welfare state or, until now, we had to acknowledge that there was a criterion for the highest benefit, which was to ensure some basic services, recognizing that there are human rights, and that this is beyond the market and profit. It was the right to education, right to health care, right to pensions, the right to food ... This is already putting our human and business activity in a somewhat more humane context than the one of greatest profit.

Because it seems to me that capitalism isn't ethical. First, because of the lie of the free market. Second, because it tries to force our activity within a framework in which it doesn't belong, the one of maximum profit. The third critique I'm going to raise is the Marxist critique of surplus value: I build a company, the one we have at the monastery, and it turns out that I can hire an outsider to make ceramics for us and I pay him one euro, and I earn thousands from his work. Capitalism says, "bravo, how well you've done!". This is outrageous. This goes against the dignity of work. So I think that that Marxist critique has to be restored in all of its philosophical and anthropological importance of saying "look, I come to work with you; we are collaborating. And this partnership might take different forms, but it can't go beyond the one that is the recognition of my dignity as a worker. It can't be that you earn thousands of euros with my work and I receive one. Although we have made a contract. Because, of course, maybe it's fine that I earn one and you earn four, or ten, if you want, but not a thousand! It's very simple, but just this, that you now limit or prevent these abhorrent differences that have existed particularly over the last forty years, that have increased in a way never known before in history, differences between the rich and poor of the world.

Is reexamining the business world from these three parameters proposing a change in the system?

I think so. Sometimes it seems like to suggest a change, we have to to be clear what we want to organize as an alternative. And partly that's fine, but it's also partly a limitation. Precisely because what we know is that we don't want things to continue as before. And this new society, we have to create it together. And this is what I have also experienced in the area of Central America, where they don't talk about socialism -- which they know exactly what it is -- but this 'Bolivarian socialism', which has had such important consequences for the poverty index of the country. There, precisely, what I liked when I went there is that they open up the possibility of thinking about society in a different way, and not that some guru is coming to give you a ready-made solution. What is certain is that we don't have to tolerate a system that clearly hurts the majority, and in such a brutal manner in recent times. From here, let's trust that we can do it together, as they did in Iceland, the new constituent assembly, and give ourselves some, say, governing bodies that are able to meet the needs of people, and from there take a path that will require many adjustments and that we don't have to present as if it were already made. The question I would like to put on the table is: who taught us not to trust ourselves, that we can't organize ourselves better, noting, as we have noted, that the current way is, I would say, so clearly contrary to the interests of the majority?

When I say 'very clearly', what's behind this? So, for example, what Jean Ziegler, vice president of the advisory commission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, doctor of economics and law, says. This person is telling us, with data on the table, that in the world today, food is being produced for 12 billion people. And in the world there are currently 6 billion people, or a few more. And in the world there are 1 billion people going hungry, of whom 37 million die each year. Every day, 26,000 children die; every 5 seconds of this interview, a child dies of hunger. Ziegler calls this "calculated murder". Because it is completely avoidable and because it has worsened in recent years, because a specific company, called Goldman Sachs, began to speculate on basic foodstuffs. "Speculate", what does that mean? It means that I purchase all the wheat and keep it. People are starving and I keep it so that the prices go up. And when they've gone up, I say, ah, I have my wheat, I'll sell it for twice as much as before. This has happened, and these gentlemen from Goldman Sachs are sitting in the front rows of the agreements, and they're receiving awards, but they ought to be in jail. As criminals, as the people responsible for this decision. They are directly responsible for deaths. Ziegler called this "murder", and I quote him to cloak myself in an authority.

In this current crisis, who else would you put in jail?

The rulers have that responsibility. I believe in politics. It seems to me that I read in La Vanguardia this "con" [editorial] where there was a Nobel prize winning economist who also spoke to the businessmen's meeting who said, "Man, the worst thing you can do is leave the economy in the hands of the politicians." He said that the solution is to create these entities other than the turnover of parties, representation by parties, elected governments, democracy. He cited the U.S. Federal Reserve and the German Bundesbank, which don't depend on the minister of the economy, but have their independence. But, of course, if you start thinking, you might say "of course, corrupt politicians, we don't like them; they're always doing what they want ..." But listen, they're the only ones who you can choose! The others, who chooses them? That Nobel prize winner in economics, he didn't tell us that. Who chooses them and to whom do they have to answer? If they don't answer to the government, which is the only thing that answers to the people, theoretically, who do they answer to? Put in real terms, I mean to say that they get out from under democratic control and into that other circuit controlled by God knows who. But if it's not democratic, we have to say no from the start. It's the opposite of democracy. And at the same time we have these anti-capitalist or anti-system movements or 15-M movements, etc.., that if any accusation has been made against them, when they delegitimize the current government, it's that they're anti-democratic. This is a very big contradiction, because what these movements are saying precisely is that they want more democracy. Real democracy, and that it can't be that you have to go on accepting as legitimate a government that promised you one thing and after it's elected, does another. This weakens it democratically. If the government can't do it willingly, because there have been periods in the past when if they couldn't deliver, they resigned. Now we don't remember, but it was normal behavior for a ruler who respected himself. Now the rulers don't do it, and what these movements are raising is: "we are creating social pressure because a government that lies can't continue to rule." And I think this is vital and it's the exercise in democracy that we have to have. We must take responsibility for this democracy. We can't just say, "it's that the politicians have done wrong ..." If they've done wrong to the extent of betraying an electoral promise, then we must not allow it.

People are voting for the left (Syriza in Greece, the Socialists in France) but also for the extreme right. How do you analyze the situation in Europe?

Here I would believe in not glossing things over. The situation has reached such a degree that reform isn't saying "ok, we're more or less maintaining the present system we have, but we're trying -- I don't know -- for there not to be so many cuts, for example." No, I don't think we do so well that way. We have to become aware. Obviously, whenever I speak of a social reaction, I'm talking about an absolutely peaceful reaction. Not only because of my own conviction but, moreover, because if we're made to act with violence, we already know who wins. This is clear to me. So, as much due to conviction as to strategy, it should be absolutely peaceful and powerful at the same time. And "forceful" means if there's a general strike, it's not a one-day general strike, but a week, a one month general strike ... that is, the country stops. It stops until the government, peacefully, must recognize that it can't govern anymore. A country thas has declared itself on a serious general strike is ungovernable. Not one day, but indefinitely, until the social contract is renegotiated again.

I think this "renegotiating" of the social contract happens through the "dismantling" of the capitalist framework as we understand it now. And renegotiating a new one which prioritizes the needs of the population. And there's no expert who can convince me that it's not possible. We must know that it's possible to build a just society. And we know that we now have to make giant strides, and at increased speed, because we are entering a kind of cul-de-sac that will be hard for us to get out of afterwards. And by cul-de-sac I mean these cuts that are linked to a debt, which is a debt for you and for the generations to come, and that it's a debt that we don't have to accept. Ziegler tells us clearly, "Spain doesn't accept the debt." And the rescue becomes a euphemism. Needless to make me pay, because I don't accept this debt, because the debt isn't mine. Moreover, they're telling me they're doing me a favor when they know it has its downside. You agree to a series of fiscal targets, such as the deficit being below 3%, etc., that are also questionable from the standpoint of economic theory and economic practice. This isn't the best way to make the country get ahead.

But the bailout might save the savings of many families in modest circumstances.

Sure, but this is the trap. Look, just the money that they're now going to give for the Bank bailout, distributed among the population, already saves the savings of many families in modest circumstances. So give it back to us. They already said with the first bailout that this was what it was going to do, that it's going to assume some expenditure of public funds, that if they had been distributed, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in. Now we're back. So we don't believe them now, because if not the third... Because Greece, how many bailouts has it had already? And Portugal? This isn't over.

It isn't true that we're in a time where there's no money. There is. What's happening is that it's increasingly badly distributed. What we need are long-term strategies that will make this better, because if not, what happened to Third World countries with foreign debt is, I think, the most illustrative example of what can happen to us: a country that is rushing to produce and that allocates an increasing percentage of its gross domestic product to pay the debt, but only manages to pay the interest on the debt. Thus, you have an inability to prosper in that country, and also the debt grows more and more each year.

Where are you ideologically? Can we put a label on you?

Look, I don't know if we can put one -- Christian, I would say. Christianity isn't an ideology, but I would like the gospel to be what inspires my words. And that word from the New Testament, which is "parrhesia", from the Greek, which is translated as "freedom of spirit." So I began my speech to the business people talking about mental alienation, what it represents. That we're a society that's unable to imagine an alternative to the economic system in which we live, I think is a alarming sign. It's one thing that we have the ability to imagine the alternative but it doesn't interest us, that we don't find it adequate; but I would say that there's a general inability to imagine an alternative today. We remain blocked, seized by fear, seized by mistrust. It's interesting to study this fact from the psychological point of view, because it's the most important weapon to impede social progress.

This has also happened with women, for example. For many years, most women, despite living in a situation where they lacked basic rights (most women in the world still lack them now), suffered from a great inability to imagine a society where men and women could have an egalitarian relationship. There are many women (I think the majority on the planet today) that don't allow themselves this, that it isn't possible for them at this time. Why? Because if it were possible, they would change quickly, wouldn't they?

The same thing happens with independence. I don't know if we should be independent or not in Catalonia, but it must be possible to imagine it -- this is obvious, because it has happened earlier in history, because there are smaller countries, and because now it's starting to be possible for many people. But for many people in this country, it's still impossible to imagine it. There's a block; the screen goes blank. Whenever the screen goes blank, it's a sign of alarm, a warning sign. It's as if for me, a nun who lives in a convent, it would be impossible to imagine a life for myself outside the convent. This would also be a sign of alarm. It would be a different thing if I were to say, "Yes, I can imagine it, but I prefer this life I'm living." But if I can no longer even imagine an alternative, I think that's a sign of mental alienation. I think that, at the societal level, it isn't strange that we have this mental alienation because this is how the blocking of social renewal works.

Would you put yourself within the liberation theology framework?

Yes, of course, and in fact the latest influence I have received is from the writings of philosopher Enrique Dussel. I met him recently at Cristianisme i Justícia. He was talking about the philosophy of liberation, and how he had had a personal experience that led him to delve into Marx's theories and to read Marx from the perspective of the gospels. Although he calls it philosophy, he also has formation that started in liberation theology. He analyzes those theses from a philosophical point of view and makes them specific, for example, that there's a whole current that comes to us from the Greek environment, where we find ourselves in front of reality as if the basic relationship were subject-object. From a subjective point of view, we look at what is objective. And here we have science, and here we have a series of epistomologies and theories of knowledge that help us advance, and they would be from this classical environment that begins in Greece. But Dussel and other contemporary authors talk about a different way of looking at the world as a basic framework. Is the subject-object relationship the basic framework that underlies our worldview? Or, perhaps, shouldn't it be the Semitic -- and therefore also biblical -- proposition of a subject-subject relationship, which is interesting? And in that faceoff, subjectivity is at stake, some dignity comes into play. They are very different dimensions from the subject-object relationship. It's different if at the basis of our thinking there's the subject-object relationship, or there's the subject-subject relationship. But what is that which defines us, or allows us to structure thinking? I don't know if I've explained myself, with that, but I would like to contribute it as one of these views, the consequences of which are very different.

Can positive elements be drawn from this crisis?

We can draw positive elements from it because we have them. This is what we are, positiveness. We're energy, intelligence, and the possibility of thinking about things in a more consistent way. But I'm not sure about what they say, that when a crisis comes, we come out better. Watch out -- or worse! The rise of social fascism...Now we could say that what we have is social fascism. That's what a sociologist named De Sousa says about Brazil. He talks about social fascism because he says that the ideology that's settling in is based on not touching the privileges of the rich because they invest, but you can squeeze the poor as you wish because they won't react. The name that best suits this business is social fascism. Because now it's assumed that the best system is the one that treats people differently according to the social class to which they belong. If they have money, their whims have to be respected. If they don't, you can run over them. There will be some percentage of the population that must be sacrificed. Thatcher said it, with her famous two-thirds society: to win the election you only need two-thirds. So the other third, you can forget about them. Because if you try to govern for everybody, you risk losing the election. And from here, that's how we have the world put together, except that it's not two-thirds but the majority that ended up being sacrificed.

Can the situation still get worse?

Yes, I think so. Without being alarmist, but right now, the predictions I know are not that we have hit bottom. It will get worse, because this is how it has been in other countries, such as Greece, that we're close to. So as we are standing in this channel or in this path of progressive indebtedness, of "privatizing the profits, socializing the losses," as the anti-capitalists say, so when there are benefits, they're private. As for the bank bailout, how can it be that the banks have made profits? These same banks that we rescued! How can it be that their directors have gotten premium bonuses? How can it be that the shareholders have earned money? If this is true, it's a straight up scam!

That's what we've done and continue doing to Third World countries: for every dollar of aid we give, ten dollars come north in terms of foreign debt. So how can we keep saying that we're transferring aid money from north to south? In fact, we're robbing the south of nine out of every ten dollars they supposedly produce. I think our situation could get worse. I wouldn't be satisfied with saying that since we have arrived at a serious crisis, an opportunity will come out of this. No, social fascism could come out automatically, political fascism could come out, an increase in rights could come out. Anything could come out, a war could come out.

Now it's true that now, in the crisis situation -- and before, when we didn't have it, and later, when we have it worse -- a positive reaction is always possible, a constructive one, that believes it's possible for us to collectively organize ourselves in a nicer, fairer, more caring way, more beneficial to the whole population. I'm thinking of the example of Iceland. There are people who say, "yes, but Iceland is small." Let them explain to me why the fact of being small makes Iceland able to do it and us, not. On the contrary, Iceland was frightened, saying, "I'm small and therefore I won't survive alone if they isolate us economically." And for the moment it seems like things are going quite well for them. That's another example that inspires. There have been examples throughout history, those countries in Central America that I think we have to look at and study with new eyes. Because information comes to us here through media that aren't neutral, that have interests. I also explain the example of the Catalan situation, as I've been able to note that it's experienced in different areas of Spain. The example I raise is Seville, because I have some friends there who say, "Catalonia is good; too bad one can't speak Spanish." And, of course, you who live here, and you're seeing things. And I say, "Listen to me, most people speak Spanish in Catalonia, normally as well, that that's our problem." So they don't believe it. And they live four handspans from here. On the map it's about four centimeters. And they don't believe it. Why? Because the reality of the media has this force. And that's why this state of affairs, where I speak of alienation and how it's so difficult to imagine alternatives and we feel an inner insecurity. This has to do with a message that is being repeated and condensed as if it were true.

In the book "Converses amb Teresa Forcades" you often adopt a position contrary to the message of the Vatican. On homosexuality, for example. What is "queer" theory?

"Queer" is an English word. It seems that this word was used in the 90s in the London area as an insult against homosexual people. The most literal translation would be "creuat" or "travessat" [sic]. So that you understand, like when a homosexual person here is called "invertit" ("inverted"), that they go in the direction that one's not supposed to. Certain English homosexual activists took that word and changed it, adopted it as a positive word: "yes, yes, you call us 'queer' because we 'cross' or we're 'cutting across' the established categories, the established lanes. You're absolutely right, but it turns out that, instead of being something to be denounced or criticized, it's a good thing. And now it's something that we'll try to demonstrate to what extent it is necessary to society."

Learn to recognize these first tracks into which each person is supposed to insert themselves and to recognize the damage that does to the recognition of the specific freedom, the character, that each individual has in order to be unique. And that we can imagine an alternative socialization, one that can be conceived according to some unique potential. Obviously, this is like nobody's fundamental utopia, but it's that this is how we have to think about socialization. And then, it's enough that there's some inertia in the structure of the paths and one is not supposed to jump from one to the other, etc. But we must realize that if we want to create the best possible society, we must let that confidence to break new ground be learned already from childhood. And then this can be translated into gender channels, because it happens that masculinity and femininity can be experienced as labels that determine behavior in adult life, or they can be experienced as circumstances that also allow much greater variation. And there have always been people who don't fit into the stereotypical definitions. What's interesting is not just to say "OK, there have always been so, very well, make a little house for them and let them be there," but to say "listen, these people help us to understand that in some way none of us fits neatly. What happens is that there are some of us who are still dissimulating. And as such we make it look like we do fit neatly into the gender stereotypes." But there are people who, as hard as they try, don't fit because they were born a certain way that makes it impossible for them to fit. So, as I said, the grace of "queer" theory is that it says "very well then, instead of tolerating them and putting them in a box aside or discriminating against them as certain fundamentalists do, and persecuting them and punishing them, and even killing them, as has happened throughout history, no, we invite them to teach us something essential about who we are. Because, in fact, it's not appropriate to put any of us in a prefabricated box. And, as such, it helps us to think about ourselves in more open categories.

A great theory against xenophobia.

In fact I was teaching a course on "queer" theology with Professor Ulrike Auga at the school of theology at the University of Berlin for a semester. We took "queer" theory and made it dialogue with basic Christian anthropology. Because in Christianity, from its roots in the gospels, we find a view of the person that does not allow for categorization. Because when Jesus already tells us "people are above the law", some affirmations begin that, if you go on stretching them, have a radicality that gets to the postulates of "queer" theory, without forcing it. You say you can't make a specific person get over some stereotypes or social expectations. You have to allow the person to surprise you and get out of the established channels. And this, far from being something painful to bear, is a blessing for all. Because that's what it's about, discovering life with constant creativity, with the ability to remake oneself in a new way, and get out of routines, and all that. I think this is the grace of life. There are many people today who are "disenchanted". For many people, life isn't very exciting. Except for a few moments, when you fall in love or have some special experiences. Therefore that can't be it. From a Christian perspective, life is a gift from God and is a source of constant profound joy. Why? Because it's positive in itself.

In the book, you also talk about euthanasia and the dignity of dying painlessly. Another controversial issue in the Church.

Yes, I think the basic distinction here is between that proclamation of the sacredness, that fundamental value. The sacredness of life, of the sacredness of life and as such that joie de vivre which should be our daily experience. But sometimes life brings you circumstances that are intolerable for you. Then what I think is that from a Christian point of view you have to proclaim the possibility that this will turn around and that you can live in peace under this circumstance that might overwhelm you at first. Even find a motive that gives it meaning. Now, I think this can't be imposed by the state. And if, after proclaiming all the good things in life, there are people who say, "Yes, but I want to commit suicide" -- obviously that possibility is there -- ultimately it's the person's decision. This is clear.

What happens with euthanasia is that you ask me to help you commit that suicide. The critical part that I put in the book is about real cases. Within a socio-economically unjust society such as the one we have today, in practice it leads to situations like the one I explain about this family -- a hypothetical one, but based on real cases -- with a not especially sick grandfather, not particularly in pain, but now an elderly man who has completed his life, and a young woman of eighteen who can't go to university because the family doesn't have any money. And the grandfather is aware that part of that money is being spent on his maintenance and on his medicines or the care he needs. That grandfather might decide for them to apply euthanasia to him because this would be a gift to his granddaughter. "I will give my granddaughter the possibility of going to university." But obviously, if you look at this from the standpoint of social justice, it's an aberration. It allows there to be pressure on the most vulnerable members of a family. With the precarity in our contemporary society, legislation that favors euthanasia like they have in the Netherlands, for example, becomes undue pressure on the most vulnerable in practice.

But you also talk about the case of the disconnection of a person who was being kept alive artificially and without the possibility of healing.

Of course, because this is the removal of extraordinary measures. It seems essential to distinguish it. If a person says to you, "if I go into cardiac arrest I don't want them to resuscitate me." It's the right of every person to say "that cardiac massage, I don't need them to do it to me. I want to live until my heart says enough. And if it says enough, even if it's still reversible, it's okay, I'm going to heaven or wherever I imagine people go after they die." This is perfectly legitimate. And it's different from saying that I'm a person who has no reason or any cause of imminent death, but I've decided that I've now had enough, and so I ask the state, society, to execute my wish because it's hard for me to commit suicide or it's easier for me for them to do it to me. This is a very important ethical distinction.

You defend public medicine with all the conviction in the world.

Obviously, and with facts that demonstrate its greater effectiveness and its greater quality. That is, wherever there have been public systems of universal coverage that were not dependent on economic interests, there has been quality medicine, as we had in our country until recently, that was ranked no.7 by WHO in 2000. The United States was number 34, and Germany, with a mixed system, was number 25. We must be very aware of what it means to "dismantle public health." Many people already know what it means, because they have suffered in their own flesh.

In Catalonia, the first cutbacks have been concentrated in health care and teaching.

This goes back to what I said at the beginning. One could say, "man, where's she going to stop with these opinions?" So those opinions are the logical consequence of this. We aren't talking about things that could happen; it's that they've already happened. There are already people who can't get an operation; there are already people who, when they get the tests, it will be too late; there are already people whose ambulatory care center has been closed, whose hospital has been closed, and that if they have a heart attack will arrive dead, or with some consequences of cerebral hypoxia, that if they hadn't dismantled those services, wouldn't have happened. It's that serious. Hence the forcefulness I called for at the beginning, completely peaceful as a matter of principle and of strategy. With violence, they will surely win; on the other hand, with peaceful resistance, with a general strike -- peaceful and ongoing, with basic solidarity so that nobody is lacking potatoes and bread in their home, I think we still have the savings to do it, this general strike. If we let more time go by, there might be people who can't bear a month in their home, of general strike, without a penny.

With these ideas you put forth, has there never been any admonition from the Vatican?

Yes, I have had an admonition, but not for the political or socioeconomic ideas, nor for the influenza A matter, but on the issue of abortion. When I was speaking about abortion, some complaints came from Rome. I also explain this in the book. An admonition that demanded that I make a public retraction. I think the ideas I've expressed, also with respect to abortion, are not contrary to the essence of Christian theology. I'm aware that they're contrary to certain statements of the current teaching. But it's that those statements aren't dogmatic, meaning that they've changed throughout history. And it means, as such, that a Catholic theologian -- and any Catholic believer -- can express reasonable doubt with respect to abortion. This must be done in a respectful way and without thinking that you have the whole truth, because it seems to me that this is the correct way to do it and I, at least, on more than one occasion, have realized that something I believed later proved not to be the whole truth. Therefore, it isn't hard for me to do this. But it is hard for me to accept that there are things that can't be talked about, depending on the issue. I don't think it's good for our, or any, institution to allow this.

On the subject of abortion my position is clear: respect for life, from conception to the grave, is basic to any religious -- and I would say, human -- perspective. You don't decide if in the first week something is nothing and in the second one, it's a child. And someone else would say in the fourth [week]. What does that mean? And it happens that with an embryo you can make cosmetics and you can make vaccinations. This is an ethical possibility that at least demands a wider debate in society. And I believe that this respect for human life from the first moment is essential, as I said, to the religious outlook. Very well, this is one thing. But there's another. There's another essential value. Within the religious perspective, there's the "non-instrumentalization" of the person. You can't grab [someone] and say, "if I grab a person and take out their lungs, take out their kidneys, take out their liver, I'll save three." No, people aren't counted like potatoes, they don't come in kilos. Each person has a dignity that in theology, ever since the philosophy of Kant -- and much earlier, makes us see them as "unique." As in "non-instrumentalizable". This means that we have a fundamental principle that is self-determination, and another that is the right to life. When those two principles collide, we have the correct framework to talk about it because abortion is a bioethical problem. Then we could say, ok, but whenever the right to life and the right to self-determination collide, the Catholic Church says that the right to life has to come out on top. OK, so I think there's an example where these two rights collide and the Catholic Church today (not the one of a few years ago or the one I dream of) says the right to self-determination comes first. And what is that example? You have a father who has a child who needs a kidney transplant, because otherwise he will die. It happens that the father has a compatible kidney. Is the Church ready to force that father to give that kidney to the child and excommunicate him otherwise? No. It would say, "it's splendid that the father gives the kidney, but it's his decision. And if he doesn't give the kidney, he isn't excommunicated from the Church." And so why the woman who has an abortion? That's my example. This is my reasonable doubt about the Magisterium. This is what I asked in writing, and it went to Rome and there has been no response as of yet. And it's been three years. A door has been opened here, because it goes beyond a father. In a Catholic community we see each other as brothers and sisters. So, as a member of a Catholic community, if there's a brother or sister in the community who needs a kidney, why can't the Church force me to give it? Or why doesn't the Church want the state to be able to force me to give it?

And the other point I'm making is to say that today, donating a kidney isn't a joke, because donating a kidney has a lower mortality and morbidity than pregnancy. Pregnancies aren't a joke. You can die from a pregnancy. There are clear cases, and it's the problem that feminists in Ecuador and Nicaragua are denouncing -- that the Catholic church today, even in cases of death of the mother, prevents one from having an abortion. So, this is a scandalous situation. Most bishops are over 70, but today you can donate a kidney even if you are over 70. Therefore, nobody can criticize a woman who has an abortion if they haven't first given a kidney to save a human life. That's my position. Many men who have written emails, say that if they could save the life of a child with their body, they would do it, and how come a woman, to whom God gave that gift -- she has that gift -- she doesn't do it? I answer them by saying, "So you can. This is the address, and in the United States alone there are 90,000 people awaiting kidney transplants, of which 4,000 die each year." They don't write me again. There has been no one who has said to me, "Thank you, Sister. I've now done it and here is my certificate." In these pro-life demonstrations, I would make all of them show the certificate. Then, yes, you can legitimately at least, consistently at least, confront a person who doesn't want to give a piece of her body, her life and her time, to save an innocent life. But if you, being able to do it, haven't done it, what right do you have to cast the first stone?

The depth dimension: spirit and spirituality

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)

The human being doesn't just have an outward appearance, which is his expression in body. Nor just interiority, which is his inner psychic universe. He is also equipped with depth, which is his spiritual dimension.

The spirit is not a part of the human being alongside the others. It's the entire human being who, through his conscience, finds himself belonging to a Whole and as an integral part of it. Through the spirit, we have the ability to go beyond mere appearances, what we see, hear, think and love. We can grasp the other side of things, their depth. Things are not just "things." The spirit grasps in them symbols and metaphors of another reality, present in them but not confined to them because it overflows from them on all sides. They recall, point and refer to another dimension, which we call depth.

So, a mountain is not just a mountain. By being a mountain, it conveys the sense of majesty. The sea evokes grandeur, the starry sky, vastness, the deep grooves of an old man's face, the hard struggle for life, and the bright eyes of a child, life's mystery.

It is for the human being, a spirit bearer, to perceive values and meanings and not just list facts and acts. Indeed, what really matters to people isn't so much the things that happen to them but what they mean for their lives and what kind of marking experiences they provided them.

Everything that happens bears a symbolic -- or we could even say, sacramental -- character existentially. Goethe himself finely noted: "All that is transitory is but a sign" (Alles ist nur ein Zeichen Vergängliche). It is for the sign-sacrament to make present a greater transcendent meaning, accomplish it in the individual and make it the object of experience. In this sense, every event reminds us of what we have experienced and nourishes our depth.

So we fill our homes with photos and beloved objects of our parents, grandparents, relatives and friends, of all those who come into our lives and who have meaning to us. It may be the last shirt worn by the father who died of a heart attack at just 54 years of age, the wooden comb of the beloved grandmother who passed away years ago, the dried leaf in a book sent by a lover full of longing. These things aren't just objects; they're sacraments that speak to our depth. They remind us of loved ones or significant events in our lives.

The Spirit enables us to experience nonduality, well described by Zen Buddhism. "You are the world, you are the whole" say the Upanishads of India as the guru points to the universe. Or "you are everything" as many yogis say. "The Kingdom of God (Malkuta d'Alaha or "the Guiding Principles for All") is within you," Jesus declared. These statements refer us to a living experience rather than a simple doctrine.

The basic experience is that we are tied and tied again (religare -- the root of the word "religion") to each other, and all of us to the Original Source. A thread of energy, life and consciousness goes through all beings making them a cosmos rather than chaos, symphony rather than cacophony. Blaise Pascal who, besides being a mathematics genius was a mystic too, said pointedly: "It is the heart which perceives God, not reason" (Pensées, frag. 277). This type of experience transfigures everything. Everything is imbued with veneration and unction.

Religions live on this spiritual experience. They come after it. They express it in doctrines, rituals, celebrations, and ethical and spiritual paths. Their primary function is to create and offer the necessary conditions to enable all people and communities to submerge into the divine reality and achieve a personal experience of the Creator Spirit. Unfortunately many of them have become sick from fundamentalism and doctrinalism that hinder spiritual experience.

This experience, precisely because it's experience and not doctrine, radiates serenity and deep peace, accompanied by the absence of fear. We feel loved, embraced and welcomed into the Divine Bosom. What happens to us, happens to us in His love. Death itself doesn't scare us; we assume it as part of life and as the big alchemical moment of transformation that allows us to be truly in the All, in the heart of God. We need to go through death to live longer and better.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

God's complaint

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 29, 2012

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

A group of Pharisees from Galilee approach Jesus with an attitude of criticism. They don't come alone. They're accompanied by some scribes who have come from Jerusalem, undoubtedly concerned about defending the orthodoxy of the simple peasants of the villages. Jesus' actions are dangerous. It's appropriate to correct them.

They have observed that, in some respects, his disciples don't follow the tradition of the elders. Although they're talking about the disciples' behavior, their question is directed at Jesus since they know that he's the one who has taught them to live with that surprising freedom. Why?

Jesus answers with some words from the prophet Isaiah that illuminate his message and actions very well. We should listen attentively to these words with which Jesus totally identifies, since they touch on something very fundamental in our faith. According to the prophet, this is God's complaint.

"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." This is always the risk of any religion: worshipping God with the lips, repeating formulas, reciting psalms, uttering beautiful words, while our hearts "are far from Him." However, the worship that pleases God is born from the heart, from inner commitment, from that private center of the individual from which our decisions and plans are born.

"The worship they give me is empty." When our hearts are far from God, our worship is empty. It lacks life, sincere listening to the Word of God, love of brothers and sisters. Religion becomes something external that's practiced out of habit, but where the fruits of a life that is faithful to God are missing.

"The doctrines they teach are human precepts." In every religion there are traditions that are "human." Norms, customs, devotions that have arisen to live out religiosity in a given culture. They can do a lot of good. But they also do a lot of harm when they distract us and alienate us from the Word of God. They should never take precedence.

After the quotation from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus sums up his thoughts with some very serious words: "You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition." When we cling blindly to human traditions, we run the risk of forgetting the commandment to love and going astray from following Jesus, the Word of God incarnate.

In the Christian faith, Jesus and his call to love always come first. Only then do our human traditions come, however important they may seem to us. We must never forget what is essential.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Liberating Spirituality

Sr. Marilú Rojas Salazar is a member of the Misioneras de Santa Teresa de Lisieux congregation in Mexico. She has a doctorate in systematic theology from the Catholic University of Louvain and is a professor of theology at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Puebla. She will be leading a workshop on " Liberation Theology and Spirituality" at the Congresso Continental de Teologia in Brazil in October.

By Marilú Rojas Salazar (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The Intercontinental Theology Congress which will take place in São Leopoldo, Brasil and the end of which is to keep the spirit of Vatican II alive, awakens a great hope for new understanding and projection of a liberating spirituality able to respond to the challenges of a reality that urgently demands ecojustice ethics.

We Catholic women on the American continent are aware that the phenomenon of poverty (the feminization of poverty), the new "ecological holocaust", violence, the violations of everyone's human rights, and so many other realities that directly affect women, children, indigenous peoples and the environment, are keeping us in a situation of slavery.

This reality demands of us a response from a deep and radical spirituality to the following of Jesus, able to transform these realities. This is why the participation of women in said conference is vitally important to the life of the Latin American Church, which is largely composed of women.

There is an urgent need to rethink spirituality from the ecological paradigm and restore the tradition of the mystics who developed a spirituality based on a theology of creation. This theology of creation takes its inspiration in the awareness of the trinitarian indwelling of God in all the realities that surround us for the well-being of all beings and, as such, in the recognition of the human being (man-woman), of his/her being as a creature and not as servant and master, since the latter leads to the logic of dominion and exploitation that impedes a harmonious relationship of respect, justice, and the recognition of the dignity of other beings.

The prophetic spirituality that has characterized the Latin American Church is finding new channels and paradigms of expression in its journey. These new channels are: an ethical spirituality of ecojustice, interculturality as the road to dialogue and mutual enrichment of the various religious traditions and expressions, inclusivity from the perspective of women, among others.

This globalized, empoverished and violent world urgently needs an ecumenical spirituality that unites its efforts to respond to the Christian prophetic challenge that this change of era demands. The ecumenical expression of spirituality will lead us to maintain the firm hope that "another world is possible." The active and committed hope of liberating spirituality will prevent falling into the meaninglessness and apocalyptic pessimism typical of the influx of various spiritualist movements.


Articles by Marilu Rojas Salazar:

Monday, August 27, 2012

The perspective of cosmic evolution gives us hope back

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)

Let's forget our normal view of things for a moment and try to read our current crisis in the context of cosmic time. Maybe we would understand it better then, and we would relativize it and rise above it because of hope.

Cosmic time

Let's imagine that the roughly 13 billion year history of the universe has been condensed into a single century. Each "cosmic year" would be equivalent to one hundred thirteen million Earth years.

From this point of view, the Earth was born in the 70th year of the cosmic century and life appeared in the oceans, to our surprise, a little later in the 73rd year. For nearly two cosmic decades it remained practically limited to unicellular bacteria.

In the 93rd year, a new creative phase began with the onset of sexual reproduction of living organisms. These, along with other forces, were responsible for changing the face of the planet, as they radically transformed the atmosphere, the oceans, the geology of the Earth. This allowed our planet to support more complex life forms. Much of the biosphere is the creation of these microorganisms.

In this new phase, the evolutionary process accelerated rapidly. Two years later, in the 95th year, the first multicellular organisms appeared. A year later, in the 96th, we see the appearance of nervous systems, and in the 97th, the first vertebrate organisms. Mammals appear in mid-98th, that is, two months after the dinosaurs and a huge variety of flowers.

Five cosmic months ago, asteroids started falling on Earth, destroying many species, including the dinosaurs. However, a little later, the Earth, as if it were taking revenge, produced a diversity of life like never before.

It was in this era, when the flowers appeared, that our ancestors entered the stage of evolution. Then they became bipedal (twelve cosmic days ago), and as homo habilis, they began using tools (6 cosmic days ago), while the homo erectus conquered fire (just one cosmic day ago). Twelve cosmic hours ago, modern humans (homo sapiens) emerged.

In the evening and during the night of this first cosmic day, we lived in harmony with nature and alert to its rhythms and dangers. Until forty minutes ago, our presence had had little impact on the biotic community, at which point we began to domesticate plants and animals and develop agriculture. Thereafter, interventions in nature became increasingly intense until, twenty minutes ago, we began to build and inhabit cities.

Only two minutes ago, the impact became really threatening. Europe became a technological society and expanded its power through colonial exploitation. In this phase, the world-plan was formed, creating a center with several peripheries and the gap between rich and poor.

In the last twelve seconds (after 1950), the rate of exploitation and ecological destruction accelerated dramatically. In this short time, we felled nearly half of the great forests. In the next twenty cosmic seconds, the Earth's temperature will rise 0.5°C and soon could rise to 5°C, endangering much of the biosphere and millions of people. In the last five cosmic seconds, Earth has lost an amount of land equivalent to all the arable land in France and China and has been inundated with tens of thousands of new chemicals, many of which are highly toxic, threatening the foundation of life.

We are now destroying 27-100 thousand living species annually. In the next 7 cosmic seconds, some scientists estimate that 20 to 50% of all species will disappear. When will this stop? Why so much devastation?

Answer: so that a small portion of humanity might privately or corporately enjoy the "benefits" of this project of civilization. The richest 20% currently earn two hundred times more than the poorest 20%. At the beginning of 2008, before the current financial and economic crisis, there were 1,125 billionaires who together held $4.4 trillion, that is, roughly double the annual income of the poorest 50%. In terms of income, the richest 1% of mankind received the equivalent of the poorest 57%.

Earth time

Our planet, fruit of over four billion years of evolution is being devoured by a relative human minority. For the first time in the history of the evolution of mankind, the above mentioned problems are being caused by the minority, and also, to a lesser extent, by all of us. The dangers created are putting our future and our way of life in jeopardy.

However, if on the one hand we emphasize the gravity of the crisis, on the other hand, we don't want to project apocalyptic visions that would only cause us paralysis and despair. If these problems have been created by us, they can also be solved by us, even if some are now irreversible. This means that there is hope of solving them satisfactorily.

Indeed, anyone who accompanied the Peoples' Summit last July in Rio de Janeiro or participated in the World Social Forums realizes that there are thousands and thousands of aware and creative people from all over the world who are working on the formulation of practical alternatives that can enable mankind to live in dignity without affecting the health of ecosystems and of Mother Earth.

We have the information and knowledge needed to solve the current crisis. What we lack is activating the emotional and cordial intelligence that arouses saving dreams, solidarity, compassion, feelings of interdependence and universal responsibility in us.

It's important to recognize that all the threats we're facing are symptoms of a chronic cultural and spiritual illness. It affects us all and especially the 20% who consume most of the world's wealth. This crisis forces us to think of a different paradigm of civilization, because the current one is too destructive. It is what we have been writing frequently in our articles.

Times of crisis can also be times of creativity, times in which new visions and new opportunities appear. The Chinese word for crisis, weiji, is the result of combining the characters of danger and opportunity. This is not simply a contradiction or a paradox; the real dangers force us to find the root causes and seek alternatives so as not to waste opportunities.

In our culture, crisis is derived from the Sanskrit kri meaning "to purify and refine". Therefore, it's about a process, certainly painful but highly positive, of purification of our visions, which acts as a crucible of our spiritual and ethical attitudes. Both meanings, Chinese and Sanskrit, are enlightening.

Our time

We need to revisit the sources of wisdom of the many cultures of humanity. Some are ancestral and come to us through the most diverse cultural and spiritual traditions. The category of "living well" of the Andean cultures is essential. Others are more modern such as deep ecology, feminism and eco-feminism, transpersonal psychology and the new cosmology, derived from the science of complexity, astrophysics and new knowledge about life and the Earth.

I close with the testimony of two notable American environmentalists and educators, Macy and Brown, who state: "The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we've actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other." (Macy and Brown, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, New Society Publishers, 1998). This new understanding will enable the long-awaited Great Transformation. It will come by the grace of evolution and God.