Monday, August 19, 2013

"Continuity and disappointment": Juan Jose Tamayo's thoughts on "Lumen Fidei"

by Juan Jose Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
August 11, 2013

Continuity! It's the word that, after Pope Francis took as his own the encyclical Lumen Fidei, written almost entirely by Benedict XVI, best expresses the transition from the "Benedictine" to the "Franciscan" pontificate, both in the recipients of the encyclical who are cited according to the hierarchical structure of the Church ("bishops, priests and deacons, consecrated persons, lay faithful") and in its academic theological content. A continuity which was confirmed by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Gerhard L. Müller at the presentation: "Notwithstanding the differences of style, sensibility and accent, anyone who reads this encyclical will immediately note the substantial continuity of the message of Pope Francis with the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI."

Disappointment! It's the word that best reflects my intellectual attitude after reading the encyclical, which includes in its entirety Cardinal Ratzinger's theology inspired by St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure. Many of us -- Christian and not -- were expecting, if not a breakaway of Francis from the two previous pontificates, yes, at least a certain distancing, a new direction and a new way of talking about faith and presenting Christianity in tune with his words, attitudes, gestures and initiatives to reform the church organization as well as his commitment to build a church of the poor and for the poor, his defense of the rights of immigrants and his stern denunciations against capitalism and corruption in the Church.

In my opinion, the encyclical doesn't take seriously the crisis of the Christian faith and religion in general in the contemporary world, and doesn't analyze its causes with the depth and rigor they deserve. Nor does it assume any responsibility for it or propose answers consistent with the importance of the phenomenon. The encyclical seems to be unaware of the change of era we are experiencing and, insensitive to the new challenges, it goes on giving answers from the past to questions of the present. In this aspect, it moves away from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) which,  in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, analyzes the phenomenon of atheism, its various forms, roots and causes, and assumes the large part of responsibility that belongs to Christians for the genesis of modern atheism. At that time, Joseph Ratzinger was a young theologian and Council adviser; today he's an emeritus pope obsessed with the dictatorship of relativism and clinging to dogmatic truths.

The encyclical barely takes seriously the modern criticism of religion in its various forms -- philosophical, political, economic, scientific, psychological. It's limited to a topical quote from Nietzsche, another from Wittgenstein taken out of context, and a third from Dostoevsky. It doesn't take into account the radical and iconoclastic criticism of the monotheistic religions, and especially of the Christian faith, made by the new atheism of certain philosophical and scientific sectors that are very influential in the current cultural climate. Nor does it contemplate the radical challenge to Christianity by the world of structural poverty and systemic injustice that affects two-thirds of humanity, when it's from that world that the most questioning voices come, sometimes in the form of silent suffering, the harshest criticism of the Christian faith and the most difficult to refute.

The main concern of the encyclical focuses on the relationship between faith and reason, faith and truth, love and knowledge of truth, unity and integrity of faith, sacraments and the transmission of faith, the ecclesial dimension of the faith, etc.. It's certainly an important problem, but largely a European one and not very relevant in other geo-cultural environments, such as in the indigenous communities of Latin America and those of African descent, African Christianity and its relationship with native religions, and Asian Christianity in dialogue with Eastern religions.

The encyclical fails to address the relationship between Christianity and liberation, faith and the struggle for justice, theological hope and commitment, Christian faith and the option for the poor, faith in inter-religious dialogue, the multiculturalism of faith, etc. The poor do not appear in it, or liberation, or the option for the poor, which constitute the most genuine "light of faith" and are radical theological truths and ethical attitudes.

The encyclical offers an androcentric doctrinal exposition in patriarchal language. It constantly talks about "modern man", "brother", "God as the common Father", "universal brotherhood among men", "unfailing love of the Father", etc.. Only once does it refer to men and women -- in the section on "Faith and Family". And it does so to refer to marriage as a "stable union of man and  woman" and to  "the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh...and are enabled to give birth to a new life." We are faced with a homophobic conception of faith and love, family and marriage.

Juan Jose Tamayo is director of the Department of Theology and Religious Sciences at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. His latest books are Otra teología es posible. Pluralismo religioso, interculturalidad y feminismo ("Another theology is possible: Religious pluralism, multiculturalism and feminism" -- Herder, 2012, 2nd ed.) and Invitación a la utopía ("Invitation to Utopia" -- Trotta, 2012).

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