Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Another Liberation Theologian Critiques New Papal Encyclical on Faith: Juan Jose Tamayo on Disappointment of Lumen Fidei

Juan Jose Tamayo

I was so far behind with responding to comments to postings here, that I've spent my normal blogging time this morning doing just that. So I don't have a lot prepared to say today in the form of a new posting. I do, however, want to take note of Juan Jose Tamayo's response to Pope Francis's (and Benedict's) encyclical on faith, Lumen fidei. At her Iglesia Descalza site, Rebel Girl offers an English translation of the original Spanish text at Redes Cristianas.

I blogged a few weeks ago about the response of another liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff, to Lumen fidei. As that previous posting noted, Boff finds the new encyclical disappointing, primarily because it's almost all Benedict and very little Francis. He notes, in particular, that it continues Benedict's strong insistence that love must be subjected to truth in the Catholic tradition (to Catholic doctrinal truth as formulated by the Catholic magisterium)--yet as Boff notes,

This statement [i.e., "love is the experience of truth" and "faith without truth does not save"] is problematic in theological terms since the whole tradition, especially the Councils have stated that only "that truth [faith] that is informed by love" (fides caritate informata) saves. Without love, truth is insufficient for salvation. In pedestrian language, one would say that what saves is not truthful preaching but effective practices. 

As one of the most significant founding figures of liberation theology, Peruvian theologian Gustavo GutiĆ©rrez, insists constantly throughout his work, the formulation "Love the sinner, but hate the sin" fosters an illusory notion of love, since it assumes that we can love in some disembodied way that ignores the actual and real humanity of the person we claim to be loving when we hate his or her sin. It's a self-serving formulation that permits us to pretend we love when we're doing precisely the opposite--and this false, twisted attitude toward what comprises Christian love has become commonplace in key Catholic circles precisely due to the insistence of Popes John Paul II and Benedict that love is subject to Catholic doctrinal and magisterial "truth."

My posting about Boff's commentary on Lumen fidei also notes another important point that Boff makes: the encyclical takes for granted that Catholics already own or possess faith as a kind of commodity--faith as it is encapsulated in doctrinal formulations. But the real situation in which many Catholics find themselves is that we're searching for faith in a world that makes faith difficult to find, and within a church that often proves to be not a beacon of light and truth for us, but precisely the opposite. For many of us, the church and the sordid aspects of its history (Boff notes the massacre of thousands of indigenous people by the Christian conquerors of various non-Christian nations)--sordid aspects of its history evident today in how it continues to treat targeted minority groups--proves a stumbling block to faith.

Juan Jose Tamayo sees the very same problem with Benedict's and Francis's encyclical. He, too, sees Lumen fidei as largely the work of Benedict and very little the work of Francis, and so the encyclical shows almost no evidence of that break with the legacy of Benedict that the new papacy supposedly represents. 

As a result, its exposition of what faith is all about in the lives of Catholics today is shallow and unconvincing:

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 analysis of faith in Lumen fidei does not assume any responsibility on the part of the church and its leaders for the loss of faith among many Catholics today. It keeps dispensing answers from the past in response to questions of the present, and in this respect, it departs from the model proposed by Vatican II, which assumes the large part of responsibility that belongs to Christians for the genesis of modern atheism.

The encyclical manages to talk about the challenge of faith in the contemporary world without ever even mentioning the poor and their struggle for liberation--their struggle to find meaning for their lives in a world whose socioeconomic systems diminish their human lives to the level of objects. It pretends that faith is one solid and constant thing for all classes of human beings and across human boundaries, and it ignores that interreligious dialogue has to teach Catholics about different ways of understanding faith.

And then there's this, Tamayo's concluding observations:

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.

All in all, I think Tamayo is absolutely correct to wonder where the new direction Francis is supposedly providing for the Catholic church is in evidence in this encyclical, which is totally in continuity with (and almost completely the work of) Benedict. Is this truly what Catholics want and need today, the warmed-over clericalist model of John Paul and Benedict which insists that the only faith which counts in the church is the faith formulated by popes, bishops, and priests (all men and all ostensibly celibate), and handed down to passive and grateful layfolks from the clerical sector of the church?

If I'm still less than convinced that Francis represents the breath of fresh air for my church that media gurus keep telling us he is, it's because I haven't yet seen any radical discontinuity between his clerical-centric model for the Catholic church and that of John Paul II and Benedict. Hearing the same old "truths" imparted to us from on high by the same old clerical lips is hardly going to reignite our own faith when we have become disenchanted by our church because of the serious disconnect, in our experience of the church, between the "truths" of our church and the love to which those "truths" ostensibly point.

Is it?

(For a previous posting about Tamayo's critique of the misogyny often woven into traditional Catholic formulations of the "truth," see this previous posting.)

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