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Humanism’s New Christketeer: One for All and All for One

2022-12-09

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Personal)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/02/07

In Angelus, only one day ago, on February 6, 2019, at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; a lecture was given as the Hispanic Innovators of the Faith Lecture.

Interesting title, and theme, and, in fact, content, the speech turned into text looks at the Spanish missionaries who “made important contributions to the humanist traditions in the West,” Archbishop José H. Gomez said.

He went to speak about the Dominicans in particular with reference to “Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas, the Franciscan St. Junípero Serra, and the great bishop of Michoacán, the Servant of God Vasco de Quiroga, among others.”

Setting aside the definitions of God implied or the purported servanthood status, we can see a merger within the intellectual traditions across what may seem on the surface a great divide, but may, in fact, be rather close together.

Those specific Dominican missionaries worked for the “humanity and rights of indigenous peoples,” where fighting for the rights and the recognition of the common humanity is the part standing out to me — rather than the emphasis on unprovables, outside of personal experiential assertions, such as the Incarnation and the like.

In fact, as far back as 1511, there was a denunciation of the colonial powers for the mistreatment or “abuse” of the natives in addition to the theft of the gold.

Apparently, Antonio de Montesinos stated, “Tell me, by what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? … And what care do you take that they should be instructed in religion? Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourself?”

This is powerful stuff, and important in obliterating a notion of an institution seen as monolithic. It is in the tradition of breakaways, revolutionaries to an extent, within the tradition, which, in fact, is returning to the core message of the Gospels.

To those outside of these traditions, the followers and sub-leaders may not pay much attention to the outside conversations and arguments, and dialogues outside of their philosophical and theological framework; it simply doesn’t matter that much to many of them, probably, or, at least, less than the continued maintenance of community.

But within the community of the faithful, these rediscoveries and reiterations of messages closer to the core of the Gospels than pillaging and looting and violence against the Indigenous populations is important, because this can strike a stronger chord in the language of the faithful within these traditions of those who may have devoted their entire lives to this enterprise.

Montesino posed other questions including the nature of being a human being, the obligations to neighbours, and the location of God and Christ in all. These latter concerns seem far less concrete and humanistic than the first two dealing with the nature of the human being and the relations of that human being to other human beings, once the nature is better known.

The Church, broadly speaking, does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, but the members, as individual human beings, and the leaders, too, are in a sort of identity crisis about where to move the faith with the massive set of problems facing the world and, thus, their constituencies and fellows but also internally with the sex scandals and the like.

Archbishop Gomez opined, “I come at these questions, not as an historian or scholar, but as a pastor of souls. And as a pastor, I am worried about the directions our society is taking. I think our way of life is making it harder for people to find God and to know the meaning of their lives. I want to try to understand why and what that means.”

Gomez looked at the ways in which there is, and I agree, a crisis of the definition of human nature with a wide spread of definitions, often conflicting, even within communities, and leading to vast isolation of those communities with one another. Those rifts can create social strife and lead to a form of unhealthy angst and even anomie.

“By “crisis of man,” I mean a crisis of human nature. Men and women. All of us.And the crisis I see today is this: In our society, we no longer seem to share any coherent or common understanding about what it means to be a human being,” Gomez explained, “As I see it, this problem is rooted in our society’s broader loss of the awareness of God. If the questions are: Who are we? Why are we here? And what should we be living for? I don’t think we know the answers anymore.”

Those fundamental questions about the nature of human beings in the world, and of the world. The root of human nature and the bottom of the stuff of the universe. What are we? What is it? Now, there may be widespread disagreements on the subject matter of euthanasia and abortion, which is fine.

The prevention of personal autonomy by religious institutions, structures, theologies, and leadership is a scandal and a long-term fight. But the fundamental point is simply a correct observation, as seen in the crisis of identity seen around the world. This was pointed out in an interview with a colleague several years ago to me, who is a psychiatrist.

But with the point on human trafficking, certainly, I can agree with the need to tackle this pressing issue. This has to be among the easiest ethical questions with an answer in modern history. People are being trafficked and, often, into sexual and other slavery. It is simply grotesque dehumanization of other people and should be stopped.

Gomez reported:

But I think we also see this crisis reflected in other areas that might not be so immediately obvious — for instance, in the clashes of identity politics and the persistence of racist thinking in our society.

We see it reflected in the worldwide debates over migrants and refugees; in the widespread confusion about gender and human sexuality; and in the dramatic decline in birthrates throughout the West. I would even argue that this crisis underlies the opioid epidemic and the alarming rates of mental illness, loneliness, and suicide in our country.

The noteworthy point here is the decline in birthrates. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Christian Church has been a vanguard in wanting to maintain dominant culture in nation-states through the persistent adherence to what they deem a culture of life, which is vague, and a focus on the values of family, which is valid, and of higher birth rates, especially in the context of the widespread decline of a replacement host population of many European, North American, and East Asian societies. The advanced industrial societies have this problem more than others.

But their solutions will restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of women; of course, leaders want to solve the problem of the non-replacement rate — 2.1 — birth rates, look at Singapore and Japan, but the ways in which to work towards solving this is not to restrict women but, in fact, to begin to empower more than they have been in the past with maternity leave — and concomitant paternity leave for fathers, not simply symbolic, as in endorsed and supported — and various other measures for them to be able to not fear for their jobs and standard of living if they were to leave a job.

The restriction of women’s lives and the violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms would work, as it has in the past with robust empirical evidence, but it will also lead to more problems than robust, long-term solutions. On a more reflective and historically troubling, and correct note, Gomez stated:

People have been talking about a “crisis of man” since at least the end of the Second World War.

We forget that in the last century, millions were killed, whole generations lost — in Soviet gulags and Nazi death camps, in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in genocides in nearly every part of the world.

Out of this dark time of slaughter and suffering, came new existential questions. Not only about the “silence” of God, but also about man’s inhumanity to man.

Humanity became its own worst monsters and greatest — desperate — heroes. The world in ruins and struggling to come to grips with the savagery stemming from Caucasians or barbaric behaviour of the Europeans. The coming to grips with the dual extreme natures of human beings meshed into one, and exemplified in the atrocities committed during the world wars.

Gomez seems incorrect to call the products of these “murderous ideologies,” as in the products of atheist humanisms. It simply doesn’t follow, as much as he would like to think, where this just demarcates his own buying into the prejudices of the day. In a manner of speaking, this is simply a smear. These were fundamentalist state ideologies akin to the evils perpetrated by fundamentalist religious ideologies. We can see precursors or prototypes of these re-emerging in the current moment. But this language is neither helpful nor entirely correct, so, with all due respect Mr. Gomez, wrong angle.

Gomez, as he moves further into the speech, represents a series of views simply leaning toward what may best be called theocratic in orientation with the lament over waning Christian influence in political and economic life. Religion in politics is theocratic. No doubt about it, the process of secularization, of which he references, in fact, leans the dial more towards equality for the non-religious with the religious in this respect.

“Just recently, questions were raised about judicial nominees who belong to the Knights of Columbus. We see ongoing lawsuits aimed at Christian companies and charities, trying to force them to operate in ways that violate their conscience,” Gomez opined, “That is why the U.S. bishops have made defending religious liberty a key priority. If we are not free to order our lives and institutions according to God’s Word, then we are not free to live a truly human life.”

Which is precisely wrong, the freedom is to live free from it, for others, as Christians are freely living for themselves; Gomez’s lamentation simply reflects the loss of the ability, slowly but potentially surely, to impose Christian institutions and authority on other citizens within societies through political institutions. He just misses this.

On the notion of a transcendent reality to human beings, above and beyond the naturalistic, Gomez makes some nuanced, but probably fundamentally flawed, points about de-sacralization of society. Something in this harbours a great deal of truth and, truly, a deep one, but, other things just don’t seem to exist to me.

He states, “I think it is obvious to all of us that we live now in a highly secularized society that has no need for God. For all intents and purposes, we live as if God does not exist. We think we do not need God to help us run the economy or the government. We can plan and engineer everything for ourselves. We are totally self-sufficient. We think we can rely on politics or science and technology to solve every problem and answer every question.”

The engineered lives that we live are a sentiment of sadness for him. A perspective of a loss of connection with the divine, with one’s soul, with God and Christ Almighty. Any independence from this religious hierarchy and authority becomes damn blasphemous if I may say so.

But he does strike a chord, on the point of a deep truth. A fact of our societies becoming entirely beholden to a consumer culture with simply, more and more, materialistic values bound by a desire for stuff, with even human beings seen as commodities with human capital or potential to be a benefit to the economy rather than human beings endowed with certain inalienable or fundamental rights and freedoms.

As one can expect in these homilies or sermons, there will be the epithets, typically. We part ways in the views of science and discoveries of the world. In many ways, there, still, is the value and commitment to visions of beauty and truth with science providing a robust naturalistic truth — facts of the world. Certainly, there are irrational beliefs, but they’re not contained in the beliefs about beauty and truth as, in some fundamental sense, these can be apprehended.

“We are losing our religious dimension, the sacred character of our personality — the truth that we are spiritual creatures made in God’s image, born with an inner desire to seek truth and transcendence, a desire that God alone can satisfy,” Gomez stated.

In some ways, it depends on the definition of religion. If simply some spiritual way for some edificative purpose, then, yes, human beings, certainly, are religious critters of a sort, but they are not these in the senses most often determined to be the case with standard theology as some supernaturally developed organism with an impermanent spirit.

The next commentary simply remarks, at length, on the Incarnation, the Trinity, and so on. It is, more or less, a nonstarter. But the move towards a new humanism is the final commentary by Gomez and, in fact, quite noteworthy.

Gomez said, “Because Christ humbled himself to share in our humanity, we now have this amazing possibility of sharing in his divinity… Friends, this is the beautiful vision of the human person that we are called to proclaim in our time. The new evangelization calls for a new humanism — built on the truth of the Incarnation, the truth of the human person as the imago Dei.”

Even without the image of this Incarnation within the theology, the import of living as a humanistic community can be important with the emphasis on a Christian ethic aligned with this. One can argue for an Incarnation, for which there is precisely zero evidence, but one can also argue for an image that one wants to emulate. The supernatural continues to fail as a hypothesis; whereas, the metaphysical and imagistic seem more plausible in different frames of reference, and the naturalistic is very well attested now.

As a concluding quote from Gomez, who is an intelligent and sincere person, “The task of this new humanism means renewing our theology and exegesis, deepening our understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation. It means going deeper in our Christology and Mariology, and in our Christian anthropology. It also means philosophical renewal — thinking in new ways about metaphysics and epistemology and the crucial relationships of faith and reason and truth and freedom.”

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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