Monday, October 20, 2014

Schillebeeckx's two profound threats of the 3rd millennium

I found the late Fr Edward Schillebeeckx's short "Forward" to Daniel Speed Thompson's book, The Language of Dissent: Edward Schillebeeckx on the Crisis of Authority in the Catholic Church, published in 2003, deeply insightful and a bit profound.

Among the insights is the Dominican friar's identification of what he viewed as "two profound threats" to the credibility of the Church's authority in the third millennium. First, the many varieties of fundamentalism, "which, whether in God's name, in the name of a political ideology [it bears noting that these fuse together in revolutionary Islamism], or in the name of an absolutely free market economy which tolerates no impartial supervision - do injustice to people, affront human authenticity, and thus cut off every uncritically participating religion from its own authentic sources of inspiration" (xii).

The second profound threat is "ethnic nationalism which is spreading ever more violently around the world and which is probably a variety of fundamentalism (namely, because it is a negation of the historical, temporal, and spatial situatedness of our imaginative and conceptual articulations of what we proclaim as truth)" (xii).

The Nijmegen theologian went on to observe: "Those familiar with history know that some churches, which are often eager to condemn certain sociopolitical views, often stand hesitant or silent before the violent and subtle ethnic nationalism responsible for ethnic cleansing and the brutal rejection of "the stranger": there is now a clearly real danger of self-satisfied complacency in one's own views, along with a growing failure to appreciate the 'otherness' of others" (xii).

I suppose one good observation leads to another: It is also true that some churches, which are eager to condemn certain (opposite) sociopolitical views, often stand hesitant or silent before the dismantling of the great achievement that is Western civilization, at the foundation of which is Christianity, and through their active complicity help create more than adequate space for fundamentalists of both kinds, as well as those who fuse the two together, to realize their goals.

My point is, "self-satisfied complacency" afflicts those at both extremes. If nothing else, phenomena like IS(IS/IL, whatever they want to be called this week), show us how fragile civilization, which people in the West take too much for granted, actually is. This kind of barbarism, which is happening with alarming frequency in the West, also demonstrates the importance of culture and the inadequacy of what Jacques Ellul, who wrote, "Our civilization is first and foremost a civilization of means; in the reality of modern life, the means, it would seem, are more important than the ends," called "the technological society."

I think it is precisely this "self-satisfied complacency" that Jesus sought to shake people from. He still seeks to do so in our day. Certainly the papacy of Blessed Pope Paul VI (I was Montini enthusiast before last week and not just because of Humanae Vitae, which, as Pope Benedict XVI noted in his 2008 Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, "the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sex as a consumer good, the future against the exclusive claims of the present, and human nature against its manipulation," but lauding Populorum Progresso, Evangelii Nuntianai, and other documents that constituted his unique magisterium) was aimed at doing just this. In all his teaching he sought to move us beyond our self-satisfaction and smugness, our reduction of the Gospel to a self-improvement program, and other such temptations.

My relationship to Schillebeeckx's work is similar to my relationship Karl Marx's work: brilliant at analysis and critical engagement, but his prescriptions for remedying the issues that arose from his analysis, in my view, left a lot to be desired. Nonetheless his work remains well-worth engaging. I also have to note my appreciation for his application of certain aspects of Wittgenstein's philosophy of language to his theological project.

As I was surfing the web (does anybody use that phrase any more?) looking for a suitable picture of Fr Schillebeeckx, I came across this remembrance (it had the best picture, but being a personal picture was not available for use): "Edward Schillebeeckx: 1914-2009."

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