Friday, July 30, 2010

The Philosophy Group: A Revisitation Through Gutierrez and Benedict

I realize a decent amount of time has expired since our last philosophy group. I haven’t gotten around to summing up the night’s discussion, along with posing provocative (and usually either opaque or meaningless) questions. Instead of racking my memory to achieve that goal today, I intend to present two quotations that I think represent two divergent perspectives on the issues surrounding our meeting. The first is by Gustavo Gutiérrez, from the text we discussed during the meeting. The second is by Pope Benedict XVI, from his Introduction to Christianity. (It’s actually from his newest introduction to the book, which was written within the last five years or so.) I guess the idea is to see, first of all, whether or not they disagree with one another; and, if so, to pick apart the disagreements in light of our own readings of history, Church teaching, sociology, theology, and our own personal experiences.

1. Gutiérrez, from his A Theology of Liberation: “The construction – from its economic bases – of the ‘polis,’ of a society in which people can live in solidarity, is a dimension which encompasses and severely conditions all of man's activity. It is the sphere of the exercise of a critical freedom which is won down through history. It is the universal determinant and the collective arena for human fulfillment.”

(If I remember correctly, this specific quotation was discussed throughout the night. This sounds extremely Marxist – and, by the way, I’m not presupposing that this means it’s incorrect, or even off base at all. I’m simply pointing out that Gutiérrez gives the economic and political spheres of man primacy in all of his interaction. In some ways, we can’t discuss man, according to Gutiérrez, outside of these spheres.)

2. B16, from his Introduction to Theology: “Now Marx appeared to be the great guidebook. He was said to be playing now the role that had fallen to Aristotle in the thirteenth century; the latter’s pre-Christian (that is, “pagan”) philosophy had to be baptized, in order to bring faith and reason into the proper relation to each other. But anyone who accepts Marx (in whatever neo-Marxist variation he may choose) as the representative of worldly reason not only accepts a philosophy, a vision of the origin and meaning of existence, but also and especially adopts a practical program. For this “philosophy” is essentially a “praxis”, which does not presuppose a “truth” but rather creates one. Anyone who makes Marx the philosophy of theology adopts the primacy of politics and economics, which now become the real powers that can bring about salvation (and, if misused, can wreck havoc)” (“Preface to the New Edition” in Introduction to Christianity 14-15).

(In particular, the end of this quotation seems to contradict Gutiérrez. The very idea that our consciousness is rooted in the economic sphere – and is, therefore, necessarily political – is what B16 seems to find problematic in liberation theologies. By the way, B16’s argument isn’t contained in here. You really need to read his whole book if you want that. I highly, highly recommend it. I suppose the same comment can be applied to the Gutiérrez quotation.)

So, in conclusion, do these two ideas cross each other out? Is one of these two inherently incorrect, or misguided? Discuss amongst yourselves.

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