"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Distinction of Planes

The Dominican priest Frei Betto was captured and tortured by the Brazilian military dictatorship during the 1960's and was taunted by his torturers for his Marxism. They asked him, "Have you forgotten that Marx considered religion to be the opium of the people?" He answered, "It is the bourgeoisie which has turned religion into an opium of the people by preaching a God, lord of the heavens only, while taking possession of the earth for itself."

I'd like to draw out the implications of this dichotomy by citing the "Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People", section 5: "Christ's redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day."

So I ask the same question as before: "What is the content of this humanization?" Does the renewal of the temporal order consist primarily of technological innovation, scientific discovery, or massive public works projects? These in themselves are not intensifications of our humanity, but simply applications of our current capabilities. The direction toward humanization is to become conscious agents of our own history, responsible for our own destiny. This growth in awareness of our agency, in our reciprocal impact on the world and its material and spiritual ecology leads to a more complete fulfillment of the Christian life because it more completely accords with the inner direction of human nature. The divine element in humanity is that which realizes our nature as creative beings, which is to say beings that constantly grow in spiritual freedom - freedom to love, to create and to become more responsive and aware of our connections to others in order to deepen our solidarity with all the living.

Interpreted in a personal sense, many Christians would probably endorse this viewpoint, but what is most commonly lacking today is a sense that “human beings are called to meet the Lord insofar as they constitute a community, a people.” - Gustavo Gutierrez, “A Theology of Liberation”. The current extreme emphasis on the individual meaning of salvation is an element in a larger social and economic strategy, the strategy Frei Betto alluded to in his statement to his torturers. The “heavenly” dimension of salvation, the relation of “the Alone with the Alone” (Plotinus), fits quite comfortably with the interests of those who wish to own the earth for their own profit. By keeping Christian attention rigidly focused on one’s own individual salvation the person’s embeddedness in his or her social matrix becomes secondary and in practice ignored as essential element in one’s spiritual life.

The phrase, “…the singular plan of God to raise up the whole world again in Christ”, makes the distinction between temporal and supernatural planes much more fluid than previously. It implies a new view of human action in history, and therefore of history become conscious of itself in humanity. “The building of a just society has worth in terms of the Kingdom, or in more current phraseology, to participate in the process of liberation is already, in a certain sense, a salvific work.” - Gustavo Gutierrez, “A Theology of Liberation”. We are saved not only by persisting in individual moral effort, but by recognizing and working toward the Kingdom on the social and political plane.

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