The October Revolution - II
Atila Sinke Guimarães
Printed in The Remnant, December 2, 1999
The so-called Inter-religious Assembly has taken place at the Vatican (October 24-28, 1999). The Remnant had the good idea of sending a special reporter to cover on site the events that are taking place. The reader has been provided with information from this direct source in the last two issues, and probably will receive more up-to-date news in this one. Therefore, I will restrict myself to some considerations on the final document of the Assembly and the speech of John Paul II. The two documents are in perfect harmony. They are the alto and the soprano of one musical piece sung in two voices.
I am basing my commentaries on the official versions of both documents I found on the Holy See Web Site(1).
1. Vatican Information Service, “Messaggio conclusivo dell’Assemblea Interreligiosa,” October 28, 1999; “Discorso del Santo Padre a conclusione dell’Assemblea Interreligiosa: ‘Alle soglie del III Millennio: collaborazione fra le diverse religioni,’” October 28, 1999.
The final document, signed by the representatives of the principal religions, expresses well the desires of the present Vatican cupola in relation to ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. In it, one finds the keynote that permits an analysis: that is, a special preoccupation with social and environmental issues on the part of the religions gathered together at the Vatican.
First, let me explain the presupposition of my analysis, which is to know what the Vatican wants. Why the intention of the Vatican and not that of all the other religions gathered there? According to my understanding of the current religious situation, Catholicism constitutes by far the strongest force on the face of the Earth. In less than five weeks, the Holy Church is entering the third millennium with more than one billion Catholics. The only religion with an analogous contingent is Islamism. However, among the followers of Mohammed, there are innumerable fragmentations. Above all, there is no doctrinairy unity, no one standard of morals, no uniform discipline and no central authority that all obey. The Greek Schismatics, the so-called Orthodox, have less than 200 million followers. Among them also profound division abounds. As for Protestantism, the breaches are proverbial. I could make similar considerations about the other religious confessions. Thus, the great religious force of our days is the Catholic Church.
Since Vatican II, her leaders have been taking the initiative of promoting ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. The partners that these directors find to participate in the meetings and to sign the doctrinairy accords are not undisputed representatives of their respective sects. Among the Schismatics, among the Protestants, among the Muslims, among the Jews, etc., there are serious reserves about - or open opposition to - the fact that these delegates are seated at the negotiation table with Vatican representatives. In my book Quo vadis, Petre?, Chapter III presents a picture of this situation regarding the problems and failures of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. Therefore, rather than a consensus among the diverse religious, what the Panreligious Assembly expresses is the direction that the present day directors of the Catholic Church want to take inter-confessionalism.
The presupposition explained, I enter into the analysis.
A new “liberation theology” inspired by Gandhi
The final document of the meeting affirms:
“We are conscious of the urgent need to confront together responsibly and courageously the problems and challenges of our modern world (i.e., poverty, racism, environmental pollution, materialism, war and the proliferation of arms, globalization, AIDS, lack of medical care, breakdown of family and community, marginalization of women and children, etc.) to work together to affirm human dignity as the source of human rights and their corresponding duties, in the struggle for justice and peace for all.”
At first glance, the agenda does not seem much different from that which an ecology movement would adopt. However, it goes beyond this, as a more careful observation shows. It is interesting to consider that until now, various inter-confessional meetings have touched on issues such as these in addition to the theme of peace. However, in the final document of the October meeting, the emphasis is placed on the “struggle for justice,” while the “positive” note of striving to achieve the objectives is placed on a secondary plane.
In prior meetings the aims were presented as a “disinterested” effort to eliminate poverty, racism, materialism, etc. Here, the themes are addressed with a new focus. When the final document begins to speak about justice in these matters, there is necessarily an implied critique of the systems that have generated these problems. The emphasis given to human rights that are supposedly being violated confirms the idea of a revindication. Speaking in this same vein is the statement at the end of the document: “We appeal to each one of us gathered here today …. to commit ourselves to overcoming the gulf between rich and poor.”
Is a new liberation theology hidden behind the banner of peace that is being prepared at the panreligious meetings? Above, the October 27, 1986 gathering at Assisi
Therefore, in the final document, it seems that an important rotation was made in the way in which the proposed ideas should be achieved. From a disinterested and passive stance, it has become a demanding and aggressive action, which proposes a struggle to eliminate the cause of these problems. Now, this cause seems to be capitalism, the great contemporary enemy of John Paul II. In fact, my interpretation is substantiated by the Pontiff in the following statement of his closing speech of the Panreligious Assembly:
“We see as well a growing gap between the rich and poor - at the level of individuals and of nations…. there is still lacking the collective will to overcome scandalous inequalities and to create new structures which will enable all peoples to have a just share in the world’s resources.”
To create new structures signifies, obviously, doing away with those that presently exist. Since the only valid structure existing today is capitalism, it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion.
This analysis would lead one to say that we are facing a sensational change in inter-confessional concerns. It is a rotation that would place the Wojtylian panreligion along the path of “liberation theology.”
How is “liberation theology” normally understood? The Latin-American experience of “liberation theology” showed that this movement consisted principally of a strong interference of the Church in the temporal order. Religion was used as a pretext to incite social discontent and feed the fires of the institutional revolution. Thus we have witnessed the action of Bishops, priests, monks and nuns leading the social agitation and even an armed struggle with the objective of destroying the capitalist structures - called “structures of sin” - and replacing them with those of communist inspiration. Bishops like Pedro Casaldáliga or Valdir Calheiros in Brazil, priests like the guerrilla fighter Camilo Torres in Colombia, revolutionary leaders De Scotto or Cardenal in Nicaragua, Gustavo Gutierrez in Peru, and Leonardo Boff in Brazil are characteristic examples of what I have just affirmed.
There are some who consider Paul VI as the true founder of “liberation theology,” which has caused so much damage to the Catholic cause in Latin America. I number myself among those few. I think that on the trip that he made to Medellin, Colombia, in 1968, Paul VI effectively launched the concept of “liberation theology,” which would have such a sad success. Later, with the excesses of some wings of this movement, the Vatican cleverly began to distinguish between the “different kinds” of “liberation theologies” - acting as if there were some good brands and other bad ones with insinuations that only the good ones had originated with Paul VI.
Now, by all appearances, John Paul II would be doing something similar to what was done in Medellin in a much broader ambit. With this Panreligious Assembly of October, he would be promoting – by means of all the religions – a combat against Western temporal social structures under the pretext of justice for the poor, preventing wars, avoiding excessive materialism, eliminating discrimination of women and minorities, preventing environmental dangers, etc.
If this is true, at the Panreligious Assembly at the Vatican the various religious confessions would have joined together to begin to promote everywhere a struggle analogous to that which “liberation theology” promoted principally during the ‘70s and ‘80s in Latin America. Given the seriousness of such a charge, it is necessary to consider some nuances in order to avoid a quick and easy analogy that would distance us from the reality.
In the final message, the religious representatives voiced these important conclusions in the social-political ambit in its condemnation of the use of violence in the religious sphere. The document affirms:
“Collaboration among the different religions must be based on the rejection of fanaticism, extremism and mutual antagonisms which lead to violence.” Before this, it says, “We appeal to all the leaders of the world whatever their field of influence to refuse to allow religion to be used to incite hatred and violence.”
Thus, it could be said that we are witnessing the birth of a new type of struggle against the temporal structures of the West. A struggle that would adopt the non-violent method. It seems to me that it would be something that would take as its model the struggle that Mohandas Gandhi carried out in India with the aim of liberating it from English dominion. Perhaps the homage that John Paul II made to Gandhi visiting his tomb – where he took off his shoes and spread rose petals – shortly after the close of the inter-religious assembly at the Vatican can serve to illustrate my interpretation.
So, the presentation of a new model of “liberation theology” along with a common aim of applying it against capitalism would be the fruit of the Panreligious Assembly.
Until now the inter-religious dialogue was developed around the themes of peace, women’s liberation, environmental issues, the fight against ignorance, etc. Points that reveal the impossibility of attaining the principal objective: to unite the religions. To reach this aim, everything that would not be a serious discussion about the notions of God and religion would be acting as decoys.
Now, as I have just shown, it seems to me that we are facing a true revolution in ecumenism and in inter-religious dialogue. All the religious confessions, under the leadership of the Vatican, would be preparing to adopt a new style of “liberation theology.”
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