Thursday, March 14, 2013
A Good Day to Read Anthony Gill
Given Rick's post elsewhere, I feel a little nervous about saying I'm delighted, without reading too much into it, that the new Pope has taken the name Francis.
My work on law and religion, including religious institutionalism, has tended to take one or both of two approaches: an internal perspective that tries to appreciate the views and obligations of religious individuals and institutions from within, and a more external, institutional perspective in which things like history and economics provide a useful tool with which to analyze the behavior of religious institutions as institutional actors. (I have a forthcoming paper, still in progress, that applies that approach to the "freedom of the church" debate.) I tend to think both the internal and the external approaches are necessary and valuable, and that it is possible to take an external perspective without being impious or harsh.
Here, I just want to recommend a particular author--Anthony Gill--for those who might be interested in an externalist perspective on the selection of a Pope from Latin America. Gill is the author of two excellent books. The first, Rendering unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America, uses an economic, historical, and rational-choice approach to analyze the varying relations between the Church and the state in Latin America, offering a theory about why resistance to the state became popular as a Church approach in some Latin American states and not in others. (The answer, in short: the degree and nature of competition from evangelical Protestantism in different Latin American states.) The second, The Political Origins of Religious Liberty, takes the same approach and applies it to a broader canvas; it has a chapter on Latin America.
Both are well worth reading--especially but not exclusively today. I'm sure there will be a lot of talk about this decision as reflecting the importance and growth of Catholicism in Latin America and in the southern hemisphere. What Gill adds to that picture is 1) the importance in those states of competition from other religious sects that have also made major inroads in those areas, and occasioned great concern in those places from once-dominant sects; and 2) how that fuller picture has affected church-state relations in different ways at different times, and the ways in which the dominant church has taken very different approaches to church-state/religious liberty questions in different places, even at the same time, rather than taking a universalist approach.
None of this, of course, is meant to offer any reading of tea leaves, or to deny the value of an internal as well as an external perspective. But I've found Gill's work useful and interesting and it may be of particular interest to others today.
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I think the protagonist in (Professor) Walter F. Murphy's novel, Vicar of Christ, took the name Francis on his selection as pope (after being a war hero and chief justice before taking vows as a monk). Always wondered why it took so long for a real Pope to take that name.
Posted by: John | Mar 14, 2013 4:58:06 PM
John, You might want to pose that as a hypothetical question to Leonardo Boff, author of a biography on St. Francis (1981, in English, 1982). Boff of course was one of those responsible for liberation theology and praxis of the sort Ratzinger was instrumental in silencing in his former role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Boff writes of the saint’s life and faith as linked to “leaving imperialism” and the “integral liberation of the oppressed.” Boff tells Catholics that “Poverty is not only a problem of moral conscience; it is fundamentally a political problem.” He reminds them that “Today’s dominant classes, successors to the slave owners as well as the slave traders (English, Portuguese, Dutch, and North American), have inherited a profound scorn for the poor. They consider them to be socially disqualified [think of the reaction of actual and aspiring neo-liberal elites to the Bolivarian revolution]; they avoid contact with them, going around them, insensitive to their misery.” The Church has often had a difficult time understanding with Francis that “being poor” means no only the “voluntary” sort motivated by vicarious identity and solidarity, but rather the poor experienced by the poor themselves, which is the bitter “fruit of impoverishing and exploitative mechanisms. To accept poverty in solidarity with the poor implies opting for social justice, commiting oneself to the poor in the integral liberation of all for a more just and fraternal society.” Catholics and their Church are often blinded to the fact that “we are living in a society of classes with antagonistic interests. Objectively, the poor are poor because the way society is organized, since they have the strength to work but not the capital, they are placed on the margin.” Boff explains to his readers the categorical need for the “structural change of society” [hard to imgine that without State direction or support or sans any 'determinate political program' as the editors of the National Review recently suggested in a piece on the new Roman pontiff]. For Boff, the Church must come out in full support of “movements that are born of the base–free unions, people’s associations” that defend those without power, which includes their culture and rights. Many Catholics and their Church are loath to admit freedom for the poor involves struggle, what Boff understood as nonviolent revolution, not trickle-down reform, such “Freedom is never freely granted; it must be attained in an arduous process of freedom.” As Boff writes, “Everything in Francis invites practice: exire de saeculo, leaving the imperial system in an alternative act that makes more real devotion toward others, more gentleness with the poor, and greater respect for nature.” The “spirit and way of life” of Francis of Assisi no mere “formula, idea, or ideal,” but made manifest in social and political practice, individually and collectively.
Read the works of the late Penny Lernoux (1940–1989) to see why there has never been a pope to take the name of Francis of Assisi. And look at the significance of The Catholic Worker movement in Catholicism generally to begin to see why the faith of Francis has been and remains a considerable distance from the Church.
Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Mar 15, 2013 8:06:40 AM
Incidentally, Gill's book cannot account for the emergence of Liberation Theology _as_ a theology (largely in Europe). Aside from incorporating analytical insights from the Marxist tradition, Liberation Theology in theory and praxis proved adept at absorbing ideas outside theology proper from such folks as the philosopher Enrique Dussel and Paulo Freire, a philosopher of education. Perhaps needless to say, or at least feebly speaking, this can rub some Catholics the wrong way.
Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Mar 15, 2013 8:37:41 AM