woensdag 27 maart 2013

Thinking matters

Thinking is not innocent. Sometimes it might seem that way, for example considering the euphoria surrounding the new pope. He lives so frugally. He communicates so well. He laughs. He dares to let himself be called Francis!

And, well, for the rest he is sound in the faith and conservative in his thinking, but that does not seem to matter much. Based on all the other positive features of the new pope, many people hope already for a restoration of the image of the church and a Catholic revival.

But then, why did John Paul previously fail in this regard, although he had no less of these positive characteristics to his disposal? And why did John XXIII apparently not manage, indeed why did actually Francis of Assisi not succeed, by whom the present pope is inspired.

I think for an answer to that question the very church doctrine may be a major clue. Because it can be summarized as an example of dualistic thinking that takes the contrast between the high life of the spirit and the sinful life of the world as a starting point. In the words of Francis in the media: “The church must keep away from worldliness, because worldliness is the devil”. Angelic sexlessness versus defiling lust, generous poverty versus greedy materialism, that is the Gospel in its pure nutshell.

Try that in a modern world in which daily life is largely structured on the basis of broad acceptance of the exercise of property rights, sexual desire and other ambitions. And in which all efforts are aimed at making that happen in acceptable ways. Rejection of those impulses cannot but appear to modern people as bizar, the point is to lead them in the right directions. And in order to achieve that, citizens nowadays dispose of other and better resources than the pope's advices.

In parts of the world with fewer civil liberties than in the West, the simplistic religious message will still find an audience. But as soon as somewhere a self-conscious middle class of some importance develops and civil liberties are cherished, the traditional dualism will feel as obsolete. That may easily result in a masquerade or a Vatican banking scandal or sexual abuse, or all at once. There will then be no way of avoiding the world, you’ll have to go through it.

The first to understand this in the history of the West were the Protestants. Not without reason these – from the early period of the Reformation, especially in the Flemish and Dutch territories – came from the urban bourgeoisie. They were people who for the regulation of their existence were already used to a large extent to rely on their own thinking and organizational skills. The single, prescribed, simplistic ecclesiastical doctrine was widely perceived as too oppressive. Instead, the Protestants were searching for their own formulations of the doctrine which should allow more worldly life. Thus the members of the church councils were henceforward democratically elected and officials in the Protestant church were allowed to be married.

That essentially the old ecclesiastical scheme of objectively ascertainable good versus wrong was not left in Protestantism may appear from the fact that within the newly formed church communities coercion was no less severe than previously in the Una Sancta. But there were now several churches along each other. So there was, in contrast to the time before, something to choose. The Protestant scene may therefore be called more mature and more pluralistic.

My point is that these historical phenomena and developments make a trend visible, from more to less simplicism and from less to more complex and mature thinking. And that this trend, with an eye on the success of a religious community in the West, is a non-negligible factor. It cannot be reversed just like that.

If simultaneously I observe that the Roman Catholic Church finds itself - with a high level of evangelical dualism and simplicity - still at the primitive end of that historical and intellectual spectrum, and that the new pope ranges himself on that side; then those groups of cheering adolescents and nuns may move me, but I also see them stand a little outside history. Overjoyed that the new Elected-by-the-Holy-Spirit is going to  perform theír thinking.

Also see La Trahison des Clercs