Archbishop Javier Martinez: Beyond Secular Reason

Archbishop Javier Martinez: Beyond Secular Reason October 29, 2012

I recently stumbled across this gem over at Stratford Caldecott’s Second Spring website, a place that many Catholics who do not feel at home in an American political context will find refreshing.

Archbishop Javier Martinzer of Granada deconstructs “secular reason” and the unwitting Christian capitulation to it.

You can read the whole piece here.

Here are a few representative quotes:

[T]he culture of the Enlightment is just one more tradition, born from particular circumstances in the history of European Christianity. Moreover, it is a tradition that:
1) it masks, and first of all to itself, its character as tradition;
2) it is constitutively intolerant, among other reasons, as a necessary consequence of its unawareness of its traditional character;
3) with all its predicament and power as the official culture everywhere in what was once the Christian world, it is already an intellectually dead culture, because it creates an alienated type of humanity, it disintegrates itself, and it is bound to dissolve itself into nihilism. In fact, its triumph coincides with its destruction.


I cannot bring myself to imagine the Church of the second or of the third century trying to overthrow and take over the Roman Empire to make it Christian, instead of converting it. For us Christians, that kind of “battle” is always a distraction and a trap. For one thing, it will make us forget how much we have contributed and still contribute to this very state of affairs that now so much offends us. To put just one example, the sexual morality and the so- called “bioethics” of the advanced capitalistic societies is obviously tied up with and depends in many ways on the economic interests of particular industries, and on very deep assumptions about the meaning of human life common in capitalistic mentality. It is pathetic to see some Christians renting their clothes about the propositions about sexual life that come from secular society while at the same time defending wholeheartedly the moral autonomy of modern economics or politics.


I do not believe, therefore, that any strategy to conquer influence or power in our societies will do any good to the Church or to the cause of Christianity in any sense. We as Christians cannot have any nostalgia of the days of the past and, least of all, for those very conditions that have led to the invention of the secular as a reaction against a decadent and already reductive image of Christianity. A strategy of looking for influence will only continue to hide to most Christians the fact that the real “enemy” is not truly outside us, but within us, in the exact measure (which is a very large measure) we share those very assumptions whose consequences we criticize so sharply in the decisions of some politicians (but in general only of some).


In consequence, that strategy will only distract us from the only “politics” that is needed in the present situation, and the only one can really make a difference in the world: being the body of Christ, living in the communion of the Holy Spirit in this concrete hour of history. In other words, the “politics” we most need is conversion in order to build up of the Church again as a banner among the nations, as “a nation made from all nations”. An effect of this distraction is that it allows the immense energy Christianity unlashes to be used instrumentally in the favor of political programs that do not and cannot, in any way, be identified with the life the Lord has given us. That life lives in the Church, and not in a political party, not even in one that would eventually present itself as being at the service of the “Christian values”. The circle closes when one realizes that the instrumentality of the Church to a political program becomes by itself – in complete independence of the content of that program – a hindrance to the freedom of the Church and to the faith of the world in Jesus Christ.


And yet, with all this critique of secular reason as one more particular tradition, and with the observation of the deadly consequences that its uncritical acceptance has for the Church and for itself, I have to recognize, and it is essential at this point of our argument to note, in order that this argument not be misunderstood, that at least one aspect of secular reason is the direct heir of Christianity: the affection for reason as such (as for freedom as such, or for the human dignity as such) is so much so a characteristic of Christianity and of Christian tradition that Christianity is uniquely able to embrace whatever truth is contained even in the “secular” criticism of religion. In fact, the secular critique of religion, be that of Feuerbach, Marx, Durkheim or Nietzsche, could not have happened or flourished outside Christian soil.


In fact, in my view, the challenge is so great that implies all of us, every single Christian, every Christian family and every Christian community, wherever we are, and whatever our history, and whatever the wounds we may have caused one another through that history. The challenge cannot be addressed without our being open to learn from one another both the failures and the achievements, and so to help one another with the charity that corresponds to members (suffering members, wounded members) of the one Body of Christ. The first fragmentation of the Christian experience is our division, the first fragmentation of the Church (and the first opening to the rise of secular reason) happens when we stop understanding one another as members of the one Body of Christ.


Then there are the experiences that the Lord makes grow, a little everywhere, in parishes, in the centers of study and culture, wherever there are persons of faith who gather “in the name of Jesus Christ”, and for whom Christ becomes the center of thought and action, because is a gift “more precious than life”. They are sometimes called “movements”, and they are in a sense like new forms of monasticism. They are realities in which the experience of being the Church – a Church with a body – is renewed with a freshness that fills life with joy and hope, in the midst of all the sufferings and trials of life. In them, even if sometimes in a different manner from the one has been usual, Christian rationality grows and can compare itself with other ways of living and thinking; there is again a tradition to pass on, and theology can flourish again.


The Church is a community life centered in the liturgy and the Eucharist. The Eucharist, with all its dimensions (without being reduced in a pietistic and individualistic way) is the practice of the Church, and so, it is a school: a school of community life, a school that allows us to understand in a unique way who is God, who is Christ, who are we; who we are for God, and who we are for one another; and what is the world for us. The Eucharist is the only place of resistance to the annihilation of the human subject. And the Eucharist is also the place where one can learn and experience a universality, which is not the abstract and false universality of modernity, which is not in opposition to local realization, identity and fullness.

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