Healing the Rift Between Faith and Culture

Author: ZENIT


Healing the Rift Between Faith and Culture

Interview With Jaime Antúnez, Editor of Humanitas

Part 1

ROME, 11 OCT. 2005 (ZENIT)

For 10 years the Chile-based Catholic review Humanitas has been promoting dialogue between faith and culture.

For the 10th anniversary of the publication, ZENIT interviewed its editor, Jaime Antúnez Aldunate.

Antúnez holds a doctorate in philosophy. He is a member of the Academy of Social, Political and Moral Sciences of the Institute of Chile.

Part 2 of this interview appears Wednesday.

Q: From your experience over these years, do you think it is possible to overcome the "divorce" between faith and culture?

Antúnez: With the grace of God, we cannot deny that this and much more is perfectly possible.

By overcoming that "divorce," it might be possible to advance decidedly toward a situation — as has been witnessed so many times in so many places over 2,000 years of Christianity — in which faith in Christ becomes the keystone of culture.

The profound relationship between faith and culture is something, moreover, which is appreciated in the genesis and development of all the greatest and oldest civilizations.

Q: But in the intensely secularist atmosphere that prevails in our time, where in many countries characterized by a Christian past, including the Ibero-American, political-cultural actions are being taken of an aggressive secularist bias, does this not seem to be far removed from reality?

Antúnez: In the same measure in which the prevailing atmosphere is difficult and adverse, there are people and nuclei of Christians that are becoming aware of the problem and acting as a consequence.

The existence and development of a culture is something that is not limited and that is far beyond the spectacle, the event or the theater world, which greatly catch the attention of the media in our time. It is an error to confuse this plane with what philosophy properly calls culture.

Sufficiently removed from all this, the real traces of what is culture are found in an horizon that transcends us and that in that same sense invites us to be genuinely free.

It was said magnificently by John Paul II in his address to the U.N. General Assembly in 1995: Every culture is an effort to reflect on the mystery of the world and, in particular, of man: It is a way of manifesting the transcendent dimension of human life. The heart of every culture is constituted by its approach to the greatest of all mysteries: the mystery of God.

Q: In what way do you say that culture invites us to be free? Is there not, perhaps, in the aforementioned an ideological conditioning?

Antúnez: Very much the contrary. An ideology, in the modern sense of the word, is something different from faith, even if it tends to corner the same sociological functions.

Ideology is a work of men, a mechanism by which the political will tries consciously to shape social tradition to his ends.

But faith looks beyond the world of man and his works. It leads man to a higher and more universal degree of reality than the temporal and finite world to which the state and economic order belong.

And for this very reason, it introduces in human life an element of spiritual freedom that can have a creative and transforming influence both on the interior life of each person as well as on the social culture of men and their historic destiny.

Q: How does this occur in a predominantly liberal society, as the one that prevails today virtually throughout the whole world?

Antúnez: A culture is a way of organized life which is supported by a common tradition and animated by a common environment. In this connection, it is like the form of society.

The stronger a culture is — exactly as we see it in Renaissance art, for example, and in so many manifestations through time — such culture forms and transforms more completely the varied human context in which it is incarnated. A society without culture is an information society.

I think there is an inherent factor in the liberal societies in which we live today which we have an obligation to repair. It is the fact that these societies do not offer a concrete meaning to life, for example, a justification of suffering and of people's fears.

Neither do these societies have a plan for the future, capable of mobilizing consciences; they leave the individual exclusively at the mercy of his own concepts, in terms of private personal satisfaction.

This situation makes us reflect, as we can plainly see that the great fruits of culture and of civilization have always rested on the strength of that spiritual and religious dimension of reality, and that in its bankruptcy we also find the origin of the decadence and even of the great tragedies that history shows us.

Borrowing a word from that great British thinker of culture and history that was Christopher Dawson, one could say that when the mystical and prophetic dimension of a culture declines, its very religion also "becomes secular, is absorbed in the cultural tradition to such a point that it identifies with it, and finally it becomes only a way of social activity and perhaps even a slave or accomplice of the powers of this world." Much of this is also happening in the present day. ZE05101121

Part 2

ROME, 12 OCT. 2005 (ZENIT)

An editor of a Catholic journal on culture and anthropology says it is possible to recover the spiritual unity of the culture without giving up scientific progress.

Jaime Antúnez Aldunate, editor of the Chile-based review Humanitas, spoke with ZENIT about promoting dialogue between faith and culture. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of Humanitas.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Tuesday.

Q: From the perspective of culture and considering a context such as that of the present — unified, organized and controlled by knowledge and scientific techniques — what challenge do you see for religion, and particularly for the great universal religions?

Antúnez: It was described and analyzed by [Christopher] Dawson himself, in whose judgment — and he already said this in the '40s — they all survive and continue to influence human life, but all of them have lost their organic relationship with society, which was expressed in the traditional synthesis of religion and culture, both in the East as well as the West.

Therefore, the British philosopher concludes, what we have before our eyes is the most complete, intense and widespread secularization that the world has ever known and, in this connection, what is prevailing as culture in no way is culture in the traditional sense; that is, it is not an order that includes all the aspects of human life in a living spiritual community.

Q: Is this judgment also valid for the Islamic world?

Antúnez: It is, because by the force of events it suffers the same effects. Meanwhile, in all this, one must take very much into account that the vision of contemporary Islam that we are given by the media is that of an ideology much more than that of a religion. An ideology in which the factors of violence that nestle in it are also much more Western than indigenous.

Q: Given the context of technocratic unification that predominates at present, is it possible to recover the spiritual unity of the culture without giving up scientific progress?

Antúnez: It should be, as that scientific-technical progress which we see prevail in the world today, established its foundations and had its beginning and first impulse from a profoundly spiritual and religious culture, such as that of the Christian West.

But what would have to be done is to recover that unity, not to replace it. And I say this, because precisely what is characteristic of the present technocratic era is the absence of such unification. Contrary to it, today we live in a world in which fragmentation predominates, without a counterbalance.

We live, in fact, in an acentric society, as Luhmann has called it, indicating with this the lack of a representation of all in the all, as existed in societies in which religion assumed such representation naturally. Thus, for example, and very particularly, [there is] in the Christian society and culture, whose keystone is Christ, the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, the perfect man who has given back to Adam's posterity the divine likeness, and which fully manifests man to himself showing him the sublimity of his vocation, as the Council teaches and the encyclical "Redemptor Hominis" recalls.

In view of all the preceding — with the nuances that correspond to each age — it doesn't seem bold to affirm that, just as a society that loses its religion becomes, sooner or later, a society that loses its culture, it also seems true to affirm that it is the religious impulse par excellence which gives a society and culture its unifying cohesive force.

Q: What should be done to effect this recovery?

Antúnez: The "technical solutions," so much a part of our contemporary mentality, would have to be discarded. More than that, it is a question of awareness, of becoming aware in order to proceed in awareness.

Awareness, in the first place, of the depth and gravity of that heart-rending cry of Paul VI when he warned how the great tragedy of our time is the rupture or divorce between faith and culture.

Awareness of what John Paul II said that day in May 1982 when he signed the creation of the Pontifical Council for Culture: A faith that does not become culture is a faith that is not accepted in fullness, not thought out in its totality, not lived with fidelity.

Awareness, then, of the mandate given 15 years ago to Catholic universities by the apostolic constitution "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" and the immense hope placed in it.

Awareness, finally, of what Benedict XVI said in Subiaco, at the conclusion of the last conference he delivered as a cardinal of the holy Church, evoking the figure of St. Benedict:

"We need men who have their gaze directed to God, to understand true humanity. We need men whose intellects are enlightened by the light of God, and whose hearts God opens, so that their intellects can speak to the intellects of others, and so that their hearts are able to open up to the hearts of others. Only through men who have been touched by God, can God come near to men." ZE05101220

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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