The political dimension of faith

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

A reflection on the relevance of the Christian faith in the face of politics, whether social or partisan.

Faith is not a act alongside others. But it's a attitude which encompasses all acts, the whole person, feelings, intelligence, will and life choices. It is an original experience of encounter with the Mystery we call the living God and with the risen Jesus. This meeting changes life and the way of seeing all things. By the attitude of faith we see that everything is connected and reconnected to God, like that Father/Mother who created everything, accompanies everything and attracts everything so that everyone can live with a fraternal spirit, with care for each other and for nature.

This social love is the central message of Pope Francis' new encyclical Fratelli tutti. Faith is not only good for eternity, but also for this world. In this sense, faith also encompasses politics with a capital P (social policy) and a small p (party politics). One can always ask: to what extent politics, whether social or partisan, is an instrument for realizing the goods of the Kingdom such as social love, fraternity without borders, personal and social justice, solidarity and tolerance; to what extent does politics create the conditions for people to open up to cooperation and not to devour each other by competition but to communion with each other and with God. This is called by the recent encyclical of Pope Francis Fratelli tutti “the Better Policy” that includes the heart and even the tenderness and kindness as surprisingly said there.

Faith as a Bicycle

Faith is not just a personal experience of meeting God and Christ in the Spirit. It translates concretely into life. she is like a bike; it has two wheels through which it becomes concrete: the wheel of religion and the wheel of politics.

A wheel of religion it takes place through meditation, prayer, celebrations, reading the Bible, including the popular one, through pilgrimages, through the sacraments, in a word, through worship. Many reduce religion to this wheel alone. Especially Catholic TV networks. These are, generally, of a merely devotional Christianity, of masses, saints, rosaries and family ethics. Social justice, the drama of the millions of unemployed, the cry of the oppressed and the cry of the Earth are almost never mentioned.

In this field, a commitment is needed, to take a side, to escape cynicism in the face of reality with so many iniquities. For this type of Christianity it is difficult to understand why Jesus was arrested, tortured, tried and sentenced to death on a cross. That kind of Christianity is comfortable. Jesus would have died of old age and surrounded by followers.

More serious is the type of faith proclaimed by neo-Pentecostal churches with their televisions and multitudinous programs. There, the message of the Kingdom of love, justice, fraternity and forgiveness is never heard. The fundamental words of the historical Jesus are never heard: “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God… woe to you who are rich, for you already have your consolation” (Lk 6:20.24). In its place, he returns to a type of reading of the Old Testament (rarely the prophetic tradition) where material goods are emphasized. They preach not the gospel of the Kingdom, but the gospel of material prosperity. Logically, most are poor and need a basic material infrastructure. It is real hunger that torments millions of faithful. But “man does not live on bread alone” said the Master.

Deep down, human beings have another type of hunger: hunger for recognition denied to women, the humblest, blacks, homoaffectives, LGBT people, hunger for beauty, for transcendence, inherent in human nature, finally, hunger for a God alive that is of tenderness and love for the most invisible. All this, the essence of the message of the historical Jesus, is not heard in the words of the shepherds. These, most of them, are wolves in sheep's clothing, as they exploit the simple faith of the humblest for their own benefit. And the worst thing is that they are politically conservative and even reactionary, they act as if parties were, normally, supporting politicians with dubious conduct, interfering, as is the current case in Brazil, in the government's agenda, appointing names for high positions. They do not respect the Constitution that prescribes the secularity of the State. The current president, formerly Catholic, for convenience takes advantage of these neo-Pentecostal churches as a base of support for his reactionary, authoritarian and fascist government.

Alongside them, there is a group of Catholics who are nostalgic for the past, conservatives who even oppose the Pope, the Pan-Amazonian Synod, using true lies, fake news and other attacks by your youtubers. They may be conservative Catholics, but never Christians in the heritage of Jesus, because this heritage does not fit the hatred, lies and slander that they propagate.

Faith has a second wheel, of politics; it's its practical side. Faith is expressed through the practice of justice, solidarity, denunciation of oppression, protest and the practice of solidarity without borders, social love and universal fraternity, as the Pope emphasizes in the Fratelli tutti (n.6). As you can see, politics here is synonymous with ethics. We have to learn to balance ourselves on two wheels in order to walk correctly.

Among those who live an ethic of solidarity, respect and the search for truth, there are many who confess to being atheists. They admire the figure of Jesus for his deep humanity and courage in denouncing the social ills of his time and, therefore, suffering persecution and being crucified. Well emphasizes Pope Francis: I prefer these ethical atheists than Christians indifferent to human suffering and the clamorous injustices of the world. Those who seek justice and truth are on the path that ends in God, because their true reality is one of love and truth. Such values ​​are worth more than many prayers if justice, truth and love are not present in them. Those who are deaf to human suffering have nothing to say to God and their prayers are not heard by Him.

For the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, the wheel of politics (ethics) emerges more important than the wheel of institutional religion (cult, cf. Mt 7,21-22; 9,13; 12,7; 21,28-31; Gal 5,6 ,2,14; Jas XNUMX and the OT prophets). Without ethics, faith is empty and inoperative. They are practices and not preaching that tell God. It's no use saying “Lord, Lord” and with that organizing a whole celebration and religious aerobics; more important is to do the Father's will, which is love, mercy, justice and forgiveness, all practical and therefore ethical things (cf. Mt 7:21).

By ethics in politics is meant the dimension of responsibility, the will to build relationships of participation and not of exclusion in all spheres of social life. It means being transparent and abhorring corruption. Today, problems such as hunger, unemployment, the general deterioration of living conditions and the exclusion of large majorities are of a social and political nature, therefore ethical. So faith must show its force of mobilization and transformation (Fratelli tutti n.166).

Social policy (P) and party politics (p)

As mentioned above, there are two types of politics: one written with a capital P and the other with a small p: social policy (P) and party politics (p).

Social policy (P): is everything that concerns the common good of society; or else it is the participation of people in social life. Thus, for example, the organization of health, the school network, transport, opening and maintenance of streets, water and sewage, etc. has to do with social policy, as well as fighting to get a health center in the neighborhood, if unite to bring the bus line to the top of the hill: all of this is social policy. Briefly defining, we can say: social policy or Politics with a capital P means the common pursuit of the common good.

Party politics (p): means the struggle for state power, to conquer municipal, state and federal government. Political parties exist in order to attain state power, either to change it (libertarian process), or to exercise it as it is constituted (govern the status quo existing). The party, as the word already says, is part and parcel of society, not the whole of society. Each party has behind it interests of groups or classes that elaborate a project, aiming at the whole of society. If they reach state power (government) they will command public policies according to their program and their particular view of the problems.

With reference to party politics, it is important for a person of faith to consider the following points: (a) What is the party's program? (b) How do the people get into this program? whether it was discussed at the bases; whether it responds to the real and urgent demands of the people; whether popular participation is envisaged, through its movements and organizations; if these were heard in its conception, implementation and control; (c) Who are the candidates representing the program? What biography do they have, if they have always maintained an organic connection with the grassroots, if they are truly allies and representatives of the causes of justice and social transformation with more justice and rights or if they want to keep social relations as they are, with contradictions and even iniquities that close.

Nowadays, given the rise of conservative and fascistoid thinking in Brazil and other countries around the world, the participation of conscious and committed Christians is necessary to recover democracy that is at risk of demolition, personal and social rights and also the rights of nature, devastated by the greed of Brazilian and world capital, responsible, among others, for the great fires in the Amazon and the Pantanal.

These simple criteria are enough to understand the profile of the party and the candidates, right (if they want to keep unchanged the balance of power that favors those in power), left (whether substantial changes are aimed at overcoming perverse structures that marginalize the great majority) or center (the parties that balance between the left and the right, always looking for advantages for themselves and for the groups they represent).

For Christians, it is necessary to analyze to what extent such programs are in tune with the project of Jesus and the apostles, how they help in the liberation of the oppressed and marginalized and in what sense they open space for everyone's participation. But it is worth emphasizing: the party decision is a matter of each conscience and a Christian knows which direction to take.

Given the context of social exclusion due to the logic of neoliberalism, the financialization of the economy and the market, faith points to a party policy that must reveal a popular and libertarian dimension, from the bottom up and from the inside out, as Pope Francis has proclaimed to popular social movements and in the encyclical Fratelli tutti (n.141-151). This policy aims at another type of democracy: not just representative/delegative democracy, but a participatory democracy in which the people, with their organizations, help to discuss, decide and address social issues.

Finally, it is important to inaugurate a socio-ecological democracy that incorporates as citizens with rights to be respected: the Earth, the ecosystems and the beings of creation with which we maintain relationships of interdependence. We are all "tutti fratelli” according to the two encyclicals of Pope Francis, “Laudate Sì: on caring for our Common Home” and the recent one from 2020 Fratelli tutti.

Party politics has to do with power, which in order to be strong always wants more power. There is a risk in this, the risk of the totalitarianism of politics, of politicizing all issues, of seeing only the political dimension of life. Against this we must say that Everything is political, but politics is not everything.O. Human life, personal and social, appears with other dimensions, such as affective, aesthetic, recreational and religious.

Conclusion: the dangerous memory of Jesus

Christians can and should participate in politics at all levels, capital P and small p. Its action is inspired by the dream of Jesus which implies an impulse to transform social and ecological relations, courageously presented in the encyclical Fratelli tutti. Never, however, must forget that we are heirs of the dangerous and liberating memory of Jesus.

Because of his commitment to the Kingdom project of love, justice, filial intimacy with the Father and specifically, his compassion for the humiliated and offended, he was brought to death on the cross. If he rose, it was in order, in the name of the God of life, to animate insurrection against a social and partisan policy that penalizes the poorest, eliminates the prophets, pursues preachers of greater justice and reinforces everyone who wants a new society with a relationship of fraternity and care for nature, for all beings , loved as brothers and sisters and with the God of tenderness and goodness.

*Leonardo Boff he is a theologian, a philosopher. Author, among other books, of Brazil: complete the refoundation or extend the dependency (Voices).

 

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