How Christianity Lives Today

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

The secularization process has brought to light three ways of living the Christian message in Latin America and Brazil

The great analysts of history have confirmed to us that for a century now we have been living in a new phase of the spirit of our culture. It is the phase of secularization. This means that the structuring axis of modern society no longer resides in the religious world, but in the autonomy of terrestrial realities, in the secular world. Hence the talk of secularization. This does not mean denying God, just that He no longer represents the factor of social cohesion. In its place enter reason, human rights, the process of scientific development that translates into a technical operation, producer of material goods and the social contract.

This is not the place to discuss the avatars of this process. It is worth pointing out the transformations it brought to the religious field, namely, through Roman-Catholic Christianity.

There was a huge gap between the values ​​of secularized modernity (democracy, human rights, freedom of conscience, dialogue between churches and religions, etc.) and traditional Catholicism. This disconnection was overcome by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in which the hierarchical Church sought to settle the step that came under the name of updating, to catch up with the progress of the Church in line with the progress of the modern world.

The background of all conciliar texts was the modern developed world. In Latin America, the various episcopal conferences sought to assume the views of Vatican II in the context of the underdeveloped world, something practically absent in the conciliar texts. Hence, a liberating reading was born, as underdevelopment was understood as the development of poverty and misery, therefore, of oppression that demands liberation. Here are the roots of Liberation Theology, which is based on the practice of the Churches, committed to overcoming poverty and misery, based on the values ​​of the practice of Jesus and the prophets.

The secularization process has brought to light three ways of living the Christian message in Latin America and Brazil.

There is a form of what we would call a “cultural Christianity” that has pervaded society since colonization. People breathe Christianity in its humanistic values ​​of respect for human rights, care for the poor, even in the form of welfare and paternalism, acceptance of democracy and peaceful coexistence with other churches or spiritual paths. Of the more than 70% of Catholics, only 5% attend Mass. They do not deny the value of the Church, but it is not an existential reference. Either because it did not substantially renew its clerical-hierarchical structure, its doctrinal language and its symbols inherited from the past.

There is another type of “commitment Christianity”. These are people who, linked to the hierarchical Church, assume their faith in their social and political expressions. The main reference is not the institutional Church, but the category of the historical Jesus, of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not a physical space nor does it resemble the kings of this world. It is a metaphor for an absolute revolution that implies new individual relationships: the conversion of social relationships into (i) fraternal relationships, (ii) ecological – guarding and caring for the Garden of Eden, that is to say the living Earth, and finally, (iii) ) a new religious relationship – a total openness to God, seen as a dear Abba-father, full of love and mercy. These Christians created their movements such as the JUC, the JEC, the Faith and Politics Movement, the Economy of Francisco and Clara and others.

There is another way of living Christianity, without consciously referring to it, in a secularized way. These are people who can qualify as agnostic or as atheists or simply not self-defining. But they follow an ethical path of centrality to love, fidelity to the truth, respect for all people without discrimination, concern for the impoverished and care for the created and other humanistic values.

Now, these values ​​are the contents of the preaching of the historical Jesus. As can be read in the four gospels, he was always on the side of life and those who had less life, healing them, sympathizing with them, defending women, against the extremely patriarchal tradition of the time, and calling for an unrestricted openness to all , even stating that “whoever comes to me I will not send away” (Jn 6,37:XNUMX). At the Gospel of Saint Matthew (25, 41-46) which we can call the gospel of the humanistic atheists, it is said that whoever “took care of the hungry or the thirsty, the pilgrim or the sick or in jail… you did it to me” (v.45).

Therefore, to live Christianity it is necessary to live love, have compassion and feel the pain of another. Those who do not live these values, however pious they may be, are far from Christ and their prayers do not reach God.

Saint John in his epistles emphasizes: “God is love and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1 Jn 4,16). Elsewhere he says: “He who does good is of God” (3 Jn 1,11:XNUMX).

Here, what the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer, who participated in a failed attack on Hitler, said: “live as if God did not exist” (etsi Deus non daretur).

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian and philosopher. Author, among other books, of Christ's resurrection and ours in death (Vozes).


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