Christian Social And Political Commitment

Many Christians in Latin America switched from being political conservatives to being Christian Democrats. As we mentioned in an earlier chapter, the rise of Christian Democratic Parties was bound up with the overall effort to establish a "new" Christendom. Such parties were professedly "Christian." The problem is that while Christianity can criticize a political system, it can never be identified with anyone political system. Whenlit is, we end up with some version of Christendom and all the ambiguity it entails.

A Christian can say that a given political party and its platform is more compatible with the Christian faith than any other concrete party. But he must be ready to change that opinion in a year or two if it no longer accords with the real situation. We must not eternalize temporal realities. There are two aspects involved here: the Christian faith and socio-political interpretation of the real-Iife situation. Let us see what has gone on in Latin America in certain Instances.

The notion of Christian Democratic political parties developed with such figures as Alside De Gasperi in Italy, Konrad Adenauer in West Germany, and Eduardo Frei in Chile. Where Christians were well organized, and where there were strong leftist groups in opposition, Christian Democratic parties have managed to win political power. In other countries, such as Argentina and Colombia, where populist groups tended to be centrist, Christian Democratic parties have never really won power. Today it seems unlikely that such parties will exert the same influence they once did, for many people now feel that they have failed to effect the social revolution they proclaimed. Many Christians are moving towards Marxism as a purely political and economic interpretation of reality. Following the line of thinking espoused by people like Louis Althusser, they feel that they can dissociate Marx's thinking as an economist and social observer from his anthropological and ontologi-cal underpinnings. In other words, they feel they can be Marxists in economics and Christians in their faith.

This feeling is open to serious question, I think. If one moves from Das Kapital to other writings of Marx-e. g., Misère de la philosophie, Die deutsche ldeologie, and the manuscripts of 1844-one finds that a whole anthropology, ontology, and theology underlie his economics. Marx is a panontist, who affirms the totality as divine. This is a fact, it seems to me, and most critiques of Marx are superficial because they fail to take this into account.11

The implications of this basic fact are becoming clearer, I think. Some Christians in Chile left the Christian Democratic Party to form MAPU, a Marxist party of Christians. When a Cubfln visitor expressed delight at meeting Christian Marxists, the MAPU delegates insisted that in their political gatherings they were Marxists. The Cuban delegate then asked them why they did not join the Communist Party if that were the case. The MAPU members resisted that idea because somehow they also felt that they were Christians. It is the implicit contradiction in all this that has led some to leave MAPU and form MIC, a leftist but nonMarxist Christian political party. Here again, however, they have felt obliged to append the label "Christian" to their political party. To do this is, in my opinion, to use the Church as a tool for one's own political ends.

This is not to suggest that the Christian cannot be involved in efforts to implement socialism in Latin America. The whole question of socialism has been opened up once again by certain Latin American bishops: Ccindido Padim, Carlos Gonzalez, Helder Camara, Sergio Mendez Arceo, and so forth. They have pointed out that there can be a humanistic and Christian version of socialism. The bishops of Peru formulated a strong statement along these lines at their 1971 Synod: "Christians ought to opt for socialism. We do not mean a bureaucratic, totalitarian, or atheistic socialism; we mean a socialism that is both humanistic and Christian." Note that they say "ought to,"not "may," opt for socialism; four times in their statement they refer to the "desirability" of such an option today. In his recent letter to Cardinal Roy of Canada, Pope Paul VI noted that certain versions of socialism are incompatible with Christianity. It would seem, then, that some forms of socialism are compatible with Christianity. We have broken through the theoret ical knot that once tied up our thinking on this matter.

Back in 1850 "democracy" was a bad word in the Church. Men like Lammenais and Lacordaire were looked upon with disfavor for mentioning such things. Many churchmen came from upper-class families, and talk about democracy and the workingman's rights smacked too much of the French Revolution. Today we are far beyond that ontroversy, so much so that talk about Christian Democracy seems to be somewhat behind the times. In some circles the Christian Democrat is viewed as a member of the elite who wants to continue discredited "developmentalist" ideas and policies. We seem to be moving towards more serious consideration of socialism.

Some people, of course, may sharply disagree with what I am saying here. My main point, however, is the same one brought out by the Peruvian bishops: "The mission of the Church is to open people's minds and hearts to a consideration of the most pressing and urgent problems."

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