Political Conditioning

We must also consider the conditioning influence of political factors, for it is an importantone. To be part of a social class is to enjoy the fruits of its culture and the benefits of its power. Let me give a little example of that fact. When a clergyman has to go down to a municipal office for some reason, he is often invited to leave the long line of people waiting for service and to come right to the front. He readily avails himself of the offer, pretending that it is a mark of respect for the Church or God's minister. In reality he is enjoying the privileges of a class that has social power. Such power, insofar as it exerts domination over others, is sin. Clergymen make full use of the political power shared by their class when they jump ahead in line or use their muscle in administrative dealings.

We often fail to realize that we are engaging in politics. We pretend we are not, and criticize those who do so openly. But only those who profess their politicking have truly realized the influence of political conditioning on the lives of all of us. If we do not consciously advert to our political conditioning, our actions will be determined by it in a less than human way. We will be the unwitting spokesmen of the politics of the status quo, whereas the professedly political activity of others may actually be evangelical.


We are also subject to religious conditioning, and here the whole matter of folk religiosity is very pertinent. For example, we may have grown up in an atmosphere of folk religiosity, then moved away from it, and now find it impossible to make any valid judgment about it.

The whole matter of folk Catholicism, the Catholicism of the people at large, is an important issue for pastoral praxis. We have gone through several stages of thinking on the whole matter, and they are worth reviewing here. Up to the 1940s and 1950s, the prevailing pastoral outlook in Latin America was one of proud optimism. Notice was taken of the fact that more than ninety percent of our people were baptized in the Church. The people of Latin America were Catholics, our countries were Catholic countries. Such was the boast.

The situation changed when some of our theologians read what Europeans were saying about the missionary status of their own countries. France is a mission territory, said Henri Godin, in his startling book, France, Pays de Mission. Then Alberto Hurtado, S.J., questioned how Catholic Chile really was (┬┐Es Chile unpais catolico?, Santiago, 1941). Theologians began to wonder whether there was any real Christian faith in Latin America. Our people, it seemed, were imbued with superstitious beliefs and practices; magic and miracle seemed to be their major interest. A new hypothesis was fashioned: only a small grou p of Latin Americans were conscious Catholics nurturing real faith. The rest of the people evinced a vague re-

ligiosity compounded of superstition and fragmentary ideas.

Then we moved to a third stage of thinking about the whole matter. Our theologians suddenly realized that we did not have any solid criteria for judging how real or how solid was the faith of simple people. How were we to find out? In the previous stage, sociological surveys had been in vogue. People went around with their questionnaires and asked questions: Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the Trinity? Do you believe in the soul? Are you an atheist? In many instances the respondents may not have understood the questions or even heard such language before. The fact is that the questionnaires were framed in the context of a culture that itself was alienated from the people of Latin America. Thus their responses were misleading to a large extent, because they answered from within the context of their own different world. Fortunately, we have lost some of our passion for questionnaires.

If I want to know what average people think, I must de-culturate myself insofar as I am able. I must try to get into their world, so that I can dialogue with them in meaningful terms. I must enter a new novitiate, as it were, so that I can operate with hermeneutic and interpretative criteria that are more real and anthropological. We are just now beginning to do that. We are coming to realize that faith is not necessarily a matter of educated self-awareness. Consider the faith of the martyrs and the great saints, for example. It may not always have been articulate and learned in its expression, but it was deeply and truly lived in practice.

So now we are beginning to give more respectful consideration to the faith of our people. We have dropped the air of triumphalism, to be sure, but we also feel that an undercurrent of real religiosity may underlie seemingly questionable practices. We are beginning to detect in people's lives a real openness to the Infinite and a real sense of individual finiteness. If educated Catholics really want to understand the feelings of the people, they must be willing to admit that their training may have alienated them from their own people to some extent.

In another work of mine, I explored the songs and popular music of the Argentinian people as indications of folk Catholicism.1 We often tend to think that people are mute, that they do not know how to express what they are. The fact is that they do express their beliefs, but in many different channels which we are not accustomed to taking seriously. We send out our alienated questionnaires, note the lack of response, and come to the conclusion that the respondents have no real religious beliefs. But they express a great deal of their view of life in popular songs, the tango, folk music, and folk wisdom. We must break out of the cultural mold in which we are enclosed by education and training. We must learn to listen so that we can truly dialogue with people in their world.


We have been taught that peace is the "tranquillity of order." It is a classic definition, and ithas.geared us towards a respect for order. But, as Dom Helder Camara notes, "tranquillity of order" in a pond is complete stagnation. The waters must be stirred up and fed afresh with clear rainwater in order to be of any real use.

We must realize that it is not enough to feel at home in our world. Everything may seem fine to us, but in fact our cultural world may be peaceful because it is quite dead. There may be nothing left to do but bury the corpses. The only thing we can really do as Christians is open up to the Other; a fresh way of Christian living will appear to us in the very process of liberation. This opening to the Other is an essential outlook and attitude. We must take our place with the Other, pay heed to what is happening day by day, and thus participate in the process of liberation.

The process of liberation itself is the only means whereby we can discover in the concrete what factors are alienating us on different levels. Hence we must involve ourselves in that process. But it is easier said than done. Father J.Y. Jolif, a French Dominican, is a great philosopher. He noted once that the death of the philosopher is indifference, and that only when he is truly dead, as Socrates was, is he a great philosopher. Well, Christians are dead when they no longer disturb anyone, when their prophetic voice is stilled. christians are truly Christian when their prophetic voice is heard; and it can be heard only when they maintain the risky attitude of criticizing any established totality.

We must opt for liberation in the concrete, shouldering the risks entailed. Each individual can discern for himself where his own option lies, ifhe remains open to the process itself. To avoid the option is to betray our Christian commitment.

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