Faith in a Secular Age

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Faith in a Secular Age:

Disjunctions/Conjunctions between Church and People

June 8-9, 2013                                   Vienna, Austria








This project was initiated under the title: Faith in a Secular Age in a dialogue of Cardinal Francis George and Charles Taylor. This was followed by two volumes now in the process of publication: one on transhumanism or the hope via the sciences to achieve human fulfillment and the other on the role of religion in the public life. It is now the third dimension concerning the role of culture in religion that is experiencing the greatest development.


With the crisis of credibility of the Church and the loss of participants an effort has been undertaken to understand and respond to four growing disjunctions between Church and people traced out by Charles Taylor and José Casanova: (1) the departure of “seekers” from Church practice; (2) the mode of exercising the Church magisterium; (3) the content of its moral teaching and historicity; and (4) plural spiritualities. These were taken up as problematics in a prior meeting at the IMW in Vienna, published as Church and People: Disjunctions in a Secular Age, eds. Charles Taylor, Jose Casanova and George F. McLean (Washington, D.C.: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2012 and available in full text on as series VIII volume 1 under publications).


To respond to this complex of issues a set of teams, developed especially in North America met in Washington, D.C. in December 2-3, 2012. Subsequently a set of teams formed in most Western and Central European countries met in Vienna 8-9, 2013 to compare their individual plans, sketched out in a 100 page booklet.


This strategy of working in teams responds to the emerging recognition in our global age of the significance of cultures or ways of life which shape the corporate perception and response of the different peoples to their deepest issues of meaning and their most consistent and passionate aspirations. This integrating realm of human awareness in which the multiple religious spiritualitities play a central role had been marginalized in the modern search for clear and distinct ideas and the resulting specialization into separate academic disciplines.


But more recent experience suggests that these specialized disciplines are not sufficient. Despite our best piecemeal and specialized efforts the fundamental issues of peace, harmony and progress, whether within or between nations, remain. These call for dialogue or human interchange to delve more deeply into one’s culture so as to understand human issues more fully and direct appropriate responses.


The competencies for such work are present in the universities but arranged in terms of specialized (and isolating) departments and further sub-specializations within departments. There is need then for the formation of teams in order to proceed dialogically so as to go beyond what they could accomplish by themselves. Here the intent would be to reengage the integrating and holistic religious meaning now not as descending top-down but as the emergent work of the spirit from the hearts and souls of the people. Physically this is feasible if the teams are formed in intellectual centers where the members can meet on a regular basis without interrupting their academic schedule or facing costs of travels, room and board.


But if this work in teams brings out the distinctive insight of its people and their culture or way of life then for our global age it will be important for teams in the various cultures or civilizations to be able to work on analogous issues and be in communication with each other. This was the special achievement of the meeting in Vienna as it brought together representatives of teams from most of the Western, Central and Eastern European countries each with their distinctive but related culture and intersecting on the analogous realms of the four disjunctions.


To come upon this set of representatives of the 16 teams from this region was not unlike encountering a multifaceted diamond whose every face reflected the work of the Spirit in its own special way and when expertly crafted could constitute a brilliantly complementary harmony. Jose Casanova may have best expressed the surprise and enthusiasm generated by the meeting. When we sat down to strategize for the future, his first words were that he may never have experienced such a combination of serious scholarship and pastoral engagement emerging from the multiple experiences of their peoples.


If the first (the seekers) and the fourth (plural spiritaulities) disjunctions concerned directly the people while the second (magisterium) and third (the content of its moral teaching) concerned rather the institution then the pattern of choices in relation to the four disjunctions was itself instructive. The North American teams self-deployed more evenly to all four disjunctions. The European teams however avoided almost entirely the second and third or more institutionally oriented issues and began almost univocally on the first disjunction of seekers and dwellers with major attention to the modes of spirituality being pursued. This may echo what has been broadly suggested, namely, that the process of secularization is more advanced in Europe. If so its experience both of the issues and of the responses may be especially indicative for the future and reveal how the religious resources stored in the cultural traditions can be transformed and pointed forward in a dynamic manner for constructing paths into the future (see appendix).


Tomas Halik looked ahead to strategize how the results of which this combination of working teams gives promise could be shared with the leadership team at the Vatican, and indeed with the new spirit of encounter with the world of diverse religious cultures for which Pope Francis calls on every occasion. But this depends on truly deep and penetrating encounters which begin as the interchange within each team now in process or in formation. The breathtaking prospect as we gathered around the table in Vienna was that the cultures represented hold the prospect of reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit not only in each people separately, but cumulatively as well. The insights of each could stimulate the others to mine more deeply and elaborate more richly the resources of their own culture. This holds the prospect of a world in which the distinctive identity of the many peoples is enhanced by being related to others.


The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (RVP) on August 4, 2013 will receive the Global Dialogue Prize (see citation attached) for its lines of communication with the various cultures of the world, e.g., whether Christian or Confucian, Buddhist or Hindu, Islamic or Jewish, Eastern or Central Asian, East or West African. In these global times these too must be part of this encounter thereby enriching a Church which Pope Francis has suggested may have become too closed and self-referential for this global age.


It is an exciting prospect which we began to flesh out in an extended exploration on June 10th. Key contacts in the many religious cultures across the globe have already been made by the RVP. Your ideas are invited on what global structure and process would promote this meeting of hearts and minds and draw out the distinctive genius of each people in living the life of the Spirit in this newly global age.




The plans of the teams as they take up the task of thinking through the particular issue(s) they have chosen to address manifest some considerable interrelations which enable them to be mutually complementary. This is manifested on the attached Chart on which the “X” indicates the main disjunction being addressed and “O” indicates some of the other disjunctions they plan to address in the process.


Yet each of these teams begins from a focus on the its own cultural context and intends to make its proper contribution. Hence, it can be expected that the insights will be diverse and yet mutually suggestive. These are potentially without limit but a few sample points can be noted in the form of questions and simply by way of example.


1/ In some cases the Catholic context has in a country’s past been overriding and there is danger of attempting to restore that. Rather in the present circumstances it is necessary to realize the condition of being a minority in relation to a broader public consisting of other confessions and/or of those notably secularized. What then is the appropriate stance of a newly minority Church. Farther what is the appropriate presentation of the gospel not as dogma but as aiding people in their life search?


2/ Is it possible to look upon the forces of secularization as a kenotic purification of a wounded faith and to seek shared values in dialogue and concrete action with those intent upon not professing any faith? Or is it possible to have deep commitment to certain values but in a “gray zone” as far as the relation of these values to any religious commitment?


3/ Some might think of kenosis as a way of attenuating an oppressive mode of Church authority and opening the way to democratic values of critical assent. But it would be counterproductive to see this as a way of employing democratic values in order for the magisterium to restore its authority. Yet this is not to leave each individual alone to find his or her way. Instead some would suggest that it is necessary to rebuild structured Catholic institutions, possibly employing ideas from the pragmatism of John Dewey. How would this be related to the theology of the Church?


4/ It is empirically noted that the large body of respondents situate themselves in the middle between believers and unbelievers and that it is inappropriate to address then as “believing but not belonging”. Rather they might be considered as longing rather than belonging. In this case would the exercise of the “soft power” of the Church be more effective in attracting people to the fullness of life? Would this point not toward restoring the past but toward a precarious multiplicity of groups presenting a plurality of spiritual paths, which others might term a patchwork spirituality for a remnant Church?


5/ As the role of historicity becomes more evident it may suggest that a major weakness has been the failure of the Church to develop a systematic understanding of its own agency which must bridge dogma and existence. Here is it better to avoid being too specific in universal moral guidance lest it inflict spiritual violence on people who are on the move beyond atheism in a secular atmosphere. Indeed is there a place in the world today for the role of Christian public intellectual; for reenchantment or for a sense of the invisible mission of grace?




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