Friday, January 22, 2010
Continuing Amy's and Rick's reflections on John Allen's first trend, the World Church, one of the things that intrigued me most was something of a contradiction. On the one hand, as Amy pointed out, he characterizes attitudes toward the supernatural as "perhaps the fundamental dividing line between the religious climates of the North and the South." He says that we Christians of the North are reluctant to talk too openly about the spiritual world, citing skepticism about things like appearances of the Virgin Mary, miraculous healings, and demonic possession. In the South, in contrast, the spiritual world is "tangible, palpable, and constantly nearby -- in some ways, more real than the physical world." He speculates that a future pope from the global South might "issue an encyclical presenting Jesus Christ as the definitive answer to the 'spirits of the world' . . . A document from the Vatican along these lines would arguably stand a better chance of finding an audience at the global Catholic grassroots than virtually any other subject that Western theological elites might desire a future pope to address." (I have to confess, as a Northern Christian (1) with a great fascination for Marian apparitions, and (2) who gets REALLY creeped out by demonic possession movies like "The Exorcist" and "Paranormal Activity", I'd be among that eager audience.)
But, Allen also makes some very interesting observations about the vantage point of the global South in its dialogue with the secular world and with other faiths that seems somewhat at odds the way that characterization of the South as more 'superstitious', less sceptical. I found this one in particular absolutely fascinating -- he suggests that in the global North: "Where the main rival to Catholicism is agnostic secularism, popular caricatures of Catholicism will style it as a conservative social institution, perhaps a little hide-bound. Where the alternative [as in the global South] is Islam or Pentecostalism, however, Catholicism often appears comparatively moderate and sophisticated, arguably better able to engage modern science, politics, and economics than its competitors."
What would these two trends mean for us as Catholic legal theorists, if we ourselves really open ourselves up to these somewhat contradictory influences from the Global South? If we considered our debating partners as being NOT the agnostic, secular world of the American legal academy, but instead the Islamic or Pentacostal world, and if we were more open to the influence of the spiritual world into the physical world, could we still be credible as legal theorists?
I think I've opened this for comments.