Saturday, February 16, 2008

New Theologies of the Body

Policraticus has this to say over at Vox Nova:
Pope Benedict XVI is a man of great intellect and sentiment, and I find his brief analysis of Marx to be balanced and fair. It is encouraging to see that true Catholic thinking still attempts to do justice to even the most flawed and detrimental ideas in history. I hope all of us will follow the Pope’s lead in informing ourselves and appreciating the thought of those we intend to critique. Such is the real union between fides et ratio.
I feel like I haven't seen enough commentary on Spe Salvi, so I was glad to see that the full post is a commentary on probably the now most well known section of the encyclical outlining a brief history of atheism in Europe. I had planned on making a similar comment as the one above on Benedict's ability to do justice to flawed ideas. I was surprised the first time I realized that his "Introduction to Christianity" never quotes Thomas Aquinas even once and instead prefers to draw broadly from ideas in many traditions. Just the other day I was reading the Papal Address to Participants in the Congress on Women. In that statement, which is excellent, he comments on the current anthropological vacuum that exists in the Christian world as far as articulation is concerned.
Certainly a renewed anthropological research is necessary that, on the basis of the great Christian tradition, incorporates the new advances of science and the datum of contemporary cultural sensibilities, contributing in this way to the deepened understanding not only of feminine identity but also masculine identity, which is frequently the object of partial and ideological reflections.
The view of the body as the locus of ideology has become presumed knowledge since the work of Foucoult hit the mainstream. For example, his famous quote: Nothing in man -- not even his body -- is sufficiently stable to serve as the basis for self-recognition or for understanding other men.

The body for Foucoult is simply a historical "play of dominations." Like many postmoderns, however, the answer for Foucoult remains too characteristically modern. If Reason is critique and ideology, then the only place for it to turn is toward constant never ending self-referential deconstruction. There is no way out. Anthropology is nothing in this case but genealogy, and the construction of an ideology is simply the institution of less violent plays of domination. But not so for Benedict, as it was not for John Paul II. Blazing new ground in a way that has not been appreciated by many, George McAleer points out in his fantastic new book, "Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics" and Fergus Kerr in "Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians" the importance and newness of their reflections on sexual difference and theologies of the body. What to they do?
In the face of cultural and political currents that attempt to eliminate, or at least to obfuscate and confuse, the sexual differences written into human nature, considering them to be cultural constructions, it is necessary to recall the design of God that created the human being male and female, with a unity and at the same time an original and complementary difference. Human nature and the cultural dimension are integrated in an ample and complex process that constitutes the formation of the identity of each, where both dimensions -- the feminine and the masculine -- correspond to and complete each other.
They go back, as John Paul famously did, "to the beginning." Not to the Transcendental Ego of Husserl, not to Decartes' Cogito, but to the God-made image from the beginning. John Paul's use of the Subject, while potentially dangerous at times, was exploited primarily by him in the analysis of interiority. This interiority however is never self-evident to itself. It remains fastened to the "Great Hope" of Spe Salvi, ever in its past in its Creation ex nihilo, and ever in its Eschatological realization. The Self is not a Thing, nor a Construction, nor a Transcendental Observer. It is... what God created it to be. This seems to be a big part of Benedicts's message in Spe Salvi. The self is the self that clings to God in hope. Overcoming the modern and postmodern heresies, faith places the self firmly in the horizon of God's plan.

I recently went to my graduate professor's office to suggest a paper I want to write on postmodern gender theory and the theology of the body of John Paul II. Though at a Catholic institution, I was not surprised to find she had never heard of it. Nor severely disappointed. John Paul began something, something that Benedict above describes as a project that "incorporates the new advances of science and the datum of contemporary cultural sensibilities." But what he did was not supposed to stop. Many commentaries have come out on his work, but these alone are entirely inadequate to the task. What the Church needs is not more research into Scheler and John Paul's methodology - though that is useful - but many more such projects doing what he did, with the work of modern gender theory and psychoanalysis. These, "on the basis of the great Christian tradition," will lend to the Church the tools needed for a continual re-articulation of a Catholic anthropology.

Markel, SJ

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