I have just been making a brave attempt to read the Final Document from the Amazonian Synod, and what an extraordinary chore it is! The title is the cumbersome Amazonia: New Ways for the Church and an Integral Theology.
I know one must make allowances for translation clunkiness and a certain obscurity of vision within any theological, ecclesiastical document, but what troubles me most about this document apart from the content (which I will get to in a moment) is the Fozzy Bear theology. For those who are not aware, Fozzy Bear theology is like Fozzy Bear himself, rather a sweety in many ways, but not the brightest penny in the pot. Fozzy Bear is like the honey he likes: sweet but thick.
So it is with the language of the Final Document. It is sentimental but obtuse. The reason converts from Anglicanism like myself get ourselves worked up about this sort of language is because it is the same mumbo jumbo gobbledegook we learned to recognize within Anglicanism. The studied vagueness, the circumlocution, generous use of euphemisms mixed with a dose of emotional blackmail and appeal to emotions and political and utilitarian arguments.
There wasn’t really any meat. There wasn’t even mashed potatoes.
However, the lack of substance is all dressed up in intellectual sounding language to try to impress people…like putting cheese and bacon bits on grits.
It would be easy to write this off as bad writing, but bad writing is a sign of bad thinking. Lack of clarity in expression comes from lack of clarity in thinking, and the ambiguity and fuzziness of current Vatican language is very worrying therefore. Does it matter? I think it does because this lack of clear thinking is either just that–a certain amateurish duderheadedness–or it is intentional.
In other words, the authors are either fools or knaves. I used to think they were just fools. I’m coming around to believe that they are actually knaves.
In other words, their ambiguity is intentional. They don’t want to speak clearly because they know, were they to speak clearly about their intentions, their plans would be rejected by the majority of the faithful as un-Catholic. So they shroud their true intent in ambiguity, emotional blackmail and theological subterfuge.
So what is the content of the document? There is rather a lot of it (which is also worrying. I increasingly distrust long books and long words)
Surprisingly for a Catholic document, the introduction never mentions Jesus Christ the Blessed Mother or even God. Instead alarm is expressed about the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest. The introduction concludes with:
The celebration of the Synod managed to highlight the integration of the voice of the Amazon with the voice and feelings of participating pastors . It was a new experience of listening to discern the voice of the Spirit who leads the Church to new paths of presence, evangelization and intercultural dialogue in the Amazon. The claim, which arose in the preparatory process , that the Church was an ally of the Amazon, was strongly affirmed . The celebration ends with great joy and hope of embracing and practicing the new paradigm of integral ecology, the care of the “common home” and the defence of the Amazon.
And so the tone was set. The first paragraph of the next section states:
“Christ points to the Amazon” (Paul VI, attrib.). He frees everyone from sin and bestows on them the dignity of the sons and daughters of God. Listening to the Amazon, in the spirit of a disciple and in the light of the Word of God and of Tradition, leads us to a profound conversion of our plans and structures to Christ and his Gospel.
With this blatant statement of universalism the true theological tone for any talk of conversion is established. “Christ frees everyone from sin and bestows on them the dignity of the sons and daughters of God.” Really? No need for conversion, repentance, faith and baptism? Notice that it is “our plans and structures” that need conversion.
Further into this first section we get this:
As the Amazonian indigenous peoples seek life in abundance this takes the form of what they call ‘good living’, and is fully realized in the Beatitudes . It is a matter of living in harmony with oneself, with nature , with human beings and with the supreme being, since there is intercommunication within the whole cosmos , where there are neither exclusions nor those who exclude , and where we can forge a project of full life for all. Such an understanding of life is characterized by the connectedness and harmony of relationships between water, territory and nature, community life and culture , God and various spiritual forces. For them , ‘good living’ means understanding the centrality of the transcendent relational character of human beings and of creation , and implies ‘good acting’ too.
The section ends by telling us what conversion means:
Thus, the only conversion to the living Gospel, which is Jesus Christ, can only unfold interconnected dimensions to motivate our going out to the existential, social and geographical peripheries of the Amazon. These dimensions are pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal, and these are developed in the next four chapters.
Compare this to: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Here is another definition of evangelization in the Amazon
In the Amazon, interreligious dialogue takes place especially with indigenous religions and Afro-descendant cults. These traditions deserve to be known, understood in their own expressions and in their relationship with the forest and mother earth. Together with them, Christians, based on their faith in the Word of God, can enter into dialogue with them , sharing their lives, their concerns, their struggles, their experiences of God, to deepen each other’s faith and acting together in defence of our “common home”. In order to do this, the churches of the Amazon need to develop initiatives of encounter, study and dialogue with the followers of these religions.
And so it goes on and on and on for another 100 paragraphs.
It all reminds me of that extraordinary scene in C.S.Lewis’ science fiction masterpiece Perelandra. The hero–Ransom has met the Un-Man-a demon possessed scientist. Both have landed on an Edenic planet and the Un-Man argues with Ransom, and his argument goes on and on interminably until Ransom nearly gives in simply out of exhaustion and hoping the damned beast in man’s skin will just shut up for once. He realizes then that the Un-Man never uses language to discover or proclaim the truth. Instead he uses it as a tool to deceive and manipulate. He has no use for real logical argument and the discovery of truth. Instead he uses logical language as a tool of manipulation and bullying, and if that doesn’t work or his disputant wins he does not concede, instead he shifts over to another form of bullying–emotional blackmail by accusing his enemy (there’s a lot of this in the synod document by the way) or he shifts to the sentimental or utilitarian arguments: “Boo hoo. Poor me. Poor them!” Playing the victim or the proxy victim, and the utilitarian argument–“It is easier and more useful this way.”
There’s a lot of both of these in the synod document too.
We learned all these devious tricks when we were debating the subject of women’s ordination in the Church of England twenty five years ago.
That’s why guys like me can spot the baloney when we see it.
It’s Fozzy Bear theology in the Amazon, and when you spot it in a speech, a sermon or a document you can be forgiven for not reading to the end.