Healing the Rift Between Faith and Culture (Part 1)

Interview With Jaime Antúnez, Editor of Humanitas

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ROME, OCT. 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- For 10 years the Chile-based Catholic review Humanitas has been promoting dialogue between faith and culture.

For the 10th anniversary of the publication, ZENIT interviewed its editor, Jaime Antúnez Aldunate.

Antúnez holds a doctorate in philosophy. He is a member of the Academy of Social, Political and Moral Sciences of the Institute of Chile.

Part 2 of this interview appears Wednesday.

Q: From your experience over these years, do you think it is possible to overcome the «divorce» between faith and culture?

Antúnez: With the grace of God, we cannot deny that this and much more is perfectly possible.

By overcoming that «divorce,» it might be possible to advance decidedly toward a situation — as has been witnessed so many times in so many places over 2,000 years of Christianity — in which faith in Christ becomes the keystone of culture.

The profound relationship between faith and culture is something, moreover, which is appreciated in the genesis and development of all the greatest and oldest civilizations.

Q: But in the intensely secularist atmosphere that prevails in our time, where in many countries characterized by a Christian past, including the Ibero-American, political-cultural actions are being taken of an aggressive secularist bias, does this not seem to be far removed from reality?

Antúnez: In the same measure in which the prevailing atmosphere is difficult and adverse, there are people and nuclei of Christians that are becoming aware of the problem and acting as a consequence.

The existence and development of a culture is something that is not limited and that is far beyond the spectacle, the event or the theater world, which greatly catch the attention of the media in our time. It is an error to confuse this plane with what philosophy properly calls culture.

Sufficiently removed from all this, the real traces of what is culture are found in an horizon that transcends us and that in that same sense invites us to be genuinely free.

It was said magnificently by John Paul II in his address to the U.N. General Assembly in 1995: Every culture is an effort to reflect on the mystery of the world and, in particular, of man: It is a way of manifesting the transcendent dimension of human life. The heart of every culture is constituted by its approach to the greatest of all mysteries: the mystery of God.

Q: In what way do you say that culture invites us to be free? Is there not, perhaps, in the aforementioned an ideological conditioning?

Antúnez: Very much the contrary. An ideology, in the modern sense of the word, is something different from faith, even if it tends to corner the same sociological functions.

Ideology is a work of men, a mechanism by which the political will tries consciously to shape social tradition to his ends.

But faith looks beyond the world of man and his works. It leads man to a higher and more universal degree of reality than the temporal and finite world to which the state and economic order belong.

And for this very reason, it introduces in human life an element of spiritual freedom that can have a creative and transforming influence both on the interior life of each person as well as on the social culture of men and their historic destiny.

Q: How does this occur in a predominantly liberal society, as the one that prevails today virtually throughout the whole world?

Antúnez: A culture is a way of organized life which is supported by a common tradition and animated by a common environment. In this connection, it is like the form of society.

The stronger a culture is — exactly as we see it in Renaissance art, for example, and in so many manifestations through time — such culture forms and transforms more completely the varied human context in which it is incarnated. A society without culture is an information society.

I think there is an inherent factor in the liberal societies in which we live today which we have an obligation to repair. It is the fact that these societies do not offer a concrete meaning to life, for example, a justification of suffering and of people’s fears.

Neither do these societies have a plan for the future, capable of mobilizing consciences; they leave the individual exclusively at the mercy of his own concepts, in terms of private personal satisfaction.

This situation makes us reflect, as we can plainly see that the great fruits of culture and of civilization have always rested on the strength of that spiritual and religious dimension of reality, and that in its bankruptcy we also find the origin of the decadence and even of the great tragedies that history shows us.

Borrowing a word from that great British thinker of culture and history that was Christopher Dawson, one could say that when the mystical and prophetic dimension of a culture declines, its very religion also «becomes secular, is absorbed in the cultural tradition to such a point that it identifies with it, and finally it becomes only a way of social activity and perhaps even a slave or accomplice of the powers of this world.» Much of this is also happening in the present day.

[Wednesday: Recovering the unity of culture]

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