In November 2020, an article by journalist Diego Garrocho posed the question of where the so-called "Catholic intellectuals" were to be found in the Spanish socio-cultural panorama.
This article gave rise to an interesting cascade of responses and new questions, published from different fields by philosophers, journalists, professors, etc., who, from different ideological and existential positions, raised the incompatibility or not of the Christian cultural proposal in the current debates on thought and of which the following are the most important. the Omnes website was widely echoed.
Beyond the fact that there are those who think that this debate, whose most heated moments lasted until January 2021, has not gone beyond a brief exposition of motives, guilt or complaints, the reality is that the public manifestation and reflection on this issue demonstrates that the Christian intellectual and vital proposal not only has to be offered but is more than ever necessary in the current cultural, social and anthropological debate.
Parallel to this more or less well-known media debate, the University of Navarra was already outlining what would be the new Master in Christianity and Contemporary Culture which will begin, online and in person, next September at the Madrid campus.
The Master's degree is based on the experience of the Instituto Core CurriculumThis is a humanistic education aimed at students of any degree that, for years, has been developed in this university with an excellent reception among the students and that represents a raft of knowledge and intellectual training away from utilitarianism. In this sense, the academic director of this Master in Christianity and Contemporary CultureMariano Crespo, in a conversation with Omnes, points out how "In a world that seeks immediate utility, even in the academic sphere, proposing studies of this type recovers something important that perhaps we are losing: training in asking oneself about those eternal questions that are, at the same time, pressing in today's society".
A fragmented society
Every day we find ourselves immersed in a society that seems to have forgotten reasoning and replaced it with sentiment. However, in this maelstrom of unstable opinions, the longing for well-founded reasons is becoming more and more evident and necessary. A need that we have also discussed with Julia Pavón, dean of the School of Philosophy at the University of Navarra, and Ricardo Piñero, professor of Aesthetics. in this regard, Pavón points out that "Society does think. What happens is that the instruments it has to develop this thinking are too emotional or too immediate. There is no rational or coherent approach to certain issues. We have small fragments, posts, news, flashes... that do not end up being linked together because there is no time to articulate them in the same message. Hence the triumph of 'one-day content'. We have to find ways for these contents to be intellectually articulated and provide answers to key questions". These flashes, as Pavón points out, are part of a fragmented culture such as ours, in which the The "tertuliano", the one who knows about everything: politics, religion, sports, economics... and this is impossible. We can have opinions on everything, but we cannot know everything. This shows that, in reality, we want to be on many fronts but, deep down, we are not able to articulate a story, a coherent alternative to different opinions. This requires rational arguments".
Herein lies, in this formation of thought, the proposal that is being launched at this time. It is not a question of giving univocal answers but of raising questions, finding answers and, above all, entering the current cultural debate with a proposal that shows the truth of things. "Christianity in its purest form does not indoctrinate, but shows", defends Julia Pavón.
Rational argumentation and faith
"Precisely, in debates that have arisen in recent years in public opinion, such as, for example, that of abortion."Crespo notes, "I was struck by how it was suggested that a person is against abortion because he or she is a Christian and, therefore, has religious reasons - which are considered subjective emotional preferences - to be in favor of life. In other words, they wanted to present their anti-abortion stance as an emotional issue. This is not the case. From an emotional point of view, there are things I like and things I don't like; if I am asked the reasons why I like it or not, I can end up in a moment of 'because that's the way it is and that's it'. Something similar used to happen with those debates, it was considered that at a certain point it was not possible to argue and that is an approach that blinds the exhibition. This is not the reality. Christians are not against abortion or euthanasia for subjective reasons. We have real reasons. It is a rational position, with rational, biological, natural arguments... that can and should contribute to this debate.".
Julia Pavón points out that "In order to truly dialogue, we must know the issues being addressed, their bases and arguments, the reasons for their success or failure, but we must not be afraid and shut ourselves in an 'anti' ghetto, thinking that the rest of society is wrong. Security is not gained in a closed group. Security is gained through autonomy of thought, having reasonable arguments".
Christian proposal, disappeared?
Is there, then, a real lack of presence of the Christian proposal in the current cultural debate? Who are the culprits of this silencing? Is there a lack of Catholics or rather a lack of intellectuals?
"I personally shy away from the label of Christian intellectual." Ricardo Piñero highlights. "I don't hear that 'atheist intellectuals debate'.... from 'Muslim intellectuals.' I think that those of us who are Christians are not so good Christians if we have to say so. The moment you have to explain who you are, it's because you don't show it, and in this life there is a very interesting exercise called coherence".
For this coherence, which should be characteristic of life, Piñero continues, "The Christian is interested in his society because he is part of it. Christianity has never been outside its world".
For this professor of Aesthetics and Theory of the Arts, the reality we are facing is not that the world is silencing the Christian proposal. This Christian voice exists, Ricardo Piñero points out, since "We give conferences, we attend congresses... but there is, of course, a 'short circuit' between what the market moves and the impact it has. Perhaps the problem is that we intellectuals limit ourselves to exercising, on many occasions, the profession of professor and our concerns are focused on accreditation, moving on to the next step in our professional career".
A conception of teaching that, although it is necessary at certain times of life, as Piñero himself recognizes, must be overcome in this exercise of coherence that "It has a price, but it also has a reward, and that is to feel free to do what you really want and are convinced of".
Doctrinal coherence and arrogance
"The big question is whether or not those of us who consider ourselves Christians have made this exercise of coherence," Piñero points out. "I find it very sad that the debate among 'Christian' intellectuals ends up being about whether or not debate is possible. Intellectuals should think about the big problems, not about ourselves. If we ourselves are part of the problem then yes, we must think about it. But that has a limited scope.".
A reality that, for Piñero, in part, is the result of closing oneself in a specific circle, without any permeability with the rest of the world. Perhaps provoked by fear, laziness or a defensive reaction taken to the extreme, the Christian presence has been affected by what Piñero calls "doctrinal arrogance: "We have always tried to impose a series of criteria because we thought we were beyond any other position. And that is a big mistake because it is impossible to dialogue with someone if they are not listened to. Part of the failure of our lack of presence is that we have dedicated ourselves to talk, and we have only talked about issues that interested us. We have not listened to the questions of society. We 'Christian intellectuals' have to dedicate time to two things: to learn from others and study the signs of the times, and to propose our message, to get out of this doctrinal arrogance. To get out of the previous text and listen to the other. It is anti-statistical to consider that everything the other person says is against my thinking".
Mariano Crespo is also in this line when he points out that "The way the secondary education curriculum in Spain is laid out, there is a certain contradiction. On the one hand, there is an insistence on the acquisition of skills, abilities, how to do things, and on the other hand, the need to encourage critical thinking. It is a pity the minority role in which Philosophy is going to remain and it is a pity because, if we want to encourage critical thinking, it is necessary to know Philosophy. I do not deny that, sometimes, philosophy teachers have made a somewhat historicist approach to the subject, overwhelming students with answers that have not been previously made. The idea, however, is to raise questions and to offer, not impose, answers from a Christian point of view. Any teaching is doomed to failure when it gives answers to questions that the students have not asked themselves.".
Openness to dialogue
One of the keys to the master's degree launched by the University of Navarra is its commitment to dialogue: to gain in-depth knowledge of current cultural proposals and trends with an open mind in order to take part in the current cultural debate.
"Dialogue means being aware that part of what you have consolidated can be improved. Considering that one's own position is not perfectly finished, although it does have a lot to contribute." Ricardo Piñero highlights. "Christianity has an extraordinary power to design the good life of the human being in very concrete things: what is life, what is death, what is marriage and what is not. That is our proposal. Christians are not fools, we do not reason less because we have faith. One of the most qualified ways of understanding the world is to do it with faith, together with the natural sciences. Intellectuality is not at odds with common sense or with other realities that provide qualified information such as faith. Anyone who approaches a dialogue with clichés has not tasted the flavor of freedom: that capacity to question things and make a decision by virtue of rigorous and free knowledge"..
"We Christians have a lot to say in these debates that exist in our society because our responses are profoundly rational."Mariano Crespo points out in this regard,"many people make a distinction between what they think as a rational being and what they think as a Christian. That is the wrong approach. Christian faith perfects and elevates one's nature."In fact, Crespo believes that "we are in a privileged moment to show that Christian answers are enlightening, profoundly rational and are answers that must be taken into account in the debates on central issues, not only of an ethical nature, such as abortion, euthanasia or the dignity of life... but also in aesthetics, literature and art"..