THE PUBLIC THEOLOGY INITIATIVE AT INTEGRITAS
Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.
Over the next number of years, one of the key objectives of Integritas is to articulate a public theology based on the conviction that the dislocation of Christian faith from public life increasingly threatens the future of our society. When society is organised without God, it is against man.
What is public theology?
Public theology refers to a self-consciously religious effort to form and mould culture and politics so that they conform more fully with God’s plan of salvation. It sees all societies as subject to an enduring order of justice which calls all nations to self-criticism and reform. It responds to the organisation of the world without God as being against the protection of human dignity and the freedom of mankind. In essence, it seeks to wrestle with the larger question of how spiritual values should function in a modern society. A renewed public theology is seen as profoundly necessary to respond to ‘the secularist crisis’ which leads to an ever greater organisation of Western society without God and then against mankind.
What is ‘the secularist crisis’?
‘The secularist crisis’ is a phrase which appears constantly in the work of John Courtney Murray SJ. It represented for him a massive assault upon the very fabric of religion and the social values which he believed necessary for human well-being. The secularist crisis refers to the increasing acceptance of the view that commitments of faith and prayer are private and personal choices which should not be allowed to intrude into the social arena. The secularist crisis is the onrushing tide of indifferentism which empties Western civilisation of its spiritual roots and puts in its place a shallow humanism which leads only to ennui and despair. This loss of a spiritual rootedness and the shallow humanism that replaces it was described by Vaclav Havel, though the use of the image of the loss of the transcendent anchor, when addressing Stanford University in 1994:
“If democracy is not only to survive but to expand successfully and resolve those
conflicts of cultures, then, in my opinion, it must rediscover and renew its own
transcendental origins. It must renew its respect for that non-material order
which is not only above us but also in us and among us and which is the only
possible and reliable source of man’s respect for himself, for others, for the
order of nature, for the order of humanity, and thus for secular authority as
well. The loss of this respect always leads to loss of respect for everything else
from the laws people have made for themselves, to the life of our neighbours
and of our living planet. The relativisation of all moral norms, the crisis of
authority, reduction of life to the pursuit of immediate material gain without
regard for its general consequences - the very things Western Democracy is
most criticised for – does not originate in democracy but in that which modern
man has lost : his transcendent anchor and along with it the only genuine
source of his responsibility and self-respect.”
The question of how spiritual values should function in a modern society therefore underpins certain seminars and publications from this centre which seek to explore the following themes in seeking a renewed public theology :
I The loss of the transcendent anchor
II The truth of the divine pattern and social order
II The intrinsic beauty of marriage and family life
III The essential role of faith in education
IV The practice of law and justice as a profession of faith
V The emergent Church
VI The politics of faithful citizenship
The essential role of faith in education
At the moment, Integritas is concentrating upon bringing together a group of people in the fields of Christian spirituality, religious education and legal academia and practice to consider what can be done to protect and enhance faith based education in Ireland. The importance of protecting the communication of faith in education is critical to responding to the organisation of society without God and is therefore a central objective of a meaningful public theology. The importance of faith in education in the protection of a healthy democratic society was described by John Courtney Murray SJ in this way :
“Contemporary democratic ideology ... does not deny God. But it surely ignores him.
Surely this ignorance is being installed at the center of the democratic idea, as a
fatal corruption. Ignorance of God has acquired status in public law; it is woven
into the national mores; it is socially accredited in institutions. The man ignorant
of God has become a social type; and his ignorance is socially transmitted by a
multititude of social mechanisms; not least perhaps by the central institution of
public education. The democracy [of the United States] which owed its origins to
spiritual insight now trusts its future to spiritual ignorance … How shall the
freedom of the spirit be born of spiritual ignorance? How shall the Great Hope not
turn into a great deception, if it is divorced from its dynamic inspiration?”
(‘The School and Christian Freedom’ by John Courtney Murray SJ)
What is the essence of a Christian education?
In Christian education, we have lost the incomparable, ineffable beauty of Jesus Christ, the central axis of Christian faith. While we must always look critically at governmental policies in education, we also have to ask ourselves - as Christian educators - how have we lost the beauty of Christian faith in our own work?
Christian educators should not seek to coerce any one to follow a Christian way of education but rather desire the freedom to fully express the beauty of Christian faith, which has been lost in our society, emanating from one’s own personal encounter with Jesus Christ. This aspiration is, however, underlined by the personal conviction from this encounter, that an education, which is based on the beauty, truth and goodness of Christian faith, is of universal appeal and wins the hearts and minds of all.
In other words, Christian educators seek an integrity (l. integritas) in public education, whereby there is a diversity in the unity of educators and a corresponding unity in their diversity. In this way, the Christian expression of education is allowed to co-exist and with other forms of education and yet be fully realised, so that parents and pupils can decide for themselves which form of education most radiates what is beautiful, truthful and good.
Is the essence of Christian education this - is it to offer, in ways that are endlessly arresting, an invitation that matters above all else - the invitation to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ?
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal
encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter
them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.
(Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 3)