Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/The power of Christianity in modern society

IntroductionEdit

Most of the countries with Christian origins have separated their secular government from the power of the institutionalized religion, contending a neutral opinion about the individual’ religious beliefs. Yet, the contemporary Catholic Church, as a representative of the body of believers throughout the world, holds a certain power especially in the field of moral consciousness, human rights and ethical behaviour. The Popesencyclical letters of the last decades address the themes of birth, death, life, marriage, equality and the environment. These themes have had direct or indirect impacts on various disciplines which are based on ethical discussions, especially gender studies, medicine and ecology. Pope Francis is slowly abandoning traditional anthropocentric views and reductionist approaches for the discussion of problems, allowing a form of liberal theology to better interact with interdisciplinary studies.[1]

Bioethics in MedicineEdit

Bioethics is an area of study dealing with the ethical connection of particular biological and medical practices, remedies, and technologies.[2] With the advances in the knowledge of the human biological system and how it thrives, longevity is expanded nowadays. This implies that people now live longer in the midst of fatal illnesses, but the controversy stands as to how to respond to such possibilities; this leads to the emergence of bioethics as a discipline.[3] However, one factor that inherently affects this response is the fundamental belief of Judeo-Christianity[4], which prohibits any act that will lead to actively or passively ending one’s life. Such activities are considered sinful and against God’s will.[5] Therefore, bioethics-related issues such as euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, right-to-die, and abortion defy Christian principles, which plays a pivotal role in shaping people’s preference and ethical beliefs or even political perspectives in modern society[6]

However, the extent of Christian influence on bioethics depends on the degree of religious power in politics.[7] For instance, it is noticeable that in the European political system, where state and church are independent, liberal opinions and actions are permitted.[8] Specifically, The Netherlands and Belgium made euthanasia and abortion legal since the state does not meddle with citizens’ personal religious convictions on these matters [9]This is not the case for the Caribbean, where they tend to be much more conservative regarding morality, being deeply rooted in Christian views. Unlike European countries, Caribbean laws regarding bioethics, particularly in Jamaica, is often strongly influenced by religious inclinations, affecting political decision making toward bioethics.[10]

It can be surmised that Christianity shapes people’s beliefs and preferences on bioethics related to abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide. However, the impact of Christianity on bioethics in the real world depends on the political standpoint of liberalism or conservatism.

EcologyEdit

Pope Francisencyclical letter Laudato si, (2015), comes after decades of environmental discussions within the Church.[11] If John Paul II inaugurated a debate about environmental ethics in which God’s Creation was placed at the centre of attention, Benedict XVI asserted that there is a theological kinship between the love for God and that for the environment.[12] According to Pope Francis, since “ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop,” its mechanism should become an interdisciplinary model for the care of the planet and its inhabitants.[13] With Pope Francis environmental discussion takes a more global and holistic stance. In his letter, inspired by Francis of Assisi, the Pope perceives an interconnectedness among the theological, ecological, economic, political, and social crisis. “It follows,” the Pope writes “that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.”[14] In a speech, released in 2019, Francis argued about various interrelated topics: first, how the profit of maximizations of corporations lead to the exploitation of the planet and consequently to models of exclusion; second, how climate change is destructive for the planet and impacts especially the poor; third, how pollution affects health conditions and condemns future generations to pay; finally, how protecting nature restores the dignity of the excluded.[15] In Laudato si, there is a constant interaction between natural and social systems leading to the emergence of a discipline that the pope calls social or integral ecology.[16] With this, the pope has replaced the original anthropocentrism with a more complex point of view. The Pope’s Letter perceives the Creation as a complex system which cannot be studied with a reductionist anthropocentric approach, but only with a new interdisciplinary paradigm which is already expanding the interreligious contemporary environmental debate.[17]

Gender StudiesEdit

Since the emergence of Christianity, it has wielded power by being an important instance of structuration in different countries. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the awareness within our society that some dominant ideas about gender perspectives could be disputed helped the emergence of certain debates. With these debates came the creation of the notion of gender studies [18]. From that moment, people realized the tremendous power Christianity exercises on gender issues [19].

The example of the gay community demonstrates how Christianity influences gender studies. In fact, the Church is historically opposed to emancipation currents from the LGBT community. Furthermore, Christianity has always been affiliated with the conservative right representing a considerable part of the population, especially in Europe where right-wing governments thrive. This explains why Christianity plays a major role in shaping public opinion on gender issues. One debate currently opposing the Church with the LGBT community is same-sex civil union [20]. The opinion and discourse of Church representatives haven't changed in decades on this question. Popes have always been against same-sex marriages and agreed with the Church teaching that holds homosexual orientation as 'objectively disordered' [21]. However, Pope Francis doesn't follow the path of his predecessors and creates division within the Church [22]. He publicly expressed his support for same-sex civil unions in a documentary from October 2020 [23]. Although the leader of Christianity changed his tone, the power of the Church on this gender debate stays strong because Francis' opposition remains almost absolute.

In the actual society in which the voice of minorities is increasingly heard, it is very interesting to study how Christianity remains centre to gender debates. Many communities ask for the Church's opinion to change, and despite progressive acts from the pope, his word isn't enough to make significant changes. This shows how traditional conservatism can give Christianity such an impacting power.

ConclusionEdit

In synthesis, the most recent position of the Pope is toward a restoration of human dignity based on sustainability which is both ecological and social. Thus, the power of Christianity in the contemporary world can be especially detected in three disciplines: gender studies, medicine and ecology. Tensions within and among these disciplines are created by progressive and conservative approaches in different Christian schools. There are several levels of influence and response which are generated from the papal encyclical letters and attacked by Christian communities around the world. While Pope Francis assertions have revolutionized Christian thought opening new paradigms, conservative communities, often more strongly related to local economies and politics, resist the Pope’s methods and approaches reasserting the value of orthodox views.[24] Such tensions might be risky for the Catholic Church inner divisions, yet Pope Francis’ attention for human rights, liberal ethics and integral ecology continue to polarize the world with an unprecedented power especially among the young generations.

RefrenceEdit

  1. Van Tine, Robin. "Reflections, Analysis, and Significance for Human Ecology of Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home," Human Ecology Review 23, no. 1 2017, p. 158. [Accessed December 13, 2020] Available on-line: https://www.jstor.org/stable/26367968.
  2. Tiegreen T. What is bioethics? [Internet]. Practicalbioethics.org. [cited 2020 Dec 12]. Available from: https://practicalbioethics.org/what-is-bioethics
  3. Messer, Neil. Flourishing: Health, Disease, and Bioethics in Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013.
  4. Kilner, John Frederic, C. Christopher Hook, and Diane B. Uustal, eds. Cutting-Edge Bioethics: A Christian Exploration of Technologies and Trends. A Horizon in bioethics series book. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002
  5. Igboin BO. Spirituality and medical practice: a Christian perspective. Indian J Med Ethics. 2015;12(4):199–206.
  6. Hinkley AE. Christianity, the culture wars, and bioethics: Current debates and controversies in the Christian approach to bioethics. Christ Bioeth. 2006;12(3):229–35.
  7. Smith, Janet E, and Christopher Robert Kaczor. Life Issues, Medical Choices: Questions and Answers for Catholics, 2016.
  8. Tao, Julia Lai Po-Wah. Cross-Cultural Perspectives on the (I'm)Possibility of Global Bioethics. Dordrecht; London: Springer, 2011.
  9. Chattopadhyay S, De Vries R. Bioethical concerns are global, bioethics is Western. Eubios J Asian Int Bioeth. 2008;18(4):106–9.
  10. Olweny C. Bioethics in developing countries: ethics of scarcity and sacrifice. J Med Ethics. 1994;20(3):169–74.
  11. “Laudato si”, from Wikipedia, [Accessed on November 27, 2020.] Available on-line: w:Laudato si'; Van Tine, Robin. "Reflections, Analysis, and Significance for Human Ecology of Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home," Human Ecology Review 23, no. 1 2017: 141-78. [Accessed December 13, 2020] Available on-line: https://www.jstor.org/stable/26367968.
  12. Ancilla Dent, ed., Ecology and Faith; the Writings of John Paul II, Berkhamsted 1997; Benedict XVI, The Garden of God: Toward a Human Ecology, Washington 2014; Anne K. Mosher, Heather Whittington, Bibliography about the Catholic Church on Ecological Degradation, [Accessed on November 27, 2020.] Available on-line: http://www.inee.mu.edu/CatholicChurchonEnvironmentalDegradation.htm
  13. Encyclical Letter “Laudato si” of the Holy Father Francis, 138, [Accessed on December 12, 2020.] Available on-line: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
  14. Encyclical Letter “Laudato si” of the Holy Father Francis, 138, [Accessed on December 12, 2020.] Available on-line: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
  15. E&E news, Pope might make environmental destruction a sin, [Accessed on November 27, 2020.] Available on-line: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1061604543
  16. Encyclical Letter “Laudato si” of the Holy Father Francis, [Accessed on December 12, 2020.] Available on-line: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
  17. Difendere l’ambiente per salvare l’umanità. Dall’enciclica Laudato si’ un nuovo paradigma, in Ecoscienza, 4, 2015, [Accessed on December 12, 2020.] Available on-line: https://www.arpae.it/cms3/documenti/_cerca_doc/ecoscienza/ecoscienza2015_4/Enciclica_ES4_15.pdf
  18. Griffin, G. (2017). A dictionary of gender studies (1st ed.). Oxford, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
  19. Favier, A. (n.d.). La réception Catholique des études de genre. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from Archives-ouvertes.fr website: https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00765786/document
  20. What does Christianity say about same-sex marriages? (n.d.). BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zqcrpbk/revision/7
  21. Horowitz, J. (2020, October 21). In a shift for church, pope Francis voices support for same-sex civil unions. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/world/europe/pope-francis-same-sex-civil-unions.html
  22. Walsh, J. (2020, October 21). Pope Francis endorses civil unions for same-sex couples. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/joewalsh/2020/10/21/pope-francis-endorses-civil-unions-for-same-sex-couples/
  23. Francesco. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2020, from Francescofilm.com website: https://www.francescofilm.com/
  24. Ross Douthat, “A Crisis of Conservative Catholicism,” in First Things, January 2016, [Accessed on December 12, 2020.] Available on-line: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/01/a-crisis-of-conservative-catholicism