Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reading Amoris Laetitia, Part 1

Earlier this week, I finished reading the recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis entitled Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"). Subsequently, on various news outlets and social media, I have seen a number of so-called "summaries" of Amoria Laetitia that can at best be described as grossly inadequate and ungenerous readings of it and, at worst, as fairly convincing evidence that Pope Francis' text was not read in its entirety (or, more likely, not read at all) by the authors attempting to summarize its content.  Amoris Laetitia is a long text-- roughly 300 pages-- but it is not what I would call a "difficult" text. (As a Philosophy professor, I concede in advance that I may not be the best judge of what counts as a "difficult" text.)  I think it will be clear to any reader that Pope Francis intended for Amoris Laetitia to be accessible/understandable to both Catholic and non-Catholic laity. As a member of the non-Catholic laity, I think he was largely successful in that endeavor.

The last time I found myself so genuinely befuddled by the many and varied misreadings of a non-philosophical text was shortly after the release of the 9/11 Commission Report, which I also suspect most "reviewers" did not actually read in its entirety. So, this time I've decided to make some effort to present my own summary of the text in question.

First, let me just note that if you are significantly or materially (or spiritually) invested in the content of Amoris Laetitia, you should read it yourself. (You can download the entire text here.)  If you don't want to do that, for whatever reason, you can follow this thread of my readings of it over the course of the next couple of weeks.


What follows in this post is not an analysis of Amoris Laetitia.  It is only a laic exhortation to consider following this thread over the next week or so, should you be interested in really finding out what Amoris Laetitia claims, does not claim, and what difference it makes. Of course, any reader will bring his or her own prejudices and perspectival dispositions to bear on his or her interpretations of a text, so allow me to lay out the pros and cons of reading my "readings" of Amoris Laetitia:

PROS:
(1)
  I have ACTUALLY READ Amoris Laetitia in its entirety, completely and carefully.
(2)  I have a considerable amount of training in reading technical, philosophical and theological, texts.
(3)  I tend to be, by disposition, a generous reader. That is to say, my first impulse is to give any author the benefit of the doubt and to assume (a) that s/he has good reasons for making the claims that s/he does, (b) that s/he is doing so within a context that renders those claims cogent and compelling, and (c) that there is a "wider world," which I may not occupy or with which I may not be intimately familiar, that motivates and may also validate the author's claims, regardless of whether or not they appear, at first, suspect to me.
(4)  I also tend to be, by disposition, a critical reader. This should not be understood as a contradiction of point (3) above, but rather a positive supplement to it.
(5) I am very familiar with the history of Christian thought, including the history of Catholic thought. I am slightly less familiar with the inner workings of Catholic administrative hierarchies, but I am currently employed at a Catholic university and I will not make any claims about Catholic authority without verifying them first.

CONS:
(1) I am not Catholic, or "religious" in any traditional sense of that term.  I'm not even theistic, for that matter.
(2) I am a philosopher and, as such, will likely frame my commentary on Amoris Laetitia with respect to its bearing on broader social and political norms, rather than its bearing on orthodoxy or salvation.
(3)  Again, you should read the text yourself and not rely on someone else's reading of it.

I'll be posting on Amoris Laetitia in parts, as it is written.  Up next: The Introduction (AL, pgs 3-6).

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