Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reading Amoris Laetitia, Part 2: The Introduction

I'll just assume that many non-Catholics, like myself, have absolutely no idea what authority Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia exerts (or exhorts) as a "Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation." So, first, a primer on Papal texts.

An apostolic exhortation is but one of many different types of communications from the Pope to the community of clerics and laypersons that constitute the Catholic Church.  It doe not define Church doctrine, so it ranks lower in Church authority than a papal encyclical.  An Apostolic Exhortation is meant to encourage the Catholic community (broadly conceived) to undertake some attitude, disposition, or activity. (If you're familiar with Paul the Apostle's epistles-- to the Romans, to the Corinthians, to the Philippians, to the Ephesians, to the Galatians, etc-- you should think of Pope Francis'  most recent Apostolic Exhortation in the same vein.) Pope Francis has so far issued only two encyclicals in his time as successor to St. Peter, one on climate change (Laudato Si': "On Care For Our Common Home") and one on charity and hope (Lumen Fidei: "The Light of Faith"). So, to begin, we should take into serious consideration the fact that Pope Francis opted to issue Amoris Laetitia as an Apostolic Exhortation, an encouragement to action or disposition, instead of a Papal Encyclical, which is second in authority only to an Apostolic Constitution (constittuo apistolica), the highest possible level of decree issued by a Pope.

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.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Campuses Are Not Sovereign Nation-States

The photo to your left is of a sock-monkey, hung by a noose from one of the windows on the campus of Rhodes College this week. It should go without saying, I hope, that not only is the sock-monkey itself a manifestly racist symbol (echoing the colonialist project of comparing blacks to apes in order to justify their exploitation and repeating many of the stereotypes of blackface minstrelsy), but hanging the monkey by a noose is also an obvious symbolic reference to the long and terroristic history of anti-black lynchings in the United States.

Rhodes' sock-monkey-lynching came on the heels of several reported incidents of sexual assault on campus. I don't know how many incidents or the details of those reports, but it was enough to motivate students and sympathetic faculty to organize a forum last week to discuss the growing and pervasive problem of sexual violence on Rhodes' campus, which I came to know about through multiple Facebook postings.  For the record, the problem of increasing and increasingly-unaddressed sexual violence is not a "new" problem at Rhodes College. Around this time last year, statistics showed that Rhodes had one of the highest numbers of reported on-campus rapes in the state of Tennessee.  Those statistics only count "reported" cases.