Friday, October 24, 2014

Embodying dissent: An interview with Beatriz Preciado and Teresa Forcades

By Andrea Valdés (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Estado Mental
June 2014

Before this interview, Teresa Forcades (Barcelona, 1966) and Beatriz Preciado (Burgos, 1970) didn't know one another personally. If we put them in touch, it's because they are, in their respective contexts, an "anomaly", a word they contest, for cramping a heteronormative, patriarchal and racist system.

At a time of huge imbalances, where the government doesn't hide its alliance with the market and the crises feel like biblical plagues, their political dissidence is striking because it's physical as well as intellectual dissidence and they practice it within the system. Teresa Forcades specialized in internal medicine at the State University of New York. After studying theology at Harvard University, she entered the Sant Benet Monastery. Once she had her doctorates in Public Health (University of Barcelona) and Theology (Facultad de Teología de Catalunya), she went off to Berlin to study and give classes at Humboldt University. Beatriz Preciado, on the other hand, studied modern philosophy and gender theory at the New School for Social Research in New York and then got a doctorate in the Theory of Architecture from Princeton University. Until recently, he was teaching at Paris 8 University and starting next term, he will be teaching at New York University.

So much cum laude hasn't stopped them from being the object of many attacks. It's what comes with talking about dildos and vaccinations, pornography and abortion, Hugh Hefner and Hugo Chavez, without getting married to anyone. But behind these statements, there is research. While Teresa Forcades incorporates the concept of subjectivity from contemporary anthropology (Lacan, Žižek, Butler ...), updating the theological notion of the individual, Preciado, with contrasexuality and criticism of what she (or he) calls the "pharmacopornographic regime," invites us to explore other lifestyles that evade the current system and its main claim. Namely: that male and female are the only two natural, and therefore possible, states. From the two bodies of work, a political issue with huge potential for change is unleashed, hence we wanted to put them in dialogue with each other.

After a long exchange of emails, we attended the inauguration of the Queer Theology School which took place at Francesca Bonnemaison in Barcelona at Teresa Forcades' invitation. In Catalonia, she has great media presence. She became known in 2009 with a video in which she attacked the pharmaceutical industry and, although she has written several books (La Trinitat, avui, La teología feminista en la Historia), most remember her for her critical attitude towards the Church and, more recently, for her civic call for the right to choose a model of government, a project she is steering with Arcadi Oliveres. Beatriz Preciado is better known abroad than in Spain. His books, Manifiesto contrasexual, Testo Yonqui ("Testo Junkie") and Pornotopía, have been translated into English, French, German, even Turkish, and are part of university curricula today. In Catalonia, from the MACBA Independent Studies Programme that he directs, Preciado has made "radical pedagogy" a form of political activism.

ANDREA VALDÉS: We know you have a complicated agenda. What led you to accept this proposal?

TERESA FORCADES: I'd never met Beatriz personally but a couple of years ago in a course on queer theology I gave in Berlin with Ulrike Auga, we used Manifiesto contrasexual to encourage the students to think about this new way of looking at the human and identities, the limitations in those identities and opening them, which is something I'm working on from theological anthropology.

BEATRIZ PRECIADO: About four years ago I heard her speak for the first time and then tuned into the revolutionary energy of her work. Despite the distance, there were times when I said to myself that in another life, had I been a nun or rather a priest, I could have been Teresa Forcades. Then I was interested in her criticism of the pharmaceutical industry, which is something that's at the core of my work. I found it very interesting that coming from such different worlds and working on the regimes of sexual, racial and gender domination that promote hegemonic arguments (of the Catholic Church, the scientific or economic establishment), such a genuine connection came about.

VALDÉS: Teresa, you once said that on reading the Gospels in adolescence, you felt you had been cheated of 15 years of your life because you hadn't found them earlier. Your approach to religion seems incidental and friendly. Beatriz, on the other hand, mentions a really suffocating Catholic milieu. Were the situations in Catalonia and Burgos so different in the 70s?

FORCADES: I think that in Catalonia, in the seventies, there were also very suffocating spheres in the religious environment. I don't doubt it, although I discovered them later because if I had known then, well, who knows?...

VALDÉS: You would have thought twice?

FORCADES: Yes, yes ... or three times. It is also true that the announced end of the Franco regime and the idea of a society that would finally get up to date after so many years of waiting coincided in Spain with the aggiornamento of Vatican II, which meant entering into dialogue with modernity. It's true that the modernity thing lasted only a few years... (laughs). In 1966, when it seemed we were entering alleged postmodernism, the church goes and gets into a dialogue with modernity. Great timing! In any case, after a long wait, in which all you could see was opium, a great wave of people was generated who were willing to question many things and keep what is essential. That is, the assertion of the inalienable liberty of human beings, their constitutive relatedness and, above all, the idea of social justice. I went to a parish that was in Montjuïc and, although I don't come from a wealthy family, it was that context that made me discover the world of immigration and the working class. Christianity, freedom and social justice, to me, are inseparable.

PRECIADO: In my case it was almost the opposite -- an imposition. My family was very Catholic, with a tremendously dogmatic view of religion despite the fact that, for example, my grandmother was Catholic and anarchist, thus there were already "cracks" in my environment. But, for me, religion was the dominant way of thinking in the city of Burgos, and it was a way of thought related to military culture, to political repression. That is, I couldn't see Catholic discourse as a liberating discourse in any way. Although when I was little, one of the things I wanted to be was a priest. When I was studying with the nuns, when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said "a priest". And they said: "No, by God, Beatriz, it's 'a nun', 'nun'..." And I said, "Not a nun, because nuns are quiet, they clean and make pastries, and I want to talk." I remember that in school there was very overt tension because I never experienced my sexuality as pathological or as a sin. I wanted to either be a priest or marry Marta. It was clear that my use of my body and life choices could not be included within the dominant language of Catholicism.

VALDÉS: But you ended up studying with the Jesuits.

PRECIADO: It's a bit of a strange story. My father didn't want me to study Philosophy. He wanted me to do Pharmacy, Law...a decent job. Since he wasn't going to pay for my studies, I entered a young philosophers' contest in Burgos and won first prize, which was studying in a Catholic university. Between Opus Dei and the Jesuits, I chose the Jesuits in Comillas. And it's true that I still have a very tight relationship with some of them like Juan Masiá, from whom I learned a great deal. After Ignacio Ellacuría and liberation theology, we would study Marx. It was economic theory that came almost directly from the gospel! Impressive. That allowed us to make a very detailed exegesis of his books. We read them like one reads the Bible. It was quite an experience, but of course, the possibility of interpretation stopped where it stopped. I was with Foucault's History of Sexuality, Derrida's deconstruction, feminism then, and wanted to explain my own dissent through a different language. As I went to United States to study Contemporary Philosophy and Gender Theory, everything changed. Staying in Spain, maybe I would have ended up in Montserrat, but I felt something that took me beyond myself, like a kind of utopian arm. Something that grabs you and says, "Come on, you can't stand idly by with what there is. You have to do something!"

VALDÉS: What you're calling the "utopian arm", would that be equivalent to Teresa's "calling"?

FORCADES: The vocation to being a nun is one thing, but what Beatriz is talking about is related to something broader. I'm not "me and me" but I'm "me and more." And that something more also tells me things, and I feel it challenges me directly...

PRECIADO: Obviously, but it's a challenge of history. With Walter Benjamin, for example, you learn that history has been written by the winners and, even though you're on the side of the vanquished, on the margins of that history, something says to you: "Come, you too can rewrite it since you can handle that argument." This might sound absurd but it makes me happy and even brings me close to those people who feel "called" except that, in my case, the call isn't transcendental. It's the need to collectively reconstruct history from the losers' point of view.

VALDÉS: I can understand that need, but relating it to the transcendental is harder for me. Teresa, are you sure?

FORCADES: Before reading the gospels, at 13 or 14, when I looked at the world I already felt a challenge, in a generic way. Later, with the first confirmation, at Sacred Heart they would say very enthusiastically, "that girl will become a nun," but I didn't feel like that at all. It even bothered me to hear it. It's true that later I studied medicine, but that being open to something beyond yourself was just one part. When I stayed at Sant Benet to study, I experienced something different, and the only name I can give it is that God was calling me. I know it can sound strange now; it was also strange for me when I experienced it...but all I can testify to is that what I experienced was something new for me that isn't confused in any case with what I felt yesterday or a few months ago.


VALDÉS: Teresa, you've commented that during the novitiate there was a transformation. You've talked about growing pale, losing weight, crying. Beatriz, meanwhile, mentions sleep disturbances, a change in sweating and other side effects from administering Testogel to himself. While one made a vow of chastity, the other multiplied his sexual appetite with a shot of hormones. To change things, is it necessary to go to this extreme, to make a break with "normalcy"?

PRECIADO: I suppose Teresa experiences it starting from theology. I experience it based on philosophy which, for me, is a discipline not of the individual body but of the collective one. When I decide to administer testosterone to myself, I don't do it as an individual whim because I'm given to that, but because I know this has specific social and political repercussions in a given historical and political context. What we might understand as "normality" is a set of specific disciplines, of normative uses of the body. For me, philosophy implies a break with those diciplines of body normalization and, if you will, the invention of a counterdiscipline.

VALDÉS: There's a sentence in which you say it very clearly: "I don't take testosterone to transform myself into a man or even to transexualize my body, but to betray what society has wanted to make of me."

PRECIADO: Precisely. Now, when I'm traveling around the world and I see the communities in different places, I realize there's a cosmopolitan queer diaspora that speaks a very similar language. They're people who share dissenting body practices and subjectification because the body isn't just the physical body. That's a fiction of medicine...The body is political subjectivity; there's no separation. It goes beyond the flesh. It's a political and cultural archive, or what I call a "somatheque" -- living political fiction. What I was getting to, and by getting into a conversation with Teresa, when I meet all these people -- transgendered, transsexual, queer -- I think we're like the early Christians, but in the context of global capitalism. Who would give a shilling for those crazy people? Imagine what the Roman Empire was then and suddenly a gang appears talking about some guy who appeared thereabouts talking about the resurrection, etc. and the possibility of tearing down all the legal and business practices that shaped that regime. What they were doing was inventing a practice of alternative subjectification. They chose to subjectify themselves not according to Roman ritual but starting from a language that even dissented with the Jewish religion. And there were only 14. Tremendous! By this I mean that I don't believe there are better or worse practices, but that it is absolutely necessary that we be able to collectively invent dissident or alternative responses to normalized subjectification, otherwise we are lost. And if, moreover, we are able to establish connections with "the other side" (which for me are the ancestors, history, the planet...) it would be great, because it would no longer be a leakage point but a tear in that sprawling net that is world capitalism.

FORCADES: For me, the body thing is less deliberate. My change didn't come from wanting to experiment with it, but as a consequence of a decision. Let's say that with the "calling" a possibility opened up for me where I was clear from the beginning that here I was to say yes or no, because however much of a calling there is, this does not imply a destiny. I knew that when saying yes, I would have to give up a number of satisfactions, of possibilities ... things that affected my identity and understanding. So a question opened up that's still there, but it's different now because at first everything was unknown to me. This question is reopened every time I fall in love. Although there is a very negative discourse about sexuality in Catholicism, I don't experience it in a stable manner. It's not something that has closed but a constant challenge. It's also true that seeing the older nuns of the monastery as attractive women helped me a lot. Had it not been so, then perhaps I would not have fulfilled my vocation. At 90 or 100, they have a sense of humor and an inner freedom I think are fantastic. And finally, I liked the idea that since the 13th century there has been a tradition of women living in community. It's not an ideal coexistence, we have our problems, like everywhere, but that continuity impresses me and I thought maybe it could be part of it. Nor did I have to decide on the first day. In fact, they made it hard for me. I remember that, once the pallor phase was over, the novice mistress asked me, "Teresa, do you you see yourself painting pottery ten years from now?". I said no. She replied, "Well that's what we do."

VALDÉS: But something happened. Now there's a web page and you've even begun classes on queer theology.

FORCADES: I answered that there were two possibilities here: either God would change me -- He made us dynamic for a reason -- and in ten years I would be delighted to be painting pottery, or God would change you. In which case, we could still do something more than pottery.

VALDÉS: What nerve! (laughter)

FORCADES: Yes, that's how it was. The mistress told me that from a logical perspective I was right, those two possibilities existed, but that I should remember that they had been painting for 1,500 years. Since pottery made my back hurt, they finally let me devote myself to more intellectual issues...And here we are.

PRECIADO: Recalling that, it's interesting to note the eccentric position of women who haven't entered into the social rites of heterosexual production. They are unused biopolitical uteruses...

FORCADES: And voluntarily, moreover. Yes, I admit that has potential.

PRECIADO: Precisely. There's potential that must be managed in a specific manner. In fact, nuns, prostitutes and lesbians are three very conspicuous positions and historically close, I would say. The deviation from the reproduction circuit of heterosexual capitalism leads to a curious labyrinth of nuns who are also lesbians, lesbians who become prostitutes, and prostitutes who end up becoming nuns. What happens is that I'm afraid the powers that be might try in some way to go back to managing this dissident female body. Perhaps the only way to resist is to do what you're doing -- be a dissident within the Church, just as I am within lesbianism.

FORCADES: And in academia.

PRECIADO: Of course. I'm also considered a dissident in that sphere.

FORCADES: In fact, I've experienced less freedom in the academic sphere and the hospital than in the monastery. Freedom in the sense of finding people who are able to take individual positions, outside the mainstream. In the end, for fear of the consequences, you end up censoring yourself and, in the university, that's sad.

PRECIADO: But, Teresa, beyond the monastery I imagine there's pressure from the ecclesiatical establishment not to say what you're saying.

FORCADES: Perhaps it will no longer be thus tomorrow but in my context, which is the monastery, there's diversity. We aren't a clan. Before publishing my letter against the criminalization of abortion, for example, I asked the community to discuss it, because there would be consequences for them too. More or less half of them told me they didn't support my position, and the other half, that they didn't understand it...The abbess told me, "I'm not sure whether I'm in the first group or the second but, in any case, we're all in favor of anyone being able to say what they think without fear, so go ahead." Then there's the Diocese of Barcelona which during my time in the monastery was divided into three. It's assumed that to diminish Montserrat's ecclesiastical power, it was awarded the belt of Sant Feliu del Llobregat, which is the most chastized area, which has ended up being a blessing. Rome is now more distant and, yes, they did send me a letter which I answered. I try to give my opinion without attacking anyone directly. The bishops don't matter to me. I'm more concerned about other things.


VALDÉS: Beatriz often speaks of the audiovisual industry and, specifically, pornography as a means of production and control of gender and sexuality, but maybe we should deal with the incarnation, which represents the moment in which the divine takes human form. That is, is embodied. Again, representation. I'll propose this phrase to start with: "I have no doubt that Christ was male, but I don't think we ought to wait for 'Crista' to come to save women, since everything I am as a woman is assumed in Christ, except sin." Teresa, what do you mean?

FORCADES: In my theological anthropology that question is key. Knowing whether there's a male human modality and a female human modality, and what "masculinity" and "femininity" mean in my understanding of anthropology and humanity. This "Crista" thing isn't mine, it's from Rosemary Radford Ruether but she bases it on patristic theology where this phrase is an axiom: "That which is not assumed in Christ is not redeemed."

PRECIADO: That would mean that women are not redeemed.

FORCADES: Right. And all the Christological discourse is like that. God is not alien to the human, but one possibility of the human. The fullness of the human is deification. Although there are interesting theories that point out that if Christ was born of Mary, he should be chromosomally XX, I don't question whether he was male because I don't care to and, in any case, if I did, we wouldn't gain anything either because if he had been a woman unbeknownst to us, what about men? They would be left out too.

PRECIADO: Unless you get away from dualism.

FORCADES: Precisely. It must be said that in Christianity, the duality discourse is modern. The classic one was even worse. It only recognizes one fullness of the human: males, which it matches with the figure of Jesus. In the Gospel of Mary from the third century, the female becomes male to enter heaven. She becomes virtuous, which comes from virility -- vir (man). Since the argument of unity through the male wasn't bearable, with John Paul II two paths of fullness are distinguished -- female and male -- but creating artificial dualities based on gender or identity isn't persuasive to me either. There has to be something more open. Although I think gender duality -- or sexual dimorphism, as Margaret Mead would say -- is not only cultural, but transcultural, it is only as an anthropological starting point, i.e. in childhood. Very succinctly: you have the figure of the mother and, with respect to her, you have the girl who identifies with her and the boy who breaks away from her. In my view, the error of patriarchal society is continuing this pattern, which is an infantile model, into adulthood. There has to be a caesura in adulthood, subjectivizing oneself according to a point of reference that is no longer the mother. It may be truth, goodness, a rock, or God, you choose, but not the mother, because then you're just reproducing this dichotomy but not developing as a person. I match the phrase in Galatians 3:28, "in Christ Jesus there is neither man nor woman" (in Greek, neither male nor female) with the conversation with Nicodemus, when it talks about being born again and he says, "How can an adult go back to his mother's womb?". To which Jesus replies, "No, no ... You must be born of water and the spirit." I understand that as adult subjectification.

VALDÉS: You're using a language between biblical and psychoanalytic.

FORCADES: Yes, I use some concepts from psychoanalysis because if I used the language of Maximus the Confessor, no one would understand me. Lacan, on the other hand, now sounds more...(laughter)

PRECIADO: It's fascinating to me that you're trying to feminize, or offer a possibility beyond the male one for the incarnation of Christ, although I can't say much about that because, to me, it depends on an exercise in faith and, as a general rule, I'm interested in the words of poets or philosophers, not prophets and politicians. I'm interested in words that can desecrate. Maybe that seems horrible to you but by "desecrate", as Agamben says, I mean taking language reserved for the use of the divine and bringing it to the mundane, so we can give meaning to this sphere that has been confiscated from us. In that sense I'm fascinated that you're making this do-it-yourself project of signs in the theology environment which has been an environment that for centuries has only been accessible to certain types of men.

FORCADES: We're forgetting the women mystics who never came to dominate the discourse but who are a very important exception. Even, if I may be allowed, in "mystic" there's a striking use of language. How is it that [men] are called theologians and [women] mystics? Since it was assumed that they couldn't think for themselves, [the women] made recourse to "God has told me...". In Saint Thomas there is also revelation but he makes it his own through his words.

PRECIADO: Going back to the possibility of conceptual do-it-yourself projects, I'm saying that I can't say much about the incarnation of Christ. Now, with respect to anthropology I do distance myself. Where are the intersexuals, the transsexuals, the "others" in your theology? When you mention that in the Christian discourse of the first era, only masculinity was conceded to be a pure or essential form of incarnation, notice that this is consistent with the history of sexuality. We know that until the 17th century the notion of sexual difference as we know it didn't exist. Moreover, and with all due respect, I'm shocked that, having dual titles -- theological and medical -- you're working with the anthropology of sexual difference when we know it's anatomical and political fiction, and that if there's a place of epistemic violence, it's precisely in clinical prenatal diagnosis (boy/girl). I'm surprised that in your theology you've chosen to start from the male/female binary, which is a normative construct, rather than from the irreducible multiplicity of the body in all its variables, and if you will, to put it in your language, God could become incarnate in all of them.

FORCADES: Yes, for me that's the point of arrival. I mean, what I have to work on. Now, what's striking to me is the following: Where did that (male/female) dichotomizing that's being replicated over and over, come from? Where does gender violence and this idea of blaming women come from? -- I'm following Kristeva, here. Acknowledging the gender dichotomy from the start is the most powerful strategy I have to deactivate it later.

PRECIADO: But then the theology you're practicing can't be queer. If you're accepting Julia Kristeva, it doen't work...I would encourage you to not waste too much time trying to fit sexual difference into your incarnation language because we're experiencing a time of epistemic crisis, such as happened in the mid-17th century in which the verification apparatuses, that is the social and political regulatory systems we use to decide what's true and what's false -- which up to now has been what's male and what's female, are changing. There's more and more evidence, including in medical discourse they're saying that there are multiple morphological, genetic, and gonadal forms that go beyond the binary order. Fifty years from now perhaps we may have to accept the existence of four or five make the task of the incarnation of Christ more complicated for Teresa. Or not. Maybe it'll even be easier. For me, one of the problems of the Church is that it's working with an epistomology of patriarchal domination. I imagine that the main question is how to change this language into one of liberation and not domination, although I have a much more skeptical perspective on the history of theology. Lately I've been researching colonization and the involvement of theological arguments in that task, which supposedly was a task of evangelization. We know from Walter Mignolo and Aníbal Quijano that the secret agenda of that evangelical humanization was, to put it clearly, colonial exploitation. And I don't know, I understand your task and it's fascinating to me, but maybe I've given it up for lost in some sense. Although there are still underground theological arguments, which is what you're trying to recover...

FORCADES: That's it. In La teología feminista en la Historia ["Feminist Theology in History"] I presume that when there's a dominant discourse, there's another one that puts it into question, and in that sense feminist theology has existed since the beginning; it's not a 20th century invention. If it were, it wouldn't interest me. I'm thinking of Marie de Gournay, Van Schurman, and others. In fact, I always say that writing that book made me cry -- because if they already understood it in the 1st century, what are we doing with all this suffering twenty centuries later? -- and it also gave me much joy. What we need to do is provide continuity to this tradition which has progressed interruptedly.


VALDÉS: Coming back to the present, you have both been very critical of the capitalist system. What's your diagnosis?

PRECIADO: I think one of the utopian arms I mentioned earlier, and perhaps the most important one, is political ecology. I don't see how a contemporary theology couldn't wonder what we're doing today or what the plan of modernity is. And I'm with Foucault. Modernity has been a thanatopolitical project, in the sense that the only things we have used are techniques of death, and the concepts of normative sexual difference, normative heterosexuality, race production, the exploitation of the planet come in here...

FORCADES: I understand what you're saying and I'm also working in the ecology field. I'm looking at thinking of the world as a whole creation which is also the body of Christ but I should say that, for me, this is not the same as making humanity in its uniqueness disappear. I'm responsible for the tree; the tree is not responsible for me. That responsibility is very tied to our freedom. In that sense, caesura goes back to being essential to me.

PRECIADO: Of course the tree is responsible for you when it makes photosynthesis and transforms light and water into the oxygen you breathe! Before you were talking about the concept of relatedness, which for me is more powerful than voluntaristic freedom, because freedom is in understanding that there is no life apart from a set of relationships that go beyond the human.

FORCADES: Here we're now getting to my doctoral thesis which is a response to Karl Rahner. In the 60s, he came to say that we have to change the theological language of the Trinity. We can't call the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit a "person" because a person, in modern times, is an autonomous being which has nothing to do with those three. To which I replied, "No, no, what we have to do is question this notion of a person as an autonomous being who conceives of himself independently from his relatedness." If I seriously believe that being a person is being made in the image of God, I will take up my notion of God and based on it, question the notion of the modern person. For this, I'm drawing on St. Augustine: Esse in would be the dimension of distinctive irreducibility (personal freedom) and Esse ad, the relational dimension, and, in my theology, it's not that they complement each other, but that they're two aspects of the same reality. They are radically simultaneous, constitutive dimensions of the human, that cannot be divided into female (more relational or loving) and male (more free and independent).

PRECIADO: My notion of subjectivity, on the other hand, doesn't presuppose individual freedom. Either as origin or destination. As pretentious as it sounds, perhaps it would be easier for you to work with my notion than with yours. I start with a subject who is fundamentally vulnerable, relational, not virtuous at all. Historically, we have construed subjectivity as individual sovereignty based on necropolitics, on the politics of war and domination, claiming that only "man" could be an agent of history. But there is another philosophy, which is weaving networks so that vulnerable life can continue to exist, to be viable. And I think the part of mystical tradition you claim goes that way, and it doesn't specifically demand an autonomous heroic actor, but a relational agent, always dependent.

FORCADES: No -- yes, I understand your position -- but it's that I don't want to renounce that irreducibility. The problem, as I see it, is that not everyone in the world has access to that personal freedom which allows us to individualize ourselves, because our social structure always tends to generate "second class" citizens, be they women, blacks, etc...Also, it seems very suspicious to me that just when we all start to have access to that space -- the autonomous subject -- either it's no longer seen as something positive or it becomes an illusion.

VALDÉS: Oops! It looks like they're calling us...

PRECIADO: I don't think we're so far apart, Teresa, but you're playing some cards against which the queer activist can't play. When I'm not paying attention, you bring out the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, God!.... (laughter). I don't have metaphysical cards to put on the table, simply the need to change the world by critically taking responsibility for our own history. My answer can't come from Theology because I don't believe anyone is going to come to save us. We need a different Earth policy and I don't think we can make it by putting the arrogant dominating myth of the human at the center again. We need to learn from the tree more than from God.

FORCADES: "I said to the almond tree, 'Speak to me of God,' and the almond tree blossomed."...

At this point, we left the room. Teresa Forcades had to inaugurate the Queer Theology School with Ulrike Augia and Lisa Isherwood. It must be said that being somewhat hoarse, she had to whisper during the interview such that her words took on the weak tone of the counterargument she makes so often. But make no mistake, in her next intervention, she took out a bottle of Condis black pepper. "They say it's good for the voice. I'll try a little and see what happens..." After that mini-performance that won over the audience, Forcades went on to update the parable of the Good Samaritan so that the assaulted one was a woman who had been raped and before whom neither women professors nor politicians stopped, but rather an immigrant prostitute. She agreed with Beatriz Preciado that the "excluded" have a lot of courage to share and they will do it. For a start, a sector has turned an insult ("queer") around to change it into a critical tool. And here we are, taking notes.

Translator's note: The use of masculine pronouns in this article when referring to Beatriz Preciado is not a mistake; it's what he prefers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

God's poor

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 19, 2014

Matthew 22:15-21

Behind Jesus' back, the Pharisees come to an agreement to prepare a critical trap for him. They don't come to meet him themselves. They send some disciples accompanied by some supporters of Herod Antipas. Perhaps there were a few powerful tax collectors for Rome among the latter.

The trap was well thought out: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" . If he answers negatively, they will be able to accuse him of rebellion against Rome. If he legitimizes the payment of tributes, he will be discredited among those poor peasants who are oppressed by the taxes and whom he loves and defends with all his strength.

Jesus' answer has been succinctly summarized over the centuries in these terms: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." Few of Jesus' words have been quoted as much as these. And none, perhaps, have been more distorted and manipulated based on interests very alien to the Prophet, defender of the poor.

Jesus isn't thinking of God and Caesar in Rome as two powers that can each demand, in their own arena, their rights from their subjects. Like any faithful Jew, Jesus knows that to God "belongs the earth and all it holds, the world and all who dwell in it." (Psalm 24) What can belong to Caesar that doesn't belong to God? Are not the emperor's subjects sons and daughters of God?

Jesus doesn't dwell on the different stances facing Herodians, Sadduccees and Pharisees in that society regarding tribute to Rome and its significance -- if they carry the "tax money" in their pockets, let them fulfill their obligations. But he isn't at the service of the Roman Empire, rather, he is making way for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

So he reminds them of something no one has asked him: "Render unto God what is God's." That is, do not give to any "Caesar" what only belongs to God -- the lives of His sons and daughters. As he has told his followers so many times, the poor belong to God, the little ones are His favorites, the Kingdom of God belongs to them. No one is to abuse them.

One must not sacrifice people's lives, dignity, or happiness to any power. And, certainly, no power today has sacrificed more lives or caused more suffering, hunger and destruction than this "dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal" that the powerful of the Earth have managed to impose, according to Pope Francis. We can't remain passive and indifferent, silencing the voice of our conscience in religious practice.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Agenda Latinoamericana 2015: Human Rights - Introduction

By Pedro Casaldáliga and José María Vigil (English translation by Richard Renshaw)

Dom Pedro Casaldaliga and José María Vigil have published their introduction to the 2015 edition of the Agenda Latinoamericana, which addresses the issue of human rights. The current edition is available for purchase in hard copy and in multiple languages and previous editions are available free in electronic format on Servicios Koinonia. The Agenda also has a Facebook page.

Human Rights: A Pending (R)evolution

Perhaps, from the time when homo (man) and mulier (woman) became sapiens this Utopia began to be apprehended. However, for tens of thousands of years it was an impossible dream. For too long there was no other law than that of the jungle (or of the African savannah from which we came, the law of force, of a pyramidal and patriarchal society, in which the poor, slaves and others had to resign themselves to the cruel reality of having been born "inferior," without rights or citizenship. As humanity, we have been backward for too long in our own absence of awareness of dignity.

However, a mysterious dynamic that operates at a deeper dimension, the same one that drew us out of the African savannahs and from the bands of hunters-gatherers, allowed its Utopia to be sensed by prophetic spirits and visionary minds. These have touched the hearts of the poor, of utopian militants, of a struggling people... Successive historical evolutions gradually brought forth a new awareness of humanity. It took thousands of years to eradicate slavery. Certainly, many religions were complicit with that institution in stark contrast with their deepest Utopia. Less than three centuries have passed since various revolutions have given us the rights of "citizenship." We are no longer subjects, but rather human beings with full dignity, with the "right to have rights" (according to the formula that Hanna Arendt gave birth to with such suffering)... even though that citizenship is still quite limited, reserved to males, landowners, Whites....

Utopia has been recognized at the heart of humanity as a passionately humane society. It has stepped forward, lifting us up, leading us in the evolution of our own humanizing. New "generations of human rights" have appeared in the historic rhythm of the growth of our human consciousness. And we can well believe that there are other generations as well still to be uncovered. We have not yet arrived; we are journeying still and our journey is not ended.

But, today, what holds our attention is more the strategy for the application of rights already recognized. Filled with hope for other concrete applications of Utopia -- in alternative economic and political systems -- more than once in the past we thought that human rights was something already achieved, something perhaps "bourgeois" even, like the neo-liberal evolutions in which in fact those rights first saw light. The utopias that should be drawing out our commitment ought to be more advanced, more engaging. We can advance to the future utopia by many paths. There is not just one. Theory can trace a path and perhaps be brilliant in its conception. But practice is capricious -- even contradictory and chaotic -- and allows us to advance only where it permits, not where we put our energy as militants.

In this historic moment, no sort of social or economic revolution is within our grasp. But the Utopia of Human Rights is there, readily at hand, with all its various generations:" those already realized and those still to come. It is a Utopia that does not have theoretical enemies, that spills out its presence wherever you look. And everyone accepts it. There is no "bourgeois" Utopia. The rights of the first generation that proclaimed them were bourgeois. The "inhabitants of the burgs are its main defenders. But various subsequent generations of human rights lead to many other new developments of the Utopia of human dignity; every imaginable right can be derived from this fundamental dignity and is implied in it. A full and achieved realization of human rights, all of them, would be equivalent to an integral revolution: democratic, socialist, feminist, popular, ecological... It would be the "topia" [place] of Utopia, the fulfillment of all our desires. That is why a renewed social awareness of these rights and their implementation in the corresponding juridical-social framework is something more revolutionarily effective than many of the socio-political struggles in other fields.

Of course, we have to include everyone; all humanity and also the non-human that also have their rights: the rights of animals, plants, nature, the environment and Mother Earth. We need to take the human away from the center of "human" rights in order to center them rather on ecology, to develop them... A fully achieved revolution of human rights would be the sum of all the utopias for which we have been struggling historically. Speaking in a revolutionary context, human rights are a valid path and perhaps the short cut most available to us. Without forgetting about or undervaluing other struggles -- for they are all necessary! -- we do want to call attention to the fact that human rights are a struggle that opens the way for all the others and deserves special attention. The people who are writing the articles in this edition of the Agenda present aspects of that path that are really and truly partial revolutions, practical ones that can be achieved through our militancy.

"Every right ... for everyone," the Mexican Zapatistas said by way of an emblematic formulation of their total Utopia. As long as there are people whose human rights are not being met, we will feel, in this new evolutionary stage of our human consciousness, that we are also being neglected in our rights because "their rights" are also ours. "Their rights are ours." We have to demand those "rights that are both theirs and ours" as a duty as much as a right. This is an evolution already underway that we need to welcome, support and complete. And for our part, it is also a (r)evolution, that of human rights. We are not speaking of rights as understood in the 18th century, nor of those in the Declaration of 1948, but rather of that profound Utopia that transcends itself and is rediscovered, reinvented and (r)evolutionized by every generation.

The Agenda reminds us: this is our moment, the hour to change the world, a revolutionary moment to demand and to fully realize all our human rights: for everyone! Jesus himself would also do it in his Nazareth that is, at this point, globalized.

Friday, October 10, 2014


by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 12, 2014

Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus knew very well how much the peasants of Galilee enjoyed the weddings that were celebrated in the villages. Undoubtedly he himself had taken part in more than one. What experience could have been more joyful for those people than being invited to a wedding and being able to sit down with their neighbors to share a wedding banquet together?

This vivid childhood memory helped him at one point to communicate his experience of God in a new and surprising way. According to Jesus, God is preparing a final banquet for all His children since He wants to see all of them seated next to Him, enjoying a fully blissful life forever.

We could say that Jesus saw his whole life as one big invitation to a final feast in the name of God. So Jesus doesn't impose anything by force, he doesn't pressure anybody. He proclaims the Good News of God, arouses trust in the Father, fires up hope in their hearts. His invitation must reach everyone.

What has happened to this invitation from God? Who is announcing it? Who is hearing it? Where is this final feast spoken of in the Church? Satisfied with our well-being, deaf to everything but our immediate interests, it seems we no longer need God. Are we gradually becoming used to living without the need to nourish ultimate hope?

Jesus was a realist. He knew God's invitation could be rejected. The parable of the "wedding guests" talks about the different reactions of the guests. Some reject the invitation consciously and roundly: "They didn't want to go." Other responded with absolute indifference: "They ignored it." Their lands and their businesses mattered more to them.

But, according to the parable, God doesn't become discouraged. Above all, there will be a final feast. God's wish is that the banquet room be filled with guests. So one must go to the "crossroads" where so many wanderers without hope or a future, are walking. The Church must go on announcing with faith and joy God's invitation proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus.

Pope Francis is concerned about preaching that becomes obsessed with "the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed." (EG 35) The greatest danger according to him is that it will no longer be "the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have 'the fragrance of the Gospel'." (EG 39)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can the poor receive communion?

By Jorge Costadoat, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Reflexión y Liberación
October 8, 2014

This question is hard. I know. Hard on the poor. It might be hurtful to them. But this question is not against them. They know that.

In my country, Chile, it's normal for the poor to form their families little by little. When life smiles on them, they come to have their own house and, if they're Catholics, they get married in the Church. There is nothing more wonderful than a religious marriage celebrated after making a long journey of great effort, with all the winds against you. The best of all worlds is having reached this point, having brought up your children and still having the strength to take on the grandchildren.

The working class family is a miracle. It consists of people who tend to come from very precarious human situations, have gotten ahead by overcoming great adversity and, if that weren't enough, bear the scorn for being poor. Society looks askance at them and blames them for their destitution! They do not live as they should.

She already had a child. She got pregnant at fifteen. He also had a child elsewhere. They fell in love and went off to live together in a room they could rent. But in a few months, life there became impossible for them. The child cried. The bathroom wasn't enough for everyone. In the refrigerator, they had a minimal space reserved for the baby bottle and nothing more. There were rumors of a land takeover. A political party offered them a share. They decided to run the risk because it was dangerous to try it. In the camp, a third child was born...of both of them. Together the four withstood the lack of water, the filth, the trips to the hospital, the bad environment...Thanks to the leaders and the assemblies, they fought for a house and got it. Getting married in the Church never crossed their minds. Civilly, yes. But they didn't want to do it until they could offer a fiesta in the place they would live forever. In the meantime, she arranged to leave the children with a neighbor and thus be able to be employed in a private home. He, a construction worker, was a real go-getter. He rarely lacked work. But to get to the job, he often had to take two buses, a trip that took him an hour and a half or two hours in all.

What piety is possible under these living conditions? A very deep one. I know. It's not a matter of talking about it. I would have to extend my remarks. I just want to make it known that the working class Christian communities are composed of people like these. They themselves are the ones who got land for the chapel, built it, and water the garden. These same people are responsible for the catechesis of their children. In these communities, at Sunday Mass, at the moment of Communion, no one is denied anything.

If the poor couldn't receive communion, the Church wouldn't be the Church.

Pope Francis' "NO"s

By Victor Codina, SJ
Cristianisme i Justícia Blog
September 30, 2014

The Pope's constant smile, his tender gestures towards children and the sick, his homilies about mercy, his writings about the joy of the Gospel...could offer us a false image of the bishop of Rome were these very positive aspects not complemented by some of his prophetic denunciations, his numerous "NO"s.

Jesus of Nazareth's life and message would also be incomplete and even counterfeit if the beatitudes and his predilection for the poor and the little ones were not completed by his criticism of the scribes and the Pharisees, by his "woe to you rich", by the expulsion of the merchants from the temple which triggered his passion and death on the cross -- "You cannot serve God and mammon."

Francis prophetically denounces the aspects of our society that are contrary to the gospel of the Kingdom: NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, NO to an economy that kills, an economy without a human face, NO to an unjust social and economic system that is crystallized in unjust social structures, NO to a globalization of indifference, NO to the idolatry of money, NO to money that rules rather than serves, NO to inequality that engenders violence (let no one hide behind God to justify violence), NO to social insensitivity that anesthetizes us to the suffering of others, NO to the arms race and the war industry, NO to human trafficking, NO to any form of induced death...Basically Francis is updating the commandment not to kill and to defend the value of human life from beginning to end. Francis is updating Yahweh's question to Cain, "Where is your brother?"

But along with this prophetic denunciation of our society, Francis also criticizes the attitudes of Christians and the Church that are contrary to the gospel: NO to spiritual worldliness, NO to pastoral acedia (or apathy), NO to sterile pessimism, NO to the prophets of doom, NO to the disenchanted sourpusses, NO to sad Christians with funeral faces that look like Lent without Easter, NO to war among ourselves, let us NOT be robbed of community, of the gospel, of the ideal of brotherly and sisterly love, NO to those who think that nothing can change, NO to a self-referential Church that is closed in on itself, NO to moralistic obsession that forgets the joyful proclamation of the gospel, NO to pastors who think they're the princes of the Church and are always at the airport, NO to clericalism, NO to those who want to go back to the past before the Council [Vatican II], NO to fake happiness and flight attendant smiles, NO to those who convert the sacraments into customs offices and confession into a torture chamber, NO restricting the missionary power of popular piety which is the fruit of the Spirit, NO becoming experts in apocalyptic diagnoses, NO reducing the gospel to a personal relationship with God and à la carte charity, NO to a religion limited to the private sphere and to preparing souls for heaven. Not falling into doctrinal errors isn't enough if we are passive or complicit in injustice and in the governments that maintain it...

Behind Francis' "NO"s is a truly gospel image of the Church and the desire for a better, more just and egalitarian world, closer to the Kingdom of God. Francis' joy is not a worldly joy or fruit of an optimistic temperament but the joy that springs from the gospel of Jesus dead and risen and from the vivifying power of his Spirit: "Don't let them steal our hope."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Families and marriage: reflections about the Synod

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología Sin Censura blog
October 3, 2014

On the eve of the celebration of the Synod on the Family, if, indeed, the most pressing issues that apparently will be raised in that Synod will be primarily moral, it is possible -- even likely -- that the following reflections might be of some use.

1. A preliminary question which could be of enormous importance, would be for the Church hierarchy to wonder why its teachings are in such different spheres when they face problems related to money and problems related to love between human beings. Too often when the ecclesiastical hierarchy and Catholic theology refer to matters mainly about the rights of property, money, capital, profits and asset accumulation, the theological and magisterial teachings usually remain in the realm of the speculative, the generic and the merely hortatory, whereas when the Hierarchy and Theology raise and seek to solve the problems and situations that affect the loving relationship between people, the magisterial and theological response goes straight to decisions, that is, it isn't limited to doctrinal speculation, or even to exhortation, but promptly grounds itself in choices, which translates into standards, laws that prohibit or impose, even with strict punishment for those who don't conform to an alleged "natural law", which, being presented as constitutive of the same nature created and loved by God, doesn't allow for discussion, let alone any kind of rejection.

This disagreement -- this inconsistency, even -- between the "teaching on money" and the "teaching on love" is something that is, first of all, so patent and, on the other hand, so inexplicable, that the effect of all this on the public is usually scandalizing. And consequently a discredit to the Church, which thus loses credibility and authority to talk about two issues as crucial to the lives of citizens as the beliefs they must assume towards the problems posed by the economy and problems we experience in the family. Because, when facing two huge problems like money and love, we should never forget that these two areas of life -- the economy and the family -- are so closely linked to each other that, as we shall soon see, in practice they are inseparable. By which I mean that either both are solved simultaneously with the same forcefulness and the same language, or the opposite effect happens, which is that, when attempting (unconsciously) to separate two areas of life and society which can not be separated, what you get is a loss of credibility, both in what the Church says (or doesn't say) about money and capital and in what the Church says (or doesn't say) about the defining experience of love between human beings.

The examples and questions -- about the problem I just pointed out -- are mounting and becoming more accentuated day by the day. Why is the Church so demanding when it comes to abortion (I am not pro-abortion), defending the life of the embryo and fetus, and isn't equally engaged and demanding in the endless issues raised by the appalling problem of child trafficking, the use and abuse of children in forced labor, in wars, in the buying and selling of organs, etc, etc? Why does the Church impose "latae sententiae" excommunication on those who get abortions, and doesn't resort to the same punishment for those who force children to go to war as soldiers or to work up to twelve hours a day for poverty wages? Why does the Church (in which there are so many exemplary believers) view gay marriage as such a serious threat to the family, and doesn't see the economic conditions that families have to bear, shattered by unemployment, starvation wages, health and job insecurity, poor conditions for the education of their children, etc, etc, as an equally serious or even a greater threat?

2. On issues concerning the family, the Church should always bear in mind that, at least until the fourth century, Christians followed the same constraints and practices with regard to marriage as the pagans around them (J. DUSS VON-WERDT in Myst. Sal., vol. IV/2, 411). Which means that Christians of the first centuries were unaware that Christian revelation had brought something new and specific to the cultural phenomenon of marriage itself. In any case, it is certain that marriage before a priest as a mandatory requirement, first appeared around the year 845 in the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals and was justified on grounds of civil law not by theological arguments (JG LE BRAS, Histoire des collections canoniques en Occident depuis les Fausses Décrëtales jusqu’à Gratien, Paris, 1931. Cf. J. DUSS-VON-WERDT, op.cit., 414). It's in the late twelfth century, in 1184, that marriage as a sacrament is referred to formally for the first time, at the Council of Verona (DENZINGER-HÜNERMANN, The Magisterium of the Church, No. 761). Moreover, in all this business, it's essential to know that until the 12th and 13th centuries, the time when Christian theology was systematized into an organized body of knowledge, the Church was not only ruled by Roman law but -- as is well known -- custody of the Roman legal tradition fell mainly to the Church. As an institution, the Church's own law in Europe was Roman law. As stated in the Lex Ripuaria of the Franks (61(58) 1), "the Church lives according to Roman law." It is true that the Church was constructing its own law. But it is also true that, as the problems the Church had to face grew in complexity, references to Roman law increased. The Roman material relevant to the Church was recompiled into specific collections, such as the Lex Romana Canonice Compta done in the 9th century. The fact is that, as specialists in these matters have noted, "the Church did not reduce its teachings to the Gospel" (PETER G. STEIN, El Derecho romano en la historia de Europa, Madrid, Siglo XXI, 2001, 57). The whole organizational and legal system of the Church grew not so much on the foundation of the Gospel but of Roman law, lex mundialis as the 619 Council of Seville, led by Saint Isidore, called it (Conc. Hispalense II. Cth. 5. 5. 2. ENNIO CORTESE, Le Grandi linee della Storia Giuridica Medievale, Roma, 2008, 48).

Therefore, if the Church didn't have a problem adapting to the civil and secular laws of the peoples and cultures in which it was growing and to which it got adjusted without putting up any opposition or resistance, why now, when Christianity is an institution of no longer European but global scope, are we rejecting the Church accepting and integrating into its life the customs, traditions and rules of conduct that are most appropriate for each country and time?

3. If to the above we now add the perspective of the most competent sociologists of our time, we will have sufficient evidence to face the problems that come up for families today and the solutions they need, now into the third millennium. First, it should be noted that the traditional family was, above all, an economic unit. The transfer of property was the primary basis of marriage. Moreover, in medieval Europe, marriage was not built on the basis of sexual love, nor was it considered a space where love should flourish. And to all this must be added the inequality between men and women as a constitutive element of the traditional family (cf. ANTHONY GIDDENS, Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives, Madrid, Taurus, 2000, 65-79). Now it is evident that the renewal of the family and marriage must be built on the basis of a fundamental fact, namely: the family is no longer an economic unit, but however, must be built on the basis of sexual love. And above all, it's critical to remember, in any case, that equality of rights between men and women, and the decision-making freedom of both, are the pillars on which marriage and the family can be renewed and reconstructed at this time.

Therefore, the solutions that can be brought to the problems posed to the Synod, namely the issue of divorce, the Church's acceptance of same-sex unions, and contraceptive use, are extremely important questions for hundreds of thousands of people that can be solved without infringing upon the Christian theology of marriage or putting it into question at all. The Church can solve these problems today by modifying current canon law without betraying its faith and tradition at all.

4. From the dogmatic theology perspective, a fundamental question remains to be answered: Isn't the Church's traditional teaching on all the sacraments a doctrine of faith and, therefore, the one on the sacrament of marriage too? Apart from a series of historical facts that are impossible to summarize in this brief study, and if we stick to the conclusion that we can and should support on this capital issue, we can and should state that it is beyond doubt that the concept of what belongs to faith -- and consequently also the concept of heresy -- that was used by the theologians and bishops at Trent, was something very different from what is now meant by these concepts. This is certain, at least with respect to Session VII of the Council of Trent (DENZINGER-HÜNERMANN, nos. 1600-1613). Therefore, we can say with complete certainty that the doctrine on the sacraments which was defined at Trent is not a doctrine of faith in the sense of a set of truths of the divine and Catholic faith. Neither, therefore, is the denial or questioning of the truths set forth in the aforementioned Session VII; such denial does not involve incurring heresy (JOSÉ M. CASTILLO, Símbolos de libertad. Teología de los sacramentos, Salamanca, Sígueme, 1981, 340-341; P. F. FRANSEN, Réflexions sur l’anathème au concile de Trente: ETL 29 (1953) 670; A. LANG, Der Bedeutungswandel der Begriffe “fides” und “haeresis” und die dogmatische Wertung der Konzilsentscheidungen von Viene und Trient: MTZ 4 (1953) 133-146). Consequently, it is clear that the classical formulations of sacramental theology can and should be rethought from a new perspective. And, therefore, these classical formulations can and should be conceived and expressed based on the problems we see and experience today around the sacraments. And with a view to giving the proper solution to such problems.

So, once the "dogmatic corset" that might prevent or hinder the free search for the answer that so many Catholic (or simply Christian) believers need today is loosened, given that the questions being raised at the Synod are both scientifically and theologically “quaestiones disputatae” ("disputed issues"), the most consistent and sure gospel and Christian response will be the response that most humanizes us in kindness, respect, tolerance, and seeking happiness for those who are struggling with doubt, seeking good and love to all and for all.