Amazon Synod, part II

Please understand. There is no denying the historic cruelties visited on Amazon peoples. Still, they are hardly alone in that. Ruthlessness and barbarity have befallen every peoples on earth at some point in their history. Nor has it stopped. At present, it is Christians—not aborigines—who are prime targets  for violent persecution around the globe. Vatican emphasis on past affliction in the Amazon is a pretext for something else altogether. It is a seductive ruse for the synod’s anti-development, denuciatory, Marxoid serenade with native activists on the ocarina.

Yes, there are problems to be resolved, claims to be adjudicated. But these are secular matters, as Cardinal Brandmüller has said. The colonial era is well over. Lurking within ostentatious sympathy for indigenous culture is a quixotic hint that maybe the industrial revolution should never have happened. (But since it cannot be undone, the West can only repent.)

Virginity Restored

The Instrumentum makes repeated reference to colonialism as if the fact of past colonialism confers moral privilege and nobility on territories and their peoples. The document confirms Pascal Bruckner’s contention that to have been colonized is a passport to innocence. Restoration of primal purity is the privilege conferred on former subjects of what the synod calls “the colonizing project.” Virginity can be regained.

You would never know from the vigor of episcopal indignation that 11-13% of the Brazilian land mass has been set aside for aborigines—who comprise only 0.4% of Brazil’s total population. Brazil is a developing nation. The needs of 99.6% of its other peoples, many in the favelas, are owed some consideration. Given the numbers, it is not unfair to wonder if the synod’s condemnation of “colonizing mentalities” has been misdirected.


Cardinal Baretto having his face painted by natives.
Peru’s Cardinal Baretto was installed by Pope Francis one year ago because of his sympathy with the synod’s aims.


Hands Off Mother Earth

The tone of Instrumentum Laboris echoes the ethnographic reveries promoted by influential journalist and author Kirkpatrick Sale: “The only technologies that humans devised for some 2 million years were fire and the hand ax. That’s all. Eden didn’t need anything more.” Mother Earth, wise and generous, has a right to be left alone.


alchemical image of metals from bowels of Mother Earth
Johann Joachim Becher. Physica Subterranea. From the 1739 edition of a 1667 treatise on metals taken from the bowels of mother Earth.


Despite the seriousness of this Amazon Synod and its intended repercussions, some of its language has a crackpot cast that invites mockery e.g. “gatherers and hunters par excellence.” A flattering phrase, it carries a ring of endorsement—as if our well-fed shepherds would ever trade a crozier for a hand axe and forage for their dinner.


Fat cardinal carrying crozier and missal
Fernando Botero. The Cardinal (1990s).


How else to respond to the Amazon Synod’s tacit presumption of an evolutionary advance on the biblical mind? The prophets of the Tenakh—on which Jesus was raised—were deeply conscious of the profound difference between the splendor of creation and the radical majesty of its Maker. The psalmist did not sing paeans to nature, but instead declared: “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. /My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.” (Ps. 104)

Synod language discounts the core of that line of descent by insinuating a cosmic Christ made manifest in the flora, fauna, and mineral resources of our own planet and the substance of the cosmos. It quotes ecstatically from Laudato Sí: “The very flowers of the field and the birds which his [Jesus’] human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.” Translation: Christ is immanent in nature.


Man and woman worshipping nature.
Charles Sprague Pearce. Religion (1896). Library of Congress.


The Gradual for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost (old calendar) proclaims, “O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is Thy name in the whole earth! /For Thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens.” (Ps. 8) Above the heavens is a poetic device that recognizes God to be beyond the bounds of even the entire cosmos.

Synodal fixation on the cosmos seems parochial by comparison.

Worship of God or of Nature?

Abraham Heschel wrote attentively about Western man’s desanctification of nature in Man Is Not Alone (1955):

Biblical thinking succeeded in subduing the universal tendency of ancient man to endow nature with a mysterious potency like mana and orenda [tribal terms for mystical powers resident in nature] .  .  .  . One of the great achievements of the prophets was the repudiation of nature as an object of adoration.

His text lingers over the particularity of the biblical mind:

To the Greeks as to many other peoples, the earth is generally known as Mother Earth.  .  .  . Such a concept is alien to the Biblical man. He recognizes only one parent: God as  his father.  .  .  . Man and earth are equally the creations of God. The prophets and the Psalmist do not honor or exalt the earth, though dwelling upon its grandeur and abundance. They utter praise to Him who created it.

The Instrumentum nods obligingly to biblical citations. It even inserts a drive-by reference to the Torah. But its heart is elsewhere, riveted to the mantra of “a church with an Amazonian face and a church with a native face.” The words Mother and motherless appear with intent—sly genuflections to non-biblical mythology. (Amazonia like the planet itself, “should be considered holy ground. ‘This is not an orphan land! It has a Mother!'” Thus spake Francis last year in Peru.)

The Amazon Synod follows the trajectory set in 1968. Medellín’s preferential option for the poor was a Third Worldist, reductionist mutation of the Church’s age-old insistence on concern for the poor. In the economy of divine love, Francis’ cherished myth of “the pueblo” takes precedence over the totality of embrace intended by the word catholic. Closer to Isaiah Berlin than to Jesus, Bergoglio’s romance with ethnicity bespeaks his resentment of civilization. More precisely, it reveals his animus toward the stunning historic legacy—forged from tragedy and anguish—by Europeans. That legacy, not the tribal culture genie, still provides means for accelerating quality of life in the tropics and around the world.

Our Church is in the hands of a bitter man.