Jan 15, 2015


Ramon Valls says "what is my view of Christianity versus the official Catholic version I run into constantly: (...) for me the quintessence of Christianity is simply to respect the sacredness of one who suffers unjustly. The rest is of little or no interest to me. I save the incense around Theodore and Justinian’s speeches and the candles for the ending and the strange dress for the Gothic paintings".

It is not surprising that the young Ramon Valls first searched for the "we" he needed so badly in the Company of Jesus, and later left them with a criticism which was strong and systematic. Significantly, the Jesuits prompted Valls’s studies of Hegel, directing him to study the "intersubjectivity" where "the religious also converges, because religion was always the harbinger of the spirit". The Company was aware that it was necessary to seek a "we" like the Hegelian, which favors the spirit but demands of the institutions effective accomplishment of "real objectives". Somehow the Church and the Company tended to consider themselves as the Hegelian spirit which "moves itself and engenders itself, not alone, but through common action".

In this line, his doctoral thesis "From I to We. A Reading of Hegel’s
Phenomenology" investigates "intersubjectivity" as it "pertains to the community of the spirit" which includes the epistemological experience, as well as the "social", which refers to a "collective subject, a community and its world". Because the epistemological project shares the objective of "giving consistency to the philosophy of liberty", says Valls.  In many senses, with "From I to We" Valls was the best in presenting this necessity which inspired his generation and the Jesuits. Thus Valls says, for example, "Despite its absoluteness and its identification with divine understanding, human understanding does not create the world, but understands it in God to the extent that it is true".

Finally, going deeper into Phenomenology of the Spirit ended up distancing Valls from the ideal of the "we" as the Church, and brings him closer to a Hobbesian thesis. For a long time, unlike other secularized Jesuits, Valls avoided open polemics with his old order and the Catholic Church. He maintained a respectful but effective distance, despite approaches of the Theology Department of the Ramon Llull University and the influence on Jesuit scholars studying Hegel, such as the philosophy professors Gabriel Amengual to a greater extent and Eugeni Colomer to a lesser. He also coincided with faithful Marxists such as José Maria Valverde (with whom he spoke of these things), who considered religious faith and lay revolutionary faith as inseparable. Valverde accepts the idea of revolution in a Marxist vein and the theory of liberation theology. He was very close to the social victims and more disposed to defend their demands to the end without worrying about the chaos that could result from their ire. 

  As time went on, however, the distance between Valls and the Church became clearer and sharper. This could be seen in the prologue that he wrote in 1989 to my book Between Logic and Empiricism, where, however, he still "holds his tongue" (as happened with so many). Despite the advance of the "democratic transition", intellectual fear and self-censorship was patent. Valls, however, was ever more unbelieving and critical with the Church’s historic role. In the 1989 prologue he interpreted Western history as a collision between politics and religion, between the superior models of Pericles’s Athens and Christianity. He even interpreted the Spanish transition years as a struggle between the nostalgia of Hegelian synthesis and those who wanted to refute it (I include myself in this group, adding amiably "but not as quickly as others"). Valls was certainly aiming at the potent Marxism of the times with these words.

More specifically, Valls lamented his failure to create a synthesis between the pagan politics of classical Greece and Christianity, as the heirs of the best effort to date, by Hegel, miss the full experience of either pagan Greece or of Christianity. In other words, the political and religious "we"s are incompatible because, as Tacitus said, it seems impossible that Christianity, "that strange spiritualism, could adapt itself to the realism of Greek politics". Valls asked himself if both theology and the "Hegelian reconciliation" are no more than "a paralogism, as the middle ground is always a mistake, for they pertain to two different discourses". 

Obviously, in Valls thinking the political "we" prevails over the
religious, and even more so over the Church. Therefore, states Valls, Nietzsche, the philosopher he most taught after Hegel, must decontaminate Hegel and the philosophical tradition of its "theological blood" and Platonic dualism. Later Christianity will accentuate the dualism and the sacrifice of the terrestrial, political world for the fictitious angelical and antipolitical world. Valls lamented that "the homeland of Roman Catholics was heaven".

Now, if in his 1989 prologue Valls interpreted history as still marked by debate, conflict, excisions and dialectic between Greek pagan politics and Christian religiosity, later he explicitly took on "the typically modern task of undermining the independence of ecclesiastic power". Valls thus ended his prologue, "I invite you to read Hegel in this way. (...) This can be understood at the stage of analyzing the logical core of the development of the philosophy of the history of the two stages (Greek and Christian) which center the discourse and problems. Then the rest of the stages are subordinate and in a secondary position." Therefore he forcefully denounces that the "absolutist stream was trying to reestablish the alliance between the altar and the throne, which in Spain meant the continuation of the Catholic moral ethic, in a hardline form, as the rule of social life, and that the civil power would have to assure compliance through laws, up to and including penal laws".

As this presupposes that "the conviction that the civil legislator

must establish a fised moral code, decided in an authoritarian manner by the ecclesiastic hierarchy, in the juridic ordinances", Valls sees a "theological fallacy" in this viewpoint, which has been systematically used by those "from the Pope to the faithful of Opus Dei long for the alliance between altar and throne". Valls denounced that "one doesn’t seek the source of morality in nature (as do the naturalists) but in God. (...) [and sets] obligations considering religious faith to be their source. And for the nonbelievers who want to pass them off as natural law, these obligations are superfluous."

Very critical with the Catholic hierarchy, Valls demands a new "we", a new (modern) Ethic which, without being a simple copy of the old one, returns to its social and political base.. This base was no longer the classical polis, of course, but the State in the modern and contemporary sense of the word". (full article)


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