Going Too Far

Last night I went to see the film Luther – which unsurprisingly enough is a biographical epic which focuses on the life and works of Martin Luther. I have always felt a strange attraction to Luther, not for his religion, but for the ‘here I am, I can do no other’ part. This post, however, has little to do with the film, except in that it is about how small changes in our ways of thinking can have big impacts.

You see all through the film I couldn’t help thinking about the recent act of ‘personation’ carried out by the Spanish radio station cadena COPE, and about just how stupid the people behind it really seem to be.

La COPE is a Spanish language national radio network owned by the Catholic Church in Spain. It is also fairly described as being ‘strongly right wing’ in its views. It is also affectionately known as the ‘bishops station’. This much I imagine is agreed by everyone.

Critics of the channel claim it is virulently anti-Catalan and at the same time homophobic. It is certainly a fervent critic of the proposed new statute of autonomy for Catalonia and of the recent legalisation of gay marriage.

Now last week a participant in a regular COPE programme – comedian David Miner – phoned Bolivian President elect Evo Morales, and passed himself off as Spanish President Rodriguez Zapatero. The content of the conversation is not hard to imagine, and, had Miner ended the call by explaining it was all a gag, the matter might have ended there.

But he didn’t. And Morales immediately convened a press conference, where he said he had been urgently invited to Spain by President Zapatero to discuss the ‘new global order’ and the Morales-Castro-Chavez axis.

Clearly some rapid diplomacy on the part of the Spanish government, including foriegn minister Moratinos summoning papal nuncio Monsignor Manuel Monteiro de Castro to read him, one imagines, the riot act (the Catholic Church in Spain it should be noted is effectively paid for by the government, and he who pays the piper…..) seems to have calmed the whole thing down, but I am still left with one over-riding and preoccupying feeling.

The issue in my mind is the fact that the election of Morales is just one more indication of the growing sense of self-awareness which exists among the indigenous peoples of Latin America. Now, the behaviour of COPE in effectively ridiculing Morales for having little formal education and even less political savvy could be read as being racist in inspiration. Even more to the point, as Mario Vargas Llosa has been pointing out of late, the Catholic Church in Latin America is coming under increasing threat from protestant evangelism, a movement which is particularly strong among the indigenous peoples. All of which takes us back to Luther, and just how easy it is to lose yourself a hell of a lot of believers, if you are careless enough in how you treat them that is.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

6 thoughts on “Going Too Far

  1. Oh come on!
    Making fun of Morales is politically uncorrect because he is an Indio and has little formal education. Is that really your point?

    Well, no one would be making fun of him if he were just an uneducated Indio.
    As it is, he is President of Bolivia. Anyone who seeks such a public office must be prepared to face criticism of his views – particularly if they happen to be rather extreme.

  2. “Is that really your point?”

    No, my point is that the Catholic Church if it goes down this road is going to lose itself a lot of members. I don’t care anything about pc and not pc. This is not at all interesting to me.

    I am interested in the unintended consequences of peoples actions.

    You are looking at this symmetrically, as if you and a Bolivian indian were the same. The situation is a-symmetrical, and what may be funny to you may not be funny to someone from a different cultural background.

    Wittgenstein asks somewhere, “when someone lifts his finger, and points towards me, how do I know which way he is pointing”?

    Maybe such issues don’t interest you, but they do cost lives. Just how funny was it to show Saddam in his underpants in the Daily Mirror?

  3. It’s never been clear to me why a modern secular state like Spain should subsidise the RC church (or any other church for that matter, but for historical reasons in Spain ‘church’ pretty much means the RC firm, full stop). Really, would it not be better to stop the subsidy, confiscate church property as recompense for its historical crimes (leaving it with one plain meeting hall per congregation) and then let it survive, if it can, on voluntary contributions from its active members? Better for society, and better for the church as well. Bishop Monteiro de Castro probably wouldn’t see it that way, but the fellow he claims as his boss would have done.

  4. “It’s never been clear to me why a modern secular state like Spain”

    Actually, it isn’t a secular state. (Bit by bit it is a getting to be more modern though). You raise an interesting point. This piece from Christian Science Monitor seems pertinent. Spain’s constitution only holds that – unlike say the UK – there is no official state religion. However de-facto Church-state relations have continued as if there were one. The general social reality is, very different, form, for example Italy, and most Spanish citizens have long since stopped going to church.

    So this is now all about to change, and not to make the state a secular one, but to recognise Spain’s new religious diversity. Spain is an inter-confessional state. Whether this should be the case or not is open to debate. I have no strong opinion.

    Interestingly, the continuing attacks on Catalan identity from places like COPE, and the role of the Spanish speaking Bishopry in lobbying in Rome against the cultural autonomy of the Catalan Catholic Church had meant that the new federalist statute here was going to declare Catalonia a secular society, as distinct from the rest of Spain.

    This move was curiously opposed by the main Catalan nationalist party – which is in fact Christian Democrat – and ironically events in the French banlieu, and the posture adopted by Sarkozy on this issue have meant that proponents of secularism have generally had a substantial rethink: as a result Catalonia will also remain interconfessional.

    So the bottom line is that among practising believers Catholicism is increasingly becoming a minority religion, thanks mainly to immigration, and the only thing that COPE is doing here is to practice continuous shooting itself in the foot.

  5. Edward,

    thanks, I hadn’t realised that Spain is officially multiconfessional. The wee Galician will be spinning in the Valle de los Caidos, I imagine. Still, Spain would seem no longer to be a confessional state. The confessions, therefore, should get nada from the state coffers.

    Spain’s constitution only holds that – unlike say the UK – there is no official state religion. However de-facto Church-state relations have continued as if there were one.

    Ah, how very unlike Germany, then, where there is constitutionally speaking no official state religion, and there are de facto two.

  6. Obligatory nitpick:

    “…passed himself off as Spanish President Rodriguez Zapatero.”

    Spain is a monarchy, not a republic. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s title in Spanish is Presidente del Gobierno (President of the Government) which may be the source of the confusion. He is a prime minister by any reasonable definition.

    Further reading

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