Sam Rocha writing at Ethika Politika makes an interesting point about Pope Francis as the first “American” pope. While Rocha’s argument is not above criticism, I think his central point–that as
…since the pragmatism of William James (and the pragmaticism of C.S. Pierce), there has been a distinct sense of concreteness to the original philosophical ideas produced on this continent. Yet, in a more direct way, the geopolitical situation in Latin America over the past hundred years has produced a sense of the concrete that is more than purely philosophical in nature. The comparative political history of modernity in Europe and the Americas makes this very clear. Whereas the European story is driven by an intellectual progression of ideas (e.g., rationalism, empiricism, idealism, and so on), the Latin American version is a postcolonial response to political situations.
He goes on to argue, as he says in the concluding paragraphs, that the real importance of Pope Francis for the Catholic Church (and indeed the Christian community in general and the wider culture is his “radical realism. What Rocha means by this is the tendency of Francis
…to treat the Word as an incarnate thing, as a reality to be shown more than it is said, to let its proclamation live in the performance of its witness, to be captured in pictures of tenderness, embrace, ordinary living. A kiss. Acts such as these are immune to the ideological trap of Western ideas that has turned so much of the reality of the Gospel into intellectual history, moral theology, and dogmatic ideals. A real Gospel cannot be a philosophy or even a philosophical theology. A philosophical Catholicism is what Francis seems to be avoiding, and for good reason.
This kind of “radical realism,” incarnated especially in ascetical struggle and liturgical worship, is the reason for the surprising success of Eastern Orthodox among not only American Evangelical Protestants but also the unchurched. What Pope Francis brings to the conversation about–or maybe better, the practice of– radical Christian realism is a spontaneous and warm openness to, well, everybody. While this hospitality (xenophilia) is not uncommon among Orthodox Christians, it is too often obscured by the heaviness with which we approach our theological tradition and our ethical cultures (including American). Continue reading