Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s 2012 film No, about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to General Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, vividly captures the tensions between a society’s need to be forward-looking at times of political transition (be this at the end of dictatorship or at the end of violent conflict) and its need to deal with past injustice. On March 5th 1988 Chileans were asked to vote whether General Pinochet should stay in power for another eight-year term. The film focuses on the television campaign aired by advocates of the “No” vote in the days leading up to the referendum. Veterans of the anti-Pinochet opposition, many of them victims of the state’s repressive apparatus, called for a campaign that would showcase past crimes: forced disappearances, torture, and killings.
Every academic and professional field has its jargon. While often criticized, jargon has its uses. It serves as a kind of shorthand, allowing us to communicate complex or multiple concepts in short phrases or single words. But it does have its downsides. Excessive use of jargon renders meaning incomprehensible to non-specialists. Even between specialists it may lead to misunderstandings when users and audiences have different conceptions of what the term refers to. Worse, it can be used as a kind of tick-box or name check, allowing users to communicate the sense that they are engaging with the concepts underlying the jargon without necessarily genuinely doing so. We are therefore rightly wary when a new term comes along; asking ourselves whether there is a need for it in our vocabulary.
The Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest religious institutions in existence, with more than a billion members, in almost every country of the world. With the election of Pope Francis, it is timely to ask: how does the Roman Catholic Church enter into dialogue with the world? How the Catholic Church uses dialogue to deal with differences is not only significant for its members, but also for inter-religious and world peace. The Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Mark Patrick Hederman, has some intriguing answers to this question. Two points from his recent book “Dancing with Dinosaurs” are summarized below:
Why do we need religious institutions?
We have to understand the nature of large institutions – be these multinational companies, the United Nations or the Roman Catholic Church – if we are to avoid harming others and ourselves. Seeking to change them rapidly, to revolutionize them, is a recipe for failure. Their very size and cumbersome plodding through the course of history is their guarantee of sustainability. In Hederman’s words: “Unless any organization becomes a dinosaur it will not survive the vicissitudes of history.” But why do religions need such institutional structures?