Below are excerpts from two intriguing Washington Post op-ed pieces today about the Pope. (Note: For all that I write about Catholicism, I am not and never have been Catholic.) It sounds to me as if the Pope, Shane Claiborne and Quakers might have a lot in common:
"Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted," [the Pople] told the country's Catholic bishops on Wednesday. "Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel."
That is a demanding and unsettling standard for the right and the left alike. Benedict asked a pointed question: "Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?"
This is the thinking of a communitarian counseling against radical individualism. "In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy," he said, "it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them. . . . We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love -- for God and for our neighbor." It is this attitude that Benedict described as "countercultural." Dionne, April 18, 2007
I think it can't be said too often that radical individualism is NOT countercultural. It may have been in 1970, but not any more.
First, despite charges of dogmatism, the church is the main defender of reason in the modern world. It teaches the possibility that moral truth can be known through reflection and argument. It criticizes what Pope Benedict XVI has called the "dictatorship of relativism" -- a belief "that does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires." "Being an adult," says Benedict, "means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today's fashions or the latest novelties."
Secularism has traditionally taught that human beings will eventually outgrow religious conviction and moral absolutism -- that skepticism is evidence of maturity. Benedict contends that modern men and women, unguided by reasoned moral beliefs, turn toward adolescent self-involvement. Their intellectual growth is stunted. In a world where all moral claims are seen as equally true and equally false -- the world, for example, of the modern university -- human conscience is reduced to biology or prejudice. Moral behavior may continue to ride in grooves of socialization or genetics, but moral assertions are fundamentally arbitrary -- always trumped by a two-word response: "Says you."
By asserting that the human mind can grasp moral truth, Catholicism also defends the reliability of reason against the superstitions of our time.
And this is important for a very practical reason: because a belief in human rights is also a moral conviction. Catholicism teaches that relativism and a purely material view of man have disturbing social consequences. "The criterion of personal dignity," wrote Pope John Paul II, "which demands respect, generosity and service -- is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they 'are,' but for what they 'have, do and produce.' This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak."
Gerson, April 18, 2008
What do you think?