Thursday, November 02, 2006
Without Roots: Europe and the Pope
The Catholic Church is trying to tackle the issue of European Roots in order to provide a more attractive model of a Christian way of living. After WW2, Europe became increasingly disengaged with the model of life offered by the Church. The truth unveiled by the Church appealed fewer and fewer people. European societies showed a decreasing strength in their beliefs, and this corresponded to an increased belief in one’s own capacity to frame a good life for oneself.
Ratzinger has embarked on a crusade against relativism. He claims that the origin of the secular philosophy goes back to the French Revolution. From that moment on, Europe engaged in a project that involved the increasing role of technology and science in public life, and relegated God in the private sphere. The separation is that between the laique and the Catholichristian society. The former had a formidable success represented by technological and scientific progress. But that success came with a heavy price. The system of values on which the European polity has was founded collapsed. Ratzinger feels that Europe as it is does not have a future nor does it constitute a model for other polities. His harsher criticism comes at this point: ‘Europe’s soul comes from the material world; morality entirely depends on circumstances and must be adapted to the ends of the society.’ This is the most dangerous aspect of European relativism and this crisis needs to be tackled somehow.
What does the Pope offer instead? Interestingly, the ‘new’ foundation proposed by Ratzinger has a very old name: dignity. This is a name for a foundation of morality that must take precedence over any other political principles. Dignity is inviolable because it comes from God and as such it cannot be discussed or endangered by human actions. Dignity translates in three notable spheres for Ratzinger: Respect for life, which corresponds to a Catholic doctrine of bioethics. Second, respect for the family and its founding institution –Marriage. Third, respect for the sacred, which constitutes also a limit to freedom of opinion.
Unfortunately Ratzinger forgets to mention the poor record of the Catholic Church as far as respect for women and respect for other minorities are concerned. I have in mind some basic examples of the evils produced by its very institutions. In particular, the Catholic Church is unable to offer a model of good life that inspires because it is so out of touch with some basic issues. Think of the AIDS pandemic made easier by the lack of use of contraceptives, as demanded by the Vatican. The same Church, moreover, did very little to reconsider the place of women within the society (and within the Church). Its sexual morality in general is unfit to give positive messages to a society where sexual morality has evolved hugely.
Finally its insistence on heterosexual couples does not acknowledge a basic fact of life: We end up in a paradoxical position where both religion and liberalism claim to go back to the same ethical foundation –dignity—without really agreeing on the very definition of that foundation. From the religious viewpoint, dignity means a static interest of every individual being granted by god and as such inalienable and inviolable. In the liberal strand of thinking, dignity means something more dynamic –autonomy (which translates as freedom of choice)—although some authors identify a more static element to it which lies at the core of the definition of human being. The dynamic element is Liberty, and the static element is Equality. There is little ground for a meaningful dialogue thus far.