Saturday, August 15, 2009

Caritas in Veritate, Part 5

Rolling right along, we come to the chapter entitled "The Cooperation of the Human Family." I'll admit right now that this is where things seem to get a little weird.


The whole first section is about the poverty of isolation.


Poverty is often produced by a rejection of God's love, by man's basic and tragic tendency to close in on himself, thinking himself to be self-sufficient or merely an insignificant and ephemeral fact, a “stranger” in a random universe. Man is alienated when he is alone, when he is detached from reality, when he stops thinking and believing in a foundation.


This resonated with me on a big level, mostly because I'm currently going back through the works of Walker Percy (which I highly recommend). I just finished Lost in the Cosmos. The Pope here is still focusing his entire concept of development on the centrality of God and the supernatural.


Pope Paul VI noted that “the world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking”. He was making an observation, but also expressing a wish: a new trajectory of thinking is needed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family; interaction among the peoples of the world calls us to embark upon this new trajectory, so that integration can signify solidarity rather than marginalization.

It's this kind of stuff that made Populorum Progressio so difficult to begin with and why this encyclical, to this point, has done such a good job in returning the emphasis to what Paul VI sort of left by the wayside. It seems to me that the world is in trouble because of a lack of faith. If you read what Pope Benedict has written thus far, even in the immediately preceding paragraph, he appears to be saying the same thing. All the metaphysics and theology in the world won't help without faith. After all, without faith, it is impossible to please God.


In this regard, reason finds inspiration and direction in Christian revelation, according to which the human community does not absorb the individual, annihilating his autonomy, as happens in the various forms of totalitarianism, but rather values him all the more because the relation between individual and community is a relation between one totality and another.


Again, this is all very good stuff as the encyclical consistently returns the issue of development to Divine Revelation and its indispensableness (assuming that's a word).


The theme of development can be identified with the inclusion-in-relation of all individuals and peoples within the one community of the human family, built in solidarity on the basis of the fundamental values of justice and peace. This perspective is illuminated in a striking way by the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity within the one divine Substance. The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality. The reciprocal transparency among the divine Persons is total and the bond between each of them complete, since they constitute a unique and absolute unity. God desires to incorporate us into this reality of communion as well: “that they may be one even as we are one”. The Church is a sign and instrument of this unity. Relationships between human beings throughout history cannot but be enriched by reference to this divine model. In particular, in the light of the revealed mystery of the Trinity, we understand that true openness does not mean loss of individual identity but profound interpenetration. This also emerges from the common human experiences of love and truth. Just as the sacramental love of spouses unites them spiritually in “one flesh” and makes out of the two a real and relational unity, so in an analogous way truth unites spirits and causes them to think in unison, attracting them as a unity to itself.


Here's some of the weirdness. The first sentence here talks about this human community being built on stuff like solidarity, justice, and peace. That sounds really nice, but it seems to completely contradict the underlying theme of the entire encylical, namely, that we're supposed to be building on supernatural values that order us towards God, rather than each other. The remainder of the section discusses the Trinity and how the Church is a sign an instrument of the unity desired by God of all people. However, this is precisely because the Church is based on those supernatural things, rather than the temporal ones described in the first sentence.


The Christian revelation of the unity of the human race presupposes a metaphysical interpretation of the “humanum” in which relationality is an essential element. Other cultures and religions teach brotherhood and peace and are therefore of enormous importance to integral human development. Some religious and cultural attitudes, however, do not fully embrace the principle of love and truth and therefore end up retarding or even obstructing authentic human development. There are certain religious cultures in the world today that do not oblige men and women to live in communion but rather cut them off from one other in a search for individual well-being, limited to the gratification of psychological desires. Furthermore, a certain proliferation of different religious “paths”, attracting small groups or even single individuals, together with religious syncretism, can give rise to separation and disengagement.


Ok. We have the point here that the Church is superior to all other religions. This is good, though I cannot understand why we can't simply call such religions false. When you throw around comments about their being "of enormous importance" and how "some. . . do not fully embrace the principle of love and truth," the waters are considerably muddied. The fact is that if its the Gospel that is the only real path to "integral human development," which has been the point of the entire document up to now, these other religions are all impediments to that development. It should go without saying that all non-Catholic religions do not embrace the principle of love and truth. They are, by definition, false.


One possible negative effect of the process of globalization is the tendency to favour this kind of syncretism by encouraging forms of “religion” that, instead of bringing people together, alienate them from one another and distance them from reality. At the same time, some religious and cultural traditions persist which ossify society in rigid social groupings, in magical beliefs that fail to respect the dignity of the person, and in attitudes of subjugation to occult powers. In these contexts, love and truth have difficulty asserting themselves, and authentic development is impeded.


This bit clarifies some of the problems with the preceding paragraph, but the spectre of false religion still lingers. Picking this negative aspect out of all the others seems to dodge the main issue of their falseness and leave the potential interpretation that the falseness can be ignored as long as syncretism is avoided.


For this reason, while it may be true that development needs the religions and cultures of different peoples, it is equally true that adequate discernment is needed. Religious freedom does not mean religious indifferentism, nor does it imply that all religions are equal. Discernment is needed regarding the contribution of cultures and religions, especially on the part of those who wield political power, if the social community is to be built up in a spirit of respect for the common good. Such discernment has to be based on the criterion of charity and truth. Since the development of persons and peoples is at stake, this discernment will have to take account of the need for emancipation and inclusivity, in the context of a truly universal human community. “The whole man and all men” is also the criterion for evaluating cultures and religions. Christianity, the religion of the “God who has a human face”, contains this very criterion within itself.


The problem continues. Indifferentism is bad. Discernment requires charity and truth. Development of peoples is at stake. We've already established that integral human development requires the Gospel. Discernment requires emancipation (whatever that means) and inclusivity.


I don't get it. If development requires the Gospel, then inclusivity should be the last thing on the list. Including these religions that are contrary to the Gospel is only going to obstruct development. I have no idea how to reconcile this with the rest of the encylical.


Granted, the last part seems to indicate again the Christianity is the only religion that can provide development, but that doesn't explain the "inclusivity" language.

And it doesn't stop there.

The Christian religion and other religions can offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions.

Other religions? What happened to the Gospel and Truth being indispensable for integral human development? And if falseness prevents development, as has been stated/implied multiple times, shouldn't it be ok to suppress said falseness?

Denying the right to profess one's religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development. The exclusion of religion from the public square — and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism — hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity.

I suppose it can, if such exclusion creates a greater evil than the toleration of the false religion allows. Still, this is all way too vague and, in some ways, completely inconsistent with the message thus far that I can't see it helping the cause very much.

Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development.

This would have been a lot better if it had specified the Catholic faith. I'm sure that's what Pope Benedict is referring to, but when it's mixed in with all this blander stuff, it's a problem. This is the kind of stuff that gets exploited by the whack-jobs out there.

Fruitful dialogue between faith and reason cannot but render the work of charity more effective within society, and it constitutes the most appropriate framework for promoting fraternal collaboration between believers and non-believers in their shared commitment to working for justice and the peace of the human family.....

This is what gives rise to the duty of believers to unite their efforts with those of all men and women of good will, with the followers of other religions and with non-believers, so that this world of ours may effectively correspond to the divine plan: living as a family under the Creator's watchful eye.

This is, by far, the most problematic point of the encyclical. So far, I've mentioned a couple of times when things "seem" to be going off track from what I would call the major point of this document, namely, the subordination of temporal ideas of development to the supernatural.

Look at what happens here. The emphasis is now the opposite. The "divine plan" itself is defined by the secular goods. I'm going to ask some friends of mine to take a look at the Latin here. I'm convinced this has to be a crappy translation or something.

The next few bits of the encyclical are about subsidiarity.

By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state. . . In order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together.

Nothing much to see here, except that it leads to this part, which lays the groundwork for what others find to be the most controversial thing in the whole document.

Globalization certainly requires authority, insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued. This authority, however, must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way, if it is not to infringe upon freedom and if it is to yield effective results in practice.

Dum-dum-dum!

Not too much earth-shattering for while after that. He spends some time on solidarity, the need for equitable trade between countries (especially in allowing poorer countries access to markets), and the importance of respecting the cultures of developing countries. This latter lends itself to some quotable moments, especially in light of the willingness of so many to criticize the Church's evangelism efforts as arrogance.

The Christian faith, by becoming incarnate in cultures and at the same time transcending them, can help them grow in universal brotherhood and solidarity, for the advancement of global and community development.

You'd think I'd be happy with this. I probably should be. Maybe it's my greediness, but I'm not. Sure, we're back to focusing on the Faith again. That's good, though not entirely jiving with the immediately preceding sections. Ergo, more confusion.

The really bad part is that we've gone from the Faith as being necessary for growth and development and all that good stuff to just something that "can help." This seems to water down the prior statements.

Here, the Pope launches into a laundry list (and occasionally a weird one) of stuff that he feels needs some work. First, he says that richer countries should allocate more resources to helping poorer ones. What's significant about this? Check this out:

One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State. Provided it does not degenerate into the promotion of special interests, this can help to stimulate forms of welfare solidarity from below, with obvious benefits in the area of solidarity for development as well.

While I think this would freaking rule, I know there's not a chance in heaven, hell, or anywhere else that it's going to happen. Let's just note here that the Pope isn't necessarily giving practical or realistic ideas.

After this, we get discussion of education, tourism (huh?), human migration, unemployment, the need for workers to earn living wages, labor unions, financial markets, and consumer empowerment.

I'll be frank. I don't know why most of this stuff is in here. It's very odd. It all really comes down the principle of it's bad to screw people over. I think we all get that.

Anyways, I don't want to drop things so abruptly, but this is as good a place as any. I don't think there's much of a need to go into the laundry list with any detail. Plus, we've finally arrived at the infamous Section 67, so I'm looking at handling that as best as I can. That means starting fresh at the next post.

Later.

1 comment:

John said...

It seems that you are constantly being surprised at the Pope's approach. In the scientific/engineering community, we refer to this as extrapolating from heuristics. However, because later points are surprising you, perhaps you should revise your model.
For instance, how are human virtues so alienated from supernatural ones? You speak of your surprise at the Pope writing about the foundationality of justice, peace, etc. to human development. Doesn't it seem right that human development can only occur when the human virtues are brought into their proper order? I agree that this is only possible through divine grace, given our fallen natures, but why take a hostile attitude towards the concept? Grace builds on nature, and grace augments nature.
This post is a way of pointing out something that has been annoying me throughout reading this posting, where you call the pope out on being too "soft". I don't think Benedict is really being soft. I think he is being careful to say everything good that one can say about the other side, before offering why the other side is wrong. Actually, he is setting it up so that there isn't a strong attack on other sides, merely a thorough support of his own. This is apologetics. This improves credibility with those not "in the chior" already. He is trying to reach even those who are reading this in Bad Faith (to use the term technically).