Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Caritas In Veritate, Part 7

Yeah, you thought I'd forgotten about this, didn't you? It's only been a month and a half or so. I was getting back to it. I'll explain the recent sporadic and random blogging at some point, but for now, let's get back to Pope Benedict.

If you'll recall, we had just gotten past the New World Order stuff in our last installment. The following chapter of the encyclical is entitled The Development of Peoples and Technology. The dangers of putting our hopes in progress and tech, by the way, was a main theme of Spe Salvi. Pope Benedict gives a nod to this prior teaching.

A person's development is compromised, if he claims to be solely responsible for producing what he becomes. By analogy, the development of peoples goes awry if humanity thinks it can re-create itself through the “wonders” of technology, just as economic development is exposed as a destructive sham if it relies on the “wonders” of finance in order to sustain unnatural and consumerist growth. In the face of such Promethean presumption, we must fortify our love for a freedom that is not merely arbitrary, but is rendered truly human by acknowledgment of the good that underlies it. To this end, man needs to look inside himself in order to recognize the fundamental norms of the natural moral law which God has written on our hearts.

This is a slam (that I'm sure will go unnoticed as such) on the neo-Pelagian tendencies of just about all Christians. Given his later comments about technology, you might also want to check out this old post on the Iron Man movie. Granted, he tempers it a bit at the end by focusing on the natural law, rather than revelation as a whole, but hey, you have to start somewhere, right? The criticisms of this section seem to ignore that and the fact that you can at least claim ignorance of revelation. Claiming ignorance of the natural law is a little more difficult.

He then gives some praise to technology, with some weirdness thrown in that I don't really understand.

It touches the heart of the vocation of human labour: in technology, seen as the product of his genius, man recognizes himself and forges his own humanity. Technology is the objective side of human action whose origin and raison d'etre is found in the subjective element: the worker himself. For this reason, technology is never merely technology. It reveals man and his aspirations towards development, it expresses the inner tension that impels him gradually to overcome material limitations. Technology, in this sense, is a response to God's command to till and to keep the land (cf. Gen 2:15) that he has entrusted to humanity, and it must serve to reinforce the covenant between human beings and the environment, a covenant that should mirror God's creative love.

I always get headaches when I hear about stuff "revealing" man and what-not. It seems like ambiguous puffery that could mean around 1000 different things.

Technological development can give rise to the idea that technology is self-sufficient when too much attention is given to the “how” questions, and not enough to the many “why” questions underlying human activity. For this reason technology can appear ambivalent. Produced through human creativity as a tool of personal freedom, technology can be understood as a manifestation of absolute freedom, the freedom that seeks to prescind from the limits inherent in things. The process of globalization could replace ideologies with technology, allowing the latter to become an ideological power that threatens to confine us within an a priori that holds us back from encountering being and truth. Were that to happen, we would all know, evaluate and make decisions about our life situations from within a technocratic cultural perspective to which we would belong structurally, without ever being able to discover a meaning that is not of our own making. The “technical” worldview that follows from this vision is now so dominant that truth has come to be seen as coinciding with the possible. But when the sole criterion of truth is efficiency and utility, development is automatically denied. True development does not consist primarily in “doing”.

So even with all the "revelatory" power of technology, it's still prone to creating problems, which has been a huge theme for the Pope throughout this letter. Humans left to their own devices will screw things up. Technology actually spurs this habit by encouraging our own pride and self-will. We think that we can do just about anything just because we can put a man on the moon (or kill babies to harvest their parts). For an earlier discussion on similar issues, check Spe Salvi around 17-23, I think.

Since the Holy Father had already referenced Genesis above, I wish he would have stayed with it a bit and shown how this tendency brings us back to the original fall. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. Same as it was with Satan. Taking too much stock of themselves, they stepped out of line and things got screwed up.

Often the development of peoples is considered a matter of financial engineering, the freeing up of markets, the removal of tariffs, investment in production, and institutional reforms — in other words, a purely technical matter. All these factors are of great importance, but we have to ask why technical choices made thus far have yielded rather mixed results. We need to think hard about the cause. Development will never be fully guaranteed through automatic or impersonal forces, whether they derive from the market or from international politics. Development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good. Both professional competence and moral consistency are necessary. When technology is allowed to take over, the result is confusion between ends and means, such that the sole criterion for action in business is thought to be the maximization of profit, in politics the consolidation of power, and in science the findings of research.

While he doesn't mention the Gospel here as he's done previously when talking about true development, it's pretty clear that's where he's going. Ginning people through the capitalist or Marxist conceptions of humanity is not going to make people better. As has been mentioned previously, you might elevate a few to the upper echelons of the respective societies, but ultimately, they will fail where it matters most, namely, their call to be godly and holy. If you are really going to push human development, you need the proper structures in place and you need good people running them who aren't going to lose sight of what the true development is. It's not money, cash, and hoes. It's love.

This goes ditto for world peace.

Even peace can run the risk of being considered a technical product, merely the outcome of agreements between governments or of initiatives aimed at ensuring effective economic aid. It is true that peace-building requires the constant interplay of diplomatic contacts, economic, technological and cultural exchanges, agreements on common projects, as well as joint strategies to curb the threat of military conflict and to root out the underlying causes of terrorism. Nevertheless, if such efforts are to have lasting effects, they must be based on values rooted in the truth of human life. That is, the voice of the peoples affected must be heard and their situation must be taken into consideration, if their expectations are to be correctly interpreted. One must align oneself, so to speak, with the unsung efforts of so many individuals deeply committed to bringing peoples together and to facilitating development on the basis of love and mutual understanding. Among them are members of the Christian faithful, involved in the great task of upholding the fully human dimension of development and peace.
This was another one of those weird bits. It starts off staying on message with how "peace through contract" is doomed to fail. The alternative presented sounds like a very secular humanist project in which the faithful have a role to play, rather than a call to convert the world to Christ (which, in light of the rest of the encyclical, is what is really needed) which must be led by the Church.

The weirdness continues as the Holy Father turns his attention to the media.

Mirroring what is required for an ethical approach to globalization and development, so too the meaning and purpose of the media must be sought within an anthropological perspective.

An anthropological perspective? All I can say is "Huh?"

This means that they can have a civilizing effect not only when, thanks to technological development, they increase the possibilities of communicating information, but above all when they are geared towards a vision of the person and the common good that reflects truly universal values.

Universal values? What are those? Double "Huh?"

Just because social communications increase the possibilities of interconnection and the dissemination of ideas, it does not follow that they promote freedom or internationalize development and democracy for all.

Since when is the Church concerned about "democracy for all"? If anything, the Church prefers monarchies.

To achieve goals of this kind, they need to focus on promoting the dignity of persons and peoples, they need to be clearly inspired by charity and placed at the service of truth, of the good, and of natural and supernatural fraternity. In fact, human freedom is intrinsically linked with these higher values. The media can make an important contribution towards the growth in communion of the human family and the ethos of society when they are used to promote universal participation in the common search for what is just.

We finally get the supernatural addressed, but it's buried up amongst all this other stuff. This is another example of how bad the Holy Father needed an editor here. The ideas come out but you have to wade through a lot of headache to get there.

I think that will just about do it for this time around. You probably think I'm lying, but there shouldn't be more than one last entry to wrap up the entire encyclical. Hooray!

And we will be getting around to the next entry on Vatican II as well. I appreciate your patience and emails.


Turgonian said...

Of course, an anthropological perspective. Anthropology is the study of man. The media are human tools. In order to know how we should use them, we need to know what man is.

If we really study man, we will find that he has a human nature, which is universal. It is because of this that universal values exist for humans, based in human nature. I don't know if you're quoting the entire encyclical, but I didn't see anything about democracy.

Throwback said...

I fixed it. That part is part of the encyclical. I just forgot to put it in the red color.

My issue with the bit on "anthropological perspective" and "universal values" is that such language is easily turned to the secular. Rather than a description of "anthropological perspective," why not speak of the "divine perspective" or some such, especially in light of the whole "integral human development" stuff. What sets the development envisioned by the Pope apart from what is envisioned by the UN is the presence of the Gospel, not something grounded in man as man.

Or "universal values" as "Christian values." There is a way of seeing these as the same thing, but I've already seen folks grab onto this as meaning the values of the world.

You've demonstrated that there is a proper way of understanding such things, but it seems confusing to me when placed in the context of the rest of the encyclical, which focuses on decreasing man to increase God. Again, it's just my take, but there are points scattered throughout the document that stick out for me like a sore thumb.