From the Pope, or a Study in Catholic Envy

Thank you A. Greenwood for linking the Pope’s essay on Europe in First Things over at T&S today.  It was a great read.  I am really liking this new Pope and greatly respect the views he has articulated so far in his tenure.  In some ways and on certain things, I have what one might call Catholic envy, and I felt its tinges today.

In this essay, the Pope wrote about the evils and effects of Communism on the Christian identity that is the cultural heritage of greater Europe.  In the essay, the Pope compares two varieties of socialism that Europe inherited from the nineteenth century, one democratic and beneficial, the other totalitarian and detrimental.  Of the latter, the Pope explains:

The totalitarian model, by contrast, was associated with a rigidly materialistic, atheistic philosophy of history: It saw history deterministically, as a road of progress that passes first through the religious and then through the liberal phase to arrive at an absolute, ultimate society in which religion is surpassed as a relic of the past and collective happiness is guaranteed by the workings of material conditions.

But the Pope does not leave his appraisal of totalitarian socialism at that; rather, speaking with the moral authority of a Pope of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, he goes on to pass discerning judgment on such theory:

This scientific façade hides an intolerant dogmatism that views the spirit as produced by matter and morals as produced by circumstances. According to its dictates, morals should be defined and practiced on the basis of society’s purposes, and everything is moral that helps to usher in the final state of happiness. This dogmatism completely subverts the values that built Europe. It also breaks with the entire moral tradition of humankind by rejecting the existence of values independent of the goals of material progress. Depending on circumstance, anything can become legitimate and even necessary; anything can become moral in the new sense of the term. Even humankind itself can be treated as an instrument, since the individual does not matter, only the future, the cruel deity adjudicating over one and all.

The Communist systems collapsed under the weight of their own fallacious economic dogmatism. Commentators have nevertheless ignored all too readily the role played by the Communists’ contempt for human rights and their subordination of morals to the demands of the system and the promise of a future. The greatest catastrophe encountered by such systems was not economic. It was the starvation of souls and the destruction of the moral conscience.

The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the Communist economy has been recognized, its moral and religious fallacy has not been addressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem, and left untreated, it can lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger—above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler.

There is knowledge here that applies far beyond the obvious deprivations of twentieth-century nightmare Communist regimes. The insights about ignoring the supremacy and objectivity of morals in the interest of some imagined higher or more rational end apply just as well in the decaying moral fabric of every society, whether those embracing conservative liberalism, democratic liberalism, social democracy, or those who continue to persist in the insanity of totalitarian socialism.

We can also learn from the Pope’s stark imagery in this selection. Describing the materialistic future as a "cruel deity adjudicating over one and all" is potent indeed, invoking as it does the subversion of an ultimate morality to the demands of materialism and the totalitarian view of universal history.

The Pope continues in his essay by outlining three elements that will be vital to maintaining a European identity in the future.  Of interest here is the Pope’s view of multiculturalism in this future identity:

Multiculturalism, which is so passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own things. Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can do this only if we ourselves are not estranged from the sacred, from God. With regard to others, it is our duty to cultivate within ourselves respect for the sacred and to show the face of the revealed God—the God who has compassion for the poor and the weak, for widows and orphans, for the foreigner; the God who is so human that he himself became man, a man who suffered, and who by his suffering with us gave dignity and hope to our pain.

Unless we embrace our own heritage of the sacred, we will not only deny the identity of Europe. We will also fail in providing a service to others to which they are entitled. To the other cultures of the world, there is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West. They are convinced that a world without God has no future. Multiculturalism itself thus demands that we return once again to ourselves.

Here is wisdom, let us heed, regardless of our religion, whether LDS, traditional Christian, Muslim, Jew, or other.

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3 Responses to From the Pope, or a Study in Catholic Envy

  1. Pat Eyler says:

    I haven’t read this essay yet, but I’ve been reading ‘Deus Caritas Est’ (and trying to compare C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Four Loves’). I agree that it is easy to admire and respect Pope Benedict’s work.

  2. Adam says:

    It is good to know that the Pope has encouraged Europe to recognize the decline it is experiencing due to the secular base its morals are increasingly founded upon. The idea that everything is moral that eventually ushers in the final state of all-consuming happiness is sinuous, seductive, and completely false. True it is that we need a moral conscience grounded in absolute values, ones that are not only time-tested, but that are eternally true because they are founded on eternal, true principles that don’t change.

  3. Adam Greenwood says:

    Yes. We have (mostly) defeated the communism of nations. Now more than ever we need to fight the communism of the soul.

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