Sunday, October 14, 2012

Benedict XVI on the "liberated" society


In 1987, Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote a piece on Church and Politics from the vantage point of a secular worldview- perhaps even from the view of those who subscribe to socialistic-materialism. From their perspective, he lays out the position of what they think a liberated society must consist. With this in mind, he deliberately represents their erroneous position- according to their reasoning -which holds that structures (i.e. political systems, policies, and programs) are more important than personal morality. Even more than this, such people hold that if only we have the perfect structure, system or program that morality will follow.

Perhaps this is why personal morality and character is routinely downplayed in every election. When Americans consider candidates for public office, the economy is often the ultimate litmus test and guide by which they cast their ballot. What escapes too many voters, however, is that the morality of the candidate in question (and the moral standards of institutions, public and private) gives shape to, not only economic prosperity, but to political freedom as well.

Below, the pope speaks to the myth that political and economic structures produces a sound "ethos" (i.e. moral and spiritual ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology) of society. Rather, he says, it is the other way around. In addition, any attempt or promise that we can have a perfect world or kingdom "if only" we have the right system or structure, must be earnestly rejected. As he prophetically stated 25 years ago: "That is why this sort of 'kingdom' is an optical illusion with which the Antichrist dupes us- such a liberated society presupposes perfect tyranny."

Church, Ecumenism and Politics, 1987:

In a "liberated" society, the good no longer depends on the ethical striving of the people responsible for this society; rather, it is simply and irrevocably provided by the structures. The myth of the liberated society is based on this notion, since moral values are always endangered, never perfect, and must be achieved over and over again.

Therefore, a state upheld by morality, that is, by freedom, is never complete, never entirely just, never secured. It is imperfect, like man himself. For this very reason the "liberated society" has to be independent of morality. Its freedom and justice must be produced, so to speak, by its structures; indeed, morality is shifted away from man to structures. The current structures are sinful, the future structures will be just. We have to design and construct them the way one builds appliances- but then they are there.

It follows that sin, too, becomes social-structural sin and can be mentioned again as such. Therefore salvation depends on the analysis of structures and on the consequent political-economic activity.

The ethos does not support the structures, but rather the structures supports the ethos, precisely because the ethos is a fragile thing, while the structures are considered firm and reliable.

I see in this reversal, which is at the root of the myth of the better world, the real essence of materialism...The claim that the mind or spirit is not the origin of matter but only a product of material developments corresponds to the notion that morality is produced by the economy (instead of the economy being shaped, ultimately, by fundamental human decisions).

But when we look at the presuppositions and the consequences of this seemingly marvelous expedient that lifts the burden of man's inconstancy, we realize that this unburdening- "liberation" -is based on the renunciation of morality, that is, on the renunciation of responsibility and freedom, on the renunciation of conscience.  That is why this sort of "kingdom" is an optical illusion with which the Antichrist dupes us- such a liberated society presupposes perfect tyranny.

I think we must make it clear to ourselves today again today, in all earnestness, that neither reason nor faith ever promises that there will be a perfect world someday. It does not exist. Constantly expecting it, playing with the possibility and proximity of it, is the most serious threat to our politics and our society, because anarchical fanaticism necessarily proceeds from it.

The continued existence of pluralistic democracy (that is, the continued existence and development of a humanly possible standard of justice) urgently requires that we have the courage to accept imperfection and learn again to recognize the perpetual endangerment of human affairs. Only those political programs are moral which arouse this courage.

Conversely, that semblance of morality which claims to be the content only with perfection is immoral. Those who preach morality in and near the Church will also have to make an examination of conscience in this regard, since their overwrought demands and hopes aid and abet the flight from morality into utopia.