John Allen on Benedict’s Central Message

John Allen, the man on all things Vatican for National Catholic Reporter, has a very sharp piece today in the NyTimes.  Allen is the best source–in the English speaking world at the very least–on the Vatican & Papacy.

This op-ed concerns Pope Benedict’s central message:  an attack on relativism:

Moreover, Benedict undeniably has a point about relativism. From China to Iran to Zimbabwe, it’s common for authoritarian regimes to argue that rights like freedom of the press, religion and dissent represent Western — or even Anglo-American — traditions. If human rights are to be protected in a 21st century increasingly shaped by non-Western actors like China and the so-called Shiite axis from Lebanon to Central Asia, then a belief in objective truth grounded in universal human nature is critical. That’s hardly just a Catholic concern, but no one on the global scene is making the argument with the clarity of Benedict XVI.

This is a key distinction I think for Benedict to make:  modernization not Westernization.  Human rights are human rights not Western rights.  The principal application to date of this attack on relativism has been Benedict’s call for reciprocity.  He has supported the religious rights of Muslims in Europe and wants for example religious freedoms enacted for Christians in Turkey.

Though it is unclear whether “belief in objective truth grounded in universal human nature” is the best way to make that argument.  Jurgen Habermas‘ communicative reason might be a better way forward philosophically and legally.  Intriguingly, the two (Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger), have a book out this year on the subject, in a philosophical dialogue.  I’ll have to check it out.

It is interesting that the Papacy of all institutions is now in the forefront of protecting modern European democratic thought.  Given the history of the Papacy condemning the railroad and telegraph and the attacks on Modernism.

John Allen points out that due to some unforced errors (what Allen calls:  “a few throwaway phrases that betray a worrying insensitivity to how unfamiliar audiences are likely to hear what he says”) this central message of the Pope’s has been obscured.

e.g. the quotation of the Byzantine Emperor that were deemed anti-Muslim and his remarks that indigenous Americans did not have Christ forced upon them—which is a theological argument that Christ embraces humans in their humanity, fair enough, but is historically naive, to say the least.

So if he could get an editor/PR person to weed out those lines, Benedict’s message hopefully will ring out more clearly.

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Published in: on December 19, 2007 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  

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