Reality Matters | James Kalb | CWR
The law that the Church becomes weak by pursuing worldly influence and strong by giving herself to truth offers hope for the future
Basic issues have basic importance. Does God exist? If He does, what is He like? If He doesn’t, can an objective moral order survive His absence? It seems obvious that such questions are crucial to all aspects of life, including our life together in society.
That conclusion has inconvenient implications. Christian societies, Muslim societies, and secularist societies are all different from each other. One excludes another, so we can’t favor them equally. It seems then that we must choose one over the others, or else live with a compromise that is likely to prove awkward and shifting—a situation, of course, that is often very difficult to improve upon.
That view of the matter makes people today uncomfortable. They would like to agree with the political philosopher John Rawls, who wanted basic questions put aside in public life as divisive, and claimed that could be done in a principled way to the satisfaction of all reasonable citizens whatever their outlook. Rawls devoted a great deal of effort to working out those views, and they have become extremely influential.
Catholics had already accepted much of the argument. After the Second World War thinkers such as John Courtney Murray and Jacques Maritain attempted to define ways in which the Church could give full support to a public order that leaves basic questions unresolved and relies instead on “articles of peace” or a “democratic charter” that people with different fundamental commitments could agree on. Such views made enormous progress in the 60s and later as the Church attempted to rethink her approach to the modern world.
Rethinking seemed necessary. A liberal form of modernity had triumphed that appeared hard to reject completely because it seemed likely to dominate the social world into the indefinite future. Parallel to that triumph there arose a tendency in the Church to put less emphasis on the reality of God, since reality is essentially a public matter, and more on the subjective side of the Faith. Theologians began to speak of God as Mystery rather than Being, catechists and moralists turned away from doctrine toward experience and human relations, and celebrations of the Mass began to emphasize community and the response of the faithful at the expense of transcendence. What had seemed firm began to seem negotiable.
The apparent hope behind such tendencies was that lessened emphasis on transcendent absolutes would make the Faith more accessible to modern man, and enable the Church to cooperate in the construction of a peaceful and tolerant world in which Catholics could maintain personal and religious integrity as citizens of a free and open society. They would serve God by serving man, acting as a leaven and transforming hearts and minds.
The hope hasn’t panned out, and the transformation has gone the other way.
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