2. Truth and Freedom: A Paradigm
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C H A P T E R 2 Truth and Freedom: A Paradigm The radical nature of the challenge to which we are subject, and the rate at which the change in attitudes is now occurring in European countries and in the West generally, are impressive. What I am about to say has no claim to be complete or exhaustive . I will simply offer some food for thought in order to come to grips with the time we are in, following the perception, the true awareness, shared with us by Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. History and the Self-Evident First we must reckon with the “collapse of the self-evident,” to sum up the situation I described in the previous chapter. Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the “collapse of ancient religious certainties” and 21 the subsequent “collapse of humane values.”1 What is it? How can the self-evident collapse? It almost seems to be a contradiction in terms. And what do we mean when we say something is self-evident? The starting point of the phenomenon we’d like to become aware of is to be found in the Enlightenment attempt to remove the core values that have sustained and animated Europe until a few decades ago from the religious sphere, and in particular the Christian sphere, from which they emerged historically. In the age of “confessional antagonism ,” Ratzinger observed, there was a quest for “an evidential quality in these values that would make them independent of the many divisions and uncertainties of the various philosophies and religious confessions.” It was an understandable effort. After the split brought about by the Reformation and the resulting conflicts, with the so-called wars of religion between Christians, Christians wanted to “guarantee the basis of life in society and, in more general terms, the bases of humanity,” beyond any reference to Christianity, on “neutral territory” that was seemingly more secure, safe from the strife. At that time this seemed possible, since “the great fundamental convictions created by Christianity were largely resistant to attack and seemed undeniable.”2 The idea was that they would remain valid even if God did not exist. What was the outcome of such an attempt? Ratzinger points out bluntly, “The search for such a reassuring certainty, which could remain uncontested beyond all differences, failed.” Those beliefs have not stood the test of their “autonomy,” even though no one would have imagined how quickly they would be eclipsed. “Not even Kant’s truly stupendous endeavors managed to create the necessary certainty that would be shared by all.” If Kant, in denying the intellect’s ability to know God in the context of pure reason, kept God’s role as a postulate of practical reason, implied in moral behavior, after him an effort developed “to shape human affairs doing completely without God.” Contrary to what was thought, this separation seems to lead us ever more to the “edge of the abyss, towards the total elimination of man.”3 Romano Guardini clearly understood the root of the phenomenon , noting the historic and genetic nexus between the affirmation of fundamental human values and a lived Christianity. 22 The Context and the Challenges At many points in our study we have noted how this nonChristian culture commenced its growth at the very outset of the modern age. At first, the attack upon Christianity was directed against the content of Revelation. It was not made against those ethical values, individual or social, which had been perfected under the inspiration of the faith. At the same time modern culture claimed those very values as its own foundation . Due largely to its changes in historic study, the modern world dedicated itself to the theory that it had discovered and developed ethical values. It is true, indeed, that the modern age did further the intrinsic worth of personality, of individual freedom, of responsibility and dignity, of man’s inherent potentiality for mutual respect and help. These human values begin their development, however, during earliest Christian times, while the Middle Ages continued their nurture by its cultivation of the interior and religious life. But the modern era suffered the invasion of consciousness by personal autonomy; human perfection became a cultural acquisition independent of ethics or of Christianity. This point of view was expressed in many ways by many groups, preeminently in the voicing of the “Rights of Man” during the French Revolution.4 Kant compares the historical trajectory that led to the Enlightenment to the growth stages of...