Contemporary Issue: Radical Secularism
Pope Benedict XVI, who made our battle with what he called the “dictatorship of Relativism” a major theme of his pontificate, said:
“The greatest challenge of our time is secularization: that is, a way of living and presenting the world as if God did not exist.” (Benedict XVI, Encounter with the Youth, 6 April 2006, #3)
Late in his papacy, Benedict directly addressed secularization in the US - what he percieved as a peril that is ever more prevalent, indeed symptomatic of our modern age:
[I]t is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. (Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of America, 19 January, 2012)
Radical Secularism - Relativism and Democratic Participation
Blessed John Paul pointed out that at the heart of culture lay morality and at the heart of morality lay religion. By insisting on a vibrant, publicly assertive moral-cultural order, he threw down a gauntlet to the modern world and what he called “skeptical relativism” (skeptical relativism basically holds that there is no such thing as an objective truth; there’s just what I believe, you believe, a group, a nation believes; ergo nothing is objectively true).
"Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person. It requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the "subjectivity" of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility. Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and sceptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism." (CA, 46)
With this, Catholic Social Teaching demands that we as Catholics engage in a public dialogue with society - a dialogue unashamedly based upon the fundamentals of CST.
We Must Bring our Faith into the Public Square
"The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate." (Benedict XVI, White House Welcoming Ceremony, 16 April 2008, Washington, DC)
"Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present." (CIV, 5)
"[F]idelity to the truth... alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development." (CIV, 9)
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that when religion is excluded from the public square,
"Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored..." (CIV, 56)
Certainly his words reinvigorate and reinforce those written by his blessed predecessors over the years:
"[T]he liberty of thinking, and of publishing, whatsoever each one likes, without any hindrance, is not in itself an advantage over which society can wisely rejoice. On the contrary, it is the fountain-head and origin of many evils. Liberty is a power perfecting man, and hence should have truth and goodness for its object. But the character of goodness and truth cannot be changed at option. These remain ever one and the same, and are no less unchangeable than nature itself. If the mind assents to false opinions, and the will chooses and follows after what is wrong, neither can attain its native fullness, but both must fall from their native dignity into an abyss of corruption. " (ID, 32)
"It is on faith in God…that man's morality is based. All efforts to…substitute for it the shifting sands of human regulations, sooner or later lead these individuals or societies to moral degradation…They either do not see or refuse to see that the banishment of…the clear and precise notion of Christianity, from teaching and education, from the organization of social and political life, spells spiritual spoliation and degradation". (Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Mit Brennender Sorge, 14 March 1937, 29)
"To hand over the moral law to man's subjective opinion, which changes with the times, instead of anchoring it in the holy will of the eternal God and His commandments, is to open wide every door to the forces of destruction. The resulting dereliction of the eternal principles of an objective morality, which educates conscience and ennobles every department and organization of life, is a sin against the destiny of a nation, a sin whose bitter fruit will poison future generations."(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Mit Brennender Sorge, 14 March 1937, 29)
What is Radical Secularism?
It is “a way of living and presenting the world as if God did not exist.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Encounter with the Youth, 6 April 2006, #3)
Pope Benedict said that society creates an illusion that God does not exist or that God can be restricted to the realm of purely private affairs. He insists that Christians cannot accept that attitude.
Pope Benedict even went further than Blessed John Paul when he said that the marked presence in society of that relativism “which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. Within such a relativistic horizon an eclipse of the sublime goals of life occurs with a lowering of the standards of excellence, a timidity before the category of the good, and a relentless but senseless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom.” (Address of to the Episcopal Conference of Canada-Ontario on their ‘Ad Limina’ Visit, 8 Sept 2006, 4)
What are the dangers of Radical Secularism?
“The ‘Dictatorship of relativism’, in the end, is nothing less than a threat to genuine human freedom, which only matures in generosity and fidelity to the truth.” (Response to Questions Posed by US Bishops, 16 April 08, Washington, DC)
“Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power.” (Caritas in Veritate, 5)
What are the results of Radical Secularism?
The marked presence in society of that relativism “which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. Within such a relativistic horizon an eclipse of the sublime goals of life occurs with a lowering of the standards of excellence, a timidity before the category of the good, and a relentless but senseless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom.” (Address of to the Episcopal Conference of Canada-Ontario on their ‘Ad Limina’ Visit, 8 Sept 2006, 4)
Related Thoughts on Radical Secularism
I invite you to look around at the new things which surround us and in which we find ourselves… (Saint John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991) Taken from "Catholic Social Teaching 101"
.."terrorism represents a fundamental threat to our common humanity." ...At the same time, it should be stressed that to counter the phenomenon of terrorism, achieving cultural understanding among peoples and countries and social justice for all is indispensable. For "whenever adherence to a specific religious tradition gives birth to service that shows conviction, generosity and concern for the whole of society without making distinctions, then there, too, exists an authentic and mature living out of religious freedom." Taken from "Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, Address to UN Security Council Open Debate on Terrorism"
"We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need." (DCE,28) Taken from "Benedict's Thoughts on the Role of the State - from Deus Caritas Est"
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