The Financial Times this weekend reviews papal biographies in "The Power and the Glory" by John Lloyd.In framing the new pope's future focus, the following stood out for me:
Benedict’s enemy is liberalism, and its necessary concomitant - the belief that absolute truth is not likely to be available, and certainly cannot serve as an organising principle for society.
For Benedict, relativism is the belief that there can be no one true belief: that all must have at least the offer of equal respect; and that modern societies reach the highest pitch of civilisation when they attain the most perfect tolerance of diverse faiths, all of which can practise their rites in peace and mutual indifference. This seems to be Benedict’s vision of one of the circles of Hell.
Never mind that Benedict likely misrepresents relativism, or at least its many variations. This theological stance is the maladptive outgrowth of a cancer long seeded by the Enlightenment movement (the intellectual architects of today's modernist assumptions) when they championed reason above all else, and thus failed to understand the basic human psychological need for meaning and purpose. As I write in a previous essay, this is the cost to living in world where boundaries are shifting. A retreat to a simpler, black-and-white, defined world is one consequence. Yet as human history is my evidence, we make big leaps in consciousness only when we embrace complexity and learn to navigate uncertainty -- not pretend it doesn't exist or create elaborate rationales to the same effect. Much theology does this, mainly because it suits the Church's organizational purposes very well. As the author reminds us: "Catholicism’s strength - as against the Protestant churches’ - is its ability to call to heel its sons and even its daughters."
Hence the innovation challenge for intellectual and spiritual circles that still believe in the values of liberalism: how do we create a meaning-system that celebrates difference and plurality, and that better reflects the complexity of the world, while taking into deep consideration human nature's need for a solid belief system that includes the unchanging, the transcendent, and a broader narrative from which we all can see our parts in, even if these parts are "relative" to each other, like different fragments of a puzzle.
Blaise Pascal is quoted. His wisdom is worth meditating over: “A man does not show his greatness by being at one extremity, but rather by touching both at once.” Indeed.Posted by nicole at September 18, 2005 11:20 AM | TrackBack