Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Pope on rights

This week came the news that Pope Benedict is to retire. So one of his last addresses will be the one he made in January to members of the diplomatic corps.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the address. Reading it you get the sense that the Pope wants the Church to speak in the same terms as that of the secular world and to contribute to a common mission together.

And yet that secular world is allowing less and less room for the Church in the public sphere.

So in the address the Pope does pause to argue that the terms used in the secular world should be understood in a way that isn't hostile to the Church.

For instance, human rights legislation is being used in some European countries to restrict public expression of Christian faith. So the Pope said of human rights:
Sadly, especially in the West, one frequently encounters ambiguities about the meaning of human rights and their corresponding duties. Rights are often confused with exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual, who becomes self-referential, no longer open to encounter with God and with others, and absorbed only in seeking to satisfy his or her own needs. To be authentic, the defence of rights must instead consider human beings integrally, in their personal and communitarian dimensions.
I find that interesting as I too see "exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual" as being a key problem in the modern West.

Also, the alternative put forward by the Pope is a promising one. He wants rights to be considered not just in terms of a self-referential individual (what I have previously called an abstracted, atomised individual) but more "integrally" including a person's life within a community (what liberals call the "encumbered" self).

It's a pity the Pope didn't draw this out more. What, for instance, would be some examples of rights that a person considered integrally would have? Wouldn't a person, considered in their communitarian dimension, have a right to preserve the communal identity from which he derives a significant aspect of his identity and his commitment to a larger society?

The American Catholic Church doesn't think so, holding instead that there is a right to immigrate:
Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations.
 To sum up:

a) It's a positive that the Pope is willing to make criticisms of the exaggerated emphasis on autonomy in the secular world.

b) It's a positive too that the Pope wants the individual to be considered integrally, in his personal and communitarian dimensions.

c) The Church, however, is inconsistent in defending such a concept of the human person.

d) I doubt if it's a good strategy for the Church to practise outreach to the secular world by adopting the terminology of that world, and then trying to draw a line when the terminology becomes overtly hostile to the Church. From what I've observed of suburban Catholicism, one negative effect of this strategy is that priests start to see themselves as representatives of a liberal social order (i.e. as lending their authority to that order). In other words, instead of the liberal concepts being Christianised, the Christian institution at the ground level gets colonised by the dominant priorities and understandings of liberalism.


  1. Vatican 2 was the point at which the church waved its white flag and conceded victory to the world. Since then we've seen a collapse in church attendance & vocations, complete laxity of doctrine to the point where bishops openly approve of homosexual liturgy for example, and a complete lack of discipline for these rebellious clergy. Sadly Benedict’s speech was full of the same sort of double-speak and ambiguity we’ve been hearing from the church ever since that fateful council.

  2. Liberals only believe in "human rights" and tolerance only if it conforms to their way of thinking.
    Micheal Savage is right when he says Liberalism is a mental disorder.

  3. I think a black pope might work out. Africans are very conservative Christians yet being black would throw liberal critics. They wouldn't know how to criticise someone like that. Not evil white man but black and conservative!

  4. Black conservatives do not placate liberals or cause them to re-evaluate their simplistic (racist?) stereotyping of blacks or conservatives. Instead, they either label such blacks as Justice Clarence Thomas as mindless, groveling tokens ("Uncle Toms"), or dismiss/evade them as cranks -- such as Thomas Sowell. To connect "black" with "conservative" causes cognitive dissonance in the liberal mind, and nothing good comes of this.

  5. The problem with "black conservatives", as has been seen in the USA, is that they will always and forever side with race/ethnicity over other issues.

    Why do you think that of the black people that voted, Barack Obama got +90% of their vote? Around 95% during 2008 and 92% in 2012?

    That's a monolithic voting block. Yet nobody raises an eyebrow about such things in the American liberal democracy.

  6. Elizabeth Smith, the only comments I've seen about possible black papal candidates have concerned black Africans, not black Americans. Is there any real evidence that black Africans will "always and everywhere side with race/ethnicity over other issues"?