Monday, January 23, 2012

Caritas in Veritate: Progress, Ethics, and Sex

More posts about "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth)
"Caritas in Veritate"

Last week's post about my take on Caritas in Veritate/Charity in Truth ended with this quote:
"...Idealizing technical progress, or contemplating the utopia of a return to humanity's original natural state, are two contrasting ways of detaching progress from its moral evaluation and hence from our responsibility."
(Caritas in Veritate, 14)
I'm picking up there, where Pope Benedict XVI gives links to two other documents that tie in with the "fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes:"
"Two further documents by Paul VI without any direct link to social doctrine - the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968) and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975) - are highly important for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes. It is therefore helpful to consider these texts too in relation to Populorum Progressio...."
(Caritas in Veritate, 15)
Like I said last week, I've got the authority of "some guy with a blog." If you want to see what Carita in Veritate is about: I strongly suggest reading it. That's what the links are for. I think it's worth the effort, although this sort of thing generally isn't particularly light reading.

Take the first sentence of the next paragraph, for example:
"...The Encyclical Humanae Vitae emphasizes both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexuality, thereby locating at the foundation of society the married couple, man and woman, who accept one another mutually, in distinction and in complementarity: a couple, therefore, that is open to life[27]...."
(Caritas in Veritate, 15)

"Humanae Vitae," Logic, and Me

Bear with me, please: How I ran into "Humanae Vitae" actually does have something to do with this part of Caritas in Veritate.

"Humanae Vitae" is rather special for me, since I read it cover-to-cover before my wife and I got married. I'd been brought up in a nice, normal, mainstream Protestant household: and had absorbed a great deal of my native culture's values.

The idea of not using artificial contraceptives seemed foolish. I was quite sure that, after reading "Humanae Vitae," I'd find holes in their logic I could drive a truck through.

That didn't happen.

Instead, I found that I had a choice. Clinging to my preferences about artificial contraceptives would mean rejecting assumptions I'd made about God, human beings, and the nature of reality. I wasn't even close to being willing to re-think whether, for example:
  • Objective reality actually exists
  • God
    • Exists
    • Gives a rip about people
    • Is reasonable
I still didn't like what the Catholic Church taught about contraception: but I had to admit that it was logical. I kept running into that sort of thing and eventually became a Catholic. Which is another topic.

Sex is Not Lust: and Other Counter-Cultural Ideas

This isn't even close to all that the Church says about human sexuality, but it's a start:I suspect that the notion that sex is dirty has roots in Gnosticism, among other things, and that's yet another topic.

Where was I? Sex. Progress. The Catholic Church. John Muir.

"John Muir?!"

"Hitched to Everything Else in the Universe"

Human sexuality is, as Caritas in Veritate, 15, says, "...not a question of purely individual morality: Humanae Vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics...." That reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
John Muir, "My First Summer in the Sierra" (1911)
(Apathetic Lemming of the North (October 17, 2010)
Citing Pope Paul VI, Caritas in Veritate says:
"...Testimony to Christ's charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person...."
(Caritas in Veritate, 15)
Believing is good. Looks like we're supposed to do something about our high ideals, and I've posted about faith and works before.

Progress is a Vocation

One of the enduring myths of at least some American subcultures is the battle between Progress and Religion. On the one hand, in this view, we've got brilliant, forward-thinking people making things better by driving back the ignorance and superstitions of Religion.

I can see how folks could get that idea, given some of the crazier radio preachers I've heard. But there's more to religion than the perennial Apocalypse predictions.

Besides, the 'progressive secularists against superstitions Christians' myth serves to explain why it's so important to keep 'those religious people' from expressing their opinions. And I've posted about what "myth" does and doesn't mean before. More topics.

Wrenching myself back to why progress is a good idea, but not the highest good:
"...In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI taught that progress, in its origin and essence, is first and foremost a vocation: 'in the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfil himself, for every life is a vocation.'[34] ...

"To regard development as a vocation is to recognize, on the one hand, that it derives from a transcendent call, and on the other hand that it is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning...."
(Caritas in Veritate, 16)
There's more in Caritas in Veritate, 16, 'meaning of life' stuff: but I'll get to that next week.

One more excerpt:

Human Life: Valued, or Not

"...The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that 'a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.'[29]..."
(Caritas in Veritate, 15)
I've taken the establishment's attitude toward defective people a bit personally, since I'd probably have been culled from the herd if some of the 'quality of life' folks had their way. I tend to get hot under the collar about 'medical ethics,' too. Yet again more topics.

I think a sort of 'bottom line' for Caritas in Veritate, 16 is:
  • Development is
    • A good thing, provided it involves
      • Freedom
      • Truth
      • Charity
    • Not
      • The highest good
      • A goal by itself
    • A vocation
      • Part of our pilgrimage through life
In this context, "development" is more than just designing faster computers, more fuel-efficient cars, or a new vaccine. I'll get to that next week.

Or, maybe not.

Related posts:



Brigid said...

Missing an article: "if some of 'quality of life' folks"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Oops. Fixed, and thanks!

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