Monday, March 26, 2012

Intercultural Dialogue: Great Potential; Big Risks

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

What I'm Doing

"Caritas in Veritate" is available online, translated into English. If you want to know what it says, I recommend setting aside some good-sized blocks of time, and reading it.

So, why am I posting about "Caritas in Veritate" each Monday? It's a pretty good way for me to make sure I keep studying the encyclical.

You're welcome to come along for the ride: although reading these posts is arguably about as exciting as going over someone else's lecture notes. I've got the teaching authority of "some guy with a blog," by the way. I don't speak for the Church.

Today, I'm going to pry apart a 271-word paragraph, see what the main points are: and then give my take on what Benedict XVI said.

Cultures, Differences, and Dialog

Pope Benedict XVI says that a lot has changed since Pope Paul VI's day. And he's right. Paul VI was Pope from 1963 to 1978. Back then, Woodstock and Disco were 'current events.' Not at the same time, of course.

Comparing today's world to what we had a third of a century ago, Benedict XVI says:
"...At that time cultures were relatively well defined and had greater opportunity to defend themselves against attempts to merge them into one. Today the possibilities of interaction between cultures have increased significantly, giving rise to new openings for intercultural dialogue: a dialogue that, if it is to be effective, has to set out from a deep-seated knowledge of the specific identity of the various dialogue partners...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 26)
I think it's important to note that Benedict XVI isn't saying that interaction between cultures is wrong. What he says is "...that, if it is to be effective, has to set out from a deep-seated knowledge of the specific identity of the various dialogue partners...." ("Caritas in Veritate," 26) [emphasis mine]

Cultures, Differences, and Danger

Next, Benedict XVI says that "the increased commercialization of cultural exchange today leads to a twofold danger." I don't think Benedict XVI, or the Catholic Church, is for - or against - capitalism. Not in a narrow, chauvinistic, sense. (March 13, 2010)

I wondered where this "twofold danger" thing was going. It sounded a little like one of American culture's unpalatable quirks.

I think this is a fairly accurate outline of what Benedict XVI said. But but like I said, I recommend reading the original. Anyway, here are the two dangers:
  • A cultural eclecticism that is often assumed uncritically
    • Cultures are simply
      • Placed alongside one another
      • Viewed as substantially
        • Equivalent
        • Interchangeable
    • This easily yields to a relativism
      • Not serving true intercultural dialogue
    • On the social plane
      • Cultural relativism has the effect that
        • Cultural groups coexist side by side
        • But remain separate
          • With no authentic dialogue
            • Therefore with no true integration
  • Cultural levelling
    and indiscriminate acceptance of types of conduct and life-styles
    • The opposite of cultural eclecticism
    • One loses sight of the profound significance of the
      • Culture of different nations
      • Traditions of the various peoples
        • By which the individual defines himself in relation to life's fundamental questions
    (adapted from "Caritas in Veritate," 26)
Here's the problem with both of those possibilities:
"...What eclecticism and cultural levelling have in common is the separation of culture from human nature. Thus, cultures can no longer define themselves within a nature that transcends them[63], and man ends up being reduced to a mere cultural statistic. When this happens, humanity runs new risks of enslavement and manipulation."
("Caritas in Veritate," 26)
I do not see this as the sort of isolationist stuff that crops up around election time here in America. The problem isn't, as far as I can see, that we've got different cultures around the world: or that we're communicating with each other. The problem seems to be that we run the risk of losing sight of people in the process.

Change, Differences, and Me

I don't have a problem with change. (March 20, 2012) I think assuming that change is always bad is as silly as feeling that change is always good.

I also don't have a problem with living in a world where most folks don't look and act pretty much just like I do. We're supposed to be different. (August 26, 2010)

I had to think about paragraph 26 for a bit, though. At first glance, it reminded me of the all-too-familiar American nativism that some folks don't seem to have left behind. (February 29, 2012)

After breaking out Benedict XVI's ideas, though: this paragraph looks more like a call for acknowledging cultural differences. And remembering that people who look and act differently are - people.

Is that an over-simplification? Yes. Benedict XVI also pointed out that intercultural dialog is happening, fast: and that we need to be careful in how we approach it. But not, I think, that intercultural dialog is 'bad.'

Huge Potential, Big Risks

As for "new risks of enslavement and manipulation," those are rather dramatic words. But I'm inclined to agree. Today's world is changing, fast. Folks are able to communicate with each other with a speed and ease that used to be limited to our immediate family and neighbors.

There's a huge potential, I think, for good in this "intercultural dialog." But I agree with Benedict XVI that there are big risks. Whatever else is true about our era: Boring, it's not.

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