First, something for a good chuckle
A Side Note
I have not commented on the recent abdication of pope emeritus Benedict XVI because I was too busy lamenting the loss. It is in moments like the recent announcement and consequent retirement of Benedict XVI that brings to mind the paradoxes of Christianity. I was at once saddened by his leaving and joyfully proud in his humility to accept that he is no longer fit to watch over the flock entrusted to him by his Father.
So to Papa Bene: You truly are a gift to us and you have done well for the Church. May God continue to grant you the strength to live out the rest of your earthly days as a great advocate for all of us who are fighting the good fight to return to our God.
As a result of Benedict’s resignation, many people have voiced their “hope” for a “better” pope who will lead the Church in reforming its archaic ways to fit with modern times. Here is what I have to say on this matter.
Truth and Opinion
When I begin my classes, I tell my students this: None of you are entitled to your opinions in this class; you are only entitled to well-reasoned arguments. I am quick to also let them know that by opinion I don’t mean their preferences to food, clothing, TV shows, or whatever else that have to do with personal taste. Instead, what I mean by opinion is their conclusion and insistence on one philosophical and theological position as opposed to another.
Why do I do this? It is because we live in a world filled with opinions (or assertions) without most of us providing sufficient reasons to defend them. We live in a world where relativism reigns; where “what is good for me is determined by me and what is good for you is determined by you, and neither one of us can be wrong.” We live in a world that says “I personally find abortion to be wrong, but if you want to abort your child, then that’s your choice and who am I to say that you’re wrong?” This sort of understanding of morality, to name one of the many areas where relativism is very popular, is obviously problematic; and it is because relativism itself is unsound.
Relativism is philosophically problematic for various reasons, two obvious reasons why it is problematic can be detected immediately after we hear “what’s good for me is good for me and what’s good for you is good for you, and I must tolerate your opinion.” First, relativism presupposes tolerance as the common “virtue” of all people; that everyone must tolerate everyone else’s values because every is correct. Yet, what if one value I hold is intolerance? What if I am intolerant of tolerance? That I think tolerance to be a vice of sort and that it weakens the morality. Accordingly, am I no longer correct on my moral grounds, or are you incorrect on yours? Second, unlike preferences for types of cakes, we cannot simply argue that everyone has a different opinion on morality and that it is OK. If Joe likes strawberry cakes and Jim likes vanilla cakes, we should not deem either one as being wronger than the other. But if Joe preferred slavery and Jim prefers equality for all human persons, we can definitely say that Jim is correct and Joe is indeed wrong. But why is Joe wrong and Jim right if matters of morality are subject to personal preference? Why praise the US for its economic and political system and condemn Castro for his?
It seems to be the case that when it comes to matters of morality, beauty, justice, mathematics and other “transcendental” things, that there are truths and falsities. When it comes to these things, we are no longer entitled to our opinions of what they are, but we must attempt to discover what they actually are and speak from such discoveries. Contradictions, not paradoxes, are generally pretty good indications that something we hold true is actually false, e.g., relativism.
The Truth of God
While truths are beyond opinions, we also know that there are certain truths that the human reason simply cannot grasp unless it was revealed to it. For a wonderful treatise on this, I suggest John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio. This does not mean that we deny human reason of its autonomy or competence. It does mean, however, that there are things that human reason would fail to understand had faith not informed it. Blessed John Paul II beautifully illustrates this, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” In this relationship, reason helps prepare the mind for faith by showing that the content of Christian faith is wholly compatible with good, clear thinking; and then, once one embraces the gift of faith, reason serves faith yet again by allowing faith to ask good questions, and develop good answers, about anything and everything in life – from the existence of God to the problem of evil to the belief in the resurrection of the body.
Accordingly, God’s revelation, found in the Bible and the Church’s Tradition, clarifies truths that sinful human reason has great difficulty coming to (like the truth that all human beings possess equal, God-given dignity); or God’s revelation makes known truths we could never have known (like the truth of God’s nature as Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). These truths, discovered by human reason guided by the Holy Spirit, have become part of the Apostolic tradition and dogmatically and doctrinally taught to the faithful. Conclusively, these truths are not changeable with the times. To say that they are is akin to saying that the value of 1 added to 1 may be changed from 2 to 3 over time and both results would be true.