Monday, July 31, 2006

Purification of reason

Greg Sisk at Mirror of Justice has posted some good insights regarding the relationship between Church and State from a Catholic perspective. He refers to this article by Laurie Goodstein of The NYT.

Goodstein writes about the discomfort some evangelicals feels toward their churches' ties to republican policy, particularly Pastor Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Maplegrove, MN. Boyd seems to think that Christians should stay out of public debates regarding morality, culture and politics.

As Greg Sisk ably writes:
Pope Benedict XVI, in his first Encyclical also affirms that the role of the Church is to form the conscience and “reawaken the spiritual energy,” while appreciating that “[a] just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church.” Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est ¶ 28a (2006)

At the same time, Catholic Christians are encouraged to participate in the political order and thereby to transform it. The Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes states: “All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good.” While we in the laity must never expect the Church to dilute its spiritual mission to support any worldly goal, we are called to bring Gospel values to bear on the political and legal matters with which we are involved.

In this respect, the anti-political movement that the New York Times article describes can swing too far in the other direction. In another part of the article not included in the excerpt Michael posted earlier, the evangelical pastor offered this disturbing response to a questioner:

One woman asked: “So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?”

Mr. Boyd responded: “I don’t think there’s a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.”

While understanding that salvation through Christ is of greater eternal value and while preserving the independence of the Church from secular trends and political campaigns, we also must stand against a radical separation of Gospel values from social justice. The very premise of the Mirror of Justice is that we indeed do have “a particular angle” on matters, drawn from the venerable sources of Catholic Social Thought and founded upon the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.

Amen. Pope Benedict goes on in Deus Caritas Est to remind us that Catholic social teaching is not only an "angle" directed to Catholics but to all men, as it is drawn from our common human nature:

In today's complex situation, not least because of the growth of a globalized economy, the Church's social doctrine has become a set of fundamental guidelines offering approaches that are valid even beyond the confines of the Church: in the face of ongoing development these guidelines need to be addressed in the context of dialogue with all those seriously concerned for humanity and for the world in which we live. (¶ 27)

The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being. ... As a political task, this cannot be the Church's immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is also a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically. (¶ 28a, emphasis added)

It is not by an authoritative appeal to religious dogma that followers of Christ should try to influence culture, but by bringing the light of pure reason to bear on the ordering of just society.

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