Monday, April 30, 2012
As we engage in the usual election-year tussles about the Catholic Church's role in politics, this passage from John Finnis's essay "Catholic Positions in Liberal Debates" (Collected Essays of John Finnis, Vol. V: Religion and Public Reasons, pp. 113-26) incisively makes about a dozen important points in the course of a single paragraph:
We should not be nostalgic for, and do not need to defend, the paternalism defended by Plato and Aristotle, or the religious intolerance of the mediaeval and post-mediaeval Catholic (not to mention Protestant) states. Nor should we accept other package deals, in which Catholicism might be yoked to a restorationist politics of conservatism or a liberationist politics of socialism or state capitalism, or whatever. So far as anyone can see, the Catholic Church is still near the beginning of its long journey to the end of the ages; its Augustinian, mediaeval, and subsequent experiments with harnessing state power were no more than a passing phase in which faith and benevolence were harnessed together without sufficient attention to differentiations which the faith itself suggests and, when developed, ratifies. If we make and insist upon those differentiations, we can peacefully and without even implicit threat affirm, in our own reflections and when and as appropriate in public, that the centre of human history is the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and that the truths which his Church conveys, even in periods when it is humanly speaking as decayed, confused, and weak as it at present is, are the true centre of the culture which can and should direct political deliberation in western liberal as much as any other kind of political society. The disarray within the Roman Catholic Church is surely a substantial cause (as well as a consequence) of the disarray within these societies, even those societies which for many centuries have had no reason to think (or have made it their business not to think) of Catholics as other than virtual strangers.