Friday, September 4, 2009
[T]here is not just room, but a growing space today for organisations of civic society to step forward and do things that neither market nor state can do.
Many such activities derive from people of Faith; many from our Church. I think of the work it does in tending the sick, comforting the distressed, befriending those without friends on our streets, in our cities but also in remote parts of Africa where without our Church, driven by our Faith, many would be without hope, without love, even without life itself. I only wish these good works received as much publicity that any failings receive.
But such work has a more profound significance and this I also learnt in my years running the government of a major country. I learnt over time that person and state, even bolstered by community is insufficient. That a society to be truly harmonious, to be complete, also requires a place for Faith.
The limits to individualism are in one sense, plain. We only need to contemplate the financial crisis to understand that the pursuit of maximum short-term profit, without proper regard to the communal good, is a mistake and leads to neither profit nor good. Yet, at a deeper level, the case against a purely individualistic or materialistic philosophy has to be made. Young people today have access to technology, to opportunity, to experiences good and bad on a scale my generation never knew and my father’s generation would find fantastical, like something out of science fiction.
The danger is clear: that pursuit of pleasure becomes an end in itself. It is here that Faith can step in, can show us a proper sense of duty to others, responsibility for the world around us, can lead us to, as the Holy Father calls it “Caritas in Veritate.”
* * *
Faith enlarges and enriches the idea of community. The recent Papal Encyclical is a remarkable document in many respects. It repays reading and re-reading. But one strand throughout it, is a strong rejoinder to the notion of relativism, to the description of the human condition in society as just some amoral negotiation or set of compromises with modernity; or even just obedience to the majority opinion. Not that it is anti-technology or anti-modern; or indeed anti-democratic.
But it widens and deepens the relationship between individuals and the community in which they live. It puts God’s Truth at the centre of it. In one passage, it describes humanism devoid of Faith as “inhuman humanism”: “Without God, man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is.”
* * *
How will we deal with the world’s scarce resources? Who will speak up for the poor, the dispossessed, the refugee, the migrant? How will we bring understanding in place of ignorance and tolerance in place of fear?
It is into this space that the world of Faith and of course the Catholic Church, the universal Church – itself the model of a global institution – must step.
Political leaders on teir own – I tell you very frankly – cannot do this. Not because they are bad people; but because the context and constraints within which they operate make it hard for them to do so. But they can be helped.
* * *
This is surely the role of Faith in modern times. To do what it alone can do. To achieve what neither a person, nor a state, nor a community, on their own or even together, can achieve. To represent God’s Truth, not limited by human frailty, or by the interests of the state or by the transient mores of a community, however well intentioned; but to let that Truth bestow on us humility, love of neighbour, and the true knowledge that indeed passes all understanding.
This is Faith, not as superstition, not as an insurance against life’s pitfalls, but Faith as the salvation of the human condition.
Faith not as magic, not as an escape from life’s complexities, but Faith as purpose in life. Faith, not as a mystery we seek to solve; but Faith as a mystery which expresses the limitations of the human mind.
Faith and Reason are in alliance, not opposition.
They support each other; embrace each other; strengthen each other. They are not in a struggle for supremacy. Together they are supreme.
That is why the voice of the Church should be heard. That is why it should speak confidently, clearly and openly. Because within any nation and beyond it, in the community of nations, the voice of Faith needs to be and must be heard,
It is our mission for the 21st century. For modern times. For the future. Science, technology, all the advances of humankind, do not make its voice less important. They make it more so.
So, even with all the diffidence of someone newly into full communion with the Catholic Church, I say: be strong and of good courage. The best days of our Faith, with God’s will, lie ahead of us.