Nature, Morality and the USA

Three days ago Pope Benedict XVI met with US Bishops in their ad limina visit to the Holy See, and addressed the challenges he foresees  in the US front. One of the central themes was the attack on morality, and he said the following:

With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically just, humane and prosperous society to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning. The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a “language” which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.

When talking about the environment Pope Benedict XVI often speaks of the relationship of nature’s ecology to a human ecology. Here he does, the reverse, and on talking about human issues, refers to the laws of nature and natural law. These themes are familiar and I will highlight a few key concepts:

1. Freedom: The Pope has long had reflections on freedom and its place vis-a-vis misunderstandings. In the American context this is especially pertinent, and in this same speech he said the most valuable American freedom is “the freedom of religion”.

2. Reasonability of the Catholic faith: In Germany this was one of the main points, explaining the ability of faith to dialogue with non-believers due to this element. Faith and reason are central to the Pope’s magisterium.

3. The language of creation: In several occasions the Pope reminds us time and again of the inner logic of Creation, and that God is Logos himself, creative reason.  See his famous Regensburg address.

3 thoughts on “Nature, Morality and the USA

  1. Whether the topic is environmental or human ecology the Holy Father is constantly reminding us that our way to act in this world is to apply a “faithful reason and a reasonable faith”. That theme constantly emphasizes our responsibility to seek the natural law (through employing that faith and reason) as given by God. I think at times we can get so focused on a specific issue or concern that we can lose sight of the coherent whole of God’s creation. The natural law concept can aid us to recognize the interrelationships among the dignity of the human person, the dignity of creation and our freedom of religious expression. By addressing the current cultural climate of the USA, Pope Benedict XVI is challenging us to be alert to our responsibility to not only understand these relationships but defend them.

    1. Thanks Tom. Great comment. When you refer to ” get so focused on a specific issue or concern” it reminds me of another thing Pope Benedict XVI challenges which is the political moralism of our times. Of preaching this or that moral point to exhaustion, but without an anchoring in the foundations for those moral concerns. You’re right on the mark. The problem is that this deeper natural law for example, rests on the belief of an intelligence that drives and creates nature. With the modern belief in evolutionism, which ultimately hands off nature to chance and luck, natural law has lost its grip. If what drives reality is blind chance, then there is no law to appeal to, because there is no ‘nature’ so to speak anymore.

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