Thursday, April 21, 2005


Here is a brief overview of RELATIVISM: THE CENTRAL PROBLEM FOR FAITH TODAY, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI

"Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave this address during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops' Conferences of Latin America, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May 1996." -- EWTN library

Ratzinger began his speech:

"In the '80s, the theology of liberation in its radical forms seemed to be the most urgent challenge for the faith of the church. It was a challenge that required both a response and a clarification because it proposed a new, plausible and at the same time practical response to the fundamental question of Christianity: namely, the problem of redemption."

The Liberation Theologists, well-known Catholico-Marxist leaders of revolution in Latin America in the 1980s, used the term "Liberation" as being the equivalent of "Redemption", being freedom from poverty, oppression, and injustice. These sins must be overcome only by a radical change in power structures, and Marxist philosophy showed the way of change. Faith then became praxis, "concrete redeeming action" But, as Ratzinger says, "The fall of the European governmental systems based on Marxism turned out to be a kind of twilight of the gods for that theology of redeeming political praxis. Precisely in those places where the Marxist liberating ideology had been applied consistently, a radical lack of freedom had been produced, the horror of which now appeared out in the open before the eyes of world public opinion. The fact is that when politics want to bring redemption, they promise too much. When they presume to do God's work, they do not become divine but diabolical."

The fall of Communism in 1989 "brought a great disillusionment". Some thinkers, believing Communism the only scientific political system, now find themselves in the despair of nihilism and relativism.

Relativism is now the prevailing philosophy. "It is also presented as a position defined positively by the concepts of tolerance and knowledge through dialogue and freedom", but as Ratzinger says, these concepts "would be limited if the existence of one valid truth for all were affirmed."

However, Ratzinger says that it appears that relativism is the basis of Democracy. And he agrees, but only partially, in the sphere of politics -- Marxism being the error of absolutist thinking. Total relativism in politics cannot be achieved, because of potential injustice.

The application of relativism in religion and ethics is a mistake, but so-called pluralist theology has been developing since the 1950s. Ratzinger says that relativism, although an offshoot of Western philosophy, is connected with Asian philosophy and religion, especially in India. The theology of the American Presbyterian John Hick was originally Christological, but after a stay in India, thought that Christ was but a revitalization of an ideal form of a religious leader, while God cannot be comprehended. Any description of Christ as being binding and valid truth is called in this system "fundamentalism", and is a threat against the modern supreme goods of tolerance and freedom. This is the source of thinking which leads some to describe even Catholics as Fundamentalists -- belief in an absolute Good makes one Fundamental.

The notion of "dialogue", which comes from Platonic and Christian tradition, has its meaning changed by the relativists: "In the relativist meaning, 'to dialogue' means to put one's own position, i.e., one's faith, on the same level as the convictions of others without recognizing in principle more truth in it than that which is attributed to the opinion of the others. Only if I suppose in principle that the other can be as right, or more right than I, can an authentic dialogue take place." Dialogue now means an exchange where neither party promotes truth and instead recognizes the relativity of the other's arguments. This is very different than the Socratic dialogs of Plato, which were seeking after Truth, in a rational way. I suspect that modern "dialogue" is between two unbelievers who actually are not seeking truth, but instead are pushing a political agenda.

There is a "strange closeness" between modern European philosophy and negative Asian theology. Words cannot describe the Godhead and we can never understand. Religion is reduced to Kant's Categorical Imperative. Former priest Paul Knitter "tends to give religion a new concrete expression by joining the theology of pluralist religion with the theologies of liberation." His only ecumenical principle is: "the primacy of orthopraxis with regard to orthodoxy." This shows a Marxist emphasis.

Religions in India did not have an orthodoxy but an orthopraxis, that is, a set of rituals acts, not creeds, that distinguish believers. Orthopraxis is right acting. But the modern relativist meaning of orthopraxis means only right ethics or politics. Orthopraxis means politically correct, which is a Marxist term. Modern relativists can dress and worship anyway they please as long as they vote by a strictly party line.

Relativism and related theories are based on a rationalism that denies metaphysics, and is pragmatic with ethical and political overtones. But others, responding to relativism in a non-rational way make up the New Age movement. New Age "pretends to be totally attuned to all the results of science and to be based on all kinds of scientific knowledge (biology, psychology, sociology, physics). But on the basis of this presupposition it offers at the same time a considerably anti-rationalist model of religion, a modern "mystic": The Absolute is not to be believed, but to be experienced. God is not a person to be distinguished from the world, but a spiritual energy present in the universe. Religion means the harmony of myself with the cosmic whole, the overcoming of all separations."

"This is not only renouncing modernity but man himself. The gods return. They have become more believable than God. The primitive rites must be renewed in which the self is initiated into the mystery of the Whole and is liberated from itself."

Ratzinger explains the re-editing of pre-Christian religions being attempted today. Christianity is considered as something imported from the outside. This is not unexpected, since Christianity teaches of an external Creator God, separate from His Creation, and not a pagan god made up of pre-existing substance.

Democratizing and pragmatism in the Church is evidence of relativism. Either power must be gained by members of the church, and orthopraxis imposed, or the members do not believe: exactly the situation found in North America and Europe.

And consider the Liturgy:

"The other point on which I wished to draw your attention refers to the liturgy. The different phases of liturgical reform have let the opinion be introduced that the liturgy can be changed arbitrarily. From being something unchangeable, in any case, it is a question of the words of consecration; all the rest could be changed."

"The following thinking is logical: If a central authority can do this, why not a local one? And if the local ones can do this, why not the community itself? Community should be expressed and come together in the liturgy. Following the rationalist and puritanical tendency of the '70s and even the '80s, today there is weariness with the pure, spoken liturgy, and a living liturgy is sought which does not delay in coming closer to the New Age tendencies: What is inebriating and ecstatic is sought and not the logike latreia, the rationabilis oblatio about which Paul speaks and with him the Roman liturgy."

"I admit that I am exaggerating. What I am saying does not describe the normal situation of our communities. But the tendencies are there. For this reason, vigilance is required so that a Gospel will not be surreptitiously introduced to us—a stone instead of bread—different from the one that the Lord gave us."

Ratzinger has the following observations. Liberation theology attempted to give Christianity a new praxis, that is, politics, for a new worldly liberation. Marxism failed and left a hundred million corpses. Relativism is still with us but is empty. New Age now tells us to abandon Christ for Moloch and the other demon gods of antiquity.

Historical-critical analysis has left us mainly in doubt about the scriptures. But that same method is never, Never, NEVER used for New Age texts, but they claim scientific basis nevertheless. Many modern biblical exegetes share the same philosophy: that miracles, mysteries, and sacraments are superstition. They totally lack an open mind. New Age texts are given a free ride and never are subject to criticism of any kind.

In general, the historical-critical method attempts to show the Bible as a strictly historical document with no relevance to the present, and only "paralyze interpretation".

The major problem is that modern positivist philosophy, which bans metaphysical cognition, has led to a poor, atrophied faith.

Ratzinger was no fan of neo-Scholasticism, which attempted to reconstruct the Faith with pure reason. He says instead that we must "reject philosophy as the foundation of the faith independent from the faith", since "our faith would be based from the beginning to the end on the changing philosophical theories." Reason and philosophies must be informed by faith.

"If we consider the present cultural situation, about which I have tried to give some indications, frankly it must seem to be a miracle that there is still Christian faith despite everything, and not only in the surrogate forms of Hick, Knitter and others, but the complete, serene faith of the New Testament and of the church of all times."

"Why, in brief, does the faith still have a chance? I would say the following: because it is in harmony with what man is." Modern theories have a poor recognition of man, an inadequate philosophical anthropology.

"Only the God himself who became finite in order to open our finiteness and lead us to the breadth of his infiniteness responds to the question of our being."

"Our task is to serve the faith with a humble spirit and the whole strength of our heart and understanding."

Be steadfast in your duty.

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