[Christianity] has always defined men—all men without distinction—as creatures of God, made in his image, proclaiming the principle that they are equal in dignity, though of course within the given limits of societal order. In this sense, the Enlightenment has a Christian origin, and it is not by chance that it was born specifically and exclusively within the sphere of the Christian faith, in places where Christianity, contrary to its own nature, had unfortunately become mere tradition and the religion of the state.
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 48
Reflection – OK, well I’m back from the land of sickness and ready to resume regular blogging. I hope I still have a reader or two out there!
We see in this passage one of Ratzinger’s most refreshing qualities, which is the ability to give credit where credit is due, and to give full honor to all that is true, good, and beautiful in his opponent’s views. I have come across passages in his works where he remarks on the good points made by Nietzsche, Sartre, Marx, and atheism in general. He has a great quality of magnanimity that pervades his writings, where disagreement does not require being disagreeable, and controversy can be conducted without calumny or condemnation.
It is refreshing to come across this in the world today, where so often it is quite the opposite. The political sphere, in particular, is so very rancorous, so ludicrously revved up in manufactured outrage (cough, ‘binders of women’, cough) and caricatures of villainy. Academia is not much better, as it is all too common in that world to excoriate one’s ideological opponents not simply as wrong, but as crazy, stupid, or evil.
And yes, in the religious sphere we don’t always do such a great job, either, of this. As those who read this blog regularly know, I’m pretty passionate in my pro-life, pro-traditional marriage views, and in my commitment to the Church’s vision of human sexuality. It is important for me, then, to truly try to understand the mind and heart of the passionate same-sex marriage proponent, the sincere ‘pro-choice’ activist, the people who genuinely and sincerely think the Catholic Church is bananas about sex.
They’re not wicked, for the most part. They’re not stupid or crazy, generally. They think what they think for reasons, and it behooves me as a Christian, with all my passionate French-Canadian intensity, to try to understand those reasons. Not so I can be persuaded of the errors of my ways (cuz I’m right, you know!), but so that I can actually converse with people in a respectful loving fashion.
It all comes back to this human dignity business, and how everyone is made in the image and likeness of God. No human being is a devil or a brute animal, either intent on evil and ruination or intent on the mere satisfaction of appetite. All of us carry within our being, even if it is buried under a mass of sinful choices and false ideas, that spark of the divine image. All of us carry within us at the very least some deep disposition towards the true, the good, the beautiful.
We cannot, then, demonize or dismiss the other. Every voice must be listened to; every human heart has a story to tell, a ‘truth’ that is worth hearing, even if that truth must be rescued from the shipwreck of illusion and lies it is foundering in.
As Christians, in other words, it is up to us to rescue and redeem the project of the Enlightenment, which at least in part was about the inherent dignity and hence rights of each human person. This is gradually, or maybe not so gradually, falling apart in our nations.