The radical detachment of the Enlightenment philosophy from its roots ultimately leads it to dispense with man. The spokesmen of the natural sciences tell us that man does not possess any liberty—in total contradiction of the starting point of the whole question. The more advanced spokesmen of a philosophy that is clearly separated from the roots of the historical memory of humanity tell us that man ought not to imagine that the is something different from all other living beings. And it follows that man ought not to be treated any differently from them…
The real antagonism typical of today’s world is not that between diverse religious cultures; rather, it is the antagonism between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on the one hand, and the great religious cultures, on the other. If we come to experience a clash of cultures, this will not be due to a conflict between the great religions, which of course have always been at odds with one another but, nevertheless have ultimately always understood how to coexist with one another. The coming clash will be between the radical emancipation of man and the great historical cultures.
Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 42-44
Reflection – See, it’s quotes like this which got me started on this blog, and which are why Pope Benedict’s resignation from the papacy and public life do not mean his writings will vanish any time soon from my blogging and, I hope, from the interest of the public.
It is this whole business of the ‘historical memory of mankind’ that is so central in his writings and reflections. There is a fundamental core of truth—or at least, to be fair, what has always been taken to be true by the vast mass of humanity—that is shared between traditional cultures and it is precisely this core that is rejected by modern secularism.
What is this core of truth? That there is a divine spiritual realm above the human and the earthly material one. That everything comes from the divine, from God in some sense, and is under the authority of God. That there is a moral law which is binding on every human being and that does not change from one generation to the next (for how could it be a binding moral law if it always changes?). That the life of humanity is one part, perhaps a central part as we Christians understand, in a drama that we did not initiate and whose final outcome and meaning is not ours to determine.
Some might argue that the moral law varies widely from place to place, culture to culture. C.S. Lewis answered that one long ago in his writings by pointing out that… well, it really doesn’t. There has never been a culture that valued cowardice or oath-breaking or indiscriminate killing. There is vast overlap in the actual content of the moral law among cultures; most of the real variance lies in who the moral law gets applied to, and who is left outside its protection.
At any rate, secularism is the true radical variant here, casting out any sense of a moral law, a divine origin, meaning, and goal to life, and any real connection with the vast traditions of humanity. We have been assured that all this is vitally necessary if humanity is to climb out its tragic barbaric past into a glorious and truly civilized future. And what secularism has delivered has been abortions by the tens of millions, euthanasia on the immediate horizon in most of the Western nations and already present in some, the ever-increasing degradation of human sexuality in ever-increasing corrosively explicit displays of obscenity, and a casual contempt for human freedom and dignity that shows up in all manners and forms, in social media and government policy, in the light entertainments of music and TV, and in serious academic discourse.