Ratzinger reflects on Europe’s “Crisis of Culture” while himself renouncing essentially the entire intellectual heritage of the West in favor of the Jansenist Blaise Pascal’s irrationalism
The reality behind both “right” and “left” liberalism is the Law of the Jungle, by which the powerful prevail and subject and exploit the weak—most of us.
It has taken centuries for these views to take root, and even now there is resistance, but there can be little doubt that that resistance is at a low ebb. To give some idea of how low that ebb is, I’ll cite an address that was given by Joseph Ratzinger the day after Karol Wojtyła died. Most people considered it to be, in essence, Ratzinger’s “campaign speech” for the papacy. I really recommend the entire address to your attention, for what it tells about the intellectual bankruptcy of the West in its leading spiritual institution:
As you will see, Ratzinger reflects on Europe’s “Crisis of Culture” while himself renouncing essentially the entire intellectual heritage of the West in favor of the Jansenist Blaise Pascal’s irrationalism. Here is the key passage—and note the prominence of moral considerations that formed the basis of the Enlightenment’s irrational project. How to form a coherent morality while rejecting objective knowledge of human nature:
But at this point, in my capacity as believer, I would like to make a proposal to the secularists. At the time of the Enlightenment there was an attempt to understand and define the essential moral norms, saying that they would be valid "etsi Deus non daretur," even in the case that God did not exist. In the opposition of the confessions and in the pending crisis of the image of God, an attempt was made to keep the essential values of morality outside the contradictions and to seek for them an evidence that would render them independent of the many divisions and uncertainties of the different philosophies and confessions. In this way, they wanted to ensure the basis of coexistence and, in general, the foundations of humanity. At that time, it was thought to be possible, as the great deep convictions created by Christianity to a large extent remained. But this is no longer the case.
The search for such a reassuring certainty, which could remain uncontested beyond all differences, failed. Not even the truly grandiose effort of Kant was able to create the necessary shared certainty. Kant had denied that God could be known in the realm of pure reason, but at the same time he had represented God, freedom and immortality as postulates of practical reason, without which, coherently, for him no moral behavior was possible.
Does not today's situation of the world make us think perhaps that he might have been right? I would like to express it in a different way: The attempt, carried to the extreme, to manage human affairs disdaining God completely leads us increasingly to the edge of the abyss, to man's ever greater isolation from reality. We must reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even one who does not succeed in finding the way of accepting God, should, nevertheless, seek to live and to direct his life veluti si Deus daretur, as if God existed. This is the advice Pascal gave to his friends who did not believe. In this way, no one is limited in his freedom, but all our affairs find the support and criterion of which they are in urgent need.
This is Ratzinger’s renunciation of the philosophia perennis of the West. He advocates for embracing Kantian agnosticism and engaging in what amounts to a make believe life. This is the man mourned by well meaning but deluded “conservatives” or whatever. I won’t belabor the point here, having written at great length on the subject elsewhere.
Nevertheless, I want to quote Blake at some length because he seems to me to appeal to the objective knowledge of human nature which alone can save Man from the crisis in which we find ourselves. In doing so Blake places himself in firm opposition to the public orthodoxy of the American Empire. Just keep the preceding in mind as you read:
The Christian virtue of chastity is bound up with the Christian virtue of charity, which encompasses much more than giving money to the poor. The heart of each is love and respect for other people. Christianity insists that the other must be understood as a person, not as a means of gratification. The eternal importance of each person means that our relationships, including our sexual relationships, have eternal significance.
Human flourishing depends on rightly ordered sexuality just as much as it does on rightly ordered economics. Thus, Christian sexual ethics are not idiosyncratic habits or rituals relevant only to believers. Rather, they are based on human nature, and so they apply to everyone. The rules provided by Christian sexual teaching protect the weak and vulnerable from the selfishness of the strong and, by promoting and protecting the natural family, provide for fulfillment and joy that is not available from a life of selfish indulgence.
Consequently, following Christian sexual ethics, whether in fidelity within Christian marriage or in celibacy outside it, is not just privately virtuous, any more than a businessman who restrains his greed is merely privately virtuous. In both cases, virtue (or vice) has extensive public effects. Thus, loving one’s neighbor means regulating and controlling sexual desire just as loving one’s neighbor means controlling one’s temper and one’s avarice. The unselfishness of following Christian sexual ethics would, if broadly practiced, ameliorate a host of social ills, from child poverty to elective abortion.
In contrast, the ethos of sexual liberation presumes that we are atomized individuals, which is why liberals and even self-styled socialists tend to talk like Ayn Rand heroes when it comes to sex and related issues, such as abortion. But this selfishness tends toward self-destruction. The effects of the sexual revolution have been devastating to individuals and society, despite our culture’s unprecedented prosperity and technological prowess.
The sexual restraint Christianity demands is an essential part of loving one’s neighbor. The loneliness, exploitation, and fatherlessness that increasingly define our sexual culture and family life are evidence of this, and no amount of technological progress or enlightened liberal selfishness will remedy them.