Ordering Love: Liberal Societies and the Memory of God

Ordering Love: Liberal Societies and the Memory of God

by David L. Schindler


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Metaphysical study of God, love, technology, and culture in modern society

Reality most basically and properly considered, says David L. Schindler, is an order of love — a gift that finds its objective only in an entire way of life. Love is what first brings things into existence, and everything exists in, through, and for love. With this understanding of reality, Schindler explores how modern culture marginalizes love, regarding it at best as a matter of piety or goodwill rather than as the very stuff that makes our lives and the things of the world real.

Schindler examines how Western civilization’s fixation with technology — especially its displacement of experience with experiment and its privileging of knowing and making — has undermined its capacity to build an authentic human culture. Schindler sees this as a technological age not simply because of technological advancements but because of the way we think as the result of our technological orientation. He shows, within the context of politics, economics, science, and cultural and professional life generally, that God-centered love is what gives things their deepest and most proper order and meaning.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802864307
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/28/2011
Pages: 455
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

David L. Schindler is Edouard Cardinal Gagnon Professor ofFundamental Theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institutefor Studies on Marriage and Family at The CatholicUniversity of America, Washington DC.

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Ordering Love

Liberal Societies and the Memory of God
By David L. Schindler

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 David L. Schindler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6430-7

Chapter One

"Keeping the World Awake to God": Benedict XVI in America

For Pope Benedict XVI the main issue of our time, as it has been for all the saints and doctors of the Church down through the ages, is the memory of God and his centrality in our lives. Thus he asserts that the problems of the West can be traced finally to a forgetfulness of God. It is this question of God, of his presence or absence, that lies at the heart of the faith-reason problematic on which I have been asked especially to comment. My question is this: How does Benedict understand the task, as he puts it, of "keeping the world awake to God," and what does his understanding imply for America?

(1) Regarding God in America, the principal phenomena are two. On the one hand, as public opinion polls attest, God does not seem to be absent: the great majority of Americans continue to believe in God and indeed to give him an important place in their lives. And there is no need to doubt the sincerity of what people have recorded in these polls. In America the thesis that modernity brings with it secularism, or the death of God, therefore seems to be contradicted.

At the same time, equally pervasive in America is the view that the reality of God is not properly a matter of reason. However important it may be as a matter of inspiration, relation to God cannot be integrated into the logic of reason as exercised in the public life of the academy, politics, economics, or indeed morality. In short, the God who appears to be pervasively present in America remains absent to reason in what the culture considers reason's legitimate meaning. The God of believers appears to non-believers to be an arbitrary God who is a threat to the integrity of public argument.

(2) For Benedict, a God who is truly God must make a difference to everything all the time. Affirming the truth of Romans 1:20 that, since the creation of the world, God can be seen in the things he has made — and not only by believers — Benedict stresses that the question of God is inescapable. This indeed was one of the main (and often overlooked) points of his 2006 Regensburg lecture, whose burden was twofold: to insist, vis-à-vis the problems posed by some forms of Islam, that God is inherently reasonable; but to insist, at the same time, in relation to the West, that reason realizes its integrity only when it comes to terms with its constitutive or structural openness to God.

The whole of the theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI as it bears on culture and cosmos may be said to be centered on this basic fact that "I do not come from myself; rather, I come from another." What reason most basically is, therefore, is a dialogue with God: whatever the content of our conscious acts, we always speak at least implicitly about the reality of God and of our relation to him. No act of creaturely consciousness remains neutral or can remain silent with respect to the Creator.

It follows that the religious dimension of our existence can never be rightly understood as a merely voluntary, extra-rational, or private addition to the life of reason. What Benedict's work shows, in a word, is that the marriage of modernity and religion in America is a marriage between modernity and a religion already formed mostly in the reductive terms of a peculiarly modern — post-Puritan, post-Enlightenment — understanding of God, creation, and reason.

(3) Now it is important for Benedict, if he is not to fall into the kind of reductive religion of which he is critical, that he give reasons for this argument that are persuasive at least in principle to those who do not share his faith. To be sure, Benedict makes his proposal as a Catholic and hence as a theologian. Speaking from within his faith, he nevertheless offers a renewed interpretation of the conscience and the natural law that are common to all human beings, and in so doing makes also a philosophical claim that makes reasonable demands on all human beings. Regarding conscience: Benedict suggests that, to the traditional meaning of conscience as synderesis (moral awareness), we add, at an even more basic level, conscience as anamnesis (primitive recollection of God). Notably, Benedict makes this proposal also in terms of Socrates, who did not have the benefit of Christian revelation. Socrates witnessed by his life and argument that I become truly self-aware only by recalling in some primitive if unarticulated way the "more," stemming from the presence of a transcendent source, that is always implied in my self-awareness and is somehow more interior to me than I am to myself. This is so, Benedict says, because "the anamnesis of the Creator ... is identical to the ground of our existence."

Regarding natural law: Benedict has appealed often in his pontificate to natural law, but it is a version of natural law that has recuperated its finality and center in God. He affirms and develops Aquinas's understanding of the natural moral precept to seek to know the truth about God and to live in community with others. Note also that Benedict emphasizes the nature of law as a matter of desire and thus love, in contrast to the modern tendency, following Kant, to conceive law more basically as duty. As stated in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (2005), what the human being desires (eros) is most basically to love God above all things and others for their own sake (agape). The point is thus that this desire to generously love God and others arises naturally. It is not merely a function of grace, although the desire is fully realized only in grace.

The task of Christians, then, is to awaken this desire and give witness to it: to show that the restlessness driving every act of human consciousness in its depths is, even in America, a restlessness for God and for love. This is what is meant by the "pursuit of happiness," rightly conceived.

(4) What Benedict's views on God, creation, and reason imply for the various areas of life in America can only be hinted at here. (a) Suffice it to say, first, with respect to the academy: the search for truth, concerning being as love and finally concerning God, needs to take its place at the heart of the modern university, in a way that respects while reconfiguring the rightful autonomy of the disciplines. Renewing this search implies the deepening of reason to include interiority and contemplativeness — or more concretely, humility and obedience — as integral to the methods of research proper to the academy. Experience must find its proper place as more basic than experiment as a source of knowledge in the sciences, both social and natural. And so on.

Benedict's understanding of reason does not reject the heritage of the Enlightenment. For him, the problem with the Enlightenment is not that it overemphasized reason, but that it unduly narrowed reason to a matter of technical control. Benedict means to recover reason in its full scope and depth. Insofar as post-Enlightenment reason has been concerned with infinity, it is the "bad infinity" of endlessly fragmented objects, as distinct from the good infinity that opens to integration in a universe of beings under God. What post-Enlightenment reason has done, in a word, is to cut human knowledge off from the natural desire for the truth about God as the Logos of love.

A final point in connection with education: in his January, 2008 letter to the diocese of Rome regarding the education of young people, Benedict recalls the importance, given that education must be rooted in the search for truth, of ensuring that young people are taught openness to suffering. The search for truth involves the self-sacrifice integral to love. He says that the danger in shielding young people from difficulties and the experience of suffering in their search for truth is that they will grow up to become brittle and ungenerous adults.

(b) Regarding freedom and rights: freedom for Benedict is most basically an act of love in search of God, which includes even as it transforms America's dominant view of freedom as an originally indifferent act of choice or exercise of options. "Rights" for Benedict flow from the natural desire and thus responsibility to love God and others, and this includes even as it transforms America's dominant view of rights as simply "immunities from coercion" by others.

(c) Finally, regarding religion and the political order. Benedict unequivocally affirms the West's separation between Church and state. However, he rejects the idea of a purely juridical state. The fact that the state is not the source of truth about man and God does not mean that the state can ever be neutral or indifferent to that truth. Indeed, the pervasively juridically conceived state in America has been an integral part of the public ethos that permits and encourages ongoing debate, but only so long as the debate does not terminate in any substantive truth that would be binding on all citizens. For Benedict, the purely juridical state implies a reductive view of human conscience and a formalistic notion of natural law. In fact, the juridical state, with its proceduralist public ethos, leads logically to nothing less than what Benedict has termed a "dictatorship of relativism."

In sum, Benedict's theology does not reject the distinctive goods realized in America's institutions. On the contrary, he accepts these goods in their most basic and natural intentions. This does not mean, however, that he accepts America's achievements in their dominant present form, to which he would then wish merely to add a Christian difference — a difference that would inevitably be received as a merely private difference, in the end not making much of a difference at all. Rather, Benedict's theology endorses America's achievements, but with a dynamic for transformation that begins from inside our cultural and institutional logic. This dynamic changes the dominant notions of reason and freedom all the while taking over, now in an enlarged sense pointing toward their final Gospel meaning, all that America wishes to protect regarding human autonomy and dignity, by means of its dominant notions of reason and freedom.

(5) Lastly, a brief word about the nature and "realism" of the transformation indicated here. The main principles are three. First, Benedict's argument, in the spirit of Augustine, presupposes that all human beings have some primitive experience of restlessness for love and for God, however much this experience gets diverted in our culture into a pursuit of happiness conceived largely as the consumption of commodities. Benedict's theology thus presupposes that lives and indeed arguments that testify to this movement toward love and toward God will find resonance within the minds and hearts of others in the broader culture.

Second, Benedict insists over and over again that this task of cultural transformation is in the first instance not a matter of working up plans for new structures. As he puts it, "what the Church needs to respond to the needs of man in every age is holiness and not management." What is needed is that Christians reform themselves patiently and from the inside, a reformation which, as inclusive of the whole human being and thus also of the body, will include a patient but genuine reformation of structures.

Third, Benedict stresses that cultural transformation will never be realized without suffering. This point cannot be overemphasized. There seems to be a widespread assumption today, often unspoken, that if Jesus had only had the benefit of liberal institutions and access to the Internet, he could have secured the power and influence necessary to avoid an ignominious death on the Cross. Needless to say, such is not the view of Benedict.

Benedict insists on the contrary that the "the Cross is revelation.... It reveals who God is and who man is." What this means is that suffering the Cross is not necessary only for one who lives his or her Christianity faithfully; suffering the Cross already has its presentiment in the person who lives the fullness of his humanity justly. Which is to say, in the concrete order of history, it is "reasonable," and not only a function of one's faith, to expect to suffer crucifixion. Ratzinger/Benedict refers again to the case of Socrates:

In the Republic [Plato] asks what is likely to be the position of a completely just man in this world. He comes to the conclusion that a man's righteousness is only complete and guaranteed when he takes on the appearance of unrighteousness, for only then is it clear that he does not follow the opinion of men but pursues justice only for its own sake. So according to Plato the truly just man must be misunderstood and persecuted in this world; indeed, Plato goes so far as to write: "They will say that our just man will be scourged, racked, fettered ..., and at last, after all manner of suffering, will be crucified...." This passage, written four hundred years before Christ, is always bound to move a Christian deeply. Serious philosophical thinking here surmises that the completely just man in this world must be the crucified just man; something is sensed of that revelation of man which comes to pass on the Cross.

This expectation of the Cross, which finds its warrant in Christian faith but is also somehow already prefigured in reason, cannot be forgotten, even for a moment, in the Christian's engagement with the culture.

(6) To return in conclusion, then, to our opening question: What is distinctive about Benedict's theology, and what does it mean for us? Simply, Benedict proposes a new sense of the integrity of nature and reason, now understood in light of the statement of Gaudium et Spes (1965) that Jesus Christ, in his revelation of the Father's love, reveals the mystery of man to himself (n. 22). Relative to America, Gaudium et Spes as interpreted by Benedict entails a new sense of the reasonableness of God- and love-centeredness — in short, of the call to holiness — and consequently a new sense also of the reasonableness of the demand for openness to God and to love precisely at the heart of America's public culture.

Chapter Two

Cultural Implications of Religions in Public Life: Recuperating the Deeper Questions

I begin by citing from the striking statement Pope Benedict XVI made last year at this Center on the occasion of his Meeting with Representatives of Other Religions:

[R]eligious freedom [and] interreligious dialogue ... aim at something more than a consensus regarding ways to implement practical strategies for advancing peace. The broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the truth. What is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence? Only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family, for "wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace" (Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace).

We are living in an age when these questions are too often marginalized. Yet they can never be erased from the human heart....

Spiritual leaders have a special duty ... to place the deeper questions at the forefront of human consciousness, to reawaken mankind to the mystery of human existence, and to make space in a frenetic world for reflection and prayer....

While always uniting our hearts and minds in the call for peace, we must also listen attentively to the voice of truth. In this way, our dialogue will not stop at identifying a common set of values, but go on to probe their ultimate foundation.

In a preface to Professor Marcello Pera's new book, Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians, Benedict notes the clarity of the professor's argument that, while an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense is not possible without setting one's faith aside, "intercultural dialogue on the cultural consequences of the basic religious decision has become all the more urgent." In what follows I will focus not on the sense in which interreligious dialogue may or may not be possible, but on what Benedict terms intercultural dialogue. That is, taking the cue given by Pope Benedict, I will focus on what he suggests is a basic task common to religious leaders: "to place the deeper questions at the forefront of human consciousness." What is entailed by this task, and how might common engagement with this task lead on to dialogue regarding the ultimate foundations of this task? Needless to say, what follows is offered in my own name and not that of Benedict, though, as will be clear, the line of reflection is influenced deeply by my reading of Benedict's theology.


Excerpted from Ordering Love by David L. Schindler Copyright © 2011 by David L. Schindler. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Ordering Love....................1
"Keeping the World Awake to God": Benedict XVI in America....................19
Cultural Implications of Religions in Public Life: Recuperating the Deeper Questions....................26
The Dramatic Nature of Life: Liberal Societies and the Foundations of Human Dignity....................34
Truth, Freedom, and Relativism in Western Democracies: Pope Benedict XVI's Contributions to Without Roots....................53
Civil Community Inside the Liberal State: Truth, Freedom, and Human Dignity....................65
Charity, Justice, and the Church's Activity in the World: A Reflection on Deus Caritas Est....................133
Does the Free Market Produce Free Persons?....................154
Market Liberalism and an Economic Culture of Gift and Gratitude....................166
The Significance of World and Culture for Moral Theology: Veritatis Splendor and the Nature of the Body....................219
The Embodied Person as Gift and the Cultural Task in America....................242
Liturgy and the Integrity of Cosmic Order: The Theology of Alexander Schmemann....................288
Living and Thinking Reality in Its Integrity: Originary Experience, God, and the Task of Education....................310
Religion and Secularity in a Culture of Abstraction: On the Integrity of Space, Time, Matter, and Motion....................328
Modernity and the Nature of a Distinction: Balthasar's Ontology of Generosity....................350
The Given as Gift: Creation and Disciplinary Abstraction in Science....................383
The Anthropological Vision of Caritas in Veritate in Light of Economic and Cultural Life in the United States....................430

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