Cultural exchange must not be allowed to submerge human identity

From Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009):

On the cultural plane, compared with Paul VI’s day, the difference is even more marked. At that time cultures were relatively well defined and had greater opportunity to defend themselves against attempts to merge them into one. Today the possibilities of interaction between cultures have increased significantly, giving rise to new openings for intercultural dialogue: a dialogue that, if it is to be effective, has to set out from a deep-seated knowledge of the specific identity of the various dialogue partners. Let it not be forgotten that the increased commercialization of cultural exchange today leads to a twofold danger. First, one may observe a cultural eclecticism that is often assumed uncritically: cultures are simply placed alongside one another and viewed as substantially equivalent and interchangeable. This easily yields to a relativism that does not serve true intercultural dialogue; on the social plane, cultural relativism has the effect that cultural groups coexist side by side, but remain separate, with no authentic dialogue and therefore with no true integration. Secondly, the opposite danger exists, that of cultural levelling and indiscriminate acceptance of types of conduct and life-styles. In this way one loses sight of the profound significance of the culture of different nations, of the traditions of the various peoples, by which the individual defines himself in relation to life’s fundamental questions.62 What eclecticism and cultural levelling have in common is the separation of culture from human nature. Thus, cultures can no longer define themselves within a nature that transcends them,63 and man ends up being reduced to a mere cultural statistic. When this happens, humanity runs new risks of enslavement and manipulation.

62 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 24: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 83 (1991), 821-822.
63 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993), 33, 46, 51: AAS 85 (1993), 1160, 1169-1171, 1174-1175; Id., Address to the Assembly of the United Nations, 5 October 1995, 3.

Caritas in Veritate 26

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