Religious and cultural contributions to development must be incorporated with discernment

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

The Christian revelation of the unity of the human race presupposes a metaphysical interpretation of the “humanum” in which relationality is an essential element. Other cultures and religions teach brotherhood and peace and are therefore of enormous importance to integral human development. Some religious and cultural attitudes, however, do not fully embrace the principle of love and truth and therefore end up retarding or even obstructing authentic human development. There are certain religious cultures in the world today that do not oblige men and women to live in communion but rather cut them off from one other in a search for individual well-being, limited to the gratification of psychological desires. Furthermore, a certain proliferation of different religious “paths”, attracting small groups or even single individuals, together with religious syncretism, can give rise to separation and disengagement. One possible negative effect of the process of globalization is the tendency to favour this kind of syncretism132 by encouraging forms of “religion” that, instead of bringing people together, alienate them from one another and distance them from reality. At the same time, some religious and cultural traditions persist which ossify society in rigid social groupings, in magical beliefs that fail to respect the dignity of the person, and in attitudes of subjugation to occult powers. In these contexts, love and truth have difficulty asserting themselves, and authentic development is impeded.

For this reason, while it may be true that development needs the religions and cultures of different peoples, it is equally true that adequate discernment is needed. Religious freedom does not mean religious indifferentism, nor does it imply that all religions are equal.133 Discernment is needed regarding the contribution of cultures and religions, especially on the part of those who wield political power, if the social community is to be built up in a spirit of respect for the common good. Such discernment has to be based on the criterion of charity and truth. Since the development of persons and peoples is at stake, this discernment will have to take account of the need for emancipation and inclusivity, in the context of a truly universal human community. “The whole man and all men” is also the criterion for evaluating cultures and religions. Christianity, the religion of the “God who has a human face,”134 contains this very criterion within itself.

132 Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Sixth Public Session of the Pontifical Academies of Theology and of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 8 November 2001, 3.
133 Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church Dominus Iesus (6 August 2000), 22: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 92 (2000), 763-764; Id., Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life (24 November 2002), 8: AAS 96 (2004), 369-370.
134 Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, 31: AAS 99 (2007), 1010; Address to the Participants in the Fourth National Congress of the Church in Italy, Verona, 19 October 2006.

Caritas in Veritate 55

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