A few weeks ago I spent a week-long conference with a group of intellectual conservatives (faculty and students). Our topic was American exceptionalism. And since many of the lecturers and conferees were Roman Catholic, we heard a great deal about Roman Catholic Social Thought. A significant piece of the recent reflection by John Paul II and Benedict XVI is the dignity of the human person. Some would even say that this is the truth the church needs to communicate arguably more than any other. (I might place Christ’s death and resurrection ahead of this, but I digress.)
But not all Roman Catholics have jumped on the bandwagon of philosopher popes. Robert Royal has a good piece at the First Things blog about the weaknesses of Roman Catholic Social Thought. He takes issue with a recent talk by Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Friesing, at Georgetown University. Royal objects both to the leftist construction that Marx (I know, you can’t make this up) and to the uncritical affirmation of human dignity.
. . . there is a danger that the broad language of CST will simply provoke yawns from the secular world. Cardinal Marx, for instance, made much of the fact that Catholics believe in the infinite worth of every human being. He probably intended this to cover human life everywhere from the womb to the nursing home and the various places in between where human life is threatened today. Pope Benedict XVI, too, said recently that every human person is a gift from God, with similar overtones implied.
Nevertheless, the Church and other Christian groups should use this line sparingly and only for specific purposes. Our culture already does a pretty fair job in producing large numbers of people who think they’re God’s gift to the world. Appearing to tell them what they already think about themselves neither attracts them to Christianity nor helps overcome narcissism. Indeed, at Georgetown, some in the audience took precisely this line to as implying that we ought to get away from Catholic moralism, which actually asks something of individuals, and simply show people what a wonderfully rich “alternative”–which is to say an activist, leftist political position–Catholic social teaching supposedly represents.
I wonder if the guys over at Called to Communion ever turn from the early to the current church fathers.