Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Quotation to munch on

From a letter from Professor Marcello Pera to Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), printed in Without Roots, p. 100:
“Secularists must beware–and often they are not wary enough, because technological devices are so readily available–of rushing to transform their whims into desires, and their desires into rights. Believers must also beware–and they, too, are often not wary enough, since it is so easy to find a proper or ad hoc passage from the Scriptures–of transforming their interpretations of the Scriptures into dogma.
The first sentence is profound. I'm still thinking about the second one. At first reading it seems like a non sequitur. But the context helps: Pera is laying out what each side will need to do to participate in strengthening a common culture of values (roughly--I'm grossly oversimplifying for time and space purposes. Just read the book.).

Note: [sic] on the en-dashes throughout. I know they should be em-dashes, but (1) they were en-dashes in the text, and (2) I'm not sure if simple text on blogger does em-dashes anyway.


Ryan said...

I'm interested in what the alleged consequences will be if wariness is abandoned. The implications for transforming desires into dogma seems plain enough, but there's something to contrast against there. But the secularist is essentially his own arbiter, and the counter "God doesn't like that" isn't going to get very far.

I'd say that this kind of reaction betrays the deeper difficulties behind the idea of a "common culture of values". The reason such obtained in Europe prior to the 19th/20th centuries isn't because everyone was calm, rational, and dispassionate, it's because everyone was more or less Christian. Common culture within and across Christian traditions is an entirely different beast than common culture between Jerusalem and Athens.

Carissa said...

I think it's helpful, as well, to draw a distinction between the Catholic understanding of "dogma" and "doctrine." "Dogma" is the official, unshakeable teachings of the church. "Doctrine" is not official. It's what's talked about by theologians, scholars, etc. I think one of the main problems with unity among Protestants is that they lack this distinction. They take all their doctrine and make it dogma, and therefore have to split into a million tiny pieces.

As for building a common culture of values, I think it would be helpful to have some commonality between Christian groups to begin with.

Ryan said...

Just because Baptists make that mistake doesn't mean that all Protestants do. While the "dogma"/"doctrine" vocabulary is depreciated, there is still and has always been an appreciation for truths which are indisputable and truths over which there is room for disagreement.

Case in point: Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I, § 6. Note especially the last sentence.

"VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed."

The Bard said...

I don't find these comments profound at all (other comments in the book are). They are nothing more than a general warning against being too hasty and too sloppy before imposing your view of the world on someone else. Everyone agrees with that. I've heard as much from leftist professors and from the chapel at BJU, and neither of those sources are examples of careful thinking or intellectual tolerance.

The real challenge is when we get past empty rhetorical forms (and this is coming from a rhetorician) and get into what counts as "rushing" to transform your whims into rights or what counts as a careful and in context defense of a doctrine instead of an ad hoc one.

Becca said...

Eh. I think it is important to ask the right questions before seeking answers. Pera goes on for the next bit discussing why these are particularly difficult questions, but I think the discourse you usually hear regarding consensus and finding common ground miss the questions entirely and are therefore "sound and fury." Props for asking good questions.

Still not sure about the "interpretations of the Scriptures" bit, though. I mean, someone has to interpret it, because if no one's interpretation is to be preferred at the exclusion of anyone else's, don't we end up where we started in this deconstructive mire? I have seen Scripture interpreted to say ALL KINDS of things fundamentally opposed to each other. You're still left without significant ground rules after this statement. Unless, of course, we all accept the Catholic Church's interpretation... But I'll give him credit; I don't think that's what he means.

The Bard said...

I really don't understand your previous post so I would be happy if you clarified it. I don't see Pera asking questions; he is making a statement. And if you agree with me that the discourse about "common ground" and not "rushing" to impose some hastily constructed value on someone else is just hot air, what are you disagreeing with me about? Or are you?

And I agree with your second point that someone must interpret Scripture, but I don't see how it relates to either Pera's point or my posts. So once again, please clarity because I don't want to argue against something you didn't say.