Pure liberalism, invoked by Pope Benedict, shows us the way out of liberalism

In his Christmas Eve homily in St. Peter’s Square last December, Benedict XVI made a quintessentially liberal statement that I discussed at VFR. It’s worth discussing further.

The pope said that Christians should strive to “overcome preconceived ideas and prejudices, tear down barriers and eliminate contrasts that divide…”

As with all liberal credos that urge tolerance and inclusion and an end to barriers, the problem with this command is that it provides no limit to its own operation. For example, the belief that children should respect their parents is surely a preconceived idea. Does that mean we should tear it down? The separation of girls’ and boys’ restrooms in schools is a contrast that divides. Shall we eliminate it? The conviction that we should not let dangerous-looking strangers into our home is a prejudice. Must we overcome it? And if not, why not? Didn’t the pope say we should overcome preconceived ideas and prejudices? Assuming that we were Catholics, on what basis could we resist the pope’s moral demand that we let hostile strangers into our home? We could do so only by making an unprincipled exception to the pope’s universal command, while not challenging the command itself.

Now, if we were to ask the pope about this, he would doubtless reply that of course he didn’t mean literally that we should tear down all pre-conceptions and barriers, but just some preconceptions and barriers. The problem is that his universal, abstract statement doesn’t tell us which barriers we should tear down, and which not. To know that, we would need to have a substantive idea of the good. With such an idea to guide us, we might say that this barrier ought to be torn down, because it is harmful to human flourishing and life in God, but that that barrier is essential to human well-being and the moral life and must not be touched. But once we are led by a particular idea of the good rather than by an undefined mandate to tear down all barriers, liberalism, meaning the belief in openness and non-discrimination, has ceased to be our guide. Thus the questions posed by liberalism, such as which “dividing contrasts” should we eliminate, and which should we guard and protect, can only be answered by subsuming liberalism under a moral hierarchy that will give us a basis for discriminating between the things we ought to join together, and the things we ought to keep separate, between the things we ought to do, and the things we ought not to do. And once we bring liberalism under the direction and control of such a non-liberal vision of the good, we ourselves are no longer living under the rule of liberalism.

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George R. writes:

I read your post on the Pope’s comments. I think you also have to consider the effect such words have on people’s acceptance of Catholic teachings and traditions. Coming from the Supreme Pontif, these comments are a devastating scandal. As a Catholic, I have to say that the popes since Vatican II are the worst popes ever. For they have taken Church Doctrine and Tradition and have thrown them, as it were, into a vat of hydrochloric acid called liberalism.

Karen writes from England:

If the pope stuck to the Word of God as in the Bible, the Catholic Church would be less of a joke. As with previous popes, Benedict’s repeated political meddling is making him look a fool. There is nothing in the Bible which urges Christians to “overcome preconceived ideas and prejudices” or “tear down barriers.” The commission of the pope is to preach the Gospel and not to pervert it.

LA replies:

I was just thinking about that “prejudice” line. Now, conservative supporters of the pope like to imagine that he is “really” anti-Islamic and is deeply concerned about the Islamization of Europe. Let’s assume for the moment that this is true. How then did all those millions of Muslims get into Europe? Through an excess of prejudice? No, they got there because the European peoples dropped all “prejudice” against Muslims. Actually it was post-judice, based on 1,300 years of accumulated experience with Islam, that they dropped. Furthermore, they (or at least Catholics) were explicitly commanded to drop their prejudice by the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, which insanely told Catholics that they must forget their past conflicts with Muslims. (See this and this.)

So, the pope, speaking just three months after his Regensburg lecture set off a wave of Muslim violence and intimidation, looks out on a Europe that has set itself on the path to Islamization, an event that could not have happened without the official and unofficial extirpation of any “prejudices” that Europeans may have against Islam. And what does he demand? He demands that Catholics and others overcome their prejudices. He thinks that prejudice is the major cause of the problems in the world, rather than the removal of prejudices. This is absolute proof that Benny is a dyed in the wool liberal.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 06, 2007 10:18 AM | Send

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