|01-06-2012 - Traces, n. 6
THE "LISTENING HEART"
THE CURRENT PUBLIC DEBATE ON "LIFE ISSUES" REVEALS THE GROWING URGENCY OF THE TASK OF POLITICS IN SERVING THE COMMON GOOD. IN ORDER TO SEEK OUT THE CRITERIA FOR JUSTICE, WE ARE INVITED TO REMAIN OPEN TO SOLOMON'S REQUEST...
BY LORENZO ALBACETE
ACCORDING TO THE NEW YORK TIMES OF WEDNESDAY, MAY 7, 2012, IN AN ARTICLE BY ANDREW POLLACK, SCIENTISTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON HAVE BEEN ABLE TO MAP THE GENES OF A FETUS BY TESTING THE PARENTS. AFTER EXPLAINING THE PROCEDURES AND COSTS INVOLVED, THE ARTICLE GOES ON TO MENTION THE ETHICAL QUESTIONS RAISED BY THIS DEVELOPMENT IN OUR ABILITY TO CHOOSE WHO WILL BE ALLOWED TO LIVE AND BE born.
Imagining the political debates provoked by this question, I was reminded of the reflections offered by Pope Benedict XVI to the German Parliament on September 22, 2011. These are excerpts from the Pope's speech: A politician's "fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice.... Naturally a politician will seek success, without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right.... 'Without justice–what else is the State but a great band of robbers?', as Saint Augustine once said. We Germans know from our own experience that these words are no empty spectre.... To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician. At a moment in history when man has acquired previously inconceivable power, this task takes on a particular urgency. Man can destroy the world. He can manipulate himself. He can, so to speak, make human beings and he can deny them their humanity... everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws in the third century...The question of how to recognize what is truly right and thus to serve justice when framing laws has never been simple, and today in view of the vast extent of our knowledge and our capacity, it has become still harder.... Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society...."
Instead, it has proposed what King Solomon called a "listening heart." "Solomon's request remains the decisive issue facing politicians and politics today." It is a matter of recognizing a "harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God. Here we see the two fundamental concepts of nature and conscience, where conscience is nothing other than Solomon's listening heart, reason that is open to the language of being...."
Today this view of a natural law engraved in creation and grasped by the "listening heart" is viewed as a specifically Catholic doctrine, "not worth bringing into the discussion in a non-Catholic environment, so that one feels almost ashamed even to mention the term... The same also applies to reason, according to the positivist understanding that is widely held to be the only genuinely scientific one. Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason strictly understood. Hence, ethics and religion must be assigned to the subjective field... This is a dramatic situation which affects everyone, and on which a public debate is necessary. Indeed, an essential goal of this address is to issue an urgent invitation to launch one.... Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled."
There is more, much more in this address. I think though that these excerpts are enough to set the context within which we can make our political judgments in the current campaign. "I think that, even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart..."