Sunday, June 12, 2005

On Mutual Respect

Anyone looking to a more harmonious future of groupthink might just get some encouragement out of this year's Wesleyan U. commencement address. Admittedly, I'm biased -- the speaker was the president of my alma mater, Amy Gutmann, a pre-eminent scholar and advocate of values in democracy. It's a very balanced, insightful talk.

Here are some snippets:

Mutual respect is not about playing down differences. Rather, it is about giving serious consideration to our differences and disagreements and working through them. It is about pursuing common goals in a constructive spirit of engagement - even when many differences remain.

Mutual respect is the lifeblood of democracy. It allows you and me to pursue our own happiness also for the benefit of our fellow human beings. It allows even fierce adversaries to seek common ground.

Think about the great champions of democracy and freedom. Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lech Walesa. They hated unjust laws and institutions. And they fought with all their might to overthrow them. But they never acted hatefully in confronting their adversaries.

Alas, these are not the best of times for mutual respect. We are witnessing a steady erosion of respect for the opinions of others and for the institutions and democratic traditions that have helped to safeguard life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The signs of disrespect are all around us. In the ferocious assault on the judiciary. In the shrill debate over Terri Schiavo. And worst of all, in the hateful, ad hominem attacks that issue daily from radio and TV talk shows.

We are living in a smash-mouth culture in which extremists dominate public debate to the point of hijacking it. You cannot have a reasoned discussion about abortion when one side is slandered as "baby-killers" and the other side is smeared as "religious wingnuts."

And so it goes. Well, it goes because secular political polarization has entered the ecclesial realm. This speech shouldn't be relevant in the church context, and it's really sad that it is, but hopefully we can all bring something away from it.

Also, there's this from Ken Briggs in today's Philly Inquirer -- a take on possible fissures in the Catholic/Evangelical "GOP is Lord" alliance. The article even links to Dominus Iesus. Good stuff.

The Second Vatican Council strove courageously in the 1960s to grant a degree of parity to other churches, referring to them as "sisters" and granting that they had, at least, elements of the truth contained in full within Catholicism. Pope John XXIII stepped off the pedestal and became everybody's favorite grandfather. Pope Paul VI gave up wearing the papal crown and being carried on a litter in an effort to play down, somewhat, the royal, elevated nature of the papacy.

Under John Paul II, the modest attempts at narrowing the gap between Protestants and Catholics were put on hold, though the Pope carried on cordial relations with non-Catholic leaders. He was a strong leader who had a rather "high" view of the papacy. He invited other Christians to help rethink the papacy for modern times, but the project never sailed. He also wrote that "there can be only one communion. Either you are in communion with the church or you are not."

Evangelicals and Catholics have a lot to resolve, as people who do care about theology. They can picket a stem-cell clinic together, but half cannot take Holy Communion in a Catholic church. The other half may attend Mass every day but will not be considered "born again" by fellow protesters.

As always, discussion is open. Read up, hope everyone's well. Keep those cards and e.mails coming.

Una buona domenica a tutti!



Blogger Disgusted in DC said...

I have long thought that there is a danger in the alliance between conservative Catholics and Evangelicals that they would substitute social conservative political objectives for religious belief and practice, just as many liberal Protestants and Catholics have done with social liberal politicals objectives like racism, "anti-poverty" or "peace."

I don't see any fissures in the alliance for the moment, but come they will. Many Catholic pro-lifers - committed to John Courtney Murray's vision of "civilized conversation" between Catholics and those of other faiths or no faith will balk at the more "theocratic" elements of the evangelical/fundamentalist wing. And, the more "theocratic" Catholic conservatives - and there are some - won't trust either group much. Many southern evangelicals/fundamentalists will balk at Catholic support for increased immigration. They also don't like Catholic conservatives making common cause with conservative Muslims. Many Catholic conservatives - particularly in the hierarchy - while opposing same-sex marriage, do not want to join a fundamentalist anti-gay crusade which seeks to impose all sorts of punitive laws against gays. And, what about evangelical churches targeting Catholic Hispanics? I could go on and on. It's only a matter of time before this alliance will break apart.

Patrick Rothwell

13/6/05 10:23  

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