All this shows that the growth of our possibilities has not been matched by a comparable development of our moral energy. Moral strength has not grown together with the development of science; rather, it has diminished, because the technical mentality relegates morality to the subjective realm, while we have need, precisely, of a public morality, a morality that is able to respond to the threats that weigh down on the existence of us all. The real and gravest danger in these times lies, precisely, in this imbalance between technical possibilities and moral energy.
It is true that a new moralism exists today whose key words are justice, peace and conservation of creation — words that call for essential moral values of which we are in real need. But this moralism remains vague and thus slides, almost inevitably, into the political-party sphere. It is above all a dictum addressed to others, and too little a personal duty of our daily life. In fact, what does justice mean? Who defines it? What serves towards peace?
Over the last decades we have amply seen in our streets and squares how pacifism can deviate toward a destructive anarchism and terrorism. The political moralism of the 70s, the roots of which are anything but dead, was a moralism that succeeded in attracting even young people full of ideals. But it was a moralism with a mistaken direction, in as much as it was deprived of serene rationality and because, in the last analysis, it placed the political utopia above the dignity of the individual man, showing itself even capable of arriving at contempt for man in the name of great objectives.
Political moralism, as we have lived it and are still living it, does not open the way to regeneration, and even more, also blocks it. The same is true, consequently, also for a Christianity and a theology that reduces the heart of Jesus' message, the "kingdom of God," to the "values of the kingdom," identifying these values with the great key words of political moralism, and proclaiming them, at the same time, as a synthesis of the religions.
Nonetheless, God is neglected in this way, notwithstanding the fact that it is precisely he who is the subject and cause of the kingdom of God. In his stead, great words (and values) remain, which lend themselves to all kinds of abuse.
As philosophical sophistication increased in the High Middle Ages, Christian thinkers were confronted with the inadequacy of the traditional Platonic influenced Augustinian approach. An all too common reaction of theologians was to take refuge in what Etienne Gilson has termed “theologism.” This involved the attempt to safeguard the truths of faith by more and more strictly limiting the scope of reason—the result being a marriage of “faith” with a philosophical skepticism. But this “faith” was radically different from what the official teachings of the Church understood by the word. It was in fact a fideism, which insisted that faith, rather than resting on reasonable grounds, was a subjective conviction that could not be proven. Thus, theologians sought to defend “faith” from the weaknesses of Platonic based thought by denying or severely limiting the claims of all philosophy and, ultimately, by casting doubt on man's ability to know reality—including human nature itself. Is it any wonder that so many people in the culturally resurgent West turned for truth to the rising new sciences, since “Christian” thinkers continually attacked philosophy, and the decadent philosophies then current offered no positive solutions? The ruin of Christian thinking, ruined from within, tempted the new science to its hubristic efforts to formulate a new morality.
The motivations of this twofold "no" [no to God, no to the Christian roots of Europe in the Preamble of the European Constitution] are more profound than one would think from the reasons offered. They presuppose the idea that only the radical Enlightenment culture, which has reached its full development in our time, could be constitutive for European identity. Next to this culture, then, different religious cultures can coexist with their respective rights, on the condition and to the degree in which they respect the criteria of the Enlightenment culture, and are subordinated to it.
Briefly, the culture of rights arose in the wake of the breakdown of medieval philosophy and the theological attack on man's ability to know reality by means of natural reason, to which we referred above. It was in this connection that the voluntarism referred to in the preceding section was developed as an alternative to natural law morality. The notion of “human rights” was also developed precisely as an alternative to the two major trends in Christian moral thought. On the one hand, it sought to avoid the irrationalism of voluntarism; on the other hand, it accepted the negative critique of natural law morality based on Thomist metaphysics: if human nature is unknowable, as the late Augustinian tradition tended to claim, then the best idea was to sidestep those debates altogether by agreeing on a list of human “rights.” Of course, at the popular level, common sense versions of natural law morality have continued to predominate, but Ratzinger is addressing what could be called the “civic theology” or philosophy of the West--what is allowable in public discourse. In that sense he is perfectly correct in describing the post Enlightenment West as a “culture of rights”--with the caveat that it is regrettable that he provides no historical background and no explanation of what the Church was doing while these destructive developments were taking place.
It is evident that this canon of the Enlightenment culture, less than definitive, contains important values which we, precisely as Christians, do not want and cannot renounce; however, it is also obvious that the ill-defined or undefined concept of freedom, which is at the base of this culture, inevitably entails contradictions; and it is obvious that precisely because of its use (a use that seems radical) it has implied limitations of freedom that a generation ago we could not even imagine. A confused ideology of freedom leads to dogmatism, which is showing itself increasingly hostile to freedom.
The real opposition that characterizes today's world is not that between various religious cultures, but that between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on one hand, and from the great religious cultures on the other.
Is this a simple rejection of the Enlightenment and of modernity? Absolutely not. From the beginning, Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the "Logos," as the religion according to reason. In the first place, it has not identified its precursors in the other religions, but in that philosophical enlightenment which has cleared the path of traditions to turn to the search of the truth and towards the good, toward the one God who is above all gods.
It was and is the merit of the Enlightenment to have again proposed these original values of Christianity and of having given back to reason its own voice. In the pastoral constitution, On the Church in the Modern World, Vatican Council II underlined again this profound correspondence between Christianity and the Enlightenment, seeking to come to a true conciliation between the Church and modernity, which is the great heritage that both sides must defend.
However, a reason that springs from the irrational, and that is, in the final analysis, itself irrational, does not constitute a solution for our problems. Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way. In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the "Logos," from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.
The search for such a reassuring certainty ... failed. Not even the truly grandiose effort of Kant was able to create the necessary shared certainty. Kant had denied that God could be known in the realm of pure reason, but at the same time he had represented God, freedom and immortality as postulates of practical reason, without which, coherently, for him no moral behavior was possible.
Does not today's situation of the world make us think perhaps that he might have been right? I would like to express it in a different way: The attempt, carried to the extreme, to manage human affairs disdaining God completely leads us increasingly to the edge of the abyss, to man's ever greater isolation from reality. We must reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even one who does not succeed in finding the way of accepting God, should, nevertheless, seek to live and to direct his life veluti si Deus daretur, as if God existed. This is the advice Pascal gave to his friends who did not believe. In this way, no one is limited in his freedom, but all our affairs find the support and criterion of which they are in urgent need.