Saturday, August 27, 2011

Leftist praise for the Pope!?

Gregor Gysi (I don't own the copyright)
Tom Heneghan of Reuters reports that a leading German leftist and leader of former Communists from East Germany, Gregor Gysi, "thanked the conservative pontiff Thursday for consistently preaching that a modern society must have moral norms in order to function properly."

"It won't work without the concept of the good," he wrote in the weekly Christ und Welt [Christ and the World]. "But modern science can't tell us what is good. Its concepts focus on empirical experience. Ideas such as morality play no role there." ...
Gysi noted with approval that Benedict has said religions without reason can lead to fanaticism, while rational thinking without faith can lead to excessive pride and intolerance.
"One must simply recognize that cultural traditions, including religion, are resources" that transmit social norms, he wrote. "There seems to be something prior to and outside of the law that can act as a benchmark for it."
"In our world full of tension, this insight is the best justification for tolerance in a democratic state," Gysi said. "We don't have to follow this or that norm, but we must appreciate that there are norms, and some of them are good."

One wonders how that played with his constituency, who at one time adhered to a political doctrine that explicitly condemned religion as "the opiate of the masses". You don't have to be a Communist to be an atheist, so it doesn't follow that if you leave off communism you also leave off atheism. But even if such praise for B16 doesn't cost him at the next parliamentary elections, it was still a courageous statement to make.

Jürgen Habermas (I don't own the copyright)
The article also noted that Pope Benedict has received praise from Jürgen Habermas, an influential sociologist and philosopher of the Frankfurt School whose main body of work has been characterized as "broadly Marxist". However, the article doesn't quote any specific encomia, referring only to a 2004 debate with then-Cardinal Ratzinger in which the "methodological atheist" conceded that "modern secular societies still needed [the] moral values" [provided by religion]. Habermas has said elsewhere:

For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk.1

While it's much too early in the day to declare a shift in German social thinking, it looks like German leaders are beginning to look at certain progressive policies and wonder if they haven't created a recipe for societal suicide. Since what happens in Europe eventually tends to find its way over here, we should keep a closer watch on this.

1. Habermas, Jürgen, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, ed. Eduardo Mendieta, MIT Press, 2002, p. 149; Habermas, Jürgen, Time of Transitions, Polity Press, 2006, pp. 150-151. Source: Wikipedia, "Jürgen Habermas".