The juxtaposition of this past week’s resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama provided a stark contrast between humility and pretentiousness, but also between faith and reason in ways some might find counter-intuitive.
One will search in vain for even his most ardent followers describing the re-elected American president as humble and it would be hard to find a greater example of that virtue than the spectacle of the Holy Father-for-life of the Roman Catholic Church abdicating the papacy.
Only George Washington’s two retirements to Mount Vernon come immediately to mind, the day before the national holiday celebrating the Father of our Country.
Of course, the Pope is the embodiment of religious faith and liberals in the United States, like Barack Obama, and Europe hold themselves out as the enlightened followers of reason, tolerance and diversity who would dare not “impose” their religious beliefs on others through law. But how one could justify Obama’s laundry list of prescriptions for the nation’s ills based upon anything but blind faith in something resembling religion awaits explanation.
Benedict, on the other hand, famously challenged the European Left’s moral relativism with respect to Christianity and Radical Islam with reference to the actual results of history in their respective realms as judged by their own purported standards. In his 2006 speech at Regensburg (and on other occasions), the most academically astute Pope in memory contrasted the civil society of a Western Civilization shaped by the turn-the-other-cheek religion of Jesus with the Islamic world’s “tolerance” of terrorism against innocents, treatment of women as chattel slaves and other Sharia laws.
Rather than try to convert atheists to a belief in the Virgin Birth or Christ’s resurrection, Benedict insisted that reason compels one to recognize history as data and that what “myth” informs a society matters, whether one has faith in the supernatural or not. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute discerns a major theme of Benedict’s papacy as bemoaning how:
…Western man, has lost confidence in reason’s power to know more-than-empirical truth.
And what’s the result? It means very basic discussions in the realms of politics and universities are no longer conducted along the lines identified long ago by figures such as Aristotle and Aquinas. Instead it’s all about power, who is stronger, and who can evoke the highest degree of sentimental humanitarianism from people looking for guidance in increasingly incoherent societies.
True enough, but we would contend that liberal Western man has gone further by rejecting the application of reason even to empirical truth. What, other than the power to reward one’s political friends or blind faith can explain President Obama and the Democratic Party’s support for:
- Ever higher tax rates on the rich based upon “fairness”, even if they will not bring in more revenue with which to balance budgets;
- Gun control measures bearing no relation to the alleged dangers they purport to address, justified only by sentimental appeals from the parents of slain victims:
- Climate change-based increases in energy costs despite the lack of data quantifying an identifiable commensurate risk to the planet;
- Keynesian deficit spending in the face of its failure to end the 1930s depression before it got Great; and
- Increases in the minimum wage despite the data linking such policies to increases in unemployment?
Liberals complain that Christians seek to force their supposed arbitrary, religious-only-based morality on non-Christians, and yet they claim “compassion” for the poor drives their agenda. But is it moral to increase the price of gasoline and home heating costs on the poor? Is it compassionate to kill jobs that can feed a hungry child in the name of protecting endangered species of rats? Is it fair to burden the young with debt to pay for lengthy retirements for the elderly? Obviously not.
And as Pope Benedict observes, Christian compassion is informed by what works, i.e reason. Barack Obama ran on the mantra of transformational change in 2008, but is it truly “reform” to make an exceptional America less so:
The saints are . . . the true reformers. . . . Only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come. . . . It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true. True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?
Yes, it matters what “myths” a society exalts and the empirical data contrasting the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule with Karl Marx and Barack Obama is in. Reason demands a verdict against the latter unless the truth one seeks is about power rather than maximizing happiness pursuits.
“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson