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VALUES IN A TIME OF UPHEAVAL
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – 2005
In recent years, people have become more aware that the economic fellowship of the European states also needs a basis in common values.
The growth of violence, the escape into drugs, and the increase in corruption make it all too obvious that the decline of values has tangible material consequences and that we must do something to halt this.
I do not wish to enter the discussion about the European constitution, the text of which is now available. All I wish to do is to mention three essential elements that must be included in the constitution if it is to do justice to the task of providing the moral foundations for the common European structures that are now taking shape.
Europe needs these foundations, and they must be in tune with the great imperatives of its history.
- The ﬁrst element is the absoluteness that must be afﬁrmed with regard to human dignity and human rights. This is antecedent to every law promulgated by the state. Gunter Hirsch has rightly emphasized that these basic rights are neither created by the legislator nor bestowed on the citizens: “Rather, they exist in virtue of their own law, and the legislator is obliged a priori to respect them. They are higher values that the legislator must obey in his work.” This validity of human dignity, which comes before all political action and decision making, points ultimately to the Creator. It is only he who can posit laws that are rooted in the essence of man and that no one may alter. This means that an essential Christian inheritance is codiﬁed here in its own special form of validity. The fact that there exist values that no one may manipulate is the real guarantee of our freedom and of our human greatness. Faith sees therein the mystery of the Creator and of the divine likeness that he has bestowed on man. Hence, this proposition protects an essential element of the Christian identity of Europe in a formulation that even the nonbeliever can understand.
No one today would deny the priority of human dignity and of basic human rights over every political decision. The terrors of Nazism and of its racial doctrine are still too recent. But in the concrete sphere of so-called medical progress there are
very real threats to these values. Who can fail to see the silent hollowing-out of human dignity entailed in cloning, in storing human foetuses for purposes of research and organ donation, or in the entire realm of genetical manipulation? To these we must add the increasing human trafﬁcking that now threatens. Then come new forms of slavery and the trade in human organs for the purpose of transplantation.
Naturally, a “good cause” is always presented in order to justify something that in fact cannot be justiﬁed.
Let us summarize: the legal enactment of the value and dignity of man, of freedom, equality, and solidarity, together with the fundamental principles of democracy and of the rule of law in society, entails an image of man, a moral option, and a concept of law that are not at all self-explanatory. These are, however, basic factors in Europe’s identity, and they must be guaranteed, together with their direct consequences for
public life. Naturally, all this can be defended only when a corresponding moral consciousness is developed anew.
- Now I come to a second point for European identity: marriage and the family. Monogamous marriage, as the basic structure for the relationship between a man and a woman and as the cell for the construction of civic society, has been formed by biblical faith. It has given Europe - East and West – its speciﬁc “face” and its specifically human character, precisely because one must struggle again and again to realize the form of ﬁdelity and of renunciation that monogamous marriage by its very nature requires. Europe would cease to be Europe if this basic cell of its social construction were to disappear or to be changed in its essence. We are all aware of the risks confronting marriage and the family today — partly because its indissolubility is watered down by an ever easier access to divorce, and partly because of the increasing cohabitation of men and women without the legal form of marriage.
The paradoxical modern demand of homosexual partnerships to receive a legal form that is more or less the equivalent of marriage is a clear antithesis to this tradition. This trend departs from the entire moral history of mankind, which - despite all the variety in the legal forms governing marriage - has always been aware that this is essentially a special form of the relationship of men and women, open to children and hence to the formation of a family. This is not a question of discrimination.
Rather, we must ask what man is as man and as woman, and how we may correctly shape the relationship between them. If this relationship becomes increasingly detached from legal forms, while at the same time homosexual partnerships are increasingly Viewed as equal in rank to marriage, we, are on the verge of a dissolution of our concept of man, and the consequences can only be extremely grave. Unfortunately, the text of the constitution says nothing about this.
- My last point concerns the religious sphere. Space does not permit me to discuss the large questions that are currently being debated here. I limit myself therefore to one point that is fundamental in all cultures, namely, reverence for that which is holy to other persons and reverence for the Holy One, God. One can certainly demand this even of those who are not themselves willing to believe in God. Where this reverence is shattered, something essential in a society perishes. We may be glad that one who mocks the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great ﬁgures will be punished in today’s society. The same is true of those who scorn the Koran and the basic convictions of Islam. When, however, it is a question of Christ and of that which Christians revere as holy, it appears that freedom of opinion is the highest good and that any limitation on this would endanger or even destroy tolerance and freedom as a whole. But freedom of opinion has an inherent limit: it is not entitled to destroy the honor and dignity of other persons, nor is it a freedom to utter lies or to destroy human rights.
Here we may observe a strange self-hatred of the West that can only be called pathological. There is a praiseworthy openness that tries to understand foreign values, but all that one sees in one’s own history is cruelty and destruction. We must also learn to see that which was great and pure.
If Europe is to survive, it needs a new acceptance of itself — naturally, a critical and humble acceptance. We hear passionate demands for multiculturalism, but this is sometimes primarily a refusal to accept that which is one’s own or indeed a ﬂight from that which is one’s own. Without shared constants, without criteria rooted in that which is one’s own, multiculturalism cannot endure. It surely cannot survive without reverence for that which is holy.
This involves encountering with reverence that which is holy to another, but we can do this only if the Holy One, God himself, is not foreign to us. Certainly we can and must learn from that which is holy to others, but it is our obligation both in relation to them and to our own selves to nourish our own reverence for the Holy One and to show the face of the God who has appeared to us, the God who cares for the poor and the weak, the Widows and orphans and strangers, the God who is so human that he himself became one of us, a suffering man Whose compassion with our suffering gives us dignity and hope.
If we fail to do this, we are not only denying the identity of Europe; we are also depriving others of a service to which they are entitled. The absolutely profane character that has developed in the West is utterly alien to the cultures of the world, which are convinced that a world without God has no future. Hence it is precisely multiculturalism that summons us back to our own selves.
We do not know what the future holds in store for Europe. The charter of basic rights can be ﬁrst a step to the renewed search for its soul. Toynbee was correct to maintain that the fate of a society always depends on creative minorities.
Believing Christians ought to understand themselves as just such a creature minority and help Europe regain the best elements of its inheritance. This will allow Europe to serve the whole of mankind.
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