Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lay Autonomy

1.     Continuing with the Doctrinal Note of Cardinal Ratzinger we read that Catholics can get involved with politics in various ways; yet never should they compromise ethical requirements rooted in human nature. This is not about a “confessional” position because ethics can be universal. One need not be Christian to hold an ethical stand.
2.     Politics must refer to ethical principles based on human nature. This is because the principles themselves serve human dignity.
3.     Now, in politics there is still the separation of the civil from the religious. There is lay autonomy which is autonomy from the religious sphere. So the Catholic stand recognizes this separation. However this separation can be between religion and the civil but it is not a separation from morality. Again, the religious sphere is separated from the civil sphere but no one is separated from morality. Morality is the patrimony of all humanity.
4.     Of course it is not wise to use a religious norm in the civil sphere. Imagine making Church attendance a law of the country. This violates the rights of many. Religious practices remain outside the competence of the State—or government. The government is not to get involved with the internal affairs of a religious group unless public order is required. Public services also should not be dependent on religious activities. It is unwise to use government services for the Church, for example.
5.     But then citizens committed to moral truths have their autonomy. They have the right to hold on to these truths. Maybe their morality is taught by the Church. Nonetheless they have the right to hold on to their values and truths. This is the autonomy of citizens. The State cannot stop them from keeping their moral values. Citizens can keep their attitudes intact knowing that what they value derive from natural knowledge. They have the right to keep the values even if the values are also taught by the Church.
6.     The Magisterium does not impose; the magisterium does not exercise political power; it does not remove the freedom of citizens to hold opinions. The Magisterium has the work of instructing, educating and illuminating conscience especially the conscience of those in political authority. The intervention of the Magisterium is simply in enlightening conscience. This is in the hope of establishing a moral coherence interior to the conscience of the laity.
7.     Actually, when one is grafted in Christ, all sectors of life are in Christ. One does not lead parallel lives—a spiritual life on one hand and a civil life on another. All life is in Christ. All political engagement is an exercise of faith, hope and charity. (See the proposed footnote of the doctrinal note, Pope John Paul II’s Christifidelis laici #59).
8.     A Catholic is to live and act politically in conformity with conscience. This is not about religious confession. It is simply a matter of expressing human dignity. Political engagement is the Catholic’s way of sharing moral coherence in society.
9.     Those who disqualify Christians from political life and denying Christians the legitimacy to participate in the common good are “intolerant”. This intolerance is what the doctrinal note calls as “intolerant secularism”. Relativism is at work here in this intolerance. It says that everyone is free to hold an opinion and get involved politically. But if one takes a Christian moral stand then that person will be denied participation.
10.            It is the right of the Christian to take a moral stand in politics. Again, if we follow the spirit of the doctrinal note, the moral stand is not necessarily confessional. It is a moral stand that happens to be held by the Christian faith. We can, for example, criticize the government and cite moral principles. We say, for example, "According to human rights". But we avoid saying, "According to the Bible" or "according to the Pope and my bishop". Here we do not separate Church from State.
11.            Faith in Christ requires that Christians make the effort to participate in building a culture inspired by the Gospel. The doctrinal note states that it is not enough for Christians to transform structures. It is necessary to build a culture that is capable of receiving faith and morals. Transformation should rest on Gospel foundations.
12.            Faith does not enclose social and political elements in a rigid frame. Hence we should be careful in making an ideology out of the faith. It will be an ideology in the absence of God. It will only lead to a purely earthly hope.
13.            Finally, religious freedom must be respected. This freedom is the right of all—no matter what religion a person is in. It is a right founded on human dignity. No one is to be forced against his/her conscience to seek for the truth and to seek for adherence in religion.
14.            As a way of concluding, the doctrinal note states that, after all that is said above, there is a clear unity between faith and life, Gospel and culture. We are to orient all of life—earthly life—under the will of God.   
15.            Do you agree or disagree? What do you think?

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