In Search of Freedom; Against Reason Fallen Ill and Religion Abused

Pope Benedict XVI*



n the 6th of June, 1944, when the landing of the allied troops in German-occupied France commenced, a signal of hope was given to people throughout the world, and also to many in Germany itself, of imminent peace and freedom in Europe.  What had happened?  A criminal and his party faithful had succeeded in usurping the power of the German state. In consequence of such party rule, law and injustice became intertwined, and often indistinguishable. The legal system itself, which continued, in some respects, still to function in an everyday context, had, at the same time, become a force destructive of law and right. This rule of lies served a system of fear, in which no one could trust another, since each person had somehow to shield himself behind a mask of lies, which, on the one hand, functioned as self defense, while, in equal measure, it served to consolidate the power of evil.  And so it was that the whole world had to intervene to force open this ring of crime, so that freedom, law and justice might be restored.

We give thanks at this hour that this deliverance, in fact, took place. And not just those nations that suffered occupation by German troops, and were thus delivered over to Nazi terror, give thanks. We Germans, too, give thanks that by this action, freedom, law and justice would be restored to us.  If nowhere else in history, here clearly is a case where, in the form of the Allied invasion, a justum bellum worked, ultimately, for the benefit of the very country against which it was waged. 

To Europe was given, after 1945, a period of peace of such duration as our continent had never seen in its entire history.  To no small degree, this was the accomplishment of the first generation of post-war politicians -- Churchill, Adenauer, Schuman, De Gasperi - whom we have to thank at this hour: We are to give thanks that it was not punishment that was fixed upon, nor again revenge and the humiliation of the defeated, but rather that all should be accorded their rights.

Let us say it openly: These politicians took their moral ideas of state and right, peace and responsibility, from their Christian faith, a faith that had undergone the tests of the Enlightenment, and in opposing the perversion of justice and morality of the party-states, had emerged re-purified. They did not want to found a state upon religious faith, but rather a state informed by moral reason, yet it was their faith that helped them to raise up again a reason once distorted by, and held in thrall to ideological tyranny.

Across Europe ran a frontier, and not just across our continent, but dividing the entire world.  A great part of Central Europe and Eastern Europe came under the domination of an ideology that subjected state to party, in the end, effacing the difference. Here, again, the result was the rule of lies. Visible after the collapse of these dictatorships, was the enormous destruction - economic, ideological, and psychological - which followed from this rule.  In the Balkans, there were the entanglements of belligerency, bringing, along with the admittedly ancient burdens of history, new explosions of violence.

If Europe, since 1945 was permitted to experience a period of peace (the complications in the Balkans to one side), the state of the world taken as a whole was surely far from peaceful.  From Korea, through Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, the Congo, Biafra-Nigeria, to the conflicts in Sudan, in Rwanda-Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, and on to Afghanistan and Chechnya, stretches a bloody arc of armed conflict, to which may be added the struggles in and concerning the Holy Land, and in Iraq.  This is not the place to undertake a typology of theses wars.  But two, in some ways new phenomena, I would like to examine more closely.

In the first, the cohesiveness of the law, and the capacity of diverse communities to live together, seem suddenly to break apart.  Somalia, it seems to me, presents a typical example of the breakdown of the sustaining power of law, and with it, the collapse into chaos and anarchy.  The reasons for this dissolution of law and the capacity for reconciliation are many fold.  We can list a few.  In all these realms, the cynicism of ideology has benighted conscience.  Side by side with the cynicism of ideology, and often closely bound together with it, is the cynicism of the interests and of big business, the ruthless exploitation of the earth’s reserves. Here also is the good shoved aside by the expedient, and might setup in the place of right.

The other new phenomenon is terror. The threat that terror’s network, (and/or that of common-garden organized crime) growing ever stronger and widespread, might gain access to atomic weapons and to biological weapons, constitutes an increasingly frightening danger. For as long as these destructive capabilities remained exclusively in the hands of the great powers, one could always hope that reason, and knowledge of the danger that their use would pose to their own people and state, would preclude their employment of these weapons systems.

Terror cannot be overcome by force alone. Granted that the defense of right and law against a violence that would destroy them, may and must, for its own part, according to circumstances, have recourse to carefully calibrated force, for the protection of law and right.  But in order that force in the defense of law and right shall not be itself do wrong, it must subject itself to stringent measures.  It must pay heed to the causes of terror, which so often has its source in standing injustice, not addressed by effective measures.  It must thus, by every means, address the elimination of that antecedent injustice.  Above all is it important to vouchsafe forgiveness in advance, in order that the circle of violence may be broken.  Where a merciless eye-for-an-eye obtains, there is no way to break free of violence. Acts of humanity, which have the power to break the circle of violence, which seek the human in the other and call out to his humanity, are essential, though they seem, at first glance, a waste of effort.

In all these cases it is important that no one particular power act as the champion of justice. All too easily can interest interfere with action, and contaminate one’s view of what is just.  Most urgent is a genuine jus genitum, free from hegemonic predominance and action which follows from it: only thus can it remain clear that what is at stake is the defense of collective law and right, and those also of them who stand, so to speak, on the other side.  But in the contemporary clash between the great democracies and an Islamic-motivated terror, deeper questions come into play.  Two great cultural systems with very different forms of power and moral orientation appear to be I conflict - the “West” and Islam.

But what is it, the West?  And what is Islam?  Both are multi-layered worlds with great internal differences - worlds that, in many ways, also intersect.  In this respect, the crude antithesis West-Islam, does not apply.  Some incline toward a greater deepening of opposition: Enlightened reason is set up against a fundamentalist-fanatical form of religion. Truly, the relationship between reason and religion is of the first importance in this situation, and the struggle for the right relationship belongs at the heart of our concern for the cause of peace.  There are pathologies of religion - we see this; and there are pathologies of reason - we see this, too, and both pathologies are life threatening for peace - indeed, in an age of global power structures, for humanity as a whole.

God or the divine can make for the absolutizing of one’s own power, one’s own interests. But there are pathologies of reason totally disconnected from God.  One would probably denominate Hitler as irrational.  But the great explicators and executors of Marxism understood themselves very much as construction engineers, redesigning the world in accordance with reason. Perhaps the most dramatic expression of this pathology of reason is Pol Pot, where the barbarity of such a reconstruction of the world makes its most direct appearance.  But the evolution of intellect in the West, also, inclines ever more toward the destructive pathologies of reason.  Was not the atom bomb already an overstepping of the frontier, where reason instead of being a constructive power, sought its potency in its capacity to destroy?

When reason, now with the investigation into the genetic code, snatches at the roots of life, ever more does it tend to see human being, not any longer as the gift of God (or of Nature), but as a product to be made.  Man is “made,” and what man can make, he can also destroy.  In all this is the concept of reason made ever flatter.  Only what is verifiable, or to be more exact, falsifiable, counts as rational; reason reduces itself to what can be confirmed by an experiment.  The entire domain of the moral and the religious, belongs then to the realm of the “subjective” - it falls outside of common reason altogether. One no longer sees that as tragic for religion - each one finds his own - which means that religion is seen as a kind of subjective ornament, providing a possibly useful kind of motivation.  But in the domain of the moral, one seeks to be better.

Reason fallen ill and religion abused, meet in the same result. To a reason fallen ill, all recognition of definitively valid values, all that stands on the truth capacity of reason, appears finally as fundamentalism.  All that remains is reason’s dissolution, its deconstruction, as, for example, Jacques Derrida has set it out for us. He has “deconstructed” hospitality, democracy, the state and finally, the concept of terrorism, only to stand in horror in the face of the events of September 11th.  A form of reason that can acknowledge only itself and the empirical conscience paralyzes and dismembers itself.

A form of reason that wholly detaches itself from God, and wants simply to resettle Him in the zone of subjectivity, has lost its compass, and has opened the door to the powers of destruction. It is the duty, in these times, of us Christians to direct our concept of God to the struggle for humanity.  God himself is Logos, the rational first cause of all reality, the creative reason out of which the world came to be, and which is reflected in the world.  God is Logos - Meaning, Reason, Word, and so it is through the way of reason that man encounters God, through the espousal of a reason that is not blind to the moral dimension of Being.

There is a second point.  It belongs, as well, to a Christian belief in God, that God - eternal reason - is Love.  It follows, too, that He does not represent a relationless, self-orbiting Being.  Precisely because He is sovereign, because he is the Creator, because He embraces everything, He is Relation and He is Love.  Belief in the God who became human in Jesus Christ, and in his suffering and death for humanity, is the highest expression of this conviction: that the heart and hinge of all morality, the heart and hinge of Being itself, and its inmost source is Love.  This declaration represents the strongest repudiation of any ideology of violence whatsoever; it is the true apologia of humankind and of God.  But let us not forget that the God of Reason and Love, is also the Judge of the world - the guarantor of justice - before whom all men must make account. There is a justice love will not annul. 

There is yet a third element of Christian tradition that I wish to mention, that, in the afflictions of our time, is of fundamental importance. Christian belief - following in the way of Jesus - has negated the idea of political theocracy. It has - to express it in modern terms - produced the worldliness of states, wherein Christians along with the adherents of other convictions live together in peace.  Thus is distinguished the Christian belief that the Kingdom of God does not exist as a political reality, and cannot so exist, but rather, through faith, hope and love is it attained, and the world transformed from within.  But under the conditions of temporality, the Kingdom of God is no worldly empire, but rather, a call for the freedom of humanity and a support for reason that it may fulfill its own mission.  The temptations of Jesus were ultimately about this distinction, about the rejection of political theocracy, about the relativity of states and reason’s own law, as well as about the freedom to choose, which is meant for every person.  In this sense, the secular state follows from of a fundamental Christian decision, even if it required a long struggle to understand this in all its consequences. This worldly, “secular” state incorporates, in its essence, the balance between reason and religion, which I have tried here to present. However, it stands against secularism as an ideology, which would, as it were, construct the state from pure reason, released from all historical roots, and which can thus recognize no moral foundations that are not discernable to reason.  All that is left it, in the end, is the positivism of the greatest number, and with it the abasement of right; ultimately, it is to be governed by a statistic.  If the countries of the West were to commit wholly to this path, they could not indefinitely withstand the press of the ideologues and political theocrats.  Even a secular state may - indeed, must - find its support in the formative roots from which it grew, it may and must acknowledge the foundational values without which, it would not have come to be, and without which, it cannot survive.  Upon an abstract, an a-historical reason, a state cannot endure.  

*Written as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the 60th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy. It was initially published in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and was translated from the German by Jeffrey Craig Miller.