Monday, April 23, 2007

Well-grounded Analysis of Society’s Ills in a Tidy Little Cover

The 2006 publication Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam is the kind of book that one might choose to avoid for any of several reasons.

1) It is primarily the transcription of two speeches, the first a lecture by Professor Marcello Pera to the Lateranese Pontifical University and the other an address by then-Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) to the Italian Senate. Speeches seldom translate well to the printed page.

2) Further, the subject matter might be considered somewhat esoteric: the detrimental influence of relativism on European society, and by extension on Western Society as a whole.

3) Add to this the fact that what we have in this little book is an English translation of presentations given in Italian, one by a scholar whose native language is German, and the potential for tedium rivals a Baillie translation of Hegel.

Be encouraged, then: Without Roots is both accessible and brief. Professor Pera and then-Cardinal Ratzinger speak with the eloquent clarity of great minds who can squarely perceive the reality of a problem, identify its origins and and sketch out thought-provoking and challenging solutions. The text is clear, precise and cogent. The novice will find it easy to follow the discussion and the connoisseur of philosophical argumentation will not be disappointed.

The format of the book is simple: Professor Pera's lecture is followed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger's speech. The book concludes with an exchange of letters between the Professor and the Cardinal that highlight and further clarify their positions. Generous end notes provide context and additional information for the interested reader.

For those who are following the unfolding theology of Pope Benedict XVI, Without Roots offers a basic primer in themes emerging as central to his teachings. The contrast between Pera’s views and those of the future Pope, illuminated by their juxtaposition in the book, allows the reader a better understanding of the underlying topic as a whole, as well as the differing approaches each of the two men follow in addressing the issue and the distinct solutions each offers.

Below are several snippets to whet your appetite.

Pera: The thinking that currently prevails in the West regarding the universal features of the West is that none of them has universal value. According to the proponents of these ideas, the universality of Western institutions is an illusion, because in reality they are only one particularity among many, with a dignity equal to that of others, and without any intrinsic value superior to that of others. (p 3)

Pera: My own explanation is that in the age of triumphant relativism and “silent apostasy,” belief in the true no longer exists: the mission of the true is considered fundamentalism and the very affirmation of the true creates or raises fears. (p 37)

Ratzinger: Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as if they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen as a liability rather than as a source of hope. There is a clear comparison between today’s situation and the decline of the Roman Empire. (p 66)

Ratzinger: …the more relativism becomes the generally accepted way of thinking, the more it tends toward intolerance, thereby becoming a new dogmatism. Political correctness… seeks to establish the domain of a single way of thinking and speaking. Its relativism creates the illusion that it has reached greater heights than the loftiest philosophical achievements of the past. It prescribes itself as the only way to think and speak – if, that is, one wishes to stay in fashion. Being faithful to traditional values and to the knowledge that upholds them is labeled intolerance, and relativism becomes the required norm. I think it is vital that we oppose this imposition of a new pseudo-enlightenment, which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion.(p 128)

This is a great little book and well worth an afternoon of your time. Pick it up via either or the Daughters of St Paul.

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