The Crystallized Church & the Technological Society
POPE BENEDICT XVI’S 1969 PROPHECY REVISITED
In 1969, amid the wave of cultural conflagrations that upended longstanding norms in Western societies, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger delivered a message that was broadcast on German radio. Always a perceptive cultural critic, Ratzinger recognized that the answer of the postwar West to the totalitarian movements that defined the first half of the 20th century was the idea of the “technological” society underpinned by scientific progress and its anthropological corollary, eroticism, as manifested in the sexual revolution. Science, it was believed, coupled with personal liberation from oppressive moral norms, would deliver us from the temptations of fascist and communist ideologies. Today, Ratzinger’s address is occasionally noted as a prophecy heralding a “smaller” but more “crystallized” Church as a result of the transformational changes of the 1960s.
The current cultural upheavals afflicting the Western world provide us with an opportunity to revisit Ratzinger’s message. As relevant as it was then, it is more so now. After all, the social transformations of our day are largely an acceleration of processes that began to gain traction five decades ago, the metaphysical roots of which stretch back at least 500 years to the Protestant Reformation. We are simply witnessing their logical conclusion.
The common denominator of these transformations is a technological understanding of the human person, according to which man is devoid of any prior “givenness”: He is nothing more than matter, spirit, and will, all of which lack any inherent meaning or order. The changes share an instrumentalist concept of reason, according to which what is good and true is whatever allows me to be my most authentic self — whatever that might be — and anything that precludes me from expressing my authenticity is a violation of my freedom. The idea of Logos, a God who personally calls man to cooperate with grace in order to realize his telos, is excluded outright as an oppressive and arbitrary power play. Finally, the transformations limit what counts as knowledge to the empirically verifiable, restricting reason’s scope to science and technology, effectively rendering religion, ethics, and philosophy matters of mere personal preference with no intrinsic connection to reality. We are left with a society full of isolated and lonely individuals living in a technocratically planned society who cannot find love or friendship due to the lack of transcendent bonds. Our unconscious metaphysical presuppositions dispose us to use others, not to love others, and to disintegration, not unity. The only solidarity on offer is a solidarity of radical individualism, in which we stand together in affirming our right to live as we please.
Let us examine four critical excerpts from Ratzinger’s radio broadcast and, drawing on the thought of the late Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce — whose own critique of the postwar technological society closely parallels Ratzinger’s — highlight this society’s internal contradictions and utter incompatibility with Christianity.
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