Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Truth Is Universal, but Other Religions Play a Role

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Truth Is Universal, but Other Religions Play a Role

Article excerpt

While in Menlo Park for a meeting of doctrinal officials, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger delivered a public lecture at St. Patrick's Seminary on Feb. 13. He spoke on John Paul's recent encyclical Fides et Ratio.

Ratzinger opened his address by quoting C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, a book about a junior devil who writes to his uncle for advice on ensnaring humans. The older devil praises the modern "historical point of view," which treats ancient authors in terms of their context and influences but never asks if what they wrote is true.

In much the same way, Ratzinger said, modern scholarship's intoxication with relativism has become an "immunization against the truth."

Ratzinger denounced what he called the "dictatorship of appearances," or the tendency to substitute interpretation and opinion -- what journalists would call "spin" -- for the truth itself. He said this tendency shows up both in politics and theology today.

Ratzinger extended the question of universal truth to Christian missionary efforts. He noted that missionaries have been attacked for subverting local cultures and acting as "an original form of imperialism." While "mistakes were certainly made," Ratzinger said, behind this attack is a relativistic denial that different cultures can or should share the same truth.

The genius of Christianity, Ratzinger said, is its capacity to allow cultures to transcend themselves, a process he said was already at work in the Bible. God called Israel to become more than it was -- to move beyond "the worship of blood and land," Ratzinger said. In that sense, Paul's conversion to Christianity and his mission to spread the new faith to the world was "the logical conclusion of the Old Testament trajectory. …

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