Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No straight line from Bono to Benedict

"The problem humanitarian love poses to Christianity cannot be underestimated. Humanitarian sentiment is so similar to Christianity: both the Christian and the humanitarian long for the end of suffering; action that re-makes the world; that alleviates poverty; that cures; that overcomes prejudice with sympathy. So similar are the aspirations of Christians and humanitarians that many Christians are sincerely puzzled if told there is not a straight line from Bono to Benedict. Isn't it true that humanitarians respect human life as much as Catholics? Don't the wealthiest humanitarians spend their fortunes on respecting human life, trying to cure malaria, to ensure fresh water for all?
"Why were some of the best modern Catholic thinkers, people like de Lubac, Scheler, Kolnai, so suspicious of humanitarianism? This is an enormous topic, actually, but a part of the answer, and it might seem an odd answer, is: Catholics are suspicious of humanitarianism's hyper-moralism.
"As Aurel Kolnai pointed out in the '40s, humanitarianism is hostile to moral hierarchy. Egalitarianism is a preponderant emphasis of humanitarianism and thus moral distinctions must be elided. Certainly, the idea of intrinsic evil, the idea that a certain kind of act can never be moral, is deeply offensive to the social justice sensibility of the humanitarian. It encourages the idea that there might be 'intrinsic discrimination between human "needs,"' as Kolnai puts it. In turn, this suggests judgment and complexity, and so a break on broad policy solutions. Extremely anxious to resolve social problems, social suffering, social justice activists find deference to a variegated moral order intolerable for this reason. Rejecting the idea of intrinsic moral evil might seem an excuse for immoralism, and it is, but its motivation is avidity for the reign of goodness. Benatar's [Better not to have been: the harm of coming into existence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006)] is a perfect example of this: he is sincere about wanting to end suffering. Noughting the human accomplishes this. Vulnerability . . . is replaced by monism. This explains his obscuring the distinction between the natural and moral orders.
"What does monism secure? It delivers the resolution of moral tension. It delivers purity. Strange to say, but an upshot of Benatar's ethics is impeccability. War, hunger, exploitation are all done away with by monism but so also greed, vanity, sloth, egoism, and sexual impurity. Benatar's strange recourse to angelic impeccability is signaled by the alienation of the body that courses throughout the book. . . . There is something 'obscene' about our planet, . . . we are told, and we must be 'suspicious' of 'human drives' to procreate. . . . To observe man's 'curious, manifold, and contradictory attributes' is impossible for the humanitarian. For our complex nature suggests something religious: that man is torn between fall[en]ness and nobility; that civilization betokens God because human aspiration seeks to recuperate what is sensed as amiss. Indeed this militancy for angelic impeccability is, as Kolnai pointed out, the core contradiction of humanitarianism: it concludes in 'a decisive moral abandonment of man.'"

G. J. McAleer, "'I am awaited by this Love, and so my life is good': children and hope," Nova et vetera: the English edition of the international theological journal 6, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 834-836. Intriguing, but underdeveloped. Is this a commonplace? Looks like I'm going to have to secure some Kolnai. "Benatar's pro-death platform stems from his humanitarianism and it is, I think, undeniable that Catholic ideas about love have lost serious ground to humanitarian ideas about love. There is greater symphathy for Bono than Benedict" (831).

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