While the Patriarchal address has much to commend it, the leveling of ideas it exhibits is troubling. The essay below was originally written as a comment, but I posting it here for comment and analysis.
Frankly, the ideas in this speech are muddled. It sounds like it an American wrote it who has only a cursory understanding of the history of ideas.
For instance, while the examples citing Ghandi and King are true, it is overlooked that the reason for Ghandi’s success was that the English, despite their empire building in India, still responded to Ghandi’s appeals that were shaped by and heard through the Christian moral tradition. The same holds true for King. He was successful because by drawing on the morality of the Christian tradition, particularly the inherent value of the individual, he awakened the conscience of nation shaped by that tradition.
Ghandi’s and King’s success however does not translate into a universal appeal for non-violence, simply because non-violence is not a moral value transferable to all cultures (take Islam for example). This is not to say that Christians should espouse violence, but only that the moral reasoning employed in the speech does not reach very deep.
Further, the speeches posits politcal polarities as if the only difference between them are of a kind, not value. “Should I have an apple or banana with lunch?” is all it asks. In fact, there is a world of difference between say, Progressive and Classical Liberal or Conservative ideas (Gramsci or Alinsky vs, say, Burke or Kirk) that diverge not only at their goals but, more importantly, in their foundational ideas. These foundational ideas are essential, and anyone who understands them will see that what the EP cites as three critical questions of the age:
2) Philanthropy, specifically in the form of healthcare; and
depend on an even more fundamental question (and I would argue the question of the age): What is man? The crisis in the West in other words, is anthropological. The issues the EP cites, while important, are driven first by this foundational question.
For example, if you start with a materialist foundation (no God — a given on the Progressive side), then your ideas about the nature and value of the human person will differ from the Classical Liberal or Conservative view which eschews materialism and sees religion as the ground (and thus moral wellspring) of culture. This is not to say the Classical Liberalism or Conservatism is divinely ordained, but it certainly is closer to the Christian anthropological vision than Progressive ideology.
These approaches are not mere opposites on a political/cultural continuum (just an apple or banana). They represent different moral visions, moral wellsprings. They are the sources that teach us about the value of the individual, how he should order and direct his relationships, the moral direction of behavior, his purpose for existence and so forth. The differences are so great however that in many ways they are incompatible.
People get confused however, because the language defending the goals of Progressivism employs the same moral vocabulary of the Christian moral tradition, but mean different things by them. The author of the speech does not seem to realize this (the speech has too many “Americanisms” to have come from the EP’s hand in my view). He defends ideas simply because their moral resonance “sounds” Christian but does not seem to realize that many of the foundational assumptions of Progressive ideology in fact repudiate the values that Christianity introduced into the culture.
Sanctity of life is one example. That human life has value is the precept from which Ghandi’s and King’s words drew their moral power and by which they were heard. In our time a person can make appeals using that same language while still defending the “right to choose” (or justify assisted suicide, euthanasia and the like) and not perceive this contradiction in his own thinking.
This murkiness in language contributes to a muddling of policy goals as well. Take the EP’s mention of health care for example. Is the EP endorsing universal health care? Does he endorse Obama-and-Pelosi-care despite its abortion or end of life provisions? Unfortunately, given his unwillingness to offer any clear teaching about the sanctity of life in the womb we don’t really know.
This shows too why abortion (as well as the elderly, infirm, and disabled — remember Terri Schiavo?) remains a flashpoint. They are ground zero in all questions about human value and where we stand in relation to these questions inevitably shapes how we view other policy questions where judgments and decisions about human life have to be made.
Care for the environment is such a question. Environmental policy will greatly affect the social and economic dimensions of human existence, and how we value life will shape what policy we make that determines what the effects will be. The EP makes no mention of this social and economic dimension. In fact, they remain hidden behind a screen of moral exhortation that, while necessary to a degree, can also lead to grave errors such as we saw with the banning of DDT and other catastrophes that were justified as a moral necessity.
In fact, it seems like the muddle we see in the endorsement of health care has already jumped over to environmental care. The Patriarch endorsed the Copenhagen Protocols, which, in economic terms, is nothing short of revolutionary and thus highly likely to fail, but also a high priority on the Progressive policy agenda.
Lots of heat here but not enough light — at least for someone whose primary responsibility is the protecting and teaching of the moral tradition. Note how carefully Rome makes their distinctions whenever great social engineering projects come dressed in the language of moral reform. Note how clear Moscow is on the foundational questions of human value. We should expect the same from Constantinople.