Will Blunders Never Cease? Vatican Lumps Cultural Relativism with Religious Pluralism
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
Archbishop William Levada, the San Francisco prelate who last year replaced the current Pope Benedict XVI as the Vatican’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy and has continued in this post, has now provided ground for controversy much more serious than Pope Benedict’s blunder on September 12th at Regensberg. According to an Associated Press report on October 6th, 2006, from the Vatican by Frances D’Emilio, entitled “Vatican Document on Limbo Might be Ready,” at a recent doctrinal convocation in the Vatican Cardinal Levada warned against the number of un-baptized babies in societies marked by what he called “cultural relativism and religious pluralism.”
Since there is as yet no context for this statement, it is difficult to determine what it means. If it means that religious pluralism is bad, then people of all religious faiths would have a really good reason to re-emphasize what religion is all about. As Father William Feree, the spiritual founder of the Center for Economic and Social Justice, taught, “Religion is the ultimate pluralism.”
This fundamental teaching of the Qur’an is especially important because Islam is unique among religions in its emphasis that different paths to truth are part of the plan of God. This teaching on religious pluralism is the major reason why Americans embrace Islam (only later to find out that most Muslims neither understand nor practice it any more than most Christians do).
To promote error in matters of ultimate truth is far worse than attributing error to others. If the worst interpretation of this quote is accepted, then now is the time for Muslims and others to research this apparent return to the European Dark Ages and work to bring the enlightenment of Pope John Paul II back into the ecumenical world.
The only encouraging aspect of this quote, which seemingly equates religious pluralism with relativism, is the context of revising the doctrine of limbo. The concept of limbo logically follows the doctrine of original sin. In standard Catholic doctrine, limbo for unbaptised but sinless babies is separation from God forever. This differs from barzakh in Islamic teachings, because the Qur’an teaches that even the sinful in barzakh as an intermediary stage in one’s transformation from one life to the next are forgiven. The Qur’an makes it clear that an infinitely merciful God does not permit even hell to last forever (aside from the fact that time itself is only temporary). Furthermore, in both Christian and Islamic teachings, the doctrine of limbo has been debatable, unlike such teachings as the birth of Jesus without a human father, which increasingly is an avant garde issue for debate among Christians but among Muslims has never been questioned. .
To revise the doctrine of limbo, which was never an essential teaching of the Church, might open up the way to true religious pluralism, which connotes diversity in paths to the same ultimate truth. Agreement on the existence of absolute truth is necessary to understand the nature of justice as an expression of truth and as the common purpose of all creation. This would provide the strongest counter to cultural relativism.
The philosophical error of relativism is the basis of positivism, which is an even worse error because it insists that man is god. Such polytheism is the origin of progressive modernism as the ultimate error and destroyer of all civilization. As Pope Benedict so beautifully explained at Regensberg, such modernism is the greatest threat to the survival of humankind. Relativism and its close cousin known as secular fundamentalism deny the very concept of respect for inalienable human rights and responsibilities.
The question now is whether the Vatican is moving toward or away from religious pluralism as the surest way to counter the anomie of existential relativism and to overcome the primordial fear in the modern world that causes and sustains both terrrorism and terroristic counter-terrorism.