Winter 2011

Introduction: Towards a Human Ecology: Person, Life, Nature

David L. Schindler opens the issue with an editorial on “The Repressive Logic of Liberal Rights: Religious Freedom, Contraceptives, and the ‘Phony’ Argument of the New York Times.” “Catholics make a grave mistake,” Schindler argues, “if they approach the current controversy on the assumption that all sides agree in principle about the nature and universality of rights, and if they thus think that what is at stake is simply a matter of a failure to apply this commonly held principle of universal rights with consistency.” On the contrary, the notion of rights presupposed by the Times as well as by the Obama administration “stands in deep tension with a Catholic understanding . . . : the two notions of rights rest upon significantly different ideas of human nature and dignity.” Thus, if Catholics fail to integrate their political strategies from the beginning “into a more adequate vision of rights based on a fuller vision of the human person,” such strategies, however effective in the short run, will serve over the long run to “reinforce the deeper terms of the crisis.” Schindler’s editorial shows the warrants for these judgments, demonstrating the peculiarly repressive—because hiddenly self-centered—nature of freedom and rights as affirmed in “classical” liberalism and exemplified in the Times’ editorial, and concluding with a description of freedom and rights as indicated in Dignitatis humanae.

The theme of the Winter, 2011 issue of Communio is: “Toward a Human Ecology: Person, Life, Nature.” In his encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, and in subsequent writings, Pope Benedict XVI has called for the development of a “human ecology” grounded in the idea of creation as gift. “The human being will be capable of respecting other creatures,” he writes, “only if he keeps the full meaning of life in his own heart. Otherwise he will come to despise himself and his surroundings, and to disrespect the environment, the creation, in which he lives. For this reason, the first ecology to be defended is ‘human ecology.’ This is to say that, without a clear defense of human life from conception until natural death; without a defense of the family founded on marriage between a man and a  woman; without an authentic defense of those excluded and marginalized by society . . . we will never be able to speak of authentic protection of the environment.” [1] Guided by these words, the present issue reflects on the reciprocal relationship between respect for the order of creation and respect for human life.

David S. Crawford, in “Benedict XVI and the Structure of the Moral Act: On the Condoms Controversy,” revisits the controversy sparked by Pope Benedict’s remarks on condoms in his book-length interview Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times (2010). Crawford situates the issue of condom use for disease prevention within the larger framework of Benedict XVI’s moral doctrine. In the eyes of Pope Benedict, “[m]odern thought tends to reduce the physical world, and in particular the human body, to its merely material properties and laws, those that can be measured and . . . which can be exploited by technical means.” As a result the “ethical message contained in being” has become unintelligible. In response to this crisis, Pope Benedict has articulated a moral theory grounded in an understanding of nature, and especially the human body, as created and thus saturated with moral meaning. The human body is not simply “a source of appetite in which practical reason is embedded and given its dynamic movement toward goods, but also an anamnetic expression of good as form or, we could also say, of beauty, disclosing the vocation of human nature itself.”

Mary Taylor, in “A Deeper Ecology: A Catholic Vision of the Person in Nature,” suggests that the ecological movement presents Catholics with a dilemma. They struggle with finding ways to harmonize their love for God and love for his creation while being faced with the ideological antagonisms directed against human life and dignity. Noting both the legitimate concerns and the shortcomings of the main currents of environmental thought, Taylor sketches a new trajectory for a “catholic” ecology, grounded in John Paul II’s teaching that the “covenant between human beings and the environment . . . should mirror the creative love of God.” “At the heart of [covenental] relations is solidarity: the recognition of a common desire for beauty and meaning, the realization that we share a common destiny with other beings, the apprehension that the participation of others is necessary for a common good that is deeper than the co-incidence of our private goods or our ideology.”

1. Pope Benedict XVI, “Message to the Brazilian Bishops for the 2011 Brotherhood Campaign,” 16 February 2011.