If You Want to be a Good Person, It Does Matter What You BelieveFATHER ROBERT BARRON
I dare say that most people in Europe or North America would hold some version of the following: as long as, deep down, you are a good person, it doesn't much matter what you believe.
As even the most casual student of societal trends knows, this sort of cavalier attitude toward doctrine is rampant, at least in the West. I dare say that most people in Europe or North America would hold some version of the following: as long as, deep down, you are a good person, it doesn't much matter what you believe. The intellectual pedigree of this popular idea can be traced back at least to the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who held that religion is fundamentally reducible to ethics. All other forms of religious life and practice – dogmas, rituals, liturgies, sacraments, etc. – are meant, Kant thought, simply to contribute to upright moral behavior. In the measure that they fulfill this purpose, they are acceptable, but in the measure that they contribute nothing to ethics, they become irrelevant, even dangerous.
I would argue that what is truly dangerous is precisely the bifurcation between doctrine and ethics that Kant inaugurated and that has become so ingrained in the contemporary imagination. For though we rarely aver to the fact, so many of the ethical norms that we take for granted are deeply rooted in very definite doctrinal claims of the Judeo-Christian traditions. When the dogmas are ignored or declared irrelevant, the normativity of the moral claims is, sooner or later, attenuated.
So far we've looked at the subjective side of love. Bt what of its object? Why, precisely, are we convinced that our fellow human beings are in possession of rights, endowed with dignity, and of inherent worth? This conviction has become so ingrained in us, so taken for granted, that we forget how peculiarly theological it is. Every human being, regardless of considerations of race, education, intelligence, strength, or accomplishment is a subject of inestimable value because he or she has been created by God and destined by God for eternal life. Take God out of the equation, and human dignity rather rapidly evanesces. If you doubt me on this score, I would invite you to look to societies in which belief in a Creator God was not operative. In classical Greece, the society of Plato and Aristotle, only a certain handful of people – aristocratic, virtuous, propertied, and well-educated – were seen as worthy of respect. Everyone else was expected to do as he or she was told; infants deemed imperfect could be exposed; and a startlingly large number of people were consigned to slavery. And in the secular totalitarianisms of the last century, societies in which God was systematically denied, human dignity was so little respected that the piling up of tens of millions of corpses was seen as an acceptable political strategy, Lenin's "cracking of some eggs to make an omelette."
Father Robert Barron, "If You Want to be a Good Person, It Does Matter What You Believe." Word on Fire (November, 2011).
Reprinted with permission of Father Robert Barron.
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Father Robert Barron is the founder of Word On Fire and is an acclaimed author, theologian and speaker. He is the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. Fr. Barron is also the creator and host of the groundbreaking, ten-part documentary series called CATHOLICISM (www.CatholismProject.org). Word On Fire (www.WordOnFire.org) programs reach millions of people and have been broadcast on WGN America, EWTN, Relevant Radio and the popular Word on Fire YouTube Channel. Fr. Barron is the author of, And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, Heaven in Stone and Glass: Experiencing the Spirituality of the Great Cathedrals, Eucharist (Catholic Spirituality for Adults), Priority of Christ, The: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism, and Word on File: Proclaiming the Power of Christ.
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Copyright © 2011 Father Robert Barron
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