On Human Development and Religion
Religious Discernment Needed
In his encyclical, Caritas in Veritatis, Pope Benedict XVI calls on political leaders to use religious discernment based on the criteria of charity and truth in view of the authentic development of peoples. “Only in charity, illumined by the light of reason and faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value”. (CV, 9) What this means is that reason always stands in need of being purified by faith while faith always needs to be purified by reason. (CV, 56) Such religious discernment involves respect for true principles and religious criteria while rejecting the errors of secularism, fundamentalism and other destructive religious forces.
Secularism and Fundamentalism
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that religious freedom “does not mean religious indifferentism, nor imply that all religions are equal”. (CV 55) In fact, “the deliberate promotion of religious indifference or practical atheism on the part of many countries obstructs the requirements for the development of peoples, depriving them of spiritual and human resources”. (CV, 29) At the opposite extreme lies a religious fundamentalism that “hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity”. (CV, 56) On one hand, a one-sided secularity robs rights of their transcendent foundation while, at the opposite extreme, fundamentalism robs men of their freedom based on their transcendent dignity. (CV, 56) In either case, public life is “sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character”. (CV, 56) Therefore, authentic religious freedom must be respected and the truths of faith must be brought to bear in public life: including the cultural, social, economic, and political dimensions.
Other Destructive Forces
While affirming the right to authentic religious freedom, Pope Benedict XVI warns against tolerating every kind of religious evil that is destructive to integral human development. The active use or exercise of human freedom always presupposes due limits and rights, in the juridical order, are never considered unlimited and unqualified. Therefore, those vested with political authority have the duty to be discerning when it comes to religions that “do not fully embrace the principle of love and truth”. (CV, 55) In some cases, this involves religions that promote an individualistic search for “well-being, limited to the gratification of psychological desires”. In other cases it may involve religious syncretism or different religious “paths” that give rise to separation, disengagement and distancing from reality. Some religious cultures tend to “ossify society in rigid social groupings” destructive to authentic human development. Finally, there are religions that maintain “magical beliefs that fail to respect the dignity of the person, and in attitudes of subjugation to occult powers”. (CV, 55)
The development of peoples in charity and truth requires a proper understanding of the “transcendent dignity of man” as well as the “recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side”. (CV, 53) In other words, "the whole man and all men is also the criteria for evaluating cultures and religion. Christianity, the religion of the God who has a human face, contains this very criterion within itself”. (CV, 55)