As the hype over Benedict’s visit to the U.S. fades, it is time to reflect more deeply on how his message should change the way we think and act. While his comments on the sex abuse scandal, human rights, and 9/11, drew the most attention, I find his call to integrity to be the most striking.
Last Wednesday, on the South Lawn of the White House the Pope said,
“As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue to build a more humane and free society.”
Integrity is living in accordance with one’s stated beliefs. In the United States, where more than ninety percent claim to believe in God and a large majority of those profess to be Christians, social and economic life should reflect gospel principles. It is heartening to hear straight from his own lips that the Holy Father has hope in the integrity of Americans, in spite of the challenge of managing a complicated and diverse society. He believes that our moral formation will guide us through difficult decisions. Benedict’s affirmation comes at an important time, with a disquieting economic situation confronting us and Presidential elections right around the corner.
How to integrate religion into the public sphere in a pluralistic culture is and has been a demanding task for modern secular America. Twentieth-century political philosophers, such as the late John Rawls, saw a solution in simply drawing together our most common “unbiased” factors and leaving the rest aside. In Rawls’ Political Liberalism he clearly stated that no arguments deriving from faith should be admitted into public debate.
Benedict XVI begs to differ. “Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling and the hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society,” he insists. “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.”
Faith is an important foundation not only for politics, but also for business. Who really believes that an “unbiased” Business Ethics 101 course at a secular university will adequately substitute for the morality ingrained in a child who has been reared in a Christian home? Critics of capitalism say that businessmen are greedy, and often in the same breath denounce Christian morals for “constricting” personal freedom and imposing standards upon others.
Ethical principles based on faith form an integral person, who cannot be split between a public and a private sphere. Without the integrity of our beliefs, society is at risk of exhibiting a severe multiple personality disorder. The Pope gives Americans a simple solution for such an ailment. He is urging us to stay true to what is best in our traditions and values.
Amanda Pawloski is an intern at the Rome office of the Acton Institute. She is currently working on a license in philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.