When Catholics praise Pope Benedict, it is not surprising. But when the pope wins applause from a group of Italian Marxist academics, one has to ask what is happening.
The four – one a long-time Catholic, another a recent convert and two non-believers – in a letter to the Italian left a year ago said the current pope has provided the correct response to what they call "an unprecedented anthropological emergency."
The political left, they say, has fallen into a libertarian outlook "for which there is no right other than the right of the individual." Pope Benedict offers the correct antidote – a rejection of ethical relativism and the assertion of non-negotiable values.
Journalist Sandro Magister of the daily newspaper La Repubblica reports all this in his online column in English at http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/?eng=y.
The problem of anthropology – that is, the nature of the human person – is that the left (as well as the right, they might have added) is hamstrung by an understanding of the person as a self-enclosed, inward-focused entity.
The pope, however, describes the human person as essentially outward-looking and relational. One might add, that for the pope, the human person is related not only to other people, but most basically to God. He gets into this in some detail in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, but it is everywhere in his thinking.
That this should be attractive to avowed Marxists is surprising . . . and not surprising. Marxists want social change, but if you are serious about change, you need moral absolutes to ensure positive change is protected from tyranny.
The relativist, libertarian pap that "informs" many Supreme Court justices, politicians, journalists and educators in the Western world is a substitute for serious thought. It undermines morality and is thus the enemy of social justice.
The most controversial assertion of the Italian Marxist quartet was their belief in the "freedom and dignity of the human person from the moment of conception." The whole community must welcome such life, "raise it, educate it and accompany it with love and care to the end."
Any sane society would see those words as the foundation for a just order that respects both the unborn and those who are already born. That they are so controversial today is the clearest sign that society is radically off-kilter.
The four Marxists say that transforming society requires attention to the spiritual aspect of the human person. "There is a very close connection between transcendence and revolution."
This is not remotely akin to anything that has ever passed for Marxism. Nevertheless, it is a huge step forward when those who most hunger for social change find a soulmate in a supposedly conservative pope of the Catholic Church.