Joan Carrera i. Carrera, S.J
Joan Carrera i. Carrera, S.J. is a member of a team of experts in theology and different social and human sciences working at the Study Center under the initiative of the Society of Jesus in Cataluña, Spain. These scholars are concerned about the increasingly important cultural interrelations between faith and justice. Carrera’s article introduces some of the findings of the seminars held at the Study Center.
“When we open out to dialogue with others we are opening out to a dialogue with God.” John Paul II
With the change of century, our world is living perhaps one of the most profound transformations of its history. What we call "globalization" has turned that wide world that our ancestors inhabited into a global village. A world in which, thanks to the enormous capacity for communication and transport, different nations and cultures are in contact with each other with unusual intensity.
No longer are societies of our globalized world those compact societies which used to share one homogeneous culture. In those bygone days, other societies and cultures, being as they were, sufficiently far apart and sufficiently unknown, were considered as something "strange", alien, and generally "barbaric" and "uncivilized".
But this is no longer possible at the current moment. Today we go to a Chinese restaurant when eating out; we look for a Peruvian woman to look after our grandmothers; our children share the same desk with a girl who always wears a veil over her head and celebrates Ramadan; we buy clothes made by women of the Far East; and our neighbors have adopted a child from the Bolivian high plateau.
Challenges for Ethics
These new circumstances have placed on the agenda a reflection on themes such as "tolerance", respect for difference, need for dialogue. It is necessary that we be capable of getting on well with "any person" of our universe. How can we establish guidelines that could be common to all and could thereby permit us to live in harmony amidst the great diversity of our world? What principles should be shared by any person, of whatever country or creed, to be able to live in harmony? This is the first ethical challenge of our times.
Simple though it might seem, the question is anything but simple. The first temptation one must avoid is to confuse respect for difference with the acceptance of "anything". The rejection of all kinds of intolerance has generated a rejection of the "Sacred Books" that claim "the totality" of what they say is right. Moral behavior, consequently, should find its foundations in the strictly subjective sphere. An instance with universal value could perhaps work out "dangerous" as it could serve as a handle for any type of fundamentalism or neo‑fascism (in any of its rightist or leftist versions). Present day moral subjectivist tendencies stem from this situation.
However, radical subjectivism cannot be accepted by Christian morals as Christian morals stem from the assumption of a project: the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that proposes a whole constellation of values. For this reason, all that human beings do can never be indifferent; it is either in favor of or against this Kingdom. That is to say, there exists a certain objectivity in all Christian ethical propositions. Here then is a new challenge: Morals that can be "autonomous" (based on subjectivity) and, at the same time, objective.
Finally, it is necessary to say that the new times in which we live have posed problems that up to now were non‑existent.
On the one hand, we find ourselves faced with certain matters that affect the whole of humanity: the ecological question, international commerce, commerce of arms, external debt of impoverished countries, financial globalization, etc. We are confronted with topics that call for agreements of a global reach, and which demand, therefore, the participation of all those who are implied in the matter.
On the other hand, technical progress has given rise to new situations, which imply new rights and obligations and which call for an ethical stance: cloning, genetic engineering, xenotransplants, use of foetal, transgenic tissues, new military technologies, Internet, etc.
With all these premises, Christian morals are obliged to cope not only with the usual topics of perennial interest, but will also have to face the new issues that derive from the new situation.
This being so, a Christian ethical proposition for the twenty first century will have to be put forward in defense both of the autonomy of human subjectivity as well as the objectivity of evangelical values; it will have to be established with the participation of all; and it will have to face the new questions that have arisen. And, besides, the Church will be obliged not to limit herself to just giving an ethical orientation.
Her word should be "evangelical", the carrier of "good news" and should not be reduced to giving guidelines of moral evaluation, but should stimulate and accompany humanity that today as yesterday is on its way towards greater plenitude.
MORALS FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM
If the voice of the Christian community aims at proposing also for today, an ethical way, she should pay attention to the "signs of the times" so as to give an adequate reply. If she wishes to answer the challenges that we have pointed out and to be the seed of the message of Jesus of Nazareth in the world, perhaps some of the inexcusable traits for Christian morals of the millennium, could be the following:
1. Morals that listen
[We will use the term morals in the sense of “moral theology” and the term ethics as “moral philosophy."]
Morals that admit appeals coming from thousands of men and women that live and suffer.
These morals have to enter in serious dialogue with contemporary culture. A text of the last General Congregation of the Society of Jesus reminds us that: "... we must listen attentively even to those to whom the Gospel means nothing, and we should try to understand the cultural experience that lies behind what they say.”
Do the things we do and say correspond to the real and urgent needs of those around us, in their relations with God and other people? If the answer is "no", it means that we are not profoundly committed to the people we serve" (General Congregation, Doc. 34, NMC, nos. 27,7).
Morals that before indulging in reflection and giving advice, get down to listening to men and women, irrespective of whether they are Christians or not. And like the rich young man, one should ask: "What good should I do ...?” Mt. 19,16. We like to have recourse to this translation of the interconfessional Bible, since it places the stress on what we should do as Christians, not so much as to be good —it is not a question of personal perfection, as it has often been insisted—but for the benefit of our neighbor.
2. Morals in an attitude of sincere search
A search in union with all men and women of goodwill. Care should be taken to avoid hurry to search for easy and quick answer. Living with doubt and uncertainty should not be ruled out. Quite often, the Christian community has to express publicly its opinion on questions that affect all men and women, on new issues; but it should acknowledge that on many occasions, it cannot have the last word. It should always remind the world that the more vulnerable, the poorer and marginalized classes of society are the ones that need greater respect…
The Church, after many centuries, has to admit, as John Paul II proposed, that she was mistaken in many moral questions which she had affirmed in absolute terms, basing herself on data which were not theological, but for example, were more proper of science… at that concrete point of time. To admit this, to ask forgiveness, is a gesture that honors the Church and her humility will win her credibility.
3. Morals that accompany people in the taking of decisions
With a prophetic and critical component with respect to the attitudes and prevailing values of an unjust world lacking in solidarity in which we find ourselves immersed. This accompaniment should not abandon people who have taken decisions that may not have been correct or desirable. One should always keep in mind that there are difficult situations where people have to opt for the lesser evil or who are not fully free in their acts (see chapter 4). The Christian community should be hospitable and merciful towards all those people.
4. Morals that have been reflected upon with the community in mind
Reflected upon in humble prayer before God, who helps men and women to discern in the Spirit. Where the tasks of pastor and prophet are present in the community and where the community with its concerns and hopes are kept in mind. Morals that listen to the domestic churches (families) and small communities, where relations are more fraternal and where affection, gratuity, attention to the weakest, are converted into something more important than legal justice.
Morals that believe more in the Spirit present in our communities that consider Christians in a more adult fashion, getting them to contribute their discerned and after‑having prayed‑to‑God opinion, which would then be subjected to the discernment of the whole Church. If it is accepted that in many issues, Christians are free and responsible and for which reason have the capacity to sin (move away from being faithful to the message of Jesus), they should also be considered free and responsible to contribute their moral discernment on specific questions to the whole universal Church. Morals with the community in mind should invite active participation of women who have been greatly forgotten in this field, so much so that Christian ethics have been shaped by masculine sensitivity in which feminine sensitivity has not been taken into account.
5. Morals that listen to the cry of the poor
The cry of the oppressed of the earth, of those who have lost hope. Morals that listen to the cry of the enslaved people of Egypt, as God did, and that denounce as a result the new slaveries of our times. Morals that are attentive to the more vulnerable classes of our society, that defend cultural, linguistic, religious and immigrant minorities, nations with no land, the dispossessed, the refugees..., as also women who, in so many places, are deprived of education and culture, and are subjected to slave conditions. Morals that would be firmly committed, for example, to defend the rights of immigrants and to denouncing violations of these rights when they occur. Morals that attend to those which society does not attach any value to, the physically and psychically disabled, those that have not yet been born or born with some important defect...
Morals where the "face of the other" is converted into an ethical appeal to which one must reply, over and above what is strictly right.1 Morals that show that the Christian community is on the side of the weak and vulnerable and, therefore, should not fear showing itself weak and lacking in power, without resources, without privileges… That, in consequence, should not be afraid of making visible signs that show this willingness as, for example, renouncing its State, its bureaucratic organization, going arm‑in‑arm in some countries with politicians and military figures... (Since these are evident symbols of ambiguity, which indicate political and economic power in our society).
6. Prophetic morals
That do not express themselves in a pessimistic discourse focused on what is evil and incorrect (denunciation), but in a discourse that encourages people to go in search of the good. Saint Paul reminds us that “where the Spirit is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3).
Morals that not only denounce things that do not work, but also make gestures (announcements) that break the silence in which our society finds itself immersed. This silence, this mentality that considers that nothing can be done, that the economic, social, political system cannot be changed; this system can only break if prophetic signs are given that put alternative values in practice.
These signs can be put in existence by small human communities in which certain alternative values are lived. Communities that announce that it is possible to live in a different way. For example, cooperatives, fair commerce, goods in common, or the interchange of free services, political forms of participatory democracy… offer alternatives to an economy that generates injustice and social inequality.
We, Christians, must keep on creating alternative spaces that give testimony to the values we believe in. The work (moral norm, advice...) should give way to deeds, to lives that personify these values. In this way, we will present the Gospel of Jesus as a liberating experience for men and women of today.
Morals that acknowledge that the best way of expressing dissent about values that we do not agree to, is giving testimony of other values. We can speak in defense of immigrants, of their rights, make claims so that they do not live marginalized... but are our Christian schools open to them?
In short, morals that point to values to be discovered as the source of a life in love and freedom.
7. Morals with a universal dimension
Keep in mind that to face certain issues that affect everybody, believers and non‑believers, Christians must act in union with the whole of humanity. For example, it does not make sense to have one town or country taking measures to limit air or water contamination if their neighbors continue to contaminate, since water and air are common goods.
New technologies and progress have made us discover that, despite plurality, and different ways of thinking, we still remain the same species, sharing the same biosphere... Many are the issues that affect us as human beings and, therefore, it is necessary to look for global solutions and not ones that are limited to specifically determined territories.
To recover universal ethics, one could recover a traditional category of Catholic morals: the so‑called Moral Natural Law. Understood as the existence of great ethical principles that all humans understand, whether they be believers or not, which constitute true human behavior. These great principles can be discovered by means of a sincere search with the participation of everybody. And they can be represented in the Declaration of Human Rights. These morals would help to differentiate between minimum human ethics that are shared by all human beings and maximum ethics that we could live up to within our community. Maximum ethics could be presented to non‑believers as an invitation to a fully human and happy life, but we cannot impose these, nor aim that within a plural and democratic country these should be embodied in laws.
The Christian community will naturally suffer when it sees that some questions that it considers “minimum ethics” are not accepted in the dialogue, and, therefore, are not protected by the laws of some countries. This question will be discussed when we speak of disagreement within the dialogue.
Christian morals for the new millennium should seriously take up the challenge of “moral ecumenism”. Important steps have been made in this ecumenism; when the Parliament of the Religious of the World elaborated the Declaration of World Ethics (1993), it affirmed the existence of some “common minimum ethics” in all the main world religions.2 These minimum ethics can be used for creating world ethics which we have already commented upon earlier.
8. Necessity of establishing a political moral code
A political moral code that recovers the social dimension and faces the challenges of a globalized economy, unjust for two thirds of our world. Political morals that far from being unafraid of the new forms of participatory democracy foment them.
The survey that was conducted in Spain this year 2000, without any official backing, regarding the abolition of the external debt contracted by southern countries has been an example of how a participatory democracy could be fomented.
Likewise, morals that cease to be adapted only to the liberal‑bourgeois and First World culture by allowing themselves to be deeply influenced by other cultures (Oriental, African...) will shed some of their individualistic, very little community‑minded air... They could equally be influenced by Western sub‑cultures, marginalized by official status (responsible and ecological consumption, ecologists, feminists, alternative movements, pacifists, radicals...), who question bourgeois individualism, "privatism" morals, private property, the form of plundering progress... Some of these "values" have been converted into the new idols of our times since they are no longer questioned by anybody.
9. Morals centered around the human heart
Because it is the place in which a person gives unity and meaning to his acts. It is where a person lives the deep relation with himself and the reality of others. The Gospel speaks to the heart of men and women about how the new man and woman should be, what attitudes they should adopt. It is in the heart where the new man and woman participate in the Spirit of Jesus.
Morals based on discernment and proceeding from a heart overflowing with the Spirit of Jesus. Basic attitudes of the life of a Christian are at play in this nucleus where God dwells.
The Christian in his personal and community ways, will assiduously acquire the habit of right living in his everyday behavior. In this way we believe a more "pneumatological" moral around options and profound attitudes of people rather than on specific isolated acts will, we believe, be more in accordance with an integral anthropology and will help clarify the concept of sin.
However, it would be naive on our part if we were to overlook the fact that it is in these specific acts that the fundamental option for God is decided, and it is here where the moral life and the deep attitudes of the Christian are at stake.
Morals that allow themselves to be influenced by modem psychology so as to be in a position to understand better the human heart, especially in those aspects that can vary the responsibility of people in certain acts, since one must remember that Christian morals must be merciful. And only in this way, from a community angle, the seriousness of the Christian concept of sin can be recovered.
10. Morals that respect human autonomy understood as relational autonomy
We humans achieve self‑fulfillment by relating ourselves with others and with God. The Christian ethical proposition is offered to all, because it is a humanizing project for all of humanity, and as such, can be embraced by all. At the end, we will never tire of repeating it, the project of the Kingdom of God is, above all, a project of humanization for all of humanity. So, the ethical aims of Christians, as we will see later, should be characterized by their rational plausibility. Every human being of goodwill should feel himself/herself attracted to the Christian message, since he/she can capture these aims of humanization.
11. Morals that try to be more coherent
That is to say, that deals with all the issues with the same yardstick of evaluation. For example, it should adopt, as many demand, the same attitude before unborn life (absolute condemnation of abortion) as before life that has been born (there still exists a certain justification of the death penalty, of war...). Morals that try to be coherent: abstaining from evaluating certain questions, for example, those referring to sexual ethics from rigorous (deontological) stances and, on the other hand, in other questions, such as those referring to justice, economy, politics, accepting stances that require more nuances (adopting stances that are more teleological or consequential in moral terms).
We believe that all these characteristics can be resumed in the need that exists for morals that respect autonomy and take into account ‑ the great importance of dialogue.
MORALS IN DIALOGUE
A lot is said about dialogue as the human way of resolving conflicts. But a deeper analysis as to how dialogues are conducted in our society tells us that often these are converted into a refined way of starting a battle in which one imposes his ideas on the other. Let us observe, for example, many of the debates between politicians of our country during the electoral campaigns.
Our western society prefers the aesthetics of dialogue to that of violence but still follows the same logic. Often dialogue is converted into an instrument by which strong and dominating people impose their ideas on the rest. If dialogues were truly a dia‑logos, in the original sense of the term, they should demand in the first place that they be symmetrical, that is to say, there should be a footing of equality among all its participants, which would allow truth to come to light on the strength of the arguments put forward.
In most dialogues what appears important is not that we get nearer the truth but that the truth that one holds as valid, triumphs. Neither are we really concerned about the prevalence of the conditions of true symmetry in dialogue, since asymmetry permits our arguments to win not on their own strength but because of the frailty of our opponents.
The conditions of the way in which a true dialogue should be developed have been proposed by the so‑called dialogical ethics of J. Habermas and K.O. Apel. This ethical proposition is purely "procedural", where the basis of all norms lies in their being made legitimate by consensus. A good man or woman just because he is good is not necessarily a happy person or one who is subject to his own law but is a person who, in situations of conflict, is disposed to resolve them through dialogue that aims at reaching a consensus. This dialogue should fulfill a series of conditions; some purely logical and others clearly ethical.5
The word dialogue cannot be reduced to a purely secular terminology as it has a religious dimension that we must know. Let us remember the words of the Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam Of Paul VI: "We will give this interior impulse of charity that tends to convert itself into an external gift, the name commonly known today as dialogue" (no. 76). These words should deeply affect us, since they indicate to us that charity, love, as God's gift to us, receives the name of dialogue when it opens itself out to other people. Dialogue is a form of loving others. This dialogue should be conducted with all men and women of goodwill, since "nobody is alien to their heart. Nobody is indifferent to them in their ministry. Nobody is an enemy, if the person himself does not want to be one" (no. 110).
It is worthwhile knowing too the words of John Paul II with respect to dialogue among different religions: "By dialogue, we make God to be present among us; when we open ourselves out to dialogue with the rest, we open ourselves out to God. 6
The history of God with us is the history of a loving dialogue between God and human beings... The initiative is taken by God, but this dialogue is not a one‑way street since God enters a true dialogue of interchange. Let us remember the way God allows Himself to be influenced by men and women. God listens and not only talks to us. God not only converts Himself into the Word and human beings into His hearers, but also acts as an interlocutor who allows Himself to be affected by the vicissitudes of men and women. God hears the cry of His people who suffer slavery in Egypt (Ex 2.23‑24). When God enters into dialogue He even goes to the extent of modifying, His plans when faced with human appeals. Abraham, for example, forces a change in the plan of God Who wished to destroy Sodom; he even bargains with God (Gen 18, 16‑331). And so, the Christian God is turned into a truly dialoguing God. The love of God converts human beings into interlocutors on a true plane of equality with Him. "I no longer call you servants... but friends" (Jn 15,15). The history of God who dialogues teaches us how we must dialogue among men and women as a way of loving one another.
Dialogue, therefore, forms part of the way of being of our God. We men and women can pray to God, since he is a "dialoguing" God. To make this possible, God prepares the meeting‑place with Him. He is God's Spirit in us, who permits us to convert ourselves into interlocutors on a plane of equality with God.
Another aspect to be kept in mind in the search of a dialogued Christian ethics is the consideration that the Gospels in their origin were actually a dialogue between the message of Jesus and the manner in which this message was lived in a specific community with a specific culture. The Gospels, therefore, are an invitation to dialogue; in other words, they invite people to embark upon a dynamic process between the proposal of Jesus adapted to the culture of those times and the culture of our day. This process of dialogue of cultural adaptation is already an evangelical act since it transmits a way of understanding dialogue, a form of loving, of knowing how to place oneself on the side of the other (whether the other happens to be a person or a culture different from our own).
It is not surprising, then, that John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, wrote:
"Among the different services that the Church must offer humanity, there is one, for which she is especially responsible: the diaconate of the truth. On the one hand, this mission makes the practicing Christian community participate in the common effort that is being carried out by humanity to achieve truth, and on the other hand, it obliges the community to take responsibility for the announcement of certain acquired certitudes, although it is aware that all obtained truth is only a stage towards that total truth which will manifest itself in the last revelation of God" (Fides et Ratio, no. 2).
2. Characteristics of a "Christian" dialogue
Let us turn now to describing the characteristics that our dialogues should have, viewed from the paradigm of a dialogue between God and human beings. The dialogue should be presided over by the desire of each interlocutor to present himself to the other as he is; he presents his whole existence, experience, knowledge. The words of one are placed next to the words of the other on a footing of equality among the interlocutors.
The words of both sides should meet to pursue the search for truth, through an objective analysis of the problem in question. To this end, the two interlocutors should be sincere with themselves, know the subjective ingredient of their words and accept the fact that the truth will arise in a process of convergence between words from both parties. To converge does not mean to dominate, rather it means to draw ever nearer to the truth, each party yielding a bit from their initial positions, purifying them or making them fuller.
The first step towards convergence is shown in the capacity to listen, the capacity to understand the other through the eyes of the other.7 Listening means wanting to be in communion with the other party, to welcome his/her words as they are, without manipulating them to one's own convenience.
This capacity to listen, to want to converge towards the truth, should be presided over by love for the other. To love difference is to be ready to give one's life for the one who defends difference. This dialogue, as a way of loving the other, sees in the other person a possible brother, and not an enemy who could cause harm. To learn to dialogue is to learn to appreciate difference as the source of enrichment, of growth in the process of the search for truth.
To enter this dialogue is to enter a logic of communion in which human relations are free and freeing and is opposed to the logic of possession.
Christians from this perspective enter into dialogue, conscious of the fact that they do not possess the truth in its plenitude, and that all dialogue requires them to get out of oneself and for this reason requires a certain apprenticeship. It is only by dialogue that one learns to love the other. The fears we have when entering a dialogue are the fears we have of losing our own certitudes since we find ourselves comfortable and satisfied within our ecclesiastical culture. So, the faith of Abraham is needed to depart for the "foreign land" and to know that God "can raise children of Abraham from stones".
Christians are called to begin the dialogue with these qualities that we have enumerated, even though their interlocutor starts off in an attitude of dominance and manipulation. They must enter with love which is capable of giving confidence to other and making them abandon mechanisms and enter into dialogue. As K. Rahner says:
"A Christian will go about his dialogue with the seriousness of one who knows the danger that the fault of his pride, stubbornness, false self‑ confidence and violence can play in perverting this dialogue and turning it into a social lie; he knows that he himself is a sinner, and on this account contributes his own share in the dialogue under the judgment and mercy of God (...). A Christian knows that love alone is the supreme light of knowledge and that, in respect of dialogue, the words of St. Paul are very appropriate: If I should speak the languages of men and angels, but do not have charity, I am like sounding brass and tinkling cymbal (I Cor 13,1). "8
The authority of dialogue is, according to the encyclical Ecclesiam suam, ...“intrinsic on account of the truth it puts forward, the charity it spreads around, the example it sets" (no. 95).
On the other hand, when a dialogue is initiated, it is convenient that it should not be presided over by an urgency to reach agreements motivated by a pragmatic mentality, even though at times one may have to look out or provisional forms of agreement to meet the urgent needs of the situation. Personal human life and life in community are built from this dialogue, from the communication between men and women. We, humans, right from our birth and in the first contact with our mother, are beings open to the word that comes to us from the outside and which forms and builds us. Our instinctive indetermination makes us open to receiving things from the outside world which turns us into cultural beings who have to learn and keep on forming our selves.
Our whole life is a continuous approach to the truth through a dialogue with the whole of reality.
3. Conditions of dialogue
Dialogue, however, as we propose, is not a merely intentional or "metaphysical" question. On the contrary, it implies certain very specific human and social conditions. Dialogue is opposed to all sorts of violence and requires that all people can be interlocutors. It rejects the logic of dominance or violence and so requires that certain conditions be given that would make this possible. Consequently, it presupposes creating previously the conditions of equality among the interlocutors. So, ethics based on dialogue requires a social reform so that all, including those who live in the Third World, can really participate in it. If this is not achieved, then ethics will only be applicable to the First World, and will only serve to justify the maintenance of inequalities that the First World has provoked between the Third World and itself.
Dialogue cannot be reduced to aesthetics but it should make viable the conditions that could make it possible. As a philosopher critical of “dialogical ethics” says:
“… It is necessary that prophets should rise again, those who opt from the start for the youth, putting aside the arrogance of logo-centered reason that only concedes recognition to the “loqui-capable” and who silence those who do not even have a voice. A logic of utopian and prophetic moral action is necessary, (…). As the rabbit said to the lion, we too say: show us your will to dialogue by putting aside the arrogance of your claws and the savagery of your teeth…”9
So then, this ethics is not void of prophetic content, if it is really considered to its last consequences. But it is not easy for ethics to be applicable in situations of violence, generalized injustice, where earlier conditions should be created to established dialogue, perhaps, even with a certain dose of “violence.”
4. Dialogue and disagreement
The culture of dialogue should permit disagreement too; but this should be expressed without violence. Thus, dissent should be expressed in categories of tolerance and testimony. Testimony will always be the form of making other men and women understand the values of certain practices or ways of acting quite characteristic of Christians.
In history those who have made humanity progress have always been people who have broken social consensus. Prophets have always been people of this nature and this has led them to clash with the status quo that has often reacted eliminating them. Ideas of prophets are enduring and in the end assert themselves. Later generations recover the figure of the prophet and even make a myth of him or turn him into a saint. It is precisely these prophets who can make dialogue progress in the dialogical process such that it never stops. For example, if nobody had broken the consensus, slavery would have been accepted by Christians even today. But unlike what has happened all along history, these break‑ups of consensus should be achieved not by strength and power, at least not on the part of Christians, but by testimony.
Jesus of Nazareth broke religious consensus through testimony, using as tools service and weakness and not strength and power. His example has been followed by many prophets who have chosen to denounce injustices by service and non‑violence. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve" (Mk 10, 45); "Just as God sent Him to persuade, not force us, since violence is not given in God" (Letter to Diogneto VII, 4 of the 11 century).
Love that Jesus asks of us for our neighbor implies that we must incarnate in a coherent way in our own lives the values we profess and it is only in this way that these values will be appreciated as values and not as impositions. Dialogue, example and service are more adequate forms for expressing love for one’s neighbor in our world. So, for example, a community, like the Christian one, that does not accept abortion should shelter and help mothers without resources, unmarried mothers to maintain children with some handicap and should help in family planning... to show that human life is valuable from the moment of conception (as the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, no. 88 exhorts us to do).
Dialogue could mean that one may have at times to accept not reaching agreement on a point where one sees clearly that an important value is at stake. Dialogue between God and human persons have also implied a progressive and pedagogical journey during which humanity has been/is slowly learning to be more fully human. From the formulation of "Thou shall not kill" of the Ten Commandments, we have been learning to respect the value of life: the biblical formula "Thou shall not kill" at first only referred to not killing another person of his own tribe till it meant not killing anybody. In a similar way, many questions have been studied in depth, as for instance the illicitness of torture or of capital punishment that was accepted for a long period of time and is now totally rejected.
5. Dialogue within the Church
On another plane, the Christian community, the Church, through dialogue with the whole world, has turned itself into a "community of dialogue." Ecclesial communion is to be had where true dialogue exists. Let us remember the words of Ecclesiam Suam: "The Church should direct her steps towards dialogue with the world in which she lives. The Church should become word, message, dialogue" (no. 77).
So, the acceptance of dialogue supposes, on an intra‑ecclesial plane, a community presided over by a communion. Then and only then will testimony be given of a new way of understanding dialogue in a world in which dialogue has so often been manipulated. The Christian community in its internal life, should be presided over by a loving dialogue that is capable of loving those who do not think in the same way,10 a dialogue in which ethical values are shown and communicated instead of being imposed.
A community that sincerely believes in dialogue must also have faith in the presence of the Spirit in all the realities of the world: in other words, must see the world not only impregnated with sin but also ful1 of the Holy Spirit.
Certain discourses, heard in the Church, even from her teaching body, view things in a catastrophic light and excessively underline the negative aspect of modern society Without denying that these could correspond to reality, they implicitly show a Church that regards the world with fear and that does not appreciate the good things that the world has autonomously found.
We need a Church that has more faith in the Holy Spirit and in whom it will be necessary to elaborate a new more pneumatological ecclesiology. In this aspect a true ecumenism with the oriental Orthodox Churches would turn out very enriching.
6. Dialogue with Discernment
The life of a Christian lies between "Yes already" and "Not yet". It is in this life that we live our moral life and achieve ourselves through our actions. Morals, therefore, should always maintain this "eschatological tension." A Christian is encouraged for this reason to learn to discern. So discernment is converted into the most important category of morals. It could be defined as the capacity to evaluate all circumstances in accordance with the Gospel, the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
This category of discernment corresponds to the time of the Spirit. The Christian community is capable of reading, the signs of the times according to the Spirit in prayer to discern what are the attitudes, actions that are more in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus.
In other words, this is the time of creativity in the Spirit, since only the community or the person faithful to this Spirit is capable of discerning adequately in new situations which way to choose. With the words of St. Paul: ...“allow oneself to be transformed by the new mentality..." (Rom 12,2); "Do not suffocate the Spirit, nor despise the gifts of prophecy. Examine everything and retain what is good" (1 Thess 5, 19‑20). B. Haring very rightly said the most authentic and efficacious teaching of the Church is that exercised by saints and martyrs.11
Discernment in prayer represents the "theological place" in which the reason of the believer or of the community (a full reason illuminated by the Spirit) selects the behaviors most in accordance with the radicality of the message of Jesus. This discernment is achieved in two big stages. The first stage, which we have referred to mainly, is reached when the Christian community, in prayer, looks for moral orientation before the new challenges. For example, to determine if the use of transgenetics in agriculture is in line with human well‑being (of all humans or for the benefit of a few multinational companies alone) and the well‑being or not of the biosphere (does it respect bio‑diversity?). In this way moral norms are enunciated that show values to be taken into account. But discernment can also be given in the individual conscience.
As an indispensable help for moral evaluation, discernment must also listen, where moral questions are concerned, to the reading that science (biology. sociology ...) makes of reality. Let us remember that in the history of morals, the culture and science of the times have always played their part in morals.12
Christian morals, therefore, instead of being so close to Law, as has occurred up to Vatican Council II, must become inseparably united to spirituality. It is necessary to emphasize this idea, at a time like ours, in which before the moral relativism prevalent in our society, the Church can easily slip into the legalistic temptation. A "good moralist" should be a mystic. The community, in an attitude of prayer and adoration, must discern those values that humanize more; in other words, that divinize us that bring us nearer to the Kingdom of God.
Concluding with the words of St. Paul: "And what I ask in my prayer is that your love keeps on steadily growing in perfect knowledge and clear thinking, so that you may discern what is best to be pure and without stain for the day of Christ's coming" (Phil 1,9‑ 10). Thus, secular dissociation between spirituality and Christian morals will be dissolved.
7. Conclusion about dialogue
Let us conclude saying that we, Christians, must regard dialogue as a form of love for others, a form of being present and of having historical efficacy within our pluralistic society. We should be critical about the ways dialogues are conducted in our society so that we demand authentic dialogues and not mere aesthetic guises of war where power and/or economic strength are the ones who win. God in whom we believe has been a God who has been making progress in us as a community through permanent dialogue in community prayer. And our community, if it is truly a nucleus of love and communion, should be a sphere in which true and sincere dialogue prevails among all the members of its different ministries and charisms.
If we demand of non‑believers our presence as Christians in the dialogues that take place in our society and we demand likewise that these dialogues be sincere and true, then we must give good example by fully practicing a dialogue within our community. The Church is a true sacrament of Christ when she converts herself into a community of love, and this love is translated into the capacity of knowing how to dialogue.
Jesus has taught us to love, to give our lives for others. When we express the truth of the Christian God as being a Trinity, a community of love, we are not far from affirming that our God is "dialogical." The Trinitarian God is at the same time Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A God who is a veritable community. God is love, and as such cannot be a solitary God. If He were so, He would not be love. The Father who is the source of love, needs to communicate it and the Son is the receiver of this love. He welcomes the love that comes from the Father and makes it His own. And, as the Son is also love, He does not reserve it for Himself but returns it lovingly to the Father. From this interchange of giving and receiving, receiving and giving comes the Holy Spirit. In this way, the Spirit rises from "dialogue" in the intimacy of the Father and Son.
1. Levinas, E., Totalidad e Infinito, Salamanca, Sígueme, 1977, pg. 89.
2. Küng, H; Kuschel, K.J., Hacia una etica mundial. Declaration del Parlamento de las Religiones del mundo, Madrid, Trotta, 1994.
3. Vatican Council II considers ethics as meeting place where all men and meet to cooperate: “Faithful to their conscience, Christians get together with other men in order to seek the truth and solve in truth all moral problems that arise both in individual and social life.” (Gaudium et Spes 16). This way the Council harbors the hope that even though the same faith or religious belief is not shared by everybody, all men and women of goodwill will be able to share the same ethics.
4. By “ethos” we refer to the moral orientations really lived within the Christian community or within society.
5. These rules are enunciated in Habermas, J., Conciencia moral y accion comunicativa, Peninsula, Barcelona, 1985, pg. 110-113. Habermas tells us that these rules have been established by T. Alexy in Eine theorie des praktischen Diskurses, in W. Oelmuller (comp.), Normenbergrundung, Normendurchsetzung, Paderdorn (1978).
6. John Paull II., To representatives of non-Christian religions (Madras 5/02/1986), in AAS 78(1986) 768. O Ecclesia 22/02/1986, pg. 32-33.
7. Ecclesiam Suam, no. 96.
8. Rahner, K., "Sobre el diálogo en la sociedad pluralista" in Escritos de teología, Vol. VI, Taurus, Madrid, 1969, pg. 56.
9. Díaz, C., "Pluralismo ético y convivencia social: un punto de vista más crítico," in Documentación Social 83 (1991) 40.
10. L.G. no. 37. This paragraph speaks of the dialogue between lay men and lay women and the hierarchy, as a right and obligation in those matters which affects the good of the Church. It should be a dialogue conducted with veracity, prudence and presided over by charity.
11. Haring, B., "Magisterio" contained in Diccionario enciclopédico de Teología moral, Madrid: Paulinas, 2 ed. 1974, pg. 601.
12. Let us remember the words of St. Thomas: “…what pertains to moral science is always known through experience” (Comentario de la Ética a Nicomaco, lib 1, lect. III, no. 38).