Tuesday, December 6, 2016

School, Love for Freedom and Legitimate Pluralism

Excerpts of writings of St. Josemaria

The University: a serene preparation to finding solutions, not the place for deciding debatable political matters

In temporal and debatable matters [we do] not wish to have and cannot have any opinion, since [our] goals are exclusively spiritual. In all matters of free discussion, each [one] freely expresses his own personal opinion, for which he is also personally responsible.

I think we would in the first place have to come to an agreement about what we mean by 'politics'. If by 'politics' we mean being interested in and working for peace, social justice, the freedom of all men, then in that case everyone in the university as a corporate body is obliged to respect those ideals and to foster a concern for resolving the great problems of human life.

But if, on the contrary, we understand by 'politics' a particular solution to a specific problem, in competition with those who stand for other possible and legitimate solutions, then I think that the university is not the place where politics should be decided.

College years are a period of preparation for finding solutions to these problems. Everyone should be welcome in the university. It should be a place of study and friendship, a place where people who hold different opinions which, in each period, are expressions of the legitimate pluralism which exists in society — may live together in peace.

In a country in which there was absolutely no political freedom, universities might lose their proper nature, thus ceasing to be the home of all and becoming a battle field of opposing factions.

Nevertheless, I still think it would be preferable to spend one's college years acquiring a sound training and a social conscience, so that those who govern later on (those who today are studying) will not fall into the same aversion to personal freedom, which is something really pathological. If the universities are turned into a debating hall for the solution of specific political problems, academic serenity will easily be lost and students will develop a partisan outlook. Thus the universities and the country would always suffer from the chronic illness of totalitarianism, of one kind or another.

Let it be clear that, when I say universities are not the place for politics, I do not exclude, but rather desire, a normal channel of opinion for all citizens…

My outlook as a jurist and theologian, and my Christian faith, lead me always to stand up for the legitimate freedom of all men. No one has a right to impose non-existent dogmas in temporal matters. Given a concrete problem, whatever it may be, the solution is to study it well and then to act conscientiously, with personal freedom and with personal responsibility as well. 

Love for freedom: a great and difficult ideal 

Christian freedom is born on the inside, in the heart, from our faith. But it isn’t something merely private. It shows on the outside. One of its most characteristic signs is something that was a keynote of the early Christians: fraternity. Faith in the great gift of God’s love has made all differences and barriers dwindle away. "There is no longer any distinction between Jew and Greek, between slave and free man, between man and woman, because you are all one thing in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28)  Knowing that we are all brothers and sisters, and loving each other as such, over and above all differences in race, social background, education and ideology, is essential to Christianity.

It is not my mission to talk about politics. Nor is it the mission of Opus Dei, whose only aim is spiritual. Opus Dei has never entered into party politics or factions and never will, and it is not tied to any one person or ideology. That way of acting is not an apostolic stratagem, nor is it merely a praiseworthy way to behave. It is an essential need for Opus Dei to be like that, stemming from its very nature, and it has a clear stamp: love for freedom, confidence in one’s own position as an ordinary Christian in the world, acting with complete independence and personal responsibility.

There are no dogmas in temporal matters. It is contrary to human dignity to try and lay down absolute truths in things that are necessary matters of opinion, on which people will have different viewpoints depending on their interests, cultural preferences and personal experience. Trying to impose dogmas in temporal affairs leads one inevitably to do violence to other people’s consciences, to fail to respect one’s neighbor.

I don’t for a moment want to suggest that Christians should be indifferent or apathetic about temporal matters. But I do think that Christians have to combine their passion for civic and social progress with an awareness that their own opinions are limited, and hence they have to respect other people’s opinions and love legitimate pluralism. Someone who cannot do this has not understood the message of Christianity in all its depth. It’s not easy to understand it fully and in a sense, we never will, because our tendency to selfishness and pride never leave us. This means we are all obliged to examine our conduct constantly, comparing our actions with Christ’s, to recognize that we are sinners and begin over again. It’s not easy, but we need to do our best.
When God created us he ran the risk and adventure of our freedom. He wanted history to be real, made of genuine decisions, not a fiction or a game. Each individual has to experience his or her personal autonomy, with the hazard, experimentation and uncertainty that it involves. Let’s not forget that although God has given us the security of our faith, he hasn’t revealed to us the meaning of all human events. Together with things that Christians find clear and certain, there are very many others which are open to opinion, i.e. a certain degree of knowledge of what may be true or right, with no absolute certainty. In such cases, it’s possible that I’m mistaken, but even if I am right, other people may be right too. An object that looks concave to me looks convex to people seeing it from a different standpoint.
An awareness of the limitations of human judgments leads us to recognize freedom as a necessarily condition for living in harmony with others. But it isn’t everything, and it isn’t even the most important thing. Respect for freedom is rooted in love. If other people think differently from me, is that any reason for us to be enemies? The only reason for that would be selfishness, or the narrow-mindedness of thinking that there are no values other than politics and business. But Christians know this is not so, because every human being has an infinite value and an eternal destiny in God: Jesus Christ died for every single one of us.
We are Christians when we can love not just “mankind” in the abstract, but each of the people around us. It is a sign of maturity to feel responsible for the well-being of future generations, but that mustn’t lead us to neglect opportunities to give ourselves and serve others in ordinary things: an act of kindness to those who work with us, genuine friendship shown in deeds, compassion for someone who is suffering or in need, even when their unhappiness seems slight in comparison with the great ideals we are pursuing.
Speaking of freedom, love for freedom, raises a difficult ideal which is one of the greatest riches of our faith. Because – let’s not kid ourselves – life isn’t a trashy novel. Christian fraternity isn’t something that comes down from heaven once and for all, but something that has to be built up day after day. It has to be built up in a life that keeps all its harshness, with clashes of interests, friction, struggles, in daily contact with people who seem unfair, and with unfairness on our part too.
But if that prospect discourages us, if we let our selfishness get the upper hand, or if we merely shrug our shoulders skeptically, that will be a sign that we need to go deeper into our faith, to contemplate Christ more. Because only in his school can we Christians learn to know ourselves and understand others, and live in such a way that we are Christ present among the people around us.