Summarized in 10 Points
VERONA, Italy, 19 JULY 2007 (ZENIT)
Here is a reflection on the laity
published this week by the Cardinal Van Thuân International Observatory
for the Social Doctrine of the Church.
It has been presented in preparation for an upcoming issue of the
"Social Doctrine of the Church Bulletin," which will be devoted entirely
to the theme of the laity.
* * *
10 Points on Laity
Our Observatory has started a comprehensive reflection on laity, which
today stands at the crossroads of manifold ethical, social and political
issues. One of the first results of our work is the study by Bishop
Giampaolo Crepaldi, published in issue 1 (2006) of the "Social Doctrine
of the Church Bulletin," entitled "Brief Notes on Laity According to J.
— Benedict XVI." Further in-depth studies and reports will
One of the next issues of the "Social Doctrine of the Church Bulletin"
will be entirely devoted to this theme and will feature contributions
from different countries where laity and secularism take on different
In the meantime, we have decided to summarize the reflections of the
Observatory on laity in 10 points.
1. Laity Is Conceived Today as the Public Domain of Reason That Is Free
Nowadays there is a tendency to conceive laity as the exclusive domain
of reason, that is of reason that considers religious faith as being
irrational and therefore not worthy of entering the realm of public
debate. The consequence is that religion is assimilated to a sect and
the development of an attitude of tolerance that assumes that all gods
are equal. Lay neutrality, therefore, accepts religion only according to
three modalities: as private business, as a sect in the market of
religious sentiments, as vague and generic mysticism. All three
modalities deny the public dimension of religion.
2. Such Laity Free From Absolutes Is in Turn an Absolute Itself
This rigorously rational conception of reality embodies an absoluteness,
the absoluteness of rational knowledge, the hypothesis of the exclusive
validity of scientific knowledge and, consequently, the questioning of
religious absoluteness. Laity that pretends to be free from absolutes is
in turn an absolute choice, a dogma.
3. But an Absolute Reason Is Impossible
A reason that wishes to remain faithful to itself, that is true reason,
cannot renounce its relationship with faith. If reason does not open up
to faith, hence making itself absolute, it does not do so out of
rational reasons, but either out of a form of fideism of reason or a
form of rationalism of faith, that is to say, based upon a reason that
becomes lay religion and on a religion that becomes solely social
4. The Political Refusal of Christianity Is Also a Refusal of Reason
By refusing Christianity the Western state refuses also the reason that
Christianity embodied and thus delivers itself into the hands of the
Christianity does not look up to the divinities of myth but to God as
the only being and truth of the Greek logos. The Christian God however
is not only truth, he is also love. But the fact that he is love does
not cancel his being Truth. "There is a primordial identity between
truth and love." In this way Christianity unifies truth and life. It
cannot do without truth, and in this it assumes rational needs, but does
not accept the separation between truth and life that reason on its own
5. The "Self Limitation" of Absolute Reason
Laity, as public reason that seeks to eliminate its relationship with
faith, is bound to undergo an inevitable process. It tends to
absoluteness but, in striving to be absolute, it must restrict the scope
of its truth to be able to claim an absolute knowledge. The conclusion
is the extreme reduction of truth to what can be proven through
6. From Absolute Reason to the "Dictatorship of Relativism"
Here is the transition from absolute reason, taken in this meaning, to
the "dictatorship of relativism." On any truth that is not the outcome
of reckoning or experiment, positivist laity expresses a dogmatic doubt.
Its sole certainty is doubt; it doubts everything except its own
doubting. In this way it proclaims relativism, but it proclaims it
dogmatically, as the last dogma that is left after the deconstruction of
truth, hence it is the ultimate truth.
"Man no longer accepts any moral entity that lies outside his
reckoning,'' thus desires are transformed into rights.
7. "Self-Authorization" of Human Action, Namely the Nihilism of
If man is measured by his capacity, this is the nihilism of technology
and man can "self-authorize" himself to do anything he knows how to do.
The observation that the dictatorship of relativism leads to the
nihilism of technology decrees the non-sustainability of the idea of
laity as being detached from transcendence. It tells us that true laity
is that which not only admits or tolerates transcendence, but also needs
it and promotes it.
At the level of concrete political practice, true laity takes on two
fundamental attitudes: a) it does not ask believers to shed their faith
when they participate in public discourse and to clad themselves only
with the garments of reason; b) it does not grant the freedom of speech
only to individual believers but also to religious communities as such.
This, from the standpoint of politics, means recognizing that the
religious community has the right to be a player in the field of social
and political culture.
8. Laity Needs Transcendence
If only a laity that does not exclude transcendence can truly be lay,
then, and at least, laity must reason "as if God does exist."
9. Not All Religions Guarantee the Same Openness to Transcendence
Not all religions are the same in guaranteeing the necessary
transcendence to politics. A religion such as Buddhism, for example,
that envisages the dissolution of the individual in the "everything is
one" is less capable of guaranteeing the rights of the individual in a
transcendent sense than a religion such as Christianity where the
relationship with God will be a personal relationship. It is in laity's
best interest not to fall into an attitude of indifference and contempt
10. Laity, Christianity and the West
The concept of laity exists only in the West. But it is precisely in the
West that laity has taken on the characteristics of the dictatorship of
relativism. Only in the West, therefore, can it happen that laity goes
beyond the features of the dictatorship of relativism and opens up to
transcendence. But since not all religions are capable of allowing the
West to do this but only Christianity, it is evident that the West
cannot afford to cut its ties with Christianity. Laity is not possible
without Christianity. Undoubtedly Christianity does not coincide with
the West, but if the West cuts its ties with Christianity, it will lose
sight also of itself. Opening up in an indiscriminate manner to anything
external, without confidence in itself anymore and without relying on
its ties with Christianity, the West will no longer succeed in
integrating anything, not even itself.