Sunday, April 13, 2008

Benedict at the U.N. - a renewal of natural law?

Benedict to the UN: In Defense of Natural Law, by Russell Shaw. April 11, 2008:

December 10, 1948: Keep your eye on that date. It's likely to have an important symbolic role in Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the United Nations and the United States.

Religious and civic pageantry, teddy bears wearing T-shirts with papal-visit logos, and celebrity worship may be the visit's most obvious features. But people interested in something more meaty can take heart: Just keep that date in mind.

On December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly -- meeting in Paris -- voted 48 for, 0 against, and 8 abstaining to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The abstainers, for those who may have forgotten, were the states of the Soviet bloc, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

Nearing its 60th anniversary, the human rights declaration is Benedict's Exhibit A in making his case for universal moral standards as the necessary basis of world peace and justice. When circumstances permit, he links that idea to his project for the revival of natural law.

The pope seems likely again to make his argument for what he calls "common moral law" in the major address he will deliver April 18 to the UN General Assembly in New York. But it will also come as no surprise if he brings up the subject at other stops during his April 15-20 visit to Washington and New York.

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John Allen Jr., speculating on Benedict's address to the U.N. Pew Forum Panel Discussion. April 1, 2008:

I think in the U.N. address you will get the kind of standard checklist of Vatican diplomatic concerns, so things like peace in the Middle East, responsible transition in Iraq, concern for religious freedom around the world – the kind of standard, global concerns that we’ve come to expect when popes speak on global policy.

But I think the heart of his pitch before the U.N. probably will cut a little bit deeper. It will be Benedict’s argument that what the world desperately needs today is a global moral consensus – that is, a consensus on fundamental moral truths that are universal and unchanging that can serve as a basis for things like protection of human rights and human dignity. I think his analysis is that in an era in which you have several important players on the world stage – China and Iran come to mind – arguing that the whole concept of human rights is a sort of Western cultural artifact, I think the pope believes that the construction of a kind of moral consensus that we can all agree upon based on truths about human nature and open to the wisdom of spiritual traditions and religious traditions is a critical priority. And I think that probably will be the heart of that speech.