How can a society find answers to its deep questions? Questions about what a human person is, about marriage and family life? Questions about social issues relating to peace, the economy and justice? In its search, can a society afford to neglect the possible contributions which religious truth can offer?
Each society is a part of a culture that must make its own exploration for these answers. It is a human culture which has its own failures, successes, concerns, hopes and fears, loves and joys. It is marked by drama, a drama which shows the “already” completed and desired ultimate reality, but which also presents the “not yet” fulfilled reality in which it lives now.
In the quest for answers, there are no shortcuts that last nor easy replies which give full resolution.
The church does possess the ultimate answers and meaning to human life, but it cannot be treated as a divine answering machine. This could lead to a theocracy and a “tyranny by truth.”
No, the church only gives its answer within a chorus of other answers. It is for the human person — as an active participant in his society with an intellect and will — to search, sometimes with pain and tension, and to locate the right answer. Once found, it is for him to present his answer to the public forum of his society.
It is the place of society to find and realize its answers to these questions and to seek a common life according to those answers.
Wrong answers can sometimes be adopted. Incomplete answers can be thought to be complete. In time, the life lived by the society will show it the mistakes in its answers. Changes will then have to be made.
To the degree that it is open to truth, a society will come to recognize that real and enduring answers must be found within their context, and that the only sufficient context is the one that respects human dignity — a dignity which sees man as both a material and spiritual being, with material needs like food and housing as well as spiritual needs like love, companionship, hope and prayer.
In seeking to reconcile these mutual needs, a society should be open to dialogue with the church. The church presents Jesus Christ as the answer to everything. In Christ, God gives us the true understanding of himself as our ultimate context, which enables us to have a true understanding of ourselves and to answer holistically each of our questions and those of our society.
Even if the society cannot adopt the religious truth itself, it cannot afford to neglect the relevant insights and lessons of reality given by that truth. It is for society to accept and incorporate the answers into a healthy and vibrant public life.
The social doctrine of the church should be a welcomed contribution to the deliberations and discernment of society.
Toleration for each opinion and for religious truth is the avenue for a solid and secure public life.
Jeff Kirby is a seminarian of the Diocese of Charleston. He is presently on a pastoral year at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors.