Pope Benedict’s interview with Seewald, Light of the World, reveals a lot about how the pope thinks. I will comment separately on the issues he raises.
Joseph Ratzinger grew in a devout Catholic family in Nazi Germany. During his adult life he saw most of the Eurasian landmass under communist dictatorships that sought to marginalize or destroy religion and that inflicted unimaginable cruelties on innocent people. He lived through and saw “the whole power of evil that came to a head in the major dictatorships of the twentieth century – and that in another way is still at work today.” (p. 165)
That other way is the “the danger that reason – so-called Western reason – claims that it as now really recognized what is right and thus makes a claim that is inimical to freedom…no one should be forces to live according to the ‘new religion’ as though it alone were definitive and obligatory for all mankind.” (p. 53)
This new religion “pretends to be generally valid because it is reasonable, indeed, because it is reason itself, which knows all and, therefore, defines the frame of reference that is now supposed to apply to everyone.” (p. 52)
Benedict here is referring to the Western attitude that abortion, gay marriage, and the manipulation human life through biotechnology – as in Brave New World – is self-evidently reasonable and all opposition to it must be eliminated to at least rendered ineffectual.
But Benedict also sees the danger of a “dictatorship of relativism”: “a large proportion of contemporary philosophies, in fact, consist of saying that man is not capable if truth,” in which case, “the opinion of the majority would be the only criterion that counted.” (pp. 50-51).
These two views of the modern world seem on the surface to be incompatible: does the Western world now think it has attained truly scientific truth, as the Nazis thought they had attained scientific racial truth and the Communists thought they had attained scientific economic truth? Or does the Western world dismiss truth claims and decide everything by power – the decision of the majority?
Benedict is right that both attitudes are at work in the modern world. When a Christian tries to argue the truth claims of theism or of Christianity, the modern response is “What is truth?” “That is simply your opinion,” etc. But when Christianity to act on or merely teach Christian views on homosexuality, they are disciplined and prosecuted because the modern world thinks that such things are so patently false that the person who holds them must be motivated solely by hate.
If I were Seewald, I would have asked Benedict to explain how these contradictory tendencies can both be at work in the modern world to the detriment of Christianity.