By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

During his “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas address (December 25) Pope Francis referred to the meaning of Christmas. The new born Jesus, the “divine child”, he stated, is offering a “life model” for society which is based on the principle of “giving and sharing”. The universal message which this divine child transmits to mankind is that “as sisters and brothers we are bound by “fraternity”. Without this fraternity between peoples, nations and cultures all efforts for peace will be short-lived. The same goes for people with different ideas that should listen to each other. God had demonstrated that salvation comes from love and mutual respect and that we are all sisters and brothers of one mankind. The Pope referred to the experience of the family which teaches us that it is not always easy to be different when somebody has different ideas but that dialogue must always be possible.

In reference to our present world he urged that dialogue is established between the Palestinian and Israeli people who are divided and torn by conflict and war since 70 years. In the same way the divine Child should show to Syria which has lived through many years of fratricidal war that a solution through dialogue can be found, in order to overcome the split of the deeply divided country. And that those Syrians who had fled the country should be offered the perspective to return to their homeland. The same applies to the conflict in Yemen, a country which is torn apart and exhausted as result of a devastating war. It applies for Africa, where millions of people are fleeing; for the Korean Peninsula, for Venezuela, Nicaragua and for the Ukraine. “God’s love,” the Pope stated, “may strengthen solidarity and the community of all.”

Pope Francis urged that the universal family of mankind should be strengthened by “loving solidarity”. In his Apostolic Writing “Amoris Laetitia” which was published after the 2015 Rome Synod “Love in the family”, he referred to the various documents which had been elaborated by his predecessors and important church teachers like Saint Thomas Aquinas concerning the significance of “Marriage and Family”. He wrote at one point, that marital love leads to the point, where everything is done in order to transform the entire emotional life into something Good for the family, for the sake of the Common Good. “A family reaches its maturity, when the emotional life of its members transforms itself into sensitivity that neither dominates nor obscures the important principal decisions and values, but takes as guideline the freedom of the individual for the sake of the Common Good. It flows from it, enriches it and makes it more beautiful and more harmonious.” (p 134 “Amoris Laetitia”)

Supreme Court Judge Udo di Fabio about the “Culture of Freedom”

At the beginning of December 2018 the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS-Mainz) organized an event which featured as speaker the former Judge of the German Supreme Court Professor Dr. Dr. Udo di Fabio who in the context of a Laudation for Karl Heinz van Lier, the former chairman of KAS (Mainz) and defender of the family as a constituent element of the State, spoke about the subject “Culture of Freedom.” In his book “Culture of Freedom” (published in 2005) di Fabio had outlined that “individual freedom” cannot exist and will not function, if it is not embedded in “indispensable communities” such as the family, nation and religious community. Freedom always is future oriented, di Fabio stated. The laughter and crying of our children, their questions and curiosity – this expresses what the future society could be. Freedom lives from the orientation towards a future. “ Man is not only free when he shapes his personality, but also when he takes the risk to create a family and lives in a family, when he offers a common future to his children.”

Reflecting about the notion of “Freedom” di Fabio emphasized that “Freedom” is not a “value” in itself but describes a “quality” of man’s existence which is the basis for use of his reason. Man’s “dignitas humana” is not “disposable”, he stated, but enshrined in the German Constitution (Grundgesetz Art.1).

It is not self-evident but what we regrettably perceive today is “lack of constructive criticism”, which is indispensable for the individual to develop as a “person.” It is the family and marriage which as community complement human freedom. Therefore the State has put the family and marriage under its special protection (Grundgesetz Art. 6 [1]).

Di Fabio identified some problems concerning the relation between individual freedom and the role of the family and education. He emphasized that a community is indispensable for the human being to develop freely into becoming a person. The formation of the individual as a “person” is shaped by the family and by education.

As an example he referred to a discussion which he recently had with representatives from the education and cultural sector in the State of North Rhine Westphalia about “Brennpunkt-Schulen” (hotspots schools). The discussion seemed to him to be completely detached since they were discussing about education curricula, plurality and tolerance. Yet when he intervened saying that in schools (including hotspot schools) pupils should learn to get up when a teacher enters the class room, he was rudely interrupted by someone who stated: “But this is escalation strategy.” From the standpoint of di Fabio this sounds as if you have to call the police to push that basic principle through. Why talk about education aims and curricula, if that basic principle of “respect” towards the other is at stake? The use of such a word according to di Fabio obviously causes rage in people that belong to the generation of the 68ers – who wanted to resist against all “authorities” in schools and universities. The notion of “mutual respect” is however essential, according to di Fabio. And a society functions on the basis of such “secondary virtues”, which includes respect, punctuality et cetera. These are basic order principles and one does not need laws for that, since they correspond to “basic principles of civic life”.

Di Fabio mentioned as another example US President Donald Trump, who “is the end result of a decade long erosion” in the US. He referred to the “gilets jaunes” movement in France which obviously expresses the disgust of large layers of society about the elite and its ridiculous ecological tax dictum. Yet the fact that this protest was accompanied by outbursts of violence points to a deep problem. Di Fabio mentioned the notion of “Streitkultur” (culture of dispute) which describes a culture that wants to settle different viewpoints through dialogue – something which the Germans have difficulty with and he observed that the “intermediary” society (family, marriage, religious life) has weakened in such a way that they look as salvation to politics, in order to find a solution. Of course there cannot be “lawless space” in society and there is “no security without freedom.” If young migrants see that “secondary virtues” are taken seriously in society, they will respect the “order,” di Fabio stated. What we see is a “lack of orientation” with an intermediary world eroding in which religion that interprets the “transcendental” world is eroding. The Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor correctly had observed that secular society is a place, where the search for religion gets transferred into secular space, i.e. politics.

Yet the question is whether we really do want “moralizing politicians?” The preamble of the German constitution explicitly states the demand for Christian love, for your neighbor, the social state and peace. It shows that citizens have basic human rights which on the one side were resulting from the ancient times and which were essentially defined by the Spanish philosophy in the 16th century that defined man’s rights as deriving from religion (transcendental rights). 

The problem, according to di Fabio, which we face today, is that if the religious values become weaker they are “vagabonding around in political space.” This could be observed in the US where we see Democrats defending the diverse pluralist society, while the Tea party fights against gender and other things, defending what they consider basic American values. In the long run such a trend leads to “religious wars”. Di Fabio warned about the danger that when rational political decisions are presented in such a way that anybody who opposes them is identified as “evil”, that this in the long run produces “rage and hatred”. “Hence we cannot endlessly challenge the socio-cultural resources of our society. The basic truth is that our children need warmth and stability in education and family. We need to be ‘future-oriented’- the beginning of a new epoch which orients itself along principles which the former chairman of the KAS, K.H. van Lier, had always pleaded for: the strength of the family and marriage, as fundamental pillar of society.