Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, is an influential document that continues to influence public policy. Accordingly, The Center for Social Concerns (CSC) selected the Blessed Pope’s encyclical to be the focus of its “Forum 2012-13: A More Perfect Union.” This year’s forum began with a panel discussion entitled “From Battleground to Common Ground.”
The panel discussion was moderated by Arts and Letters Dean John McGreevy and featured three university faculty members – Dr. Margie Pfeil, Assistant Professor of Theology, Dr. John Duffy, Associate Professor of English, and Dr. Daniel Philpott, Associate Professor of Political Science. More specifically, the discussion was designed to “introduce Pacem in Terris and its implications for civil discourse today, challenging the campus community to engage in respectful dialogue and shared action on issues about which they care deeply.”
Pfeil explained that Pope John XXIII was not only a theorist, but a true advocate for peace. In addition to enabling the “progressive talk on religious freedom” that largely shaped the writings of the United States Bishops during the Vietnam War, “Pope John XXIII served as an intermediary in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Pfiel remarked. The action was a symbol of his vision for peace. It was clear that the Blessed Pope, Pfiel explained, possessed a “vision of the good.”
Pfiel commented on the actual significance of the encyclical itself. Pacem in Terris stems from Pope John XXIII’s belief in the correlation of rights and duties; concurrently, “following this document, you see a flurry of human rights activity around the world,” Pfiel commented. The Blessed Pope benefited by utilizing a positive, inclusive dialogue. In response to a reign of fear, he offered an “antidote” of trust and love rooted in faith,” Pfiel remarked.
Continuing the discussion, Duffy explained the current state of “how we raise our voices.”
“We are in a crisis of public discourse,” Duffy explained. Today’s political discourse projects an “absence of deliberative language” and is a “form of entertainment” and “a corporate product.”
Evoking the smear campaigns utilized against former president Andrew Jackson, Duffy reminded the audience that the “crisis” is not a new phenomenon; however, current technology enables us to “hurl these accusations.” “Poison has always been with us,” Duffy argued, but “the means of hurling it has changed.”
That said, Duffy did not present an entirely grim forecast. He explained that “Notre Dame is, in a sense, the ideal place to begin to rebuild a better public discourse.” In many ways, Notre Dame students and faculty live a life resembling Plato’s academies, a place where “we pursue knowledge.”
Expanding upon his predecessors, Philpott explained that the religiously-derived process of reconciliation provides a potential remedy to the current state of public discourse.
“Religion may have fueled war in early Europe,” Philpott said, “but it was also at the forefront of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement, the Reverend Martin Luther King’s movements.”
However, Philpott explained that King’s writings in A Letter from a Birmingham Jail can actually complicate the healing process – reconciliation includes not only forgiveness but also justice; concurrently, Philpott encouraged imitating South African President Nelson Mandela’s actions following the alleviation of apartheid. Philpott praised the South African leader and for leading a transition that was completed in staunch “contrast to takeovers where victors rule with an iron fist and the defeated are shot or tortured.”
Summarizing, Philpott encouraged society not to stop arguing, but to follow Dr. King’s example and pursue its arguments with an invitation to the “beloved community.”
Scott Englert a senior political science and economics major who enjoyed the 20-17 victory over Purdue and hopes for another win in East Lansing this weekend. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org