The way the West now interprets concepts such as human dignity, human rights, human nature, democracy, equality, freedom, love, fraternity, the family has changed dramatically as a result of the West’s progressive cultural shift to postmodernity. But what used to be called “universal values” or “universal principles” in the age of modernity were already a mixed bag: they represented a temporary alliance of the values of western modernity, such as the absolute primacy culturally granted to reason, with those of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The western cultural revolution has profoundly destabilized this alliance and the modern synthesis. With the advent of postmodernity, the “values” formerly regarded as “universal”, which used to have a defined and fairly stable content, have now become subject to diverse or even contradictory interpretations. In our analysis, this destabilization has an irreversible character: returning to the modern system is neither possible nor desirable, given the flaws and ideological abuses of modernity.
Consensus is the paradigm that culturally fills the vacuum left by the deconstruction of universality. Never have culture, humanity, global governance spoken more about consensus. Yet never, in reality, has the basis for genuine consensus been so thin – a flagrant paradox of our times. Such an unsustainable fragmentation of the West’s contract of society is not unrelated to the secularization of western culture and its globalization. Alongside a religious revival observable in many parts of the world, a secular ethic coming from the West now surfs on the powerful wave of globalization, risking to rapidly transform from within cultures that have for centuries kept a sense of what is transcendent and sacred.
Yet reality does not change: every human being can recognize in his or her conscience, reason and heart what is real, true and good, what is genuinely consensual, what is universal. This capacity, this reality, this truth have a divine source. A reformulation of what is universal, reopening ethics to divine transcendence, appears necessary to disentangle it from the errors of both modernity and postmodernity. The state of the world challenges people of faith to collaborate, to the extent possible, in assisting humanity in this effort.
In this perspective, we have launched a Judeo-Christian dialogue on the theme of universality and ethics. This dialogue seeks to conform to the basic obligation of every human being, if only out of self-love, to search for what is real and true. It is open-ended – always ready to welcome new and greater lights on this path. It respects the identity and freedom of the interlocutor to express the message he or she has to convey. And last but not least, it seeks to build friendship. The work of rediscovering what unites us is most efficient when together we have regained a sense of our common filial brotherhood.
We are grateful to Rabbi David Rosen for his willingness to offer his specific contribution to this process.