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Losing sight of giving roots

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, spoke Sunday Sept. 27th in Prague to the faculties there about the proper use of academic freedom in the pursuit of truth. Many would consider this statement to be trivially true, and as such pay only trivial lip-service to it. But as Catholics and as Christians more generally, the truth is not merely a provisional point at which our intellectual affairs are aimed, some pragmatic goal, but it is transcendent and divine: Our Lord did tell us that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” And so, our work at the university, our pursuit of Truth, must be informed by a truly holistic and universal view, one in which moral and religious perspectives are not only relevant but essential to our enterprise.

But often academic freedom is invoked not as a proper means to pursue truth, but in order to divorce the intellectual and the moral. In light of this, our Holy Father asks a serious of tough questions: “Is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots?”

And his sobering answer: “Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good.”

Perhaps we would do well to ponder these words, and ask ourselves: has the pursuit of truth at Notre Dame and our university’s proper autonomy been thwarted and subverted? In the work of the university, is more attention paid to what is fashionable, popular or well-funded? Has Notre Dame detached itself from its life-giving roots? And, perhaps most importantly, does Notre Dame struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good?

Jonathan Buttaci


Class of 2009

Sept. 28