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Chapter 7 begins with a complex analogy: As no one builds himself without the initial gift from God and influence from other persons, so no people or culture builds itself. The sheer assertion would probably have been better here. (A general rule of thumb for editors: If the metaphor is more complicated than the metaphorand—if the explanatory device is more intricate than the thing you’re trying to explain with it—then eliminate the metaphor.)

All of this is aimed at setting up the chapter’s discussion of technology—particularly biotechnology, though the references are scattered throughout the chapter. Benedict writes, “technology is never merely technology. It reveals man and his aspirations towards development, it expresses the inner tension that impels him gradually to overcome material limitations. Technology, in this sense, is a response to God’s command to till and to keep the land .”

A nice point, but I’m not sure what he means, or who he is answering, when he adds, “Even peace can run the risk of being considered a technical product, merely the outcome of agreements between governments or of initiatives aimed at ensuring effective economic aid.” Apart from a rather tattered political-theory thesis that democracies don’t go to war, I can’t think of anything even close to the proposition that Benedict is rejecting.

Again, a powerful comment: “One aspect of the contemporary technological mindset is the tendency to consider the problems and emotions of the interior life from a purely psychological point of view, even to the point of neurological reductionism. In this way man’s interiority is emptied of its meaning and gradually our awareness of the human soul’s ontological depths, as probed by the saints, is lost. The question of development is closely bound up with our understanding of the human soul .”

I don’t quite grasp, on a first reading, what Benedict is after with his discussion of the technology of the means of social communications. It’s too short for a meaningful critique of, say Twitter and YouTube, but the general ethical claims made are strong and unobjectionable. And the chapter’s material on biotechnology—on technology, in general—seems a solid and helpful statement of Catholic principles.

At last we reach the Conclusion, paragraphs 78 and 79: “Without God, man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is.” The move here is the important one of promoting rationality and true rationality’s recognition of something beyond itself: “The greatest service to development, then, is a Christian humanism.” And for that, we need charity properly grounded in truth.

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