John Allen sits down with Simon Blackburn, and the exchange is well worth reading:
I’ve often put it slightly mischievously by saying, “Even Christians are human!” I think there are a lot of values that humanity needs to defend. I’d just have to listen to exactly what they say.
Would you as a secular intellectual with no particular affinity for religious systems nevertheless be prepared to say that it’s helpful to have someone with the cultural standing of the pope making this argument?
It could be, yes. I think it’s important. The defense of values is something that has to be done again and again and again. You can never rest. Insofar as he’s defending what I would recognize as Enlightenment values, then of course I’m very pleased to hear it. Naturally, as a non-religious and certainly non-Catholic thinker, I’d be worried about whether some of the values he’s defending are ones I can’t subscribe to.
The pope has written that ultimately, it is only truth that sets limits to power. If there aren’t objective truths about human dignity, for example, what we can and cannot do to other people, then you can justify absolutely anything.
I think that’s a very good argument. Whether it requires a high-powered notion of truth, I don’t know. It certainly requires a value, that’s for sure. It requires that you think of other people in a certain way, acknowledge boundaries to what you can do to them. It requires a commitment of you. Whether that commitment in turn requires a more heavyweight notion of truth is another question, it seems to me.
Now, of course, governments are extremely unlikely to acknowledge that there are limits to what you can do to people. The United States threw that over in the last five years. I don’t think any government, or any religion for that matter, has an unblemished record of respecting the boundaries to what you may do to other people.