In a course on World Catholicism at the University of Dayton neatly titled, “Religion and Inculturation,” my class focuses on the reception of Christianity in what used to be (and may still be in some fashion) the mission churches of Africa, the Carribean, and Asia.  Bernard Lonergan contributed a lot to World Catholicism, and was, incidentally, a Canadian.  In the course of the semester, I try to apply some of the principles this Canadian introduced to theology that resonates in Africa, the Carribean, and Asia.  Apart from Lonergan, we read several other texts that deal with concrete issues affecting the churches in these areas of the world.  One of these texts is a fine book by the African scholar and theologian, Joseph Ogbonnaya, African Perspectives on Culture and World Christianity (2017).

Ogbonnaya argues forcefully that African political leaders have contributed immensely to the underdevelopment of Africa by the way some of these leaders promote corruption.  We teased out some of the data Ogbonnaya presented for his argument and the students were able to analyze how corruption destroys, not only the political and economic structures of these countries, but also their social, cultural, and even religious structures.

My middle-class American students who have been raised in a society where the rule of law and separation of powers prevail cannot wrap their minds around the magnitude of damage the corruption of one ruler does to an entire society.  Moved by a sympathetic imagination, one student suggested that perhaps that was why Lonergan introduced what he (Lonergan) called “the scale of values.”  I quickly nodded in agreement because, in Lonergan’s scale of values, an individual’s personal values can and do affect other values–cultural, social, vital (a person’s vigor or charisma), and religious.

When someone’s personal values are truncated, the ramifications reverberate beyond the individual and affects the society, particularly if the person wields a lot of influence in that society, as in the case of the leaders in question.  The student’s suggestion also helped us see why Lonergan distinguished the scale of values in ascending order as follows: vital, social, cultural, personal, and religious.  Lonergan, in essence, distinguished the scale of values in this way to show how a person’s authentic way (or lack thereof) of living out his or her Christian life has ramifications not only for that person’s life, but also for the lives of those the person encounters.  One does not necessarily have to accept this hierarchical ascending order to see Lonergan’s essential point: a person’s values interconnect and interpenetrate such that a distortion in one value leads to a distortion in other values.  For a reasonable and responsible vital value does lead to reasonable and responsible social, cultural, and religious values.  But the reason why Lonergan organized the values in an ascending order is to show how the five values correspond to his level of intentional consciousness:

  • vital values correspond to experience
  • social values correspond to understanding
  • cultural values correspond to judgment
  • personal values correspond to decision
  • religious values correspond to one’s loving or apprehension of God’s gift of love.

Likewise, a reasonable and responsible personal value can and does lead to reasonable and responsible vital, social, cultural, and religious values.

To return to the example of my student who was grappling with corruption of African leaders, the authentic living of a ruler (his or her vital values) has implications for the citizens of that country because the ruler’s (vital) values may enrich or distort the citizens’ own social, cultural, personal, and even religious values.  In this way then, it is easy to see that the scale of values are interconnected.

The views expressed in this essay belong entirely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Lonergan Institute staff or the values of Boston College.