Pope Benedict XVI's Classical Revival
To date, Pope Benedict XVI's most famous quote is this:
"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
Many commentators have seized on this as an example of this Pope's conservatism and have bemoaned the fact that he's unlikely to advocate a more permissive brand of Catholicism. While it's true that Benedict XVI isn't about to change Catholic doctrine on abortion, birth control, marriage of the clergy or homosexuality, I think they're missing the point of this quote. On Meet the Press today, the New Republic's E.J. Dionne says:
I think there's a lot of fear on the part of moderate and progressive Catholics that--I keep wanting to say Joseph Ratzinger, because he made such a name for himself with that name--that Pope Benedict does have a vision of the church that is not so much in kind of conversation with modernity as really quite hostile to modernity.
I wish someone could clearly define modernity. Isn't "modern" itself a relative term. But anyway, if modernity simply equals relativism, then I think that Dionne is probably right on. But it's amusing to me that some Americans want to brand the Pope as some kind of scary "absolutist" while ignoring the fact that our entire society is based on an absolutist argument. Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence wrote:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
"Laws of Nature", "truths", "unalienable Rights": these are absolutist, black & white, right & wrong words. But read them again and tell me if you disagree with them. Or, if you thinking I'm focusing too much on America, read France's Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. I remember sitting in college classes where a Professor would solemnly tell us it was wrong to apply our Western morals to judge other societies. I've never felt comfortable with that. The fact that someone was born in Iran, for example, doesn't mean they have less of a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than I do.
This is classical Western thought, and I've no doubt that the Pope sees that these ideals are being attacked in the West from within. While Europe has, on one hand, become more and more secular, it's also seeing immigration by increasingly radical Muslims. Put another way, Europeans have decided not to believe in anything and they're now being joined by a new population who is being taught to believe in some things that are the antithesis of classical Western values.
In the past, the Church was the ruler of Europe, sometimes with disastrous results. But now the pendulum has perhaps swung too far in the opposite direction. Is it so terrible to have a Pope interested in figuring out the place of religion in public life? Even TNR's Dionne, who claimed he was "petrified" with the new Pope says:
his record is a little bit ambiguous in the sense that, for example, he has written in praise of the American approach to religion, the American government's approach to religion, that leaves open a wide space for religious diversity, but accepts religion's role in the public square.
For some reason, the media is treating Pope Benedict XVI almost exactly like they treat President Bush. They're turning him into some kind of boogeyman, while ignoring the fact that his policies and beliefs are virtually identical to his much-praised predecessor. The poor man is being demonized because he's a Catholic Pope who is, well, Catholic.
Posted by at April 24, 2005 12:33 PM
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|# April 25th, 2005 12:15 AM james|
|oooh, mixin it up with the "alternative" version of the religion category icon, i see. |
|# April 25th, 2005 9:29 AM kris|
|oh, that wasn't intentional, although it certainly makes sense in this case |