Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

A couple of things about the new pope:

I was raised catholic, but don't go to church anymore. Still, I know a little bit about the church and I've been a little shocked at the level of basic ignorance about the reality of the politics of the modern catholic church that I've encountered on the blogosphere both before and since the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

First of all, the hope among American catholics that a "liberal" pope; that is, someone who would be down with women or married men being priests, who would OK birth control, etc., was always wishful thinking. In the American church these are mainstream ideas, so to people in the U.S. it probably seems like thes reforms are right around the corner.

In fact, since the 1960's the church has been moving in the other direction. The Latin American church, which is where the real action is these days, along with Africa, is massively conservative in terms of liturgy and theological doctrine. The point being, if American Catholics really want big-time reforms sometime soon, they need to split from Rome. Period.

Second, I've been surprised at how little analysis has been devoted to the new Pope's choice of names. This is extremely significant and tends to tell a lot about where a new Pope sees himself fitting in the historical scheme of things.

Ratzinger chose Benedict XVI. Now obviously there are a lot of Benedicts before him, and I'm not going to do a rundown of every single one. But the most recent Benedict, number XV, was known for basically one thing - he was anti-war.

So American conservatives, as Ed Kilgore noted, are probably misunderstanding the real situation when they rejoice at the election of this "conservative" Pope. Inasmuch as the key political issues of our day are linked to global industrialization and its necessary results (military aggression by rich nations against poor ones), Pope Benedict XVI is likely to be on the side of wooly-headed leftists like myself.

Indeed, since the dominant ideology of American conservatives seems to be the belief that making war without credible pretext on defenseless, poor nations is some kind of great moral triumph, they would probably be closer to the truth to consider Pope Benedict XVI their mortal enemy.


RBP said...

But wasn't this guy (Ratzinger) the one who coined the phrase *liberation theology* to chastise the clergy in Central America, some of whom were murdered by American trained death squads, when they choose to speak out about the dictators being propped up in their own countries?

Herr Gokmop said...

I also thought it was amusing how the media encouraged "armchair quarterbacking" of the papal conclave. I mean, come on...asking the man on the street who he would pick, or what he'd like to see in a pope? The hierarchical nature of the Catholic church is designed to avoid taking the common man's opinion into account. It just doesn't matter what anybody thinks.

The stated way the decision is made is that all of these guys go into a room and pray to god, who tells them who to vote for. They take every precaution to avoid external input. Every aspect of the selection process is elitist and exclusionary, but it is completely consistent with Catholic dogma, whatever you may think about that.

Talk about pressure to get it right. The pope is infallible. Not "usually right", not "best to give him the benefit of the doubt", but INFALLIBLE. Let's revisit the definition of infallible:

Rule 1: The pope is always right.
Rule 2: If the pope is wrong, see rule 1.

Catholics are textbook examples of people whose philosophical position is moral absolutism. That means that their moral positions on all of the topics of interest aren't going to change. Culture may change, time may move on, but Catholics fundamentally reject the notion that the Church should "keep pace with the times".

Some might call that anachronistic and backward, but...

Herr Gokmop said...

One more comment. I don't know why the election of a guy in a funny white hat has interested me so much, but it has.

Whatever anyone (including myself) might say about Catholic dogma, one interesting aspect of this "college of cardinals" is the people it has in it. Those people are uniformly brilliant - way past conventionally intelligent, these people are linguists, scholars, authors, and extraordinarily talented individuals, and that *definitely* goes for Ratzinger too. There isn't a dummy in the bunch.

It's honestly bizarre to me how someone could sincerely subscribe to all aspects of the Catholic dogma, and do it with a straight face. But the composition of the Catholic church is an interesting case study in humanity. The church's enemies sure can't say that the followers or leadership has been duped, or that they are insincere. The church is thoughtful, intelligent, and reflective; yet still comes to the same conclusions.

Adam P. Short said...

Well, at the risk of being cast as a Ratzinger defender (I don't have any particular love for the guy), my reading of his actual 1984 Liberation Theology text is more generous.

It's actually a very interesting and well thought-out document; theologically, I disagree with it completely, but then again there is a reason I'm not a Catholic. I think when Ratzinger says that the fundamental precepts of liberation theology (narrowly defined) run counter to Catholicism he has a pretty good point.

Though Ratzinger's thesis certainly isn't supportive, it's not an anti-LT diatribe by any means, and it's worth noting that despite its beefs with the theological implications of Liberation Theology, the church (unlike the US, with few exceptions) condemned the killings and lawlessness with which the U.S.-supported Latin American dictatorships prosecuted their war on the poor, including clergy.

I'm not saying Ratzinger is the next Ghandi, by any means. But in the modern global poltical scene, overrun as it is with crazed fascists, there is at least a fair chance that Pope Benedict XVI will be one of the good guys.

Adam P. Short said...

Herr Gokmop:

Definitely with you there. However, I would bet that most American Catholics would not characterize the Church that way... And I hope my mother is not reading this, but that's because most American Catholics aren't really Catholics.

In America, as in Western Europe, most people left the real fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church behind a long time ago. They basically extrapolated out from Vatican II and decided that their version of Catholicism was going to follow that trendline.

So now, after about 40 years of anti-VatII backlash, American Catholics are hopelessly out of step with the church. And the funniest thing about this is that nobody is really seriously considering the idea of just breaking off and becoming the American Catholic Church or the Western Catholic Church. Why? I have no idea.

Most American Catholics do not believe in papal infallibility. Many believe women and married men should be allowed to be ordained as priests. A large number of American priests - I had a few as pastors growing up - actually subscribe to the very ideas that Ratzinger (correctly in my view) uses to denounce Liberation Theology as apostasy.

One of the greatest homilies (same as a sermon, for the Lutherans et al) I ever heard growing up was actually key to my deciding to stop going to church as an adult. The priest was Bob Perkins, and the homily was themed "The Kingdom of God is Now."

The message was essentially a gnostic one - corporal works of mercy (helping the poor and afflicted, basically) are social necessities in the here and now, not spiritual poker chips to be cashed in after you die. The purpose of spiritual life is increased understanding and awareness of the fundamental unity of God's creation, so that we might fit better into God's plan and help to build the Kingdom of God.

I remember hearing that sermon and thinking "yeah, that makes a lot of sense." And over the next three or four years I went through the ranks of the church youth basically talking about this and getting pretty excited about being a Catholic.

But the more I thought about this idea, the more I realized it wasn't really Catholicism at all. Theologically, it's well-supported by the Gospels, but contradicted in large part by Paul. So in order to really get to a place where you can accept this doctrine you have to reject Paul almost in his entirety, which I had no trouble doing because Paul is a loser.

Trouble is, the epistles of Paul are more or less the bedrock foundation of Catholicism, much more so than the Gospels, which like most real scripture are pretty vague and can be interpreted in any of several ways.

So that's probably more than you wanted to know about why I'm not Catholic. Anyway I'm putting this on the front page.

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