Essay / Misc.

Why Benedict Was a Great Choice

You can tell a great deal about a man by his foes. Read this hysterical reaction to the election of Benedict XVI from Andrew Sullivan. As usual my comments are in – Daily Dish: “STILL IN SHOCK: Thanks for your emails both sympathizing and telling me to leave the Church entirely. But I am still in shock. This was not an act of continuity. There is simply no other figure more extreme than the new Pope on the issues that divide the Church.Sullivan believes that keeping the same doctrinal ideas one has had for thousands of years is not an act of continuity. It is extreme. He believes issues that a tiny minority of world-wide Catholics have organized their lives around (odd sexual practices, radical feminism) mark a division in the Church. This is true in the sense that having left the faith to live in sin or to invent their own new ideas they have divided themselves from the Church. Sullivan is a prodigal son who wishes to give us an argument for living in the pig stye and is irritated with Father for inviting him to come home.No one. He raised the stakes even further by his extraordinarily bold homily at the beginning of the conclave, where he all but declared a war on modernity, liberalism (meaning modern liberal democracy of all stripes) and freedom of thought and conscience.A news flash for Sullivan might be that the Church never embraces “modernity” whatever the era. Christians are always out of step, because our City is never quite the City of Man, but always the City of God. Of course, Pope Benedict has embraced US style Church-State separation in the past so this statement by Sullivan is quite false any way.And the speed of the decision must be interpreted as an enthusiastic endorsement of his views.Is it shocking that the leaders of the Catholic Church embrace views that have never been the subject of dissent by leaders of the Catholic Church? Mr. Sullivan takes the natterings of himself and his friends too seriously.In contrast, the Church takes the long view and does not care if the New York Times loves it since it has outlived many such organizations in the past. Does Sullivan really think that most global Christians are eager to dialog about homosexuality? Ask the Anglicans.What this says to American Catholics is quite striking: it’s not just a disagreement, it’s a full-scale assault.I am not a Catholic, but it seems to me that this choice confirms that some American Catholics are not going to be able to remake the Church in their own image. They are free to start their own church and make their own culture. However, they don’t get to hijack the Sistine Chapel or the history of the Roman Church as they do it.This new Pope has no pastoral experience as such. He is a creature of theological discourse, a man of books and treatises and arguments.In an earlier post Sullivan complained that nobody wanted to reason with him and now he complains that Benedict is a man of the academy. The trouble for Sullivan is that Benedict is better educated and read than he is and would win an argument. Therefore Sullivan has to appeal only to his personal experience in attacking this Pope.However, personal experience is a weak guide when the personal experience of most faithful at most times is at total odds with Sullivan’s ideas. Sullivan should repent and sin no more, but that is the very thing he wishes to avoid.He proclaims his version of the truth as God-given and therefore unalterable and undebatable.Note that agreeing with every Pope who ever lived is eccentric according to Sullivan. Having Sullivan’s views which no Pope or Patriarch has ever held is, according to Sullivan, not hubris. Sullivan wants to change the entire Church, but it is Benedict who believes too much of himself. This seems an odd position.Jesus Christ said stuff like Benedict says. He even claimed to be the Truth. Sullivan is free to read Jesus in a New and Improved Way, but he should go start his own church in order to do so. Perhaps he could call it the Not Quite Universal Since Limited to an American Sub-Culture Church.Hurrah for a free country that will allow him to do so!The problem for Sullivan is he wants all the history and benefits of the Roman Church without the things in it he does not like. He wants the name Catholic for his time bound and parochial views. His theology is indeed distinguished, if somewhat esoteric and at times a little odd.Any bets on how many Ratzinger books Sullivan has actually read?But his response to dialogue within the church is to silence those who disagree with him.This is a lie. Worse it is the sort of lie that plays on Catholic stereotypes and prejudices in our culture. It invokes images of the Church that have been used by bigots for centuries. What has Benedict done to critics like the nattering Kung? He has simply said that they cannot teach as Catholic theologians. It might shock Sullivan, but as an Orthodox Christian, I too cannot teach as a Catholic theologian. I do not feel silenced. I can go on not being Roman and Benedict is happy to dialogue with me. However, I cannot call myself Roman when my beliefs place me outside the mainstream of the Church. If this is oppression then I should be able to join the Sierra Club and advocate (as a spokesman for the Club) building strip malls in Yosemite!He has no experience dealing with people en masse, no hands-on experience of the challenges of the church in the developing world, and complete contempt for dissent in the West.Those with that experience elected him Pope. Sullivan’s views are the least popular in places with persons of color and in the developing world. The Pope with his traditional Western views represents one of the true voices of dissent from Sullivanism in the West.His views on the subordinate role of women in the Church and society, the marginalization of homosexuals (he once argued that violence against them was predictable if they kept pushing for rights), the impermissibility of any sexual act that does not involve the depositing of semen in a fertile uterus, and the inadmissibility of any open discourse with other faiths reveal him as even more hardline than the previous pope.Mostly stereotyping complex positions or positions all popes have held. . . but also a fair bit of personal sorrow and that should invoke our pity. I am sorry for Sullivan. I know the pain of having to repent and of wanting things I should not have. Every Christian knows the pain of a disordered soul. There is no joy in seeing Christians falter.I expected continuity. I didn’t expect intensification of the fundamentalism and insularity of the current hierarchy.What does he mean fundamentalism? Benedict has a very liberal view (in my opinion a too liberal view) on reading Scripture. Is Benedict’s community which is heavily third-world more or less insular than that of the Sullivan sub-culture in New York?I expect an imminent ban on all gay seminarians, celibate or otherwise. And I expect the Church’s immersion in the culture wars in the West – on every imaginable issue. For American Catholics, I foresee an accelerating exodus. But that, remember, is the plan. The Ratzingerians want to empty the pews in America and start over. They will, in that sense, be successful.”I doubt it happens, but does Sullivan really think that a ban on gay seminarians would be unpopular in the pews in, lets say, Los Angeles?I will bet Sullivan that being more robust in these areas will not empty the pews. Marginal Catholics will leave. The millions who have been dying for more discipline will
come. The more rigorous the Church becomes the more it will grow just not with the sort of people Andrew Sullivan wants to hang around with at parties. How many former Catholic evangelicals have I met? They attended Church where nothing like a gospel was preached with priests who had “clown mass” in the “spirit of Vatican II.” They only met Christ when a Baptist missionary shared with them a “fundamentalist” (read Christian) faith. It is just a sociological fact that being “more” whatever brings higher commitment and more growth in the end.Sullivan thinks the Anglican model produces growth, but he cannot name one church community where it has led to anything other than disaster. Liberal Christians talking about the danger of emptying churches is like an official of the White Star Line talking about ship safety. It can be done but it takes titanic gall.

Share this essay [social_share/]