The election of Pope Benedict XVI has highlighted several things about the media. The news is presented as entertainment – simple stories, visuals, staged conflict, obsessed with celebrity. What passes for informed commentary is usually an ideological rant complaining that the Pope is conservative. Everyone knows that he wrote a lot of books, few seem to have read them. Everyone knows he wrote that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered”, few realize that this is a restatement of a traditional proposition of orthodox Catholic moral philosophy, not an anthropological or psychological claim. (Unfortunately the new Pope does want to limit the human rights claimed by homosexuals in Western societies).
The BBC had this online piece criticizing the Pope’s opposition to the moral philosophy of Relativism. (The BBC has full microsite for the new Pope). According to a couple of popular philosophers – Blackburn and Baggini – relativism is a pretty good idea, the Pope confuses relativism and pluralism, and is probably intolerant. John Cornwall thinks the Pope knows the difference but is trying to discredit pluralism to advance a fundamentalist agenda.
There have been pieces by Michael Novak, Peggy Noonan and Daniel Henninger who point out that the Pope is an orthodox Roman Catholic intellectual. His view of the world is different than the conventional views of journalists and public intellectuals in Western Europe and America. The prevailing world view is that people are inherently good and need to be liberated from authority and false consciousness. It is believed that if we could structure society so that everyone was well-informed, affluent and equal, and free to explore his or her desires, everyone would be happy. The Pope represents a religious viewpoint – people are imperfect, needy, and greedy – in a word, sinful. There are no solutions – there is chance for salvation by accepting God’s saving grace, which leads to a life of restraint, concern for others, discernment and moral conduct.
I found a several essays and articles on the Evangelical Web site Christianity Today. The site has wonderful book and culture reviews covering material and ideas that won’t be reviewed in the weekend paper. It has an index of several recent essays – all well-written, well-reasoned, well-informed – about the late Pope and the newly elected Pope. Especially useful:Ted Olsen’s article, Richard John Neuhaus’s review of “Salt of the Earth”, one of Cardinal Ratzinger’s books. I also backtracked to Richard John Neuhaus’s Neuhaus 1996 comments on an interview of then-Cardinal Ratzinger.
The new Pope supports dialogue with other religions – at least with the real religions as opposed to cults, sects and modern personal spirituality movements – but it almost seems he has written off American and European liberal thinkers as irremediably hostile to Christian beliefs. While some Christian writers characterize secular humanism or atheist humanism as a religion, the Pope as a Catholic intellectual, regards it as a cultural attitude which is hostile to religion and intrinsically evil.