NYTimes: Keeping the Faith

Current Affairs

There’s an article in the NYTimes Magazine this Easter Sunday that discusses the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI and the program his has undertaken for his time in office.

The article suggests that one of the primary formative experiences of the Pope was coming of age in Nazi Germany and seeing first hand the shattering of society as it fully embraced modernity and rationalism.

The article discusses how this colors what Benedict is doing during his time on as the Vicar of St. Peter:

Link: Pope Benedict XVI – Roman Catholic Church – Easter – Keeping the Faith – Russell Shorto – New York Times.

Benedict is one of the most intellectual men ever to serve as pope — and surely one of the most intellectual of current world leaders — and he has pinpointed the problem of the age, as well as its solution, at the level of philosophy. His argument, elaborated in the years leading up to his election and continuing through his daily speeches and pronouncements, reduces to something like this: Secularism may be one of the great developments in history, but the secularism that holds sway in much of the West — that is, in Western Europe — is flawed; it has a bug in its programming. The mistaken conviction that reason and faith are two distinct realms has weakened Europe and has brought it to the verge of catastrophic collapse. As he said in a speech in 2004: “There exist pathologies in religion that are extremely dangerous and that make it necessary to see the divine light of reason as a ‘controlling organ.’ . . . However . . . there are also pathologies of reason . . . there is a hubris of reason that is no less dangerous.”

The article goes on to discuss the challenges Benedict and the Church in general face in the west – especially as more and more people in Europe find the attraction of secularism a greater draw than that of Christianity.

It’s a long article, but worth a careful read.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for linking this, Fr. Nick.
    Fr. Nick, I think Europe is a one-off in terms of religion – not typical, IOW – and its secularism is actually quite reasonable and in fact understandable at this point. The continent has a history of bloody religious war, and is only just on the other side of one of the most horrific events in human history: the Holocaust – which even the Church acknowledges had religious roots. I think Europe is (perhaps unconsciously?) afraid of what might happen should religion inflame passions again. We’ve never had that kind of thing in the U.S.; our collective sins are based around the issue of slavery and the cold use and abuse of human beings.
    I think, in fact, that Papa Ratzi is going about this all wrong when he rails against European society; what needs to happen, first, is that the Church needs to publicly examine itself and its own errors, and make corrections and do public penance. Only at that point can he lecture others on what they are doing wrong – but he is in love with the Church and apparently isn’t capable of even seeing this, let alone doing something about it. In fact, I think he’s turning more people off than on by what he says, and I don’t blame them for tuning him out. The article talks about this at the end, in light of the sex abuse scandals, and the refusal of the Church to take responsibility in so many ways. Even in the vaunted “apology” for the Holocaust, the Vatican blamed individual Christians, and refused to point the finger at itself and its teachings.
    But I really don’t think Christian faith will ever go away in any case. This, too, shall pass, and there will be another generation coming that doesn’t have the immediate memory and and feelings that this one does. But the Church needs to be less self-absorbed – and perhaps it needs to give up its status, too. Perhaps people might take it more seriously if it didn’t own its own country, as well!
    The Church can no longer make its case when it’s tied to the State; it doesn’t have that sort of power any more, and most people, I’d say, view Christ’s life and death as a rebuke to the corruption of power. I think they are right – and we can take a lesson here, too, and should.
    I found the thing about the lay organizations interesting as well. I am actually a great admirer of the massive Catholic intellectual tradition; it’s wonderful. I think the Church’s primary weakness is in its ecclesiology and, it seems, in its inability to reform itself. If it could do this, it could really have a positive effect, I think, and perhaps people would return.

Comments are closed.