Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The pope or the inquisitor?

By Rabbi Moshe Reiss
Asia Times, May 6, 2005

The "modern" world is often called "secular", as if "religion" is inconsistent with a modern world. These three words in quotations require understanding before we can discuss "fundamentalism".

Modernity is a process developed from the Industrial Revolution. Alvin Toffler noted the way the process "shocked" the world (Future Shock). Modernity was required for the 20th century to become the most developed - in terms of health, education and reduced poverty - as well as the most murderous.

Secularism, an ideology, was introduced by the French Revolution, also a very bloody affair. Secularism came out of the enlightenment based on reason. In its origin, secularism was anti-religion; as Voltaire stated, "If God did not exist we would have to invent him." It was long considered that religion and reason conflicted; the two can and do, in modernity, co-exist. Secularism as an ideology is similar in principle to capitalism, communism or democracy.

Secularism assumes a world that is neutral, detached, objective and sometimes rational. For a religious person, the world may operate that way and God still will be above it all. A religious person may, on the other hand, assume God is responsible for what happens to him, good or bad. Job assumed that; but for him, God had become devilish. Indeed, he was right - God did allow Satan to torment him (see the Book of Job Chapter 1).

Peter Berger, one of the outstanding sociologists of religion, once claimed the irreversibility of secularism (The Social Reality of Religion). He has more recently reversed himself, stating he had been wrong: the world "is as furiously religious as it ever was" (The Desecularization of the World). Harvey Cox, in his famous The Secular City, considers that "secularization is the liberation of man from religious and metaphysical tutelage, the turning of his attention away from other worlds and towards this one".

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that while "it is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the collapse of religion in the modern society, it would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive and insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past, when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with a voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless" (God in Search of Man).

Pope John Paul II opposed US President George W Bush's war in Iraq. (It is interesting, although perhaps irrelevant, that George Bush's close brother Jeb, the governor of the state of Florida, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife are both Catholics.) Despite the pope's position, he agreed to help the president retain the "key to his kingdom". On Bush's visit to Pope John Paul last June, he explained the importance of his right-wing Christian-oriented administration to Vatican officials. They agreed that despite the pope's opposition to the war they would help Bush's re-election campaign. Bush complained that not all the American bishops were with him. A week later Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to US Catholic bishops with a subtle but clear reference to John Kerry, the presidential candidate opposing Bush. It said that those Catholics who were pro-choice on abortion were committing a "grave sin" and must be denied communion. He pointedly mentioned "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws". It was obvious he was referring to Kerry, a Roman Catholic. If such a Catholic politician sought communion, Ratzinger wrote, priests must be ordered to "refuse" him. Any Catholic who voted for this "Catholic politician", he continued, "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy himself for Holy Communion" (National Catholic Reporter and Salon magazine).

In the 1960s, two Johns (pope John XXIII and president John F Kennedy) represented what the pope called his aggiornamento, his transformation; they liberalized the cultures in both the United States and Europe. There is now a new pope, Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger; nobody believes he is likely to become another Mikhail Gorbachev, the reformer who with the help of the previous pope felled the Berlin Wall. However, it is doubtful that the new pope and the president will ever be compared to the two Johns.

All three of the Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - have become more fundamental. We can symbolize this change by six events that occurred between 1976 and 1980.

1) In 1976 Jimmy Carter, a man who publicly identified himself as a born-again Christian, was elected president of the United States. (Remember John Kennedy's problem with his Catholicism 16 years earlier.)
2) In 1977 Menachem Begin became the prime minister of Israel. He was and remains the only prime minister who strictly followed Jewish kosher dietary laws. He also signed a peace agreement with the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
3) In 1978 John Paul II, the Polish pope, was elected. While for the Jews he was the best pope, in other ways he was far more conservative than all but one of his predecessors, John XXIII.
4) In 1979 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took over Iran and founded the Islamic Republic of Iran, a fundamentalist Shi'ite regime.
5) That same year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Muslims reacted by beginning a holy war against the Soviet Union. The liberal West saw this as a fight against atheistic communism; Islam saw it as a war against the West.
6) In 1980 Ronald Reagan, backed by the Christian Right - the Moral Majority - became president of the United States.

These six events in five years changed the modern world.

In the homily Ratzinger gave just before the conclave that chose him for the papacy, he said, "The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth ... Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism ... Relativism ... looks like the only attitude [acceptable] to today's standards. We are moving towards 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."

Everyone quoted the "dictatorship of relativism" as the key phrase from this homily. Is a dictatorship of the absolute better? Are they the opposites; are there no other choices? Does Ratzinger foster the dictatorship of absolutism - his truth? What if his truth is different than mine? Can absolutism tolerate relativism? Does absolutism require zealotry? Is any form of zealotry good?

The model of zealotry in my Bible (Old Testament) and his is Phineas. He killed a Hebrew man and a Midianite woman having sexual relations in front of God's Tent in the desert. God bestowed upon him a covenant of peace (Numbers 25:8-12). Despite God's apparent approval, the Talmud did not think his action should be considered a model of behavior; it suggested a trial would have been more appropriate.

In 1999 the Vatican published a document called instrumentum laboris (not under the "direct" imprimatur of Cardinal Ratzinger) in which it compared pluralism to communism, both condemned. One understands the Polish Pope John Paul II condemning communism; but is communism a form of pluralism and not in fact an absolutist doctrine? Is not pluralism required for a democracy? Was the Vatican therefore condemning democracy?

Cardinal Ratzinger stated the following when asked about the US problem with pedophile priests: "I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower" (Catholic News Service, 2002).

Is the problem the free press or pedophiles, whether priests or otherwise?

Why did Ratzinger, who was "acting pope" as dean of the College of Cardinals, approve Cardinal Bernard Law leading a mass in honor of the dead pope John Paul, despite Law resigning his archbishopric in Boston as a direct result of his mishandling of the pedophile problem? Does this come from a person who believes in a dictatorship of the absolute?

The same Ratzinger excommunicated seven women ordained in June 2002 by a dissident archbishop in Europe and declared, with John Paul II's approval, that opposition to female ordination was an "infallible" teaching of the Church. Are female priests more "defective" - Benedict's word - than pedophiles? Is not pedophilia a sin against the infallible teachings of the Church?

Fundamentalists see the world as a holy war (like a jihad) between the Sons of Evil and the Sons of Righteousness. As cardinal and executor of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the "Holy Inquisition", Ratzinger favored the doctrines found in the Gospel of John and the Epistles of Paul (see the Gospel of John and Romans 2-8). These concepts resulted in a fundamentalist streak to be found in parts of the New Testament, anti-Semitism and the seeking after heretics. (I recognize that other scriptures, including my own, have similar statements with similar implications. Both scriptures also contain opposing views.) The motto of the Holy Inquisition was stated by the 16th century Christian King Philip II of Spain, the son of Queen Isabella, of fame for beginning the "Holy Inquisition" and for the murder or expulsion from Spain of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Muslims. "I would rather sacrifice the lives of a hundred thousand people than cease my persecution of heretics," King Philip said. And he and his mother did. Is this still the motto?

Jews no longer worry about another Holocaust; not since Angelo Giuseppi Roncalli (later pope John XXIII) said of the bodies at Auschwitz, "We have crucified him again." Pope John Paul II later went to Auschwitz and called it the "Golgotha of the modern world". Both were recognizing the connection between Christian anti-Semitism and Nazism. Because of the recognition by these two popes, the Holocaust will not happen again, at least not in the Christian world.

Although it's been renamed, the Holy Inquisition still exists, as does its Index of Forbidden Books. And Lolita (by Vladimir Nabokov) is still in it, although Reading Lolita in Tehran (by Azar Nafisi), which tells of an inquisition state called the Islamic Republic of Iran, is not. (The latter book does have a fatwa forbidding it to be read by Muslims.) The Talmud, Judaism's holiest book, for centuries was on the index and as a result was burned - along with Jews - all over Europe; it has since been removed.

In Ratzinger's letter introducing Dominus Iesus (2000), a declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, he states that "the declaration presents the principal truths of the Catholic faith in these areas; such truths require, therefore, irrevocable assent by the Catholic faithful". The document appears to state that Jesus is the one road to salvation; although Jews as an older covenant and as brothers of Jesus are an exception. The letter reads like a statement of infallibility for the Roman Catholic Church. What are Muslims, let alone Hindus or Buddhists, to think?

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger excommunicated some priests and silenced others who did not assent irrevocably to his definition of absolutism from teaching at Catholic universities. One of those was the world-famous Catholic theologian Hans Kueng, who was banned from teaching at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Tubingen in Germany. Kung described Dominus Iesus as "a hotch-potch of medieval backwardness and folie de grandeur". One of Ratzinger's more famous excommunications was that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who continued the Latin liturgy after Vatican II changed the liturgy language to the vernacular. Yet Ratzinger stated in an interview in 1998 (National Catholic Reporter) and again in 2003 that he himself favored a return to some Latin in the liturgy (Raymond Arroyo - EWTN). Was he willing to follow the older tradition but felt forced to follow papal instructions?

Ratzinger's view may be appropriate for a cardinal inquisitor; but is it for a pope? Will the change in function change the person? According to an old colleague, as prefect Ratzinger once stated, "I understand the obligations of my office in the sense of a religious obedience to the pope." This may suggest that as pope he would have different obligations.

Pope Benedict XVI was installed on a very auspicious day, April 24; in the Jewish calendar it is the 15th day of Nissan, the first day of Passover when, according to the Gospels, Jesus was crucified. It is a changing day for the world - and for the pope.

To Benedict XVI: I will, as you requested in your installation homily, pray for you to become a servant "of unity ... [and] not be afraid ... of freedom". I will pray for a pope of renewal and not of restoration. As such, I hope you will speak not only with other religious leaders but also with the secularists. As you stated, "My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen." We all need to listen.


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