Monday, May 02, 2005


There’s been no honeymoon for a pope correctly perceived as too Catholic for the taste of secular critics. Instead, a wave of preemptive vilification has greeted the "archconservative" pontiff.

"God’s Rottweiler" is a phrase that expresses the antipathy felt toward Cardinal Ratzinger by those who gleefully point to his stint in the Hitler Youth. Such journalists fail to note that membership in the Nazi organization was mandatory and that, at the ripe age of eighteen, the future "Papa-Ratzi" deserted from the German army into which he had been drafted.

In addition to these youthful "offenses" Ratzinger’s stint as prefect of the Church’s office on Doctrine earned him the moniker "God’s Inquisitor." (Ironically, this stigma comes from a class supremely skilled at destroying political opponents. Were Benedict XVI as bad as his press, one might think a degree of professional courtesy would be extended by these practitioners of high-tech lynching.)

What makes Benedict even more odious to critics is the address he gave to his peers before ascending to the papacy. In that talk the German cardinal took aim at a dogma to which his secular opponents pledge fervent allegiance--the "dictatorship of relativism."

This oxymoronic label aims at relativism’s hidden duplicity--a duplicity suggested by the insults directed at a man who, by all first-hand accounts I have read, is a model of patience and self-effacement. Though tolerance appears to be relativism’s logical corollary, the linkage is illusory.

Behind relativism’s easy-going facade stands a rabid rejection of moral absolutes. Truth, they say, is relative--but relative to what? The honest response in most cases, "relative to me," explains the hostility directed by elites toward influential expressions of orthodoxy. It also explains why the statement "there is no wrong answer" has become so popular in recent years--especially in discourse about abortion, child-rearing, or "alternative lifestyles".

Thomas Hobbes gave serious thought to the shape of a world where egos rule and concluded that a political Leviathan was required to bring order to an otherwise brutish and short existence. Relativists aren’t far behind the English philosopher--except when it comes to candor.

A world where egos rule is, more accurately, a world where some egos rule over others. And the guiding principle of this governance must be the "gut instincts" to which those power brokers give deference. In a world devoid of absolutes, these instincts increasingly coincide with narrow self-interest. (Relativists, it should be recalled, need not and do not defer to majority opinion when the latter fails to echo their own "nuanced" visions of "truth".)

St. Augustine said that in his youth he yearned to become a law unto himself--to reject any authority outside his own will. This "I-did-it-my-way" cultural complement of relativism smacks more of the "will to power" than of tolerance. The same egocentric impulse generates venom toward Pope Benedict--a man capable of defending the notion that moral truth is more than putty placed in the hands of gurus who pontificate on God-knows-what from their mansions in Malibu.

A Pope who used the spiritual force of his office to bring down political totalitarianism in Eastern Europe has been succeeded by another who targets a different form of despotism. The "Rottweilers of Relativism" despise Benedict XVI in much the same way KGB operatives feared John Paul II. Dictators, whether political or cultural, hate answering to anyone except themselves.


Lance Gomez said...

Mr. Kirk, I read your article and would offer one comment as to why some are opposed to the Ratzinger appointment. I am no expert in this area, but it was supposedly Cardinal Ratzinger who put his stamp of disapproval on all forms of Liberation Theology. HIs argument was that Liberation Theology was too closely tied to communism. From what I have read of Liberation Theology this does not appear to be true. All of those very well intentioned South American Catholic theologians, including Guitierez, were silenced. Your comments would be appreciated.
Lance Gomez - a former student

RKirk said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting with thoughtful precision on an issue relevant to my article on Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Ratzinger.

I have linked three sources that touch on the issue of Liberation Theology and Fr. Gutierrez. With respect to the question at hand, Michael Novak's recent column on the topic addresses several issues, including the nature of the "rebuke" given to Gutierrez . The most pertinent comment I reproduce here:
Two quite famous theologians, Edward Schillebeeckx of the Netherlands and Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru, were questioned and problematic formulations in their work were pointed out, and that was that. Both remained at work.

Three other links emphasize Gutierrez's philosophical reliance on Marxist language and models--as well as his failure to focus attention on the abysmal (both spiritually and materially) character of societies based on the "class struggle" model. The first link is totally unsympathetic to Liberation Theology. The second tries to steer a middle course between Novak's praise of democratic capitalism and Gutierrez's Marxist-rooted rhetoric. The third is a book review that provides some intellectual insight into John Paul II's negative assessment of Liberation Theology.

My own view is that relativism and materialism are the dominant evils of our time. I believe that relativists fervently want the church (esp. the Catholic Church) to become a mirror of popular culture and/or a submissive tool of the state--in which case no transcendent voice will exist to issue judgments against either self-serving pragmatism or an all-powerful state. The former state of affairs seems to exist already in Western Europe. I believe (with Pope John Paul II) that Liberation Theology, wittingly or unwittingly, forfeits transcendence by identifying itself so completely with a particular economic model that embraces (or is associated with) a hugely-powerful state. In doing so it exhibits naivete with respect to the economic failure of socialist models as well as the dangers (vis a vis greed, pride, and murder) of concentrating power so fully in the hands of a few political rulers. (In this regard Madison et al., in The Federalist Papers, were better students of the human heart.)

Well, at least that is an answer fitting the recipient of the Religion Dept's Upper School Award in whatever year it was. 1990? I hope you are doing well. As you can see, I'm working at doing well, literarily--with modest success to date.