Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Christ's Vicar on Earth

Catholics believe that Christ's vicar on earth is now Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The election of this traditionalist German theologian to the papacy is generating lots of comment, some of it thoughtful and interesting and some of it downright silly.

Not being a Catholic, I've often wondered why anyone would want to be part of a religion led by a high priest sitting so distant from their daily concerns and the realities of the lives they lead. It's really an accident of birth, after all. Ratzinger was born to a Catholic family in Bavaria, therefore he is a Catholic. I suppose one could chose later in life to follow some other religion, or none at all. Had I started life as a Catholic because of my parentage, I think by the time I became an adult I would have left the Church, if only because I wouldn't want my religious beliefs and moral standards dictated by a foreign hierarchy in Rome.

I have difficulty understanding why some liberal American Catholics are disappointed by the election of Ratzinger. What did they expect? Did they really think it possible to have a new Pope who would abandon religious doctrine of the past two millennia and open the Church to radical new ideas founded on moral relativism and current fashion? Did they expect in the future to attend mass conducted by a female homosexual priest in a same-sex marriage who supports abortion and euthanasia? Did they expect their children's religious education to include mounting condoms on cucumbers?

I don't much care what religion other people follow. That's a matter of personal choice and belief. I can't help noticing, however, the hypocrisy of some who feel they can pick and choose among religious doctrines of their faith, as though it were no more than a cafeteria in which some dishes can be selected and others declined. The best example that comes to mind is the recent American presidential candidate who professed to be both pro-choice and a Catholic who believes that life begins at conception.

As quoted in a Washington Post editorial, Cardinal Ratzinger said to his fellow cardinals in a sermon just before the conclave began, "An adult faith does not follow the waves of fashion and the latest novelty." I would add that thinking adults should either accept the fundamental doctrine of their faith or seek some other form of religion more consistent with their personal beliefs.

Pope Benedict XVI is an interesting man, more complex and nuanced than many of the snapshot analyses being offered in the media. E.J. Dionne, Jr. has written two columns about him which are among the best I've read (here and here). It will be interesting to see how he deals with doctrinal disagreements in the Church and the problems of the north-south divide. This Pope is seen by some as being merely transitional because of his age, but nonetheless he has tremendous worldwide influence. How he exercises that influence could prove to be very important to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.


Blogger M.T. Daffenberg said...

Your point is well taken. I've had a problem with political leaders in our country claiming to be Christian, but acting utterly un-Christian. Iraq war is a perfect example. What would Jesus do? According to the gospels, when those plains hit New York and DC, we were to "turn the other cheek," we were to "love our enemy." And instead we hate our enemy and use violence to tamp violence, and we all know tamping usually leads to some sort of explosion. Religious hypocrisy is rampant across the board.

12:51 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger M.T. Daffenberg said...

Sorry, I meant planes, not plains. LOL

12:51 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

Tom, I feel the same way. It's funny how the big media is making it sound like ALL liberals are angry at the selection of the new Pope when that just isn't the case. I blogged on this very topic today and I've already had at least 3 liberals agree and wish the new Pope well.

5:08 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

I'm not Catholic. In the sense of religion...I don't care if the pope is J Fred Muggs. It doesn't make a bit of difference.

What does matter however are the actions taken by the pope. If he does things that hurt people...(like work to keep gays from being able to have government recognized civil unions/marriages) that's when he crosses the line, in my opinion.

If the Catholics want this conservative dude as their chief...more power to them. But keep his grubby opinions and ideology away from me.

5:26 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Michael, if we were supposed to respond to the terrorist attacks by turning the other cheek and loving them, man am I glad Bush acted un-Christian like. I'm not fond of being the human embodiment of a lamb to the slaughter. You're giving a prime example of why we should have seperation of Church & State.

"The best example that comes to mind is the recent American presidential candidate who professed to be both pro-choice and a Catholic who believes that life begins at conception."

You know I hate when anyone puts me in the position of defending anything Kerry has to say, but I applaud this. It's fine if he has his personal code. More power to him. And I'm extremely grateful he didn't want to thrust that belief on me and realized that government has no place in regulating a woman's body.

5:53 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger B said...

Hi Tom,
I'm not Catholic either, but I perceive the debate mostly to be about the polarization in the church and fears that this choice will not do much to alleviate it. I'm also not as hard on those who want to change the church. Having been raised a Baptist, I can tell you that we don't just polarize, we fracture and multiply. But as I wrote here, that's a natural consequence of a denomination that encourages an individual relationship with God and the Scripture.

And it is that philosophy that leads me to respond to your comment. I know that Kerry was/is confusing and did not much more about it than further obfuscation. But is it not a basic tenet of religious freedom that one can believe what one will? Must Kerry renounce the Catholic faith he was raised in rather than question it? Religion is not meant to be a cult. Or it shouldn't be.

I know that you agree with me. I perhaps should not take you to task for your statements about Kerry, and it certainly isn't meant to offend. And to reveal my complete bias, I must confess to not subscribing to the moral relativism viewpoint - at least in terms of sincere differences of opinion.

There is plenty of evil in the world. Do we not allow it to strengthen when we spend our energy differentiating between levels of goodness?

7:50 PM, April 20, 2005  

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