Saturday, November 20, 2004

New Whine in Old Bottles

I have no desire to bash Catholicism, nor any other religion, but unpleasant people like Cardinal Ratzinger make it into something of a duty, especially when they say things like this:

Negative birth rates and immigration are changing Europe's ethnic make-up. Above all we've gone from being a Christian culture to one of aggressive secularism which at times is intolerant.

I have to confess that I, too, dislike "aggressive secularism." And all other forms of aggressive proseletyzing. And intolerance, too. But I think that we have a long, long way to go before liberal secularism approaches the Vatican's historical record of aggression and intolerance. What I find disturbing here is the Church's increasingly plaintive tone of self-pity at its alleged weakness and helplessness. It's not at all edifying, especially coming from people whose earthly power includes the ability to control the most private aspects of people's lives, and whose adherents' misuse of that power includes sexually abusing children.

And though I'm sure it's impolite to say so, I also find Ratzinger's complaints about Europe's "changing ethnic make-up" to be kind of repulsive. The last time I checked, the word "Catholic" meant "universal." The Catholic Church has never had a problem with sailing over the briny deep and setting up shop in heathen lands - no matter how unwelcome they were - so I'm not convinced they have any grounds for complaint when the heathen masses show up on their doorstep.

Ratzinger's comments are part of a distressing new trend, in which people who wield the most incredible power complain that they're being persecuted by all and sundry.

6 comments:

NYMary said...

I'm a cultural Catholic, kept on board mostly because my dad is a Catholic Worker, a pretty respectable and non-judgmental crowd.

Ratzinger is our Karl Rove, trust me. He's completely full of shit.

Thersites said...

I agree with you about everything but the idea that there is anything new in Ratzinger's comments. This kind of denunciation of predatory secularism is in many ways a traditional feature of European Catholic rhetoric (as it is among American evangelicalism, of course). In the 1950s Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin was complaining about it. Maybe a sense of being constantly under assault by the forces of godless modernity is simply a more or less constant feature of religious ultraconservatism.

The comments about race are interesting. Your white European Catholics are vastly outnumbered by your South and Central Americans, Asians, and Aftricans. One of the favorites in the Papal Race is African, and the word is he's Ratzinger's boy. Ratzinger, as a true believer, knows that the European & American clergy (with some notable exceptions, OC) are far more liberal than they are in the developing world. His most hated enemies are European liberal clergy and he has been engineering the "developing" clergy against them for years. One way to see his remarks may be as a means of rallying Catholic immigrants to Europe in the name of his brand of conservatism. In this case what he's saying may be similar to how the GOP attempts to court Hispanics.

Phila said...

Very interesting comments from both of you...Your man Ratzinger (what a name!) has popped up from time to time in my reading, but I've got nothing like your grasp of his brilliant career. The "new whine" bit was just a weak Biblical pun, natch...but I really was under the impression that there's been an increasing trend towards faux-victimhood...well, across the board as far as conservatism goes, but especially on the Religious Right. Or is it just that it's getting more into the mainstream now? Or am I just noticing it more because I'm actively looking for it, instead of trying to tune it out (like usual)? Inquiring minds want to know (though they might prefer to be cryogenically frozen, and reborn into a brighter age)...

Is there any chance of this madman becoming Pope, would you say?

Thersites said...

Ratzinger won't be Pope; he is a behind the scenes man of a classic Vatican type -- very medieval, in more ways than one. from what I've heard he will be backing an African cardinal, which may sound progressive, but really isn't. Liberal Catholics would be screwed worse than they already are (it was this cardinal, whose name escapes me, who had something to do with supporting calls to deny communion to pro choice politicians. It was Ratzinger who ended up pulling the plug on that. So I don't quite know what is going on, though it's all quite clearly a typical Vatican game of some sort).

As for the newness or oldness of the whining: it's probably a combination of all the reasons we've come up with so far. I wonder if what we're not seeing is a widespread attempt to take revenge for the 20th century: from a long view, an attempt on the part of religious conservatives to restore the status quo ante bellum, with the bellum in question being WWI. No snark here, either. I'm amazed that some of the exact same battles that were being fought over in the 1920s are being fought today. It's like they're still pissed at Marie Stopes.

Monica_CA said...

The Church has a long memory, so in many ways I think they are still reacting to the changes wrought by the industrial and atomic ages. And you have John Paul II, who's a doddering old guy now, but realy shaped the current attitudes towards women and reproduction in the Church, which has to do with so many of the problems the Catholic Church faces today -- like the AIDS crisis and overpopulation and the need for birth control in third world nations -- or the ordination of women vs. pedophile priests -- or allowing the clergy to marry, for that matter...

I also think that a lot of what the Church perceives today as the ills and sins of the modern secular era used to be heaped on the USSR and Soviet Block states. With the fall of Communism in Europe, there had to be a transferrance onto another group. Luckily the secular Europeans and their mean-spirited, anti-Catholic governments were on hand with their brown-skinned, heathen immigrants, and laws banning the display of religious items in public schools...

Ratzinger's an ass. Whenever I see a quote from him, that's the first thing to jump into my mind: Oh, Ratzinger. That ass! If he does get a super-conservative pope in to replace JP2, American Catholics will start leaving the church in droves. It'll be an interesting reversal of what happened to the Episcopalians after gays came into the picture a few years ago.

Monica_CA said...

Oops! Oops!

I meant that it'll be an interesting justaposition with what happened with the Episcopalian Church. Getting sleepy.