Sunday, April 08, 2007

Benedict on Secularism

Good intro piece on Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI in Sunday NYTimes Magazine.

Ratzinger, from day one has been about the fight against secularism in Western Europe and the only bulwark against barbarity as the Catholic Church. Ratzinger a Bavarian German has always been focused West, in a way that Karol Wojtyla (JP II), a Pole had looked to Eastern Europe.

Benedict has sought a healing between faith and reason. Benedict is influenced by the 13th century Franciscan theologian-mystic Bonaventure. Bonaventure, was influenced by Augustine and through Augustine Plato as opposed to his contemporary Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican, influenced by Aristotle.

Augustinian Catholicism is based on the idea that the mind must be "illuminated" by faith in order to healed of the effects of the fall on the mind, restoring Reason, capital R, to reason. Aquinas, following Aristotle, saw reason as more autonomous from faith. The trend towards secularism runs through Aquinas---though Aquinas saw reason autonomously as proving the realm of faith, that the two were joined. Eventually philosophers realized that reason does not necessarily prove faith.

“The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvelous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism but of broadening our concept of reason and its application.”
And again:
“We are moving toward 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.”
Interestingly Ratzinger interacted with the great German philosopher Jurgen Habermas:
There, Habermas used the term “post-secular” to describe what modern society ought to be. Secularization, he and others have argued, was first the process, begun in the 17th and 18th centuries, of prying the fingers of the church from government and economy — all the aspects of life in which it had gained control. The idea emerged of the state as a neutral foundation for its citizens and their varied beliefs. But in Europe, secularism then came to mean antireligion. Historically, this antipathy was directed at Catholicism as well as at Protestant churches; Muslim immigration has teased it back to the surface and given it a new target.
Post-secular gets to the heart of the issue for Ratzinger. He is correct to point out the broadening of reason to include faith, religions, etc. But his illuminationism and return to traditional Catholicism is not where things are going. They are moving to a post-mythic, post-secularism. That is where the renewal will come from.

And that post-secular post-dogmatic Christianity is already visible. The article points out that the only growth in European Catholicism comes from lay movements. e.g. Sant Egidio, Taize, even Opus Dei. Technically the movement for lay Catholicism cuts across liberal/conservative labels.

The illumination, in other words, that must take place (I think Augustine is correct on this point) is heading at cross purposes to the hierarchical Papal Supremacy. The illumination is not the kind Ratzinger wants:
When he held the second gathering of lay movements in May 2006, attracting a crowd in the hundreds of thousands, he praised their energy, but the praise came with a warning and a reminder that they are not citizens in a religious democracy or diners at a spiritual buffet but are members of an institution whose power flows from the top, its infallible leader, and moves through the channels of the bishops and priests down to the laity. “I trust in your ready obedience,” he said.
The article concludes (I think basically correctly):
Benedict may be right that the Catholic Church has a world-historic chance to transform Europe and bring about change. But the church’s own strictures could work against that. The paradox may be that for all his stylistic softening as pope, Joseph Ratzinger’s own labors through the decades, applying his life experience with such rigor to protecting and preserving the church, are precisely what prevent Europeans from reconnecting with their roots.

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