Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pope Benedict Mistakenly Corrects Himself.

As readers of these woodchips might know, we have long been impressed by Pope Benedict’s erudition, kindliness and (very dry) wit. It has seemed to us that Benedict has been unfairly libelled by a materialist-liberal press out to destroy his moral authority and animated by a long standing ideological hatred of the Catholic Church.

This is not to say that we chipsters are out to defend everything the Church does or teaches. But it is to say that the Catholic Church stands for and advocates an existential-moral tradition which is deeply and extensively thought out and which deserves considered respect.

The Church’s sexual doctrine is grounded in its greater concepts concerning the sanctity of all life. In the Church’s view, there is an animating life-force which permeates all of Creation and with which we do best to harmonize ourselves.

The harmony spoken of is not some hippiesque, religious kitsch of floating with the flow in Aquarian, Gurdjieffian “self-realized” bliss. “I am in touch with Me and Myself” is not the harmony the Church references. The harmony referenced is greater than that which can be conceived, and encompasses things which appear to us as evil as well as good.

Most fundamentally the Church rejects Manicheism - the notion that the cosmos can be divided into opposed forces of good and evil. Orthodox Christianity insists that it is all good, even the bloody and useless Crucifixion of God himself. Therein is the paradox; and there too the heresy of Puritanism which thinks we can explain away what we don’t like and kosher our way towards something called “goodliness” by making ourselves clean and useful.

Karl Jung put it simply enough. In the end, he said, man has a choice either to deny or to affirm. There is, ultimately, no reason to chose one or the other; but everything else flows from the decision made.

It is foolish, we think, to hope for that day of redemption when “stalk and flower” shall perceive that “no foot of man shall crush them.” (Wagner, Parsifal.) Nature is full of crushing and violence and bloodied tooth and fang. But when we behold this mighty and radiant work which lies between two eternities of darkness, do we reject it or accept it? God, we are told, beheld his Creation and affirmed that it was good.

But if we choose to accept it, we necessarily chose to accept things which are beyond our comprehension and perhaps beyond our strength to bear. We choose not to deny some part of it that may be baffling or inconvenient or unpleasing to us.

And yet, it is this rejection that forms the basis of the materialistic liberalism of the present day, which trumpets a propaganda of convenience and utilitarianism guided only by ego. Would that this were true Epicurianism; for, Epicurus was a brilliant and serious philosopher. But it is not; and there is a difference between what Epicurus taught and mere self-indulgence.

In excoriating what we have called “materialistic liberalism” we do not mean to say that we oppose specific policies advocated by so-called “liberals” -- in particular policies on contraception, marriage, abortion, or termination of life. What we mean is that these policies are not well-grounded in a coherent moral view that goes beyond mere expedience. And, assuming there is nothing wrong with advocating expediencies, it is still childish and vituperative to attack the Church for trying to advocate something more permanent and solid.

Given these considerations, we have been open to hearing what Pope Benedict has had to say on love, faith and social justice. We wish some of his more antagonistic critics would actually take the time to read him and, if necessary, to trouble themselves reading the great authors of the Helleno-Christian tradition with whom Benedict is carrying on a discussion.

What we have taken away from his encyclicals can be distilled into three primary points.

On the question of social justice, Benedict reminds us that regardless of historical conditions and irrespective of the particular type of political-economy we chose, our private and public actions must be animated by a preferential option for the poor. The phrase, if pondered, needs no further explanation.

On the question of faith, Benedict reasserts that faith is not an interiorized, subjective attitude but a social phenomenon. Faith is not me, my interpretations and my Cosmic Teddy Bear guiding me into the wilderness; but rather a habit of hope which springs from and exists only in civilised communion with others. Just as a life force animates all of creation and is impossible without the creation it animates, so too faith is impossible without the society it nurtures.

On the question of love, Benedict unequivocally moved to make one of what he wryly calls “tacit corrections” of unchangeable doctrine. Eros, he said, was not to be seen as the opponent of true spiritual love but as rather the natural and necessary precursor to deeper and higher forms of caring for one another. Eros could not be viewed simply as a “biological” mechanism but should be seen as the delightful and urgent process by which we are pulled out of ourselves, towards another whom we come to know, appreciate and care for in ever deepening and more permanent ways.

Those three propositions have struck us as fundamentally and radically progressive. And it has struck us as shameful that avowedly progressive elements in Western (and particularly Anglo-American society) have ignored the opportunity and hand offered by the Pope.

It was thus with a certain dismay that we read Benedict’s latest address to the American bishops in which he said,

“[P]articular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike."

POPE DENOUNCES GAY MARRIAGE” blared the headlines. He hadn’t before, but he has now. Insiders may know that the Pope really did not draft the remarks, just as he does not draft the scores of homilies, greetings, letters, exhortations, advices etc. issued by “the Vatican” in any given week. Perhaps he was cornered by “conservatives” in the hierarchy opposed to his “tacit corrections.” But it makes no difference, the bull bears his seal.

It is a shame that Benedict has fallen in with those reactionary pharisees in the Church who would rather blast at homos than raise so much as a timorous voice against the devastation done to society and society’s children by neo-liberal economic policies, neo-conservative killer drones, pollution, prostitution and slave labor. A sentence can undo a corpus and damnation as well as salvation ensues from a single step.

©Woodchip Gazette, 2012.


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