Contra Benedict: Taking Issue With the Pope on Postmodernity

20 09 2006

I am not a scholar, merely a campus minister with a modicum of gumption. So I take on the Pope with some trepidation, who no doubt is no mean scholar and only the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world. He knows several languages, I know only one. He can read the Bible in its original languages, well, at least I know the Greek and Hebrew alphabets. That said, with regard to his recent talk that has created such a flap, I boldy and baldly say that he is flat out wrong.

Contrary to what many people think, the Pope was really not trying to take on Islam (though I think he meant what he said about Islam, even if he was quoting Byzantine emperor from the latter part of the 14th century). No, what he was really taking on was postmodernity. The Pope essentially believes that Christian theology needs to be made on an equal footing with empirical sciences. Along with this, he is arguing that Greek thought needs to be exalted too, because he believes that it was no accident that the New Testament was written in Greek, and that the first non-Jewish believers were Greek. So he does not see a disjuncture between the rationalism of the Greek mind and Christian faith. He of course is against the gnosticism that comes from Greek thought, but nonetheless, he sees the rationalism and reason arising out of the Greek philosophy as being necessary for faith that is based on reason.

On its face, this sounds good, but the problem with this thinking is that it is necessarilly chauvinistic, narrow and downright untrue in my humblest opion. It is chauvinistic in the sense that he does not recognize God’s ability to speak to all cultures everywhere. He unwittingly exalts the Greeks, but what about the Jews who actually were the carriers of Holy Writ for centuries? He says nothing about Jewish thought and philosophy, but exalts Greek thought. And what about Native American culture, where many tribes believed in the Great Creator, respected the land, and lived without avarice and an overweening selfish ambition.

But no, the Pope wants us to exalt not only Platonic philosophy, but also Cartesian thought, that quite frankly is too self-focused, and even helps to undergird the worst of Greek docetism. In this sense, is not Christ not more clearly seen amongst the Cherokee than the European? This view would suggest that the European was not only the possessor of the Gospel, but the possessor of a superior civilization. Now I do not believe that all cultures are equal. There are some cultures that are truly brutal and dehumanizing. However, I would assert that European culture in the time of slavery and colonization was the most brutal, dehumanizing, barbaric, and uncivilized culture of the day. The Native Americans tribes were by no means perfect (hey, everybody needs Jesus), but they were not subjugating and destroying whole groups of people like the English, the Spanish, the French, et al.

So my main beef with Pope Benedict XVI is with is lack of historical context when he made his remarks. Surely he understands that Catholicism has just as much blood on its hands historically as the Muslims do? What, does he forget the Spanish Inquisition and the Counter Reformation? We do not even have to go that far back, how about the Clergy abuse scandal of the 1990s that is still rocking the Church? In light of all of this, I just think that his comments are off base.

Tomorrow, I will show how the Bible refutes his claims.




7 responses

21 09 2006
Bob Robinson



I haven’t taken the time to read the Pope’s speech, but I was listening to NPR today–they featured a leading Islamic scholar and leading Catholic scholar debating the speech. They pointed out that the speech was mainly about the relationship between faith and reason, as you say.

As I listened to the Islamic scholar, he was winning the debate because he was pointing out the inherent flaws in the Pope’s insistence on Reason being such a great help to faith – that if we use Reason, we won’t be violent like the Muslims are. He pointed out that the history of the Catholic Church and its elevation of Reason has not resulted in a nonviolent history, but that the Catholic Church itself (and the Western Civilzations that have been influenced by Christianity) have acted extremely violently throughout history. To him, it makes no sense to say that Reason is the way to nonviolence.

21 09 2006
Dan E.

I wouldn’t expect NPR to be a voice of fairness on anything Catholic, but I can’t say I heard the debate. Hopefully the “leading Catholic scholar” asked the Muslim scholar to point out the time in history when it was official Catholic Church policy to spread the faith through violent means, as has been the case for Islam from the days of Mohammad through today.
Did the “Catholic scholar,” or NPR, point out the glaring irony in the violent threats by Muslims on the Pope’s life because of what he said?

21 09 2006

Hi Dan,

Please read my first post in this series where I specifically speak against Muslim extremists who want to kill the Pope just because he said some things they don’t agree with. But we have to also be clear about the history of the Christian church, both Prostestant and Catholic, which has a lot of blood on its hands too.

22 09 2006
Bob Robinson

The Catholic expert was the Very Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M., President of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.. A very good representative for the Catholic position.

And yes, they both did point out that the violence that has been birthed from the Pope’s remark was not justified in any way, though the Islam expert asserted that words themselves are “violent,” which I found to be faulty logic.

I agree that there is a irony that people in Islam reacted to the Pope calling them violent with threats to slit his throat!!

2 02 2008
Bibingioq Alexf

Wonderful well this reading. More Mr Sparkle send greeting at Japan. LOL

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