Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » April 2005 » But if the shoe fits....

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04/21/2005: But if the shoe fits....

While I'm on the road here, it appears that my hotel (like many) engages in the practice of giving guests a complimentary copy of the local fishwrap. I found it interesting that it carried a front-page story (the Buffalo, NY area must have a large Catholic population) on yesterday's news conference by a number of American cardinals on the election of the new pope (I had the live broadcast of that news conference inflicted on me (via CNN) by the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, as that is what was playing on the airport TVs while I waited for my plane yesterday morning), under the headline "U.S. cardinals try to soften 'enforcer' image of pontiff". The caption to an accompanying picture reads: "Cardinals Edward M. Egan, left, of New York and Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C., confer Wednesday in Rome as they meet with media to counteract caricature of new pope as authoritarian."

WTF? "Caricature"?

Yes, Ratzinger has given people the impression that he's an authoritarian. And if you believe that this impression is in any way inaccurate, well, then you no doubt believe that I am a die-hard conservative who voted for George W. Bush last election.

I don't think I've weighed in with my own personal reaction to Ratzinger's election. In large part, that's because there's a large part of my mind that's telling me I have no right to have an opinion. I no longer identify as a Catholic, and because I'm not a Catholic, it's not like I have a say over who should be pope. Ok, granted, that if I were a Catholic I'd still have no say over who should be pope, but at least in theory I'd be affected by the decision.

So Ratzinger thinks I'm in some way evil, perverted, and responsible in large part for the collapse of Western civilization because I don't believe in God. So he thinks I'm a twisted, sick, evil fuck because I may have engaged in sexual intercourse (and possibly in other sexual practices so perverted he'd probably faint if he thinks about them) with women I've not been married to. Or with women I was married to, but not in a Catholic Church in a ceremony presided over by a priest. Or for that matter, with more than one woman I was married to.... So he thinks that I'm an accomplice to murder because I think the only person who should have the right to decide whether a woman carries a pregnancy to term is that woman. So he thinks I'm responsible for the collapse of the traditional family because I have a few friends who like to have sex with persons of their own sex, and because I believe that these friends of mine should enjoy the same civil rights that I do. So he thinks that I'm unspeakably evil and corrupt because I believe that individuals should be permitted to decide whether or not they even want to reproduce at all, and if they decide they don't, they should be able to enjoy sexual activity while avoiding pregnancy by means of technologies more reliable than "playing Vatican roulette".

Fuck him, then. He has no authority over me. George Carlin put it very well: "I have as much authority as the pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it."

However, the Church is a big institution, and more people take it (and by extension, take Ratzinger) seriously than ought to. That being the case, I can't help but think that his selection is a very bad thing. Below the fold (for anyone interested) I present an article discussing, and quoting at length, Rabbi Michael Lerner, which makes that case very well...

The Selection of Cardinal Ratzinger Is Bad News for the World and for the Jews

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the world's largest circulation progressive Jewish magazine, TIKKUN, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco, took the unusual step of criticizing the choice made by the Catholic Church for its new Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Lerner was careful to make clear that he was NOT speaking as leader of The Tikkun Community, the interfaith organization whch he co-chairs, which has NOT taken a stand on these issues, but only as editor of TIKKUN magazine. Moreover, Lerner started with the following: "I want to bless the new pope and pray that he transcends his views on gays, women, secularists, the lack of validity of other religious paths, etc. I also pray that all the good people in the Church who do not share his views and want to preserve the social justice orientation of Jesus' teachings will join with us in creating an interfaith Network of Progressive Spiritual Activism--now more than ever such a context both for secular and for progressive religious and spiritual peole is badly needed."

Rabbi Lerner issued the following statement: "Since the days in which he served in the Hitler Youth and Nazi army in Germany (apparently against his will, but nevertheless apparently absorbing the deep patriarchal and authoritarian character structure that the fascists did so much to foster in younth) to his role as the leader of the forces that suppressed the liberatory aspects of Vatican II and purged or silenced the Church of its most creative leadership (including German Catholic theologians Eugene Drewermann and Hans Kung, Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, and several prominent American Catholic thinkers), to the present moment in which he is recognized as the leader most identified with the forces of reaction and suppression of dissent within the Church, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has distinguished himself as a man who can be counted on to side with the most anti-humane and repressive forces, in opposition to those who seek to give primacy to a world of peace and justice.

"Although normally Jews would welcome any choice of leadership by our sister religion, we have particular reason to comment on this choice.

"Jews have a powerful stake and commitment in ending global poverty and oppression. We fully well understand that in a world filled with pain and cruelty, the resulting anger is often channeled in racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic directions. Both as a matter of principle, based on our commitment to a prophetic vision, and as a matter of self-interest, Jews have disproportionately supported liberal and progressive social change movements seeking to end war and poverty.

"So it was with great distress that we watched as Cardinal Ratzinger led the Vatican in the past twenty-five years on a path that opposed providing birth control information to the poor of the world, thereby ensuring that AIDS would spread and kill millions in Africa.

"And we watched with even greater distress as this Cardinal supported efforts to involve the Church in distancing itself from political candidates or leaders who did not agree with the Church's teachings on abortion and gay rights, prioritizing these issues over whether that candidate agreed with the Church on issues of peace and social justice. As a result, Cardinal Ratzinger has led the Church away from its natural alliance with Jews in fighting for peace and social justice and toward a stance which in effect allies the Church with the most reactionary politicians whose policies are militaristic and offer a preferential option for the rich.

"We can't help noticing that under Cardinal Ratzinger's tutelage the Church began moves to elevate the infamous Pope Pius XII to the status of saint. Instead of repenting for the failure of the Church to give unequivocal messages telling all Catholics that they would be prevented from receiving communion for collaborating or cooperating in any way with Nazi rule, or for failing to hide and protect Jews who were marked for extermination, Ratzinger has sought to whitewash this disgraceful moment in Church history. Many Jews are outraged at a Church that denies communion to those who have remarried or those who oppose making abortion illegal but that did not similarly deny communion to those who participate in crimes against humanity.

"In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger publicly praised the fascist movement in the Church known as Opus Dei and supported canonization of Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, an open fascist who served in the government of Spain's dictator Franco, and who publicly praised Hitler.

"While many of us agree with Ratzinger's critique of moral relativism, he extends that critique in illegitimate and dangerous ways, equating secularism with moral relativism and suggesting that secularism is now repressing religion. Since many, many Jews are secular, we have much concern about the way that this assault can quickly turn in anti-Semtiic directions (some of us remember the Nazi-supporting priest Father Coughlin of the 1930s whose US radio show always insisted that he was only agaisnt the secular Jews and hence wasn't "really" anti-Semitic). But whether or not he turns against Jews, those of us who are religious Jews or people of faith in other religions should rally against the attempt to demean all secular people and blame on them the problems of selfishness actually rooted in the dynamics of the the global capitalist market.

"Ratzinger also publicly critiques all those inside the Church who are tolerant enough to think that other religions may have equal validity as a path to God. This is a slippery slope toward anti-Semitism and a return to the chauvinistic and triumphalist views that led the Church, when it had the power to do so, to develop its infamous crusades and inquisitions.

"In 1997 Ratzinger said that Europeans attracted to Buddhism were actually seeking an 'autoerotic spirituality' that offers 'transcendence without imposing concrete religious obligations.' Hindusim, he said, offers 'false hope,' in that it guarantees 'purification' based on a 'morally cruel' concept of reincarnation resembling 'a continuous circle of hell.' At the time, Cardinal Ratzinger predicted that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the Catholic church's main enemy."
I feel compelled to comment here. Reincarnation is "morally cruel"? A "continuous circle of hell"? I'm only familiar with the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, not the Hindu one, but how can one consider a continuing cycle of rebirths which allows for an individual to "get it right" eventually to be more cruel than a doctrine which says that, basically, you only get one shot at life, and if you screw it up you'll spend the rest of eternity in unending torment? The one shot and eternal torment doctrine strikes me as much, much more morally cruel. As for Ratzinger's attitudes towards Buddhism, the less said the better. As far as I'm concerned, there's no "true religion"; Buddhism doesn't "get it right" either. But having studied both, I'm confident in my own view that Buddhism is the major world religion that comes closest to "getting it right"; compared to Buddhism, Christianity doesn't even come close.
"Ratzinger is being falsely described as a conservative, when in fact he, despite his publicly genteel manner, is a raging reactionary. Unlike many American conservatives who oppose gay sexual practices but not their legal rights, Ratzinger in 1992 argued against human rights for gays, stressing that their civil liberties could be "legitimately limited."

"Those of us in the Jewish world who have enormous respect for Christianity and for the wisdom and beauty of the Catholic tradition are in mourning today that the Church has confirmed for itself a destructive direction that will hurt not only Catholics but all those who seek peace and justice in the world.

"We remain hopeful that the new pope may return to his original more progressive positions (pre-1968) and realize that the world needs a church that can respond compassionately and wisely to what is needed rather than remain wedded to dogma that is so destructive. In a statement that Ratzinger made a few years ago, he seemed deeply aligned with TIKKUN's ciritque of the selfishness and materialism of the contemporary world. We hope that he stops blaming that on secularists and comes to understand that secularists too, as well as people from other faiths, can be allies in the struggle for a new ethos of love and generosity. We pray that he may find a way to bring a better, kinder, more loving and compassionate agenda to the Catholic Church. It is precisely because we continue to feel allied with the Church and see it as an important ally in the struggle for social justice and peace that we are so dismayed at this misdirection. Meanwhile, we reaffirm our solidarity with the many millions of Catholics who had hoped for a very different kind of Pope who would make the Church more open to women's leadership, to prioritizing social justice, to rethinking its opposition to promoting birth control, and to returning to the hopeful spirit of Vatican II. We can say publicly what many of you can only say privately-that this new Pope does not represent what is most beautiful and sacred in the teachings of Jesus."

Late this evening, Rabbi Lerner was interviewed on a national call-in radio show on the issues discussed here, and he mentioned the problem that Catholics have of speaking out on these issues, given Cardinal Ratzinger's tendency to take retributive actions to purge from positions in the church those who disagreed with his views. A retired catholic priest called in, said he agreed 100% with Rabbi Lerner's position, and said that he wouldn't dare say these things under his own name for fear that his retirement pension would be cut off, so he thanked Rabbi Lerner for saying for progressive Catholics what many do not dare say for themselves.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of TIKKUN and author of ten books, including Healing Israel/Palestine (North Atlantic Books, 2003) and Jewish Renewal (Harper Perennial, 1995).

Tikkun | 2342 Shattuck Ave #1200 | Berkeley | CA | 94704

Len on 04.21.05 @ 09:51 AM CST

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