Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth - Part 2: The Rottweiler's Jesus

[Continuing from Part 1 of my review of Pope Benedict XVI's  book, Jesus of Nazareth

Part 2: The Rottweiler's Jesus

Joseph Ratzinger
Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) while serving as the Chair of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Tübingen, in 1968, wrote thus about the doctrine of the primacy of conscience. “Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority, stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.[1]

That was long before Ratzinger climbed the hierarchy to the very pinnacle, which is of course, the papacy. On the way up the ladder, he earned the nickname "God's Rottweiler" for silencing many in the Church who dared to step outside the official teachings of the church.

The primacy of conscience, it seemed, applied only when it was not in conflict with the Church.

God's Rottweiler makes an appearance in the book, Jesus of Nazareth. Ratzinger's interpretation of the passage where the Devil himself, in person, puts Jesus to the test is that it is a theological debate between the Devil and Jesus. He calls the second temptation a vision. Perhaps all of the temptations are supposed to be a visions. He takes the opportunity to have a go at the scholarly community which has tried hard to excavate Jesus from early Christian writings and has come up with the shocking notion that Jesus was probably a nobody, just another preacher who got killed.

"The alleged findings of scholarly exegesis have been used to put together the most dreadful books that destroy the figure of Jesus and dismantle the faith." (pp. 35)

The dreadful scholarly books! Some of them like Thomas Thomson and Hans Küng are Catholics and got a dose of the Rottweiler's medicine for their heresy. Fortunately, the whole world is not Catholic.

But let's get back to reviewing the book.

"The common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history - that, everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity." (pp. 35)

There is no fundamental dogma that God cannot act in history. Ratzinger is attacking a straw man here.

Catholics and most theists postulate a god that interacts with us and acts in history as well as in the present. When we ask for evidence for this interaction, they are shocked. What is Ratzinger's shocked response?

"The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding him. For it already implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything but what we can experimentally test and grasp. To think like that is to make oneself God. And to do that is to abase not only God, but the world and oneself too." (pp. 37)

No, it is not arrogance. If god interacts with us, shouldn't we be able to observe the interaction? If not, it is not arrogance to ask how we can know that god is interacting with us.

It is Ratzinger who talks about the gospels being eye-witness accounts! Ratzinger tries to have it both ways. It is Ratzinger who wants to claim that his god has acted in history and calls it arrogance when we would like some evidence for the same.

Remember, he was the head of the church that is also a saint making factory which involves declaring that miracles have happened. If miracles happen, can secular scientists not observe them? If they can't, how did Ratzinger's church determine that miracles did happen?

"And we make this same demand of God and Christ and his Church throughout the whole of history. "If you exist, God," we say, "then you'll just have to show yourself. You'll have to part the clouds that conceal you and give us the clarity that we deserve. If you, Christ, are really the Son of God, and not just another one of the enlightened individuals who keep appearing in the course of history, then you'll just have to prove it more clearly than you are doing now. And if the Church is really supposed to be yours, you'll have to make that much more obvious than it is at present." (pp. 30,31)

"Did not, and does not, the Redeemer of the world have to prove his credentials by feeding everyone? Isn't the problem of feeding the world-and, more generally,m are not social problems - the primary, true yardstick by which redemption has to be measured?" (pp. 31)

Good questions indeed!

"If you claim to be the Church of God, then start by making sure that the world has bread - the rest comes later. It is hard to answer this challenge, precisely because the cry of the hungry penetrates so deeply into the ears and into the soul - as well it should." (pp. 32)

Sure, bread for everyone would be great. So would not raping alter boys and not defending the priests who did, tooth and claw. But asking for that would be arrogance, wouldn't it Herr Rottweiler?

Ratzinger knows what exactly is wrong with this world.

"The German Jesuit Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis, once wrote: "Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration.
When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing. It is not just the negative outcome of the Marxist experiment that proves this.
" (pp. 33)

"The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. And this aid, proudly claiming to "know better," is itself what first turned the "third world" into what we mean today by that term. It has thrust aside indigenous religious, ethical, and social structures and filled the resulting vacuum with its technocratic mind-set. The idea was that we could turn stones into bread; instead, our "aid" has only given stones in place of bread. The issues is the primacy of God. The issue is acknowledging that he is reality, that he is the reality without which nothing else can be good." (pp. 33,34)

All the problems we face is because we have been leaving out God. This from the man who does not permit Catholic social workers to distribute condoms. Why cares if that could save lives? The world needs Ratzinger's god, the one who interacts with history, but does not permit us to ask how we can know that he did.

This invisible god is the answer!

Few Christians can refrain from waxing eloquent on how good god is. Ratzinger is no different.

"And the goodness of the human heart can ultimately come only from the One who is goodness, who is the Good itself." (pp. 33)

But the mystery of hungry and dying children shall not be discussed!

"Of course, one can still ask why God did not make a world in which his presence is more evident - why Christ did not leave the world with another sign of his presence so radiant that no one could resist it." (pp. 34)

You may ask, so long as you do not reach any dreadfully wrong answers. Ratzinger helps you with the right answer.

"This is the mystery of God and man, which we find so inscrutable. We live in this world where God is not so manifest as tangible things are but can be sought and found only when the heart sets out on the "exodus" from "Egypt". It is in this world that we are obliged to resist the delusions of false philosophies and to recognize that we do not live by bread alone, but first and foremost by obedience to God's word. Only when this obedience is put into practice does the attitude develop that is also capable of providing bread for all." (pp. 34)

All we need is obedience and resisting delusions of 'false' philosophies, which is of course every thing other than Ratzinger's. See?

"The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to use directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for the reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes. Soloviev attributes to the Antichrist a book entitled The Open Way to World Peace and Welfare. This book becomes something of a new Bible, whose real message is the worship of well-being and rational planning." (pp. 41)

Well being, rational planning, reasonable decision making are all the ways of the devil; the tempter. Sigh.

While we are at it, how about a little rewriting of history?

"The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was now expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendour. The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use, power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus' Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century." (pp. 39,40)

The allusion here is that the Church has been struggling to shake off political power, except perhaps for a little misadventure at an early stage. Sure, we believe you!

If the Bible can be reinterpreted, why not history?

[Read the concluding part of my review.] 

[1] From a commentary on Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”) in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Vorgrimler, Herbert (Ed.), Burns and Oats, 1969, p. 134.

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