Saturday, December 02, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI plays Aragorn Elessar

Who would imagine it? Twice in two decades, a Pope rallies the West!

So says Daniel Henninger of the Opinion Journal:

One may assume that in some Himalayan redoubt, history's latest homicidal utopians, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, believe that coupling their ideology to Islamic suicide bombers--in New York, London or Baghdad--is more than a match for the will of a morally diminished West. Are they wrong?

Benedict XVI has written with force about a morally diminished Europe. So like his predecessor, this pope decided to engage in the greatest military and intellectual battle of our age.

We all know how a few months ago at the University of Regensburg, Benedict made himself a central player in the post-9/11 era by quoting the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. Not much noted at the time was Benedict's second quotation from Manuel II: "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably [emphasis added] is contrary to God's nature." Benedict's lecture at Regensburg mentioned "reason" and "rationality" repeatedly. He went so far as to claim that the "rapprochement" between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry (reason) was "of decisive importance" for world history. "This convergence," said Benedict, "created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe."

Very simply, he is talking about and defending what we call "the West"--both the place and the classically liberal idea, which radical Islam wants to blow up. Just as John Paul championed the jailed or hiding dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, Benedict is seeking similar protections for persecuted Christian minorities--indeed all minorities--across the Islamic world. Starting in Turkey.

Arriving in Ankara, the pope immediately raised two ideas from the wellsprings of the West. He said on his first day that a just society requires freedom of religion and on behalf of Turkey's tiny Catholic community, he raised the issue of property rights.

He's right as far as he goes. Pope Benedict XVI does what Pope John Paul the Great had done: he witnesses humanity's need for Christ. He emphasizes the unity of Faith and Reason because such unity exists, and only through it can we truly experience Reality.

He defends the West to the extent that the West manifests the lived experience of this reality. Commitment to human rights and the Rule of Law certainly stand as signs of the West's union with Christ. However, much that the West praises the Pope will rightly decry.

Mr. Henninger correctly identifies the Pope's concern for Europe's moral relativism. He may not appreciate just how far the Pope's concern goes. The Church's opposition to abortion, euthanasia and ESCR may have doctrinal foundations. So, too, does her condemnation of the exploitation of the poor and the idealization--or outright idolatry--rampant in society. Human beings are neither autonomous and absolute selves or anonymous parts of a mechanistic society. Human beings are persons, created in the image and likeness of God.

Moral Relativism--of every political persuasion--and islamic jihadism represent the fundamental threats to our societal life. Both rupture our collective lives as witnesses to the God who loved us and saved us through the blood of his Son. The Pope will rally the West to stand as witnesses to this God. In doing so, he stands against the ravenous lions that seek the Lord's sheep.

We should not forget this. Pope Benedict XVI, like all of Peter's successors, is a shepherd appointed by the Good Shepherd. Only in this way is he a defender of the West.

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