Thursday, April 21, 2005

No more Popery

I'm feeling poped out, but I want to make a few, final, broad points.

In various interactions with different people, my criticism, and the rest of the "liberal" criticism of the new Pope, was tagged as attacking his beliefs. Nothing could be less true. The Romans said "De gustibus non disputandum, and I'd extend that to religious beliefs as well. Things we justify by faith are not subject to the sort of debate that are appropriate to discussions of policy, because policy ought to be constrained by the rational, while faith is not. Some will see that as a crack at religion, but it isn't, it's just how things are.

One thing I respected about John Paul II was his moral constancy. I didn't always agree with him, but his actions flowed clearly from his stated beliefs. He was pro-life, which meant not just opposing abortion, but also euthanasia, assisted suicide, and some instances of removing life support. He also was a strong voice against the death penalty. He opposed most war as a needless taking of life. He fought poverty because poverty destroys lives. It's morally consistent, but those positions are scattered all over the American political spectrum.

I don't fault Pope Benedict XVI for believing that abortion is the greatest sin against life. That's a matter of faith. I disagree with him, but I don't expect to change his faith. I do object to Cardinal Ratzinger, the Grand Inquisitor, telling Catholic voters in the United States of America that voting for their chosen candidate is sinful if the candidate disagrees with Ratzinger's interpretation of Church doctrine.

Just as the Cardinal is entitled to his belief system, and a Cardinal's job is to interpret Church doctrine, and the Inquisitor's job is to enforce that doctrine, John Kerry's job is to represent the people of Massachusetts, to govern fairly and honestly, to respect and defend citizens of every religion, and to ensure that pro-choice Catholics, anti-abortion Catholics, and pro-life Catholics all can participate in public life. Ratzinger overstepped the bounds by interfering in our election. Not because of his views, but because he was a leader of the government of a foreign nation, and as a religious leader, he had other tools at his disposal. He chose the stick while others would have chosen a carrot.

And that's where things get interesting. I suspect that the divide over Ratzinger's elevation to the papacy reflects two trends. Among Catholics, some will defend the Pope qua Pope. Others will evaluate a Pope by a unique set of Papal criteria.

In the general public, including some Catholics, this is probably a pretty good example of George Lakoff's "Strong Father"/"Nurturant Parent" dichotomy. I suspect that there's a big gray area between those two, and I'm not sure how much it's supposed to apply outside of the US, so take this with a grain of salt.

Joseph Ratzinger is not a nurturant whatever, and no one seems to be claiming he is. His job as Inquisitor was to be the Church's strong father figure. People in the public who are glad that he was chosen (excluding people who are predisposed to favor any Pope) are probably responding to the firm hand at the wheel. People who are unhappy with his selection (excluding those who are predisposed to dislike any Pope) are probably turned off by the absence of any nurturing tendencies in his past.

That's certainly my position. Pope John Paul II was nurturing. He reached out to other religions, he cared for Eastern Europe as the Cold War intensified and then ended. Ratzinger's friends refer to him as God's Rottweiler. Even if the two men have identical doctrinal positions (which some people have claimed), I think I'll like Benedict XVI less than John Paul II because of stylistic and policy reasons. The same religious beliefs can lead to different policy outcomes, and I think we're going to see how true that can be over the next few years.

And now, back to octopus shirts.