So I’m reading the Introduction To Christianity by Pope Benedict XVI when he was still Father Ratzinger, and good lord it’s dense. I’m still in the first chapter, and I read and I struggle and I get to the end of the section and all of a sudden he makes his point and I go, “Woah. That is so profound. But I have no idea how he got here.” Like I said, it’s really dense.
So here’s something a little more penetrable from his introduction, like I promised, because I’ve happily spent the day catching up on my TiVoed BBC America, at the expense of my little blog.
From “Preface To the New Edition | ‘Introduction to Christianity’ | Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”
Since this work was first published, more than thirty years have passed, in which world history has moved along at a brisk pace. In retrospect, two years seem to be particularly important milestones in the final decades of the millennium that has just come to an end: 1968 and 1989. The year 1968 marked the rebellion of a new generation, which not only considered postwar reconstruction in Europe as inadequate, full of injustice, full of selfishness and greed, but also viewed the entire course of history since the triumph of Christianity as a mistake and a failure. These young people wanted to improve things at last, to bring about freedom, equality, and justice, and they were convinced that they had found the way to this better world in the mainstream of Marxist thought. The year 1989 brought the surprising collapse of the socialist regimes in Europe, which left behind a sorry legacy of ruined land and ruined souls. Anyone who expected that the hour had come again for the Christian message was disappointed. Although the number of believing Christians throughout the world is not small, Christianity failed at that historical moment to make itself heard as an epoch-making alternative. Basically, the Marxist doctrine of salvation (in several differently orchestrated variations, of course) had taken a stand as the sole ethically motivated guide to the future that was at that same time consistent with a scientific world view. Therefore, even after the shock of 1989, it did not simply abdicate. We need only to recall how little was said about the horrors of the Communist gulag, how isolated Solzhinitsyn’s voice remained: No one speaks about any of that. A sort of shame forbids it; even Pol Pot’s murderous regime is mentioned only occasionally in passing (!). But there was still disappointment and a deep-seated perplexity. People no longer trust grand moral promises, and after all, that is what Marxism had understood itself to be. It was about justice for all, about peace, about doing away with unfair master-servant relationships, and so on. They believed that they had to dispense with ethical principles for the time being and that they were allowed to use terror as a beneficial means to those noble ends. Once the resulting human devastation became visible, even for a moment, the former ideologues preferred to retreat to a pragmatic position or else declared quite openly their contempt for ethics. We can observe a tragic example of this in Colombia, where a campaign was started, under the Marxist banner at first, to liberate small farmers who had been downtrodden by wealthy financiers. Today, instead, a rebel republic has developed, beyond governmental control, which quite openly depends on drug trafficking and no longer seeks any moral justification for it, especially since it thereby satisfies a demand in wealthy nations and at the same time gives bread to people who would otherwise not be able to expect much of anything from the world economy.
It’s surprising how well he knows Marx, and how fair and nonjudgmental he is while quoting him. He treats him as well as any other philosopher, only more so because of his influence.
Okay, and while we’re on the subject of really spooky coincidences, RC2 has this:
Naturally, this joy [of numerous vocations in Africa-RC2] brings with it a certain bitterness, because at least some of them are coming out of hope for social advancement. By becoming priests they practically become the chief of the tribe, they naturally receive special treatment, they live a different kind of life, etcetera. So the weeds and the wheat go together in this marvelous growth in vocations, and the bishops must be very attentive to discernment and not simply be content to have many future priests. They must look for which are really the true vocations, discerning between the weeds and the wheat.
It seemed to me that that’s how the church always filled its ranks. First son inherits, second son the uniform, third son the cloth. Then the rest of the people, without any inheritance for a big brother to inherit, joined the church because it guaranteed a meal, just like any other profession. Even if the man’s own intentions aren’t as noble as we would like to think, I wouldn’t think it matters as much as does the congregation who has a priest in their church, who would otherwise have no one. In other words, I think many of those Africans appreciate the tending of their souls more than we should resent the cynical pragmatism of the priest.