Reasserting Europe’s Christian identity and rebutting modern moral relativism, Rome packs a formidable punch.
Attacking “anything goes” ethics has become a cornerstone of Benedict XVI’s papacy. Here, months before becoming pontiff in April 2005, Ratzinger (The Legacy of John Paul II, 2005), elected pope in April 2005, engages in provocative dialogue with the president of the Italian Senate. These days, they say, belief itself is damned either as “fundamentalist” or “imperialist.” To claim that Western democracy, for example, is in any way “better” than Islamic sharia provokes outrage. And so the West, paralyzed by apologetic self-loathing, is in retreat. To address its crisis of confidence, Ratzinger argues, Europe mustn’t only atone for such sins of its progress as arrogance and colonialism, but defend those values that Pera maintains are essentially Western—liberalism, the rule of law, tolerance. Christians must act as creative minorities, living the Gospel as a critique of a prevalent culture of materialism, consumerism and ennui. Taking on philosophical heavyweights from Nietzsche to Derrida, these polemicists are feisty thinkers: In fact, Pera’s “just war” defense of America’s Iraq incursion is downright scary. Ratzinger’s is the more measured voice, and his skill at synthesizing vast historical currents from the time of the fifth-century pope, Gelasius I, to yesterday is significant. From commentary on bioethical dilemmas to the war on terrorism, Ratzinger/Pera deliver a primer on orthodox Catholic social theology, circa 2005. Sure to spark controversy, their manifesto is required reading for any student of comparative religion or Vatican politics—and, as Ratzinger’s predecessor proved, Rome’s politics can indeed shape the world.
Sharp intellect in service of moral vision.