'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Benedict: The Pope of Mendacity 

Like most religions, the Catholic Church has an ambivalent relationship with its history. Some priests and parishoners have faith precisely because of the Church's failings, because they see themselves, their personal inadequacies and their attempts to overcome them writ large within the Church itself, while others consider faith so fragile that it is necessary to deliberately falsify the Church's past to create a sanitized image that does not unduly trouble the masses.

Unfortunately, it is becoming quite obvious that Pope Benedict XVI falls within the latter category. Last September, as described here, Benedict absurdly suggested, quite deliberately, that Catholicism, unlike Islam, has not relied upon violence and forced confessions to propagate the faith. He was engaged in the sinister enterprise of scapegoating Islam for the conduct of his Church, aligning himself with a neoconservative vision of the world. He was rightly condemned for it, and found himself subjected to the humiliation of having to apologize for his remarks several times.

Given that Benedict taught as a professor at three prominent German universities in the 1960s and 1970s, it strains credulity to believe that he is unaware of the Church's history of violence in Europe and the Middle East during medieval times. We would have to believe that, despite such an education, he remains ignorant of episodes like the forced conversion and expulsion of Muslims from Spain in the late 15th and early 16th centuries in order to assert that he is currently expressing such views sincerely.

Last week, Benedict traveled to South America, where he made a number of public appearances in Brazil. Again, as with his remarks about Islam, he revealed that he is especially troubled by the Church's history of violence and exploitation, and perceives an urgency about falsifying the record for the preservation of the faith. In this instance, the subject was, quite predictably, the Church's atrocious treatment of the continent's indigeneous people.

Here is Benedict's perspective:

Yet what did the acceptance of the Christian faith mean for the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean? For them, it meant knowing and welcoming Christ, the unknown God whom their ancestors were seeking, without realizing it, in their rich religious traditions. Christ is the Saviour for whom they were silently longing. It also meant that they received, in the waters of Baptism, the divine life that made them children of God by adoption; moreover, they received the Holy Spirit who came to make their cultures fruitful, purifying them and developing the numerous seeds that the incarnate Word had planted in them, thereby guiding them along the paths of the Gospel. In effect, the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture. Authentic cultures are not closed in upon themselves, nor are they set in stone at a particular point in history, but they are open, or better still, they are seeking an encounter with other cultures, hoping to reach universality through encounter and dialogue with other ways of life and with elements that can lead to a new synthesis, in which the diversity of expressions is always respected as well as the diversity of their particular cultural embodiment.

Is it really necessary, at this point, to document the atrocities perpetrated in the Americas by the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Church since the time of Columbus, Cortez, De Soto and Pizarro? If so, go here for one example, or consider Benjamin Dangl's description of the the looting of the mineral wealth of Potosi in Bolivia by the Spanish in his recent book, The Price of Fire, wealth obtained through the mining of silver by slave labor, wealth that the Church gratefully received to build numerous ornate churches there among the impoverished.

In effect, Benedict has pulled back the curtain, and exposed the Eurocentrism at the heart of his Catholic vision. The indigenous peoples of the world should be grateful to have been brought along the paths of the Gospel, no matter how ruthlessly it was achieved, and, indeed, in order to aspire to the privilege they must suppress their own experience through a sort of collective amnesia. Accordingly, it is no surprise to discover that Benedict invoked an illusory narrative of benign Catholic modernization in the Americas to confront another Eurocentric social philosophy, Marxism. One gets the impression that, for Benedict, indigenous culture is an inpenetrable void.

Benedict's willingness to blithely erase the suffering of the indigenous peoples of the Americas from the historical record raises troubling questions in light of his own personal background. In 1943, at the age of 14, he joined the Hitler Youth, although, the BBC reassures us, he was not an enthusiastic member.

Even if we take this at face value, one wonders, did his youthful willingness to participate in the rituals of Nazism suggest an indifference to mass brutality when it was directed towards non-Christians? Did he perceive the Jews of Germany, like the indigenous peoples of the Americas, as outside the faith, and therefore, at the mercy of vicious historical processes beyond the protection of the Christian God? Did he, and does he, and one hesitates to say something so horrible, believe that the catastrophes that befell the Jews of Europe and the indigenous people of the Americas was partially the result of their persistence in rejecting the gospel?

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