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All right, I’ve finished, at last, a serious read through the new encyclical Caritas in Veritate , recording—for my own edification, though probably no one else’s—the first thoughts that occurred to me along the way. For what they’re worth, here the ten posts are:

one , two , three , four , five , six , seven , eight , nine , and ten .

Time now for me to try some second thoughts. What does the encyclical move me to consider that I had failed to consider before? What does respect for Joseph Ratzinger’s great theological mind force me to rethink? What does respect for Pope Benedict XVI’s papal authority demand that I rephrase and reform? What is new in Caritas in Veritate ? And how must I, as a result of its promulgation, change my life?

This, by the way, is how I think encyclicals should be read. If you don’t engage the text, determining exactly where it strains you as a reader and believer and thinker, then assent is meaningless.

Much of the commentary—sliding, alas, down the greasy and typical old lines of liberals vs. conservatives and quick to shout at its opponents—has failed, I think, to read the text seriously.

But there it is: The division between left and right is real, and it won’t be overcome merely by saying that it shouldn’t exist. At a quick glance, I’d say that the tendency to politicize the text has been much worse on the left than the right: Among the many who’ve decided this is an occasion to swipe at economic and social conservatives, where is any admission that part of the material in the text forces them to rethink some of their own commitments?

Maybe I’m wrong—I’d welcome correction on the point—but it looks as though, in the innumerable comments that say there’s something in the encyclical to displease both conservatives and liberals, the turn is always then to say that therefore conservatives were wrong and must change. I’ve seen nothing saying that therefore liberals must also change.

Ah, well, the claim that we should rise above politics occurs in a political context, and, whatever the beyondists say , there’s no easy way out of that. Witness my own inability to avoid snarling back here against those who’ve snarled at me about this encyclical.

Anyway, coming soon: Second Thoughts on Caritas in Veritate .

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