Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

‘Tis the season for commentary on Pope Benedict’s first year. On the frenzied left, John Cornwell (he of the Hitler’s Pope defamation) is among those writing that I am very unhappy with Benedict, which is nonsense. Cornwell, writing in the Times of London, says that I aspire to being the “alternative pope,” which is nonsense on stilts. For an appreciation of the Holy Father’s leadership, see my “Pope Benedict on Love and Justice” in the May issue of F IRST T HINGS .

Amy Welborn posts other comments on the first year, including this from the premier dissident, Swiss theologian Father Hans Küng: “Benedict must choose between an eventual retreat to the pre-modern, pre-Reformation world of the Middle Ages, or a forward-looking long view which will take the Church into the post-modern universe that the rest of the world entered for quite some time.”

Change “Benedict” to “Paul VI” or “John Paul II,” and you have the same statement Father Küng issued 10, 20, and 40 years ago. One of Amy’s respondents imagines Küng saying to his secretary, “Und I am tired today zo, lizzen, just release article number 4 to ze press, okay, Helga?” That sounds about right.

Adam Gopnick is himself a bit of a know-it-all (albeit without a nimbus), but this in the New Yorker on the so-called Gospel of Judas is worth reading:

[The Gospel of Judas] reminds us of the literary strength of the canonic Gospels, exactly for their marriage of the celestial and the commonplace. We want a bit of Hicksville and a bit of Heaven in our sacred texts, matter and man and magic together. Simply as editors, the early Church fathers did a fine job of leaving the strong stories in and the weird ones out. The orthodox canon gives us a Christ who is convincing as a character in a way that this Gnostic one is not: angry and impatient and ethically engaged, easily exasperated at the limitations and nagging of his dim disciples and dimmer family relations, brilliantly concrete in his parables and human in his pain. Whether one agrees with Jefferson that this man lived, taught, and died, or with St. Paul that he lived and died and was born again, it is hard not to prefer him to the Jesus of the new Gospel, with his stage laughter and significant winks and coded messages. Making Judas more human makes Jesus oddly less so, less a man with a divine and horrible burden than one more know-it-all with a nimbus. As metaphor or truth, we’re sticking with the old story. Give us that old-time religion—but, to borrow a phrase from St. Augustine, maybe not quite yet.

The other day I cited George Will and others who are skeptics not so much about global warming as about the tone of those who are invoking apocalyptic scenarios with a stridency bordering on the hysterical. In yesterday’s Times , Nicholas D. Kristof (whose Pulitzer was announced the same day) tells us about the gigatons of methane buried at the bottom of the ocean. If things hot up enough, that methane “might be released as a gargantuan oceanic burp.”

“To be sure,” Kristof allows, “some experts are skeptical.” But he concludes: “The best reason for action on global warming remains the basic imperative to safeguard our planet in the face of uncertainty, and our leaders are failing wretchedly in that responsibility. If we need an apocalypse to concentrate our minds, then just imagine our descendents sitting on the top of Mount Ararat beside their ark, cursing us for triggering a methane burp.”

I may be wrong, but I just don’t see the prospect of national urgency galvanized by worry about a methane burp. It seems to me that one of the most unhelpful ways to “concentrate our minds” on the claims and counter-claims about global warming, and on the price of the radical steps proposed to ward off the putative threat, is to deliberately indulge in daydreaming about apocalypse. Come down from Mount Ararat, Nick. There’s an important conversation going on down here.

There’s been a flood of responses to the “Meet the Press” show that aired on Sunday. By the way, for those of you who wondered what I was doing on television on Easter Sunday morning, don’t worry. I was saying Mass at Immaculate Conception here in Manhattan. The program was taped the previous Wednesday.

Thanks to all of you who thought I did reasonably well, or even a little better than that. Many others thought I was unspeakably arrogant. Me, arrogant? My chief offense, it seems, was beating up on that sweet little nun. Sister Joan Chittister is no sweet little nun. I did gently advise her to “consult the Catechism” on the difference between the Church’s teaching on abortion and on capital punishment. I’m told that Laura Ingraham repeated that little intervention throughout her talk show the next day.

The most telling exchange, it seemed to me, was when Sister Joan was prompted to say that she includes abortion among those “new things” on which the Church needs to change its teaching. As new, one might note, as 1,900 years ago when the Didache explained that one of the chief differences between Christians and the surrounding pagan society is that Christians do not kill unborn children.

Some of you wondered why I didn’t challenge Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun on his convoluted trashing of the American people as a horde of consumerist warmongers, or whatever. Where would one begin? With only one hour in such a target-rich environment, one must be very selective.

And yes, those of you who criticized Tim Russert for not including an evangelical representative of the “religious right” have a point. In Mr. Russert’s defense, however, I expect he thought Joel Osteen represented that sector of the national conversation. Osteen is much less Charles Colson or James Dobson than he is Norman Vincent Peale or Robert Schuler. In certain media worlds, these distinctions are not apparent. “What’s the difference? They’re all evangelicals aren’t they?” Well, not quite. You see . . .

In addition to which :

Cynical is the word for the way the media treated Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), as a public relations ploy to put a “friendly face” on the new pontificate. Far from being a mush of soft and fuzzy platitudes, the encyclical is a very substantive and even tough statement on the relationship between justice and love. So writes Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in “Pope Benedict on Love and Justice” in the May issue of F IRST T HINGS . Isn’t it time that you became a subscriber to F IRST T HINGS ? Click here .

Avery Cardinal Dulles says of Catholic Matters :

"It would be difficult to find a guide so knowledgeable, so theologically astute, and so engaging as a writer. Father Neuhaus presents the ‘high adventure’ of a Catholic orthodoxy that stands firmly against the winds of adversity and confusion."

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles