Thank God for the informed perspective and articulate writings of Catholic theologians like James Carroll.
In his July 16 Boston Globe commentary, Carroll thoughtfully examines Pope Benedict XVI’s latest “reactionary initiatives” (see here and here) and concludes, in part, that the pope “inadvertently shows that he shares a basic conviction” with the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.
As you’re no doubt aware, all of these writers have recently cited “insights of science or the rise of sectarian violence” to denounce the very idea of God. Benedict, of course, doesn’t denounce or deny God, yet as Carroll points out, he nevertheless conveys the “basic conviction” shared by Dawkins, et al, that “religion is a primitive impulse, unable to withstand the challenge of contemporary thought.”
Following is a brief excerpt from James Carroll’s commentary, “Pope Benedict’s Mistake.”
Pope Benedict, in last week’s denigration of Christian traditions that lack the unbroken “apostolic succession” of Catholicism . . . was seeking to protect the “deposit of faith,” those core beliefs that were established by the Apostles themselves. But such literalist reading of apostolic succession goes out the window when one learns that none of the actual Apostles thought that they themselves were establishing a “church” in our sense, independent of Judaism. Similarly, the New Testament is “inspired,” but what does that mean for appeals to “apostolic” authority when one learns that its 27 books were not “canonized” until three centuries after Jesus?
Once we realize that doctrines of orthodoxy evolved over time, we stop treating them as timeless. Indeed, once we understand ourselves as belonging to one religious tradition among many, we lose the innocent ability to regard it as absolute. Once our internal geography recognizes that, however much we are a center, we are not the only one, we have no choice but to affirm the positions of others not as “marginal to our centers,” in a phrase of theologian David Tracy, “but as centers of their own.”
Faced with such difficult recognitions, religious people can retreat into fundamentalism or throw out religious faith altogether. Or we can quite deliberately embrace what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur called a “second naiveté.” This implies a movement through criticism to a renewed appetite for the sacred tradition out of which we come, even while implying that we are alive to its meaning in a radically different way. Pope Benedict is attempting to restore, by fiat, the first naiveté of “one true church.” In an age of global pluralism, this is simply not tenable. . . .
Elsewhere in his piece, Carroll shares the following observation, one with which I and many other Catholics strongly resonate:
The God whom atheists aggressively deny (the all-powerful, all-knowing, unmoved Mover; the God of damnation, supernatural intervention, salvation-through-appeasement, patriarchy, puritanism, war, etc.) is indeed the God enshrined in propositions of the Council of Trent, and in its liturgy. But this God is also one whom more and more believers, including Catholics, simply do not recognize as the God we worship.
To read James Carroll’s commentary, “Pope Benedict’s Mistake,” in its entirety, click here.
For Catholic theologian and historian Hans Küng’s thoughts on “apostolic succession,” see the previous Wild Reed post, The Many Forms of Courage (Part II).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Uncle Vince is at it Again
It’s Time We Evolved Beyond Theological Imperialism
Joan Chittister on the Restoration of the Tridentine Mass
A Christmas Reflection by James Carroll
Recommended Off-site Links:
James Carroll columns archive at The Boston Globe
James Carroll's website