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Welcome to the New Pope!

My pals Timur (Technomagnet) and Aeon Skoble (at L&P) offer some thoughts on the new Pope, to which I offer comments. At L&P, I write:

Good points.
But as my pal Timur says, the new pope "package deals" the bout against relativism and the bout against egoism. He's quoted as saying: "We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires." And the Pope's biographer observes: "Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism."
The conventional anti-egoism and the positing of any kind of totalitarianism as an antidote to relativism ... gets me nervous.
But nothing gets on my nerves more than this proclamation: that rock 'n' roll is "evil" and full of "diabolical and satanic messages." According to the NY DAILY NEWS: "[H]e singled out the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and the Eagles as especially evil."

Comments welcome, but readers should feel free to post to the other blogs as well.

Update: This post has been noted by Liberty & Culture and Blank Out Times too. Thanks!


The package-deal-ing of secularism and egoism with ethical relativism is just the kind of smear that our friends in the conservative media will fully endorse, even as they ignore (and suppress) any alternative view of "the secular."

No, the new Pope will soon lecture us on the need for mysticism-altruism-collectivism, and attack capitalism--this is inevitable and merely a question of time. And American conservatives will still be carrying his Holy Water...

And, if the new Pope is REALLY a student of Lord Acton and James Madison, as is being claimed, then just think about how much of John Paul's legacy he will have to shred.

Will the Church now chuck Papal Infallibility, and then proceed to a vigorous defense of free minds and free markets?

Somehow, I doubt this...

This is "hope without substance"--i.e., pure faith.

Oh, yeah, "Welcome, Pope Benedict XVI."

Hmm, I doubt Pope Benedict XVI is going to have anything like as much cultural impact as JPII did. As for his political views, I share Jim's scepticism, but I guess we should wait and see.


What is this, 1955? Who is going to take this guy seriously? Oh yeah...millions around the globe.

Thanks for the comments, folks.

The one thing that does concern me, at least from an ideological perspective, is this: Just as some of the "evangelical" Protestant churches in America are moving toward "fundamentalism" in religious expression, this Pope embraces an analogous "fundamentalism" in Catholic doctrine. This has a political side to it as well, since more conservative Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants both voted predominantly for George W. Bush. It is the kind of trend that I noted in a series of articles on the political impact of religion; see here for example:


The new Pope said in his homily, earlier this week: "Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church is often labeled today as fundamentalism ..." --- and it is his goal to enunciate, apply, and promote that "clear faith."

While so many people are "lapsed" Catholics, and only peripherally religious, it is also the case that various shades of "fundamentalism" are being promoted by many different religious denominations--from the Protestant to the Catholic to the Muslim--at this point in time. And it is having a growing political impact.

Surely much of this is a response to the bottomless relativism that the left pushed for a generation. But this swinging of the pendulum from one form of irrationality to another does give one pause, to say the least.

And let me add that what the Pope espouses is pure relativism itself because each person must have faith in the pope's conception of metaphysics. Since there is no reason to believe it, it is up to each person to choose whether they want to believe it or not and they should do so based on their particular desires (e.g. whether they want to be saved, which imaginary friend they prefer, etc.)

BTW, you might want to check out a few posts on the Pope at LOR:


Just scroll down as you go...

Obviously, the Pope is going to be a Catholic Pope. He is not going to be an Objectivist Pope nor should we expect a conversion on his part. We’ll obviously continuously disagree with his message as we did with JPII.

However, like JPII, he can play an important role in world politics for the better. JPII had to contend with the threat of communism; Benedict has to face the threat of Islam. What can he do to help here? See here: http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ (4/20/05 entry)

I don't think the Pope is part of the solution, he is part of the problem and the longer we keep our philosophy or point of view implicit the more the status quo will continue. We need to explicitly state what we stand for and not side with the lesser of two evils.

That's an interesting read, Jason. And, of course, it's a pipe dream to think that the leader of the Catholic Church would be anything less than Catholic.

What concerns me is this. I've read quite a bit about this Pope's rhetorical past (for a brief synopsis, see this NY DAILY NEWS article: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/wn_report/story/302096p-258590c.html ). In the past, Ratzinger has been a cheerleader for Catholicism such that he "dismissed non-Christian faiths as 'gravely deficient' and branded Protestant churches 'not churches in the proper sense.'" He went so far as to scold Catholic bishops for "referring to the Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches as 'sister churches'."

Now, apparently, he's wanting to be more "ecumenical" to work toward greater religious unity, and toward "rejuvenating the Catholic church in a Europe growing more secular by the day." Vatican expert Rocco Palmo states: "His great goal is to alleviate Western secularism and that's not something Catholics can do alone."

So, on the one hand, it seems he wants to be more "ecumenical," which would seemingly require him to "reach out" to alternative faiths so as not to appear belligerent; such "unity" would help in the battle against "Western secularism." On the other hand, if he lives up to his billing as one who is divisive, he'd be warring against secularism ~and~ other faiths.

Either way, in other words, I'm not very hopeful---but that doesn't mean that any of this is an inevitability. Popes have been known to be shrewd politicians and to that extent, anything is possible---even something "good," even if it's not for the "right" reasons.

I’ve read conflicting reports of the Pope’s previous writings. Including this one: http://www.nationalreview.com/novak/novak200504190839.asp where Michael Novak believes the Pope distinguishes between dogmatism and absolutism, relativism and plurality, rational objective secularism and post-modern secularism. Wouldn’t that be something? Thus, we’ll have to wait to see to what degree his attacks on “relativism” is an attack on individualism or an attack on subjectivism.

It will also be interest to see how he talks about being ecumenical. Of course, ecumenicalism is just multi-cultural relativism in religious matters (Technomaget says something similar). I’ve always found it odd. Growing up as a child in NYC, I’d watch how parents would explain how your religion applies to you but not to your neighbor (they have a different religion). Odd, but welcomed.

Chalk one up to the concept of 'anything is possib;e' -lol-

Not only do I agree with Chris, but his argument about the new Pope is 'understated'! Forget all the crap about the Pope taking bishops to task about being overly friendly to Protestants. That's reseved for the 'liberal' Protestants like the Episcoplians. Trust me, when it comes to Baptist and Pentacostals - the Pope has found strange - but loyal 'bedfellows'.

Anytime you see the most extremist fundementalist fringe of evangelicals, applaud and defend a 'Catholic Pope', look out brother - cause hell just froze over!


Well, one area where the Pope may cross swords with the Protestant religious right is on the issue of American foreign policy and "just war" theory. John Paul 2 was a vocal critic of the war in Iraq, a view which is shared by Benedict. In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger picked the name Benedict because the last Pope Benedict was a critic of World War 1 and tried desperately to stop it.

Leaving aside the ridiculous Catholic metaphysics, Benedict seems like a very well educated and cultered person, and certainly was a logical choice from the point of view of the Cardinals, who are apparantly satisfied with the status quo. However, bear in mind that the last old "transitional" Pope was John, and we all know what he did.

Isn't Catholicism fascinating? We all sit up and take notice at the ideas and inclinations of a new Pope, as we properly should. We secularists in the Anglo-American world have perhaps been inclined to think that the influence of the church was declining. But as many commentators have mentioned, in the developing world it's positively growing.

Catholics are interesting people. Here in the Philippines, there was much mourning at the death of JP2. I saw Filipinos outside TV shops watching as every set inside showed images of the Pope's funeral -- the kind of thing that we think of in the West when people mention the day Kennedy was shot. The Pope for them was and is a much esteemed figure. In this country where taxi drivers hang crosses from their mirrors and cross themselves whenever they pass a church, and buses are inevitably inscribed with phrases like "God Bless Our Voyage", you can bet that the new man in Rome is going to be important.

And the reality is that if improvement is going to happen in developing countries like this, with their chronic poverty and political corruption, it's the church that is going to have to lead the way. For all my criticisms of catholicism, I think we've got to realise that the church isn't going away. And so, ultimately, it's not us libertarians who are going to make the change in countries like this. It's going to be the church. Guess that means we'd better hope this conservative Pope surprises us by liberalising the church and its doctrines a bit (kind of like Nixon going to China?). But that doesn't look at all likely. Perhaps the best we can do is hang in there, hope that this Pope *is* just "transitional" and wait for someone better the next time.

Thanks gents, for the additional comments. It is entirely questionable what direction this particular Pope will take the Church, but I agree completely that the Catholic Church specifically (and religion more generally) remains a formidable force throughout the world.

If secularists are waiting for every last vestige of religious belief to leave Planet Earth as a precondition for social change, they are living in a fantasy world. That's one of the reasons this remains a cultural battle, not only between secularism and religion, but within religion itself. The new Pope's role in all this should be fascinating to watch.

Our news channels in the UK gave Bandict XVI's enthornement blanket coverage earlier today. I can't help but wonder though how much wider cultural infuence the Vatican will continue to have.

John Paul II came to the Papcy relatively young, so was able to "globetrot" around the world and to an extent build up significant personal respect outside Catholicism. I'm not sure to what extent that's going to be the case with Benedict XVI, by all accounts he himself expects this to be a much shorter Papacy than JPIIs. I doubt that his death will bring about anywhere near as much mourning as JPII has. (Of course, that's not to say of course that the Catholic church's influence in the third world will immediately collapse or anything like that.)


Well, I certainly think that Catholics can be brought around to a more classical liberal position without converting them to atheism. Recent popes have been very confused about economics, but JP2 did have some encouraging words to say in favor of the free market. Like it or not, the Pope is an influential person and it does no good to just dismiss him with insults.

I don't believe that god exists, but how do atheists compete against a belief system that promises immortality and eternal happiness? It may be impossible. How can anyone look forward to the eventual disintegration of their body and eternal non-existence? I sure can't.