Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pope Benedict and the Buddhism/Masturbation Controversy

Pope Benedict’s recent scuffle with Islam, including his non-apology—characterized by Middle East observer Abu Aardvark as “that time-honored classic ‘I'm sorry that you got angry when I called you fat’” dodge--- has highlighted his confrontational stance toward other faiths.

A column by Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian makes a case for his hostility toward Judaism and Buddhism as well.

In the process, Bunting retails the notorious statement made by Benedict while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, purportedly equating Buddhism with masturbation.

Buddhist Channel reported that the full quote, delivered in an interview with L’Expresse in 1997, went like this:

"If Buddhism is attractive, it's only because it suggests that by belonging to it you can touch the infinite, and you can have joy without concrete religious obligations,'' Ratzinger said. ``It's spiritually self-indulgent eroticism.''

Other outlets cut Cardinal Ratzinger some slack, opining that “auto-erotisme”, the term used in the original article, could more accurately translated at “self-love” or “narcissism”.

Actually, auto-eroticism is an English-language term coined by the sexologist Havelock Ellis to describe mental or physical sexual activity not directed toward a sexual partner. It was later picked up by Freud.

Cardinal Ratzinger knows his Freud. He considers Freud an originator of the secular spirit he detests, and entitled one of his major pronouncements on the decadence of Europe “Europe and its Discontents”—a play on Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents.

In this case, I assume Cardinal Ratzinger employed auto-eroticism as a term of art, using a modern term for the sinful, non-reproductive sexuality abhorred by the church to condemn a kind of shallow spiritual gratification that he considers futile, degenerate, and dangerous to the soul.

So, although the Pope was not referring to Buddhists as masturbators, they can find little consolation in the awareness that what he really meant is that he was dismissing their spiritual exercises as pathetic and contemptible.

In any event, Benedict’s hostility toward non-Catholic faiths is a matter of public record.

Religions that have felt the lash of his disapproval include Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Anglicanism.

In 2000, the National Catholic Reporter published a list of Cardinal Ratzinger’s greatest hits, including a money quote from the same L’Expresse interview:

"In the 1950s someone said that the undoing of the Catholic church in the 20th century wouldn't come from Marxism but from Buddhism. They were right."

Reportedly, at the time Cardinal Ratzinger was incensed that there were allegedly more Frenchmen studying to be Buddhist monks than Benedictine monks.

As the Catholic Church’s top doctrine cop—running the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a.k.a. the Inquisition--he also ordered a German Benedictine monk, Willigis Jager, a.k.a Zen master Ko-un Roshi, to cease and desist from all public statements and activities promoting dialogue between Catholics and Buddhists.

Beyond strict demands for doctrinal conformity and acknowledgement of the Catholic Church’s unique role as interlocutor between humanity and the one true God, Pope Benedict’s worldview is apparently militantly Euro-centric. Europe, in the Pope’s view, is a creation of Catholicism and the implication is that Catholicism without Europe cannot survive.

There was speculation that Cardinal Ratzinger chose his papal title not to commemorate Pope Benedict XV, but to honor St. Benedict, who founded the Benedictine order and is credited with saving Catholicism from extinction in the European Dark Ages.

The Pope considers Europe to be Catholicism’s home turf, under assault from alien faiths and lazy tendencies toward syncretism (literally “Cretan towns forming an alliance” according to my Webster’s, but figuratively speaking a meaningless mishmash).

Islam at the gates of Europe is Pope Benedict’s particular bugbear.

The Pope’s perspective—in which Catholicism is inextricably bound to its European matrix—has a creepy clash-of-civilization vibe and his recent statements criticizing Islam were undoubtedly a conscious “stay outta my yard” challenge to the demographic, social, and political encroachment of Islam into Europe.

In the lament on decadent, faithless Europe that he coauthored—Without Roots—Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place.

Hmmm…”a growing decline in its ethnicity”. I don’t think he’s referring to a shortage of good Vietnamese restaurants in Rome.

Pared to the bone, the Pope’s attitudes look a lot like racism cloaked in theology.

Reuters reported on an interview Cardinal Ratzinger gave to Le Figaro in 2004:

Joseph Ratzinger... has said Muslim but secular Turkey should seek its future in an association of Islamic nations rather than the EU, which has Christian roots.

In an interview last year for France's Le Figaro Magazine, Ratzinger, then doctrinal head of the Roman Catholic Church, said Turkey had always been "in permanent contrast to Europe" and that linking it to Europe would be a mistake.

If Pope Benedict is going to be busy re-fighting the crusades in Europe and the Middle East and reliving the glories of the Inquisition, he’s not going to have a lot of interest and energy in dealing with Buddhism except as a competitor for the hearts, minds, and souls of the parfit knights of his Caucasian Round Table.

Indeed, since he is wrapped up in his theory that European civilization is uniquely Catholic, he seems ready to write off the rest of the world—at least those parts with “great cultural protagonists”, as he termed them, such as East Asia and South Asia--as spheres that are innately Buddhist , Muslim, or Hindu.

It will be interesting to see how the Roman Catholic Church fares in China under Benedict’s reign.


China Hand said...

Some commenters on Peking Duck made the point that it’s understandable that the Pope should have the right to speak his mind. And if he believes that Buddhists are (doctrinal) jerk-offs, well, free speech doesn’t stop at the Inquisitor’s door.

A few thoughts.

The Pope believes his is the one true faith, qualitatively different from all others.

That’s his right, even his duty. It’s the cornerstone of his faith.

He can also trash other religions, not only as inferior in doctrine and rigor but also false paths to salvation.

No problem.

But he’s also the head of a religion that claims not only to profess the true Word of God, but also to serve as God’s instrument on earth, and provide the means of human salvation that is not only unique but universal (“Catholic).

It’s a test of his leadership—and God-given duties as Pope—to put points on the board for the Catholic Church worldwide, and not just in the European homeland.

Pope John Paul II, who shared many of Cardinal Ratzinger’s views including, presumably, revulsion at Buddhism, understood that his job was to condone inter-faith dialogue so that the Catholic Church could claim to encompass the good points of other religions and at the same time assert its superiority in the critical matters of revealed truth and salvation.

Benedict XVI, on the other hand, appears to have made the dubious decision that other religions have to be discredited en toto so that Catholicism is the last faith standing.

It’s an understandable position for an Inquisitor to take.

It’s the necessary stand for the leader of an embattled sect, which is how Pope Benedict sometimes appears to regard himself.

But it is not a viable position for the leader of a global church that considers itself not only unique in truth but infinite in its understanding and universal in its scope.

Tearing every other religion (and for good measure, secular humanism) to their foundations so that the deluded turn to the true faith would be a tough job even if the Savior appeared in person to do the job. For fallible men and a fragile church to attempt it by themselves is simply beyond their capacity.

So instead of engaging in a multi-millennial argument with Islam, Buddhism, and every other religion that won’t be decided until the true God shows up to settle accounts, I think the interests of the Catholic Church and the world would be better served if Pope Benedict decided his faith could be most effectively protected and propagated by looking for good in the hearts of Buddhists, Muslims -- instead of making remarks easily construed as deriding them and their religions.

zingiber said...

As a former Catholic, and present Buddhist, I agree that Benedict's approach to spreading "the Faith" is counter-productive -- not just to members of other religions, atheists, agnostics, secular humanists -- but to many Catholics themselves. These Catholics and others wished for a return to Vatican II,to Pope John XXIII with his outreach and embrace of people of other faiths and and to those with no faith.

Many persons were hoping Benedict XVI would be as Pope -- a different person than he often was seen in his previous role as Head of the Propagation of the Faith.

These hopes appear to have been dashed to the ground.

Permafrost said...

This morning I read that the Creation Museum in Kentucky has had 100,000 visitors when they were hoping for 25,000 the first year. This museum purports that the earth is merely 6,000 years old, Adam and Eve were there at the beginning in our present form, and that dinosaurs walked alongside them while Noah was busily building his ark and gathering together male and female species of every animal in existence in order to save them for procreation.

Then in the Middle East, in the name of religion we have family members killing their sisters because she "dishonored" them by leaving a husband she was forced to marry as a child.

Then Benedict comes out with his remark that the Catholic Church is the "one true" religion. In a world of billions of people, each having a mind of their own, he spews the same old same old I was fed for 12 years of Catholic schooling.

Religion? I don't think so.

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Unknown said...

All these debates seem to be very strange. Don't people from different confessions know that they look at the same God but from different points of views?

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I always knew that all leaders of religions only pretend with their tolerance. Clenbuterol

pedro velasquez said...

The theology of Pope Benedict XVI, due to thedominical costa rica tours short pontificate so far, consists mainly of three encyclical letters on love (2005), hope (2007), and "charity in truth" (2009), as well as apostolic documents and various speeches and interviews. As Pope, Benedict XVI has wider responsibilities than previously. Therefore, it remains to be seen how the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI will develop theologically.

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