By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 10, 2006
Daniel has returned from the lions' den! Returned in triumph! Even The New York Times, under present management scarcely to be considered a friend of the Church, conceded that the humble, gracious, smiling warmth that Pope Benedict displayed during his meetings with Turkish dignitaries, meetings given lavish front-page coverage in Turkey's national papers, and most strikingly during his respectful visit to the Blue Mosque had won a surprising degree of approval from the Turkish "man on the street." All this despite, on the eve of his visit, such banner headlines in Islamist papers as "Stay home! We don't want you here!" And in his number one objective Pope Benedict scored a dramatic success, namely encouraging Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in his "unwavering journey" - the patriarch's phrase - towards restoration of that full communion with the Bishops of Rome that had prevailed by and large during the first thousand years of Christian history.
Thanks be to God that this four-day visit so fraught with danger passed without major incident! The elaborate security measures imposed by the Turkish govenunent, reinforced by the prayers of millions of the faithful, helped to bring safely back to Rome a pope whose zeal and intelligence are sorely needed at this critical hour in the history of the Church and in the history of the West!
May I share with you the thoughtful commentary on the pope's visit to Turkey that ran in The Wall Street Journal in the issue of December first. I reprint the article in its entirety here.
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Western Civ 101: Benedict's Seminar on Fundamentals
By Daniel Henninger
It is somehow appropriate that amid the confusions of the U. S. involvement with the sectarians of Iraq, Pope Benedict XVI, fresh from his own "engagement"' with contemporary Islam at Regensburg, should come to Turkey, which has sought membership in the European Union for 20 years. The theologian Mike Novak said recently of Benedict, "His role is to represent Western Civilization." I'd say Benedict is more than up to the task. What remains to discover is whether Western civilization is still up to it.
We have been in this spot before, and won.
When Stalin famously asked how many divisions the pope had, he assumed that the brute force of military power would be everywhere decisive. That belief led to a four-decade standoff between the Soviets' tank armies and NATO. Finally in the 1980's, John Paul 11, the Polish pope, gave intellectual hope and heft to anti-communist dissidents, and Ronald Regan and his allies prevailed over Europe's marching pacifists and installed Pershing missile batteries in Europe. By decade's end, the long cold war with communism was dissipating. The pope's engagement mattered.
One may assume that in some Himalayan redoubt, history's latest homicidal utopians, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, believe that coupling their ideology to Islamic sucide bombers-in New York, London or Baghdad-is more than a match for the will of a morally diminished West. Are they wrong? Benedict XVI has written with force about a morally diminished Europe. So, like his predecessor, this pope decided to engage in the greatest military and intellectual battle of our age.
We all know how a few months ago at the University of Regensburg Benedict made himself a central player in the post-9/11 era by quoting the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. Not much noted at the time was Benedict's second quotation from Manuel II: "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature." Benedict's lecture at Regensburg mentioned "reason" and "rationality" repeatedly. He went so far as to claim that the "rapprochement" between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry [reason] was "of decisive importance" for world history. "This convergence," said Benedict, "created Europe and remains the foundation of what can be rightly called Europe." Very simply, he is talking about and defending what we call "the West" - both the place and the classically liberal idea, which radical Islam wants to blow up. Just as John Paul championed the jailed or hiding dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, Benedict is seeking similar protections for persecuted Christian minorities-indeed all minorities-across the Islamic world. Starting in Turkey.
Arriving in Ankara, the pope immediately raised two ideas from the wellsprings of the West. He said on his first day that a just society requires freedom of religion, and on behalf of Turkey's tiny Catholic community he raised the issue of property rights.
One might say the pope's counter-offensive-in the Islamic world and in the West- is overdue. One might also say his chances of winning are a long shot. Benedict's appeals to Europe to rediscover strength inside its religious tradition comes at a difficult moment. He admitted as much in a book-length interview 10 years ago ("Salt of the Earth: The church at the End of the Millennium"). It is Islamic belief, Cardinal Ratzinger said, that "the Western countries are no longer capable of preaching message of morality, but have only know-how to offer the world. The Christian religion has abdicated."
Militant Islam is on the march, literally, with enormous moral self-confidence. By contrast the West, as Wilfred M. McClay, an historian at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, aptly described it recently, is in "an era of post-modem moral insouciance." With others Benedict argues that this moral insouciance is the West's greatest vulnerability. This, too, ought to be part of "homeland security."
Every nation in Europe has a birth rate below replacement, optingfor material well- being over the (relative) sacrifice of raising two or more children. (Of all industrialized nations, only the U.S. birth rate exceeds replacement.) Against this trend, Benedict has thrown what he's got: the traditional Western notion of finding strength in the union of reason and religious faith.
It has become a hard sell. If the Vatican opposes abortion or stem-cell research, the West's intellectual elites deem it unfit to participate in any imaginable public forum. In the West Christian evangelicals are feared by many as a threat equal to Islamic extremists, and unfit to participate in our politics. The hottest "religion" subject in the West now is atheism in the person of Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," who, Time magazine wrote this month, is "riding the crest of an atheist literary wave." Our obsessions seem to be off-subject.
I think the pope is right that the West is engaged in a decisive intellectual competition with the ideas of radical Islam. This won't end with the battle for Baghdad. Will scientific agnosticism defend the West against militant Islam? With what? In Europe, its intellectuals can barely mount an argued defense against internal threats. Externally, as in Afghanistan, they won't even fight.
Benedict XVI's evident intention is to engage the Islamic world, particularly its religious and political leaders, in an intense and long discussion of the religious, political and legal rights of their resident minorities, in other words, the Western tradition. The implications of this effort are obvious for achieving an acceptable modus vivendi with global Islam.
How many divisions does this pope have? Good question. At the moment, I'd say, not as many as the last time.