Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Media attitude - Oh No! The new Pope's a Catholic!

There's an attitude permeating the coverage of the elevation of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to Pope Benedict XVI, and it's everywhere. In picking on Maureen Dowd, I don't mean to imply that she's the only one demonstrating it, because she certainly isn't. But it's an excellent example of the attitude that I'm talking about, so that's the example I'm using.

I'm not a long-time reader of the New York Times. I don't like the paper - I don't even like their advertising. I look at it less as a news source than as the position paper for the American left. It contains not news, but Democratic position papers, policy statements and advertising. It has the same credibility with me as the spam e-mail that I receive daily from Paul Begala, John Corzine, Ann Lewis and John Kerry.

In any event, I'm not a regular reader. But the position the paper holds lends a certain prominence to members of its staff, and, particularly in the internet era, familiarity with the work of the op-ed writers does not require frequent perusals of the paper itself. So, over the past 5 years or so, I've become familiar with the name Maureen Dowd, and eventually, with some of her work. And it remains a complete and total mystery to me why she's taking up space on the New York Times op-ed page.

It isn't any of her positions that make me say that. Obviously, she's a down-the-line doctrinaire liberal. All well and good. What she isn't, as near as I can tell, is an interesting writer. I've yet to read a Dowd column that makes me say "that was well said" or "that was interesting". I understand why they employ someone of Dowd's persuasion - I just don't know why it's Maureen Dowd.

So today, she's commenting on religion in the public realm again, in fairly typical Dowd fashion, scattershot and immature. And including the following:

The white smoke yesterday signaled that the Vatican thinks what it needs to bring it into modernity is the oldest pope since the 18th century: Joseph Ratzinger, a 78-year-old hidebound archconservative who ran the office that used to be called the Inquisition and who once belonged to Hitler Youth. For American Catholics - especially women and Democratic pro-choice Catholic pols - the cafeteria is officially closed. After all, Cardinal Ratzinger, nicknamed "God's Rottweiler" and "the Enforcer," helped deny Communion rights to John Kerry and other Catholic politicians in the 2004 election.

The only other job this pope would be qualified for is "60 Minutes" anchor.

Let's look at that again.

  • Sarcasm? "The Vatican thinks what it needs to bring it into modernity is the oldest pope since the 18th century." Check. (Not particularly effective sarcasm, but sarcasm nonetheless.) And, of course, "The only other job this pope would be qualified for is "60 Minutes" anchor." I suppose I should be laughing now, right?

  • Pejorative language? "Hidebound archconservative." Check.

  • Smearing innuendo? "Who ran the office that used to be called the Inquisition and who once belonged to Hitler Youth." Right again.

  • Name calling? "Nicknamed "God's Rottweiler" and "the Enforcer." Yes indeed.

  • "Facts" that aren't really "facts"? "Helped deny Communion rights to John Kerry and other Catholic politicians in the 2004 election." Absolutely.

  • That's a lot to cram into one paragraph.

    It's true that there was talk of refusing communion to pro-abortion politicians, a group to which Kerry certainly belongs. I find no evidence that Kerry was ever actually refused communion. (If someone presents some, I'll retract this particular criticism.) What Ratzinger did do, in the summer of 2004, was clarify the church's position on the issue of Catholic politicians, and their responsibilities with regards to abortion and euthanasia.
    Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

    Again, Maureen Dowd may not agree with that position, but it's tough to see anything unreasonable about it. The church's position is that abortion is a grave sin. Given that, it has not only the right, but the obligation to make it clear to its followers, and do whatever possible to help them avoid a grave sin.

    1 Cor 11:26-29
    26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
    27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
    28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
    29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

    I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the liberal media's wishful thinking for a "liberal" pope. Everything there is still relevant. There is a profound desire on the left to have a church that conforms to their lifestyle, rather than imposing onerous restrictions that they don't want to deal with. I'm reminded of a line from "The Wanderer", a song written by Bono, but sung by Johnny Cash on U2's Zooropa album.

    I stopped outside a church house
    Where the citizens like to sit
    They say they want the kingdom
    But they don't want God in it

    That's what I see in most of the coverage. People want cheap grace, they want to consider themselves good people, religious people, but don't actually want any external judgement or constraint on their behavior.
    Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.

    Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
    - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    That's the kind of grace that far too many of us are looking for, and I believe it's the attitude that is largely driving the coverage of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

    UPDATE: I'd written my take on this before seeing this post from The Anchoress which, it seems to me, says it far better than I did. With far more credibility, as she's a Catholic and I am not. But she's got some wonderful and important stuff.
    I have one thing to say to all of this - to all of the breathless ranting from the left and the grim, woe-is-us prognostications of SOME members of the press. It is this:

    Fer cryin’ out loud, CHILL OUT.

    God, through the Holy Spirit, is NOT DONE WORKING ON THIS MAN - OR FOR THAT MATTER, ANY OF US.

    I don’t know what they actually expected. It has always seemed very odd to me that people would think the Catholic church will suddenly put a finger to the chin and say, "you know, we’ve been all wrong about this stuff, all this time! Abortion is okay! Jesus didn’t really mean it about divorce! That whole thing about marriage being between a man and a woman, why that was just written in by some homophobe or other!"

    Read the whole thing...

    (H/T to A Large Regular)



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