Thursday, April 26, 2007

Answering Nietzsche

From Cardinal Ratzinger's response letter to Prof. Pera (found on pp. 125-26 of Without Roots:
Here what we are actually addressing, in my opinion, is the decisive reason for the abandonment of Christianity: its model for life is apparently unconvincing. It seems to place too many restraints on humankind that stifle its joie de vivre, that limit its precious freedom, and that do not lead it to open pastures--in the language of the Psalms--but rather into want, into deprivation. Something similar happened in antiquity, when the representatives of the powerful Roman state appealed to Christians by saying: Return to our religion, our religion is joyous, we have feasts, drunken revels, and entertainments, while you believe in One who was crucified.

The Christians were able to demonstrate persuasively how empty and base were the entertainments of paganism, and how sublime the gift of faith in the God who suffers with us and leads us to the road of true greatness. ... The Christian model of life must be manifested as a life in all its fullness and freedom, a life that does not experience the bonds of love as dependence and limitation but rather as an opening to the greatness of life.
Encouragement and indictment all in one passage. Isn't that always how it runs?


Monica said...

That is a wonderful passage. It really is.

The Bard said...

It's a powerful insight that mirrors what we read in Chesterton, Lewis, Piper, and of course Ecclesiastes. I repeat my point that one of the greatest problems in contemporary Christianity is a true theology of pleasure. My time in law school, my first real interaction with the pagan world, has convinced me that the unsaved really don't know pleasure. *Sin* destroys the joy of life. Sadly, modern Christianity hasn't offered much of an alternative. When it does, people notice.

However, I reject Ratzinger's thesis: Europe's main reason, indeed its reasons, for abandoning Christianity go far deeper than its tendency to moralism. First, the abandonment comes from the will: they *want* to reject God. Second, the abandonment comes from prospertiy: they see no need for God in a world where everyone is (to borrow the phrase), fat, dumb, and (on the surface) happy. Third, the abandonment comes because modernist criticism of Christianity stripped everything supernatural and worth believing out of it. I could go on and people could offer better and deeper reasons, but Raztinger misidentifies the main reason.

This error, however, should not blind us to the power of his insight.

Becca said...

I don't know, Bard. I think ultimately you are right about people willing to reject God (see, you're not that far gone into Calvinism *giggle*), but there might also be a layer of one of those vicious cause/effect cycles here, too. If Christianity looses the joy and fulfillment element, it leaves a vacuum, which people will seek to fill with something else, because (a la Piper) we are created with an innate desire for joy and fulfillment. Satin is waiting in the wings with handfuls of things to offer as substitutes, and pretty soon you have a culture than no longer even thinks hard about the choice, pulling hard even at the Christians who haven't forgotten the theology of pleasure.

So yes, there there might be the social forces at work that Ratzinger describes. And yes, ultimately Europe (and America) is culpable for rejecting God first, regardless of social constructs you might theorize to try to explain it.

How's that for relativistic tolerance? You're both right! *grin*

The Bard said...

It would take a true relativist to say that both someone who identifies "the decisive reason" for something (decline of Christianity in Eurpose) and someone who says that he has misidentified "the decisive reason" are both right! And if you are tempted to Revativism, I know a great book to read.

I said that people rejected Jesus Christ because they wanted to reject him; I did not say that they were entirely free to choose their own wants or direct their own wills.

I see you point about the vicious circle, and I think I can see it at work in some circles in America. I don't think the circle is as much of a problem in Europe beacuse I think churches there were as moralistic as ones in the USA, but that's just from my limited observations

But my key point is that that Ratzinger does not have offer an insight, but that his claim to have found a *the decisive* reason for Europe's rejection of Christiantiy is wrong. I offer a non-exhaustive list of reasons that are at least responsible, if not more resonsible, for Europe's spiritual decline that Christianity's tendency to degenerate into moralism.

ryan said...

I'd suggest a different answer: Ratzinger probably is right in his analysis that one of the main reasons Europe has rejected Christianity is that the church has indeed lost its way. That's why there was a Reformation.

But Ratzinger's solution to the problem--like most serious Catholics--seems to be to reintroduce those things which led to the Reformation in the first place: an overreaching papacy, sclerotic hierarchy, etc. Yes, Europe is looking for something the church isn't providing, but that something isn't 16th century Catholicism.

"Hey, Europe started moving away from the Catholic church around the 16th century. Let's find out what they were doing then and do more of that."


The Bard said...

Yes, a problems in the church lead to social decline. That's true--and unremarkable.

But I don't read Ratzinger in this passage as making a broad statement about a "church losing its way." I read him as making a much more specific point: that "the decisive" reason for Europe's spiritual decline (as opposed to a reason) is a Christianity that "places to many restraints" and "stifles" life. That's what I disagree with.