Christian fundamentalism – the theology and vision of Josef Ratzinger

The present Pope, Ratzinger or Benedict XVI as he has chosen to call himself, far from being a “transitional” Pope is not only following in the footsteps of John Paul II, he is putting his foot on the accelerator of Christian fundamentalism. While talking of reconciliation he promotes conflict, backs reactionary politicians of the Bush type and condemns anyone who wants to really change the material conditions of millions of poor and working class people.

The new Pope was initially underestimated as a "transitional pope", but it is becoming now more and more clear that he is anything but a lightweight. The aim of Joseph Alois Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, is for an all out conservative redirection of Catholic Church policy.

The Ideas of Ratzinger manifest a Catholic version of fundamentalism, a trend present in all the major religions today. After the rise of the Baptist hardliner George W. Bush; and with the resurgence of Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism, now the Catholic world also has its fundamentalist: Gods Bulldog Ratzinger, a name given to him in the media before he became pope.

In the Papacy of John Paul II. the then Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) which, in the apparatus of the Vatican, today fills the same role as the Holy Inquisition in rooting out heresy. In this role Ratzinger served as the ideologist responsible for working out the official spiritual and political line of the Vatican.

This work, begun under John Paul II, can now be finished with Ratzinger himself as Pope. Ratzinger is not a weak copy of John Paul II, as many bourgeois journalists misinterpret. He is his own man. In this sense it is John Paul II, not Ratzinger, who can be seen as a transitional Pope. John Paul II introduced a new conservativism to the old framework of his predecessor John XXIII; the continuation of this comes to an all-out breakthrough and perfection in fundamentalism under Pope Ratzinger.

Ratzinger is, to all appearances, "The Great Inquisitor" who seems to follow the old conservative slogan "Speak softly and carry a big stick!" He is not a mystic, nor is he a charismatic, but rather, he is an intelligent Scholastic. The current Pope is able to argue against each new theological line and criticism on his own terms. Precisely because he has formulated his positions based on a deepening of the conservative groundwork set during his predecessor's regime.

Ratzinger is also an artful and slippery tactician, who calculates in advance, and in detail, the practical and political consequences of his theological turns. Even when he bathes smiling in the crowd his face still has a calculating appearance. Maybe this is the reason why his nickname amongst his colleagues at university was, "the Rat."

The 'Great Inquisitor' of Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic The Brothers Karamozov immediately comes to mind. It is he who arrests the resurgent Jesus in feudal Spain of the 16th century, and then visits him in prison. Without any doubt Ratzinger would not hesitate to give such an order too if it came about that Jesus was a communist revolutionary rather than an abstract construction, termed the "Son of God."

Nomen est omen

Ratzinger has calculated everything in advance. As the highest-ranking theologian in the Vatican he has had more then 20 years to prepare for office. Only Prince Charles in England has had more time to prepare for his throne.

Some of these preparations are evident by his choice of the name, "Benedict". This follows a tradition in the Vatican, in which the name of a Pope reflects something of his programme. The holy Benedict of Nursia (b. 480, d. 547 C.E.) was the champion of the monks' movement that Christianized Europe. This choice of name expresses a perspective that the peoples of Europe have lost their faith, especially during the era of Communism and the cultural revolution of 1968, and therefore must be 're-Christianized'. Thus the choice of the name "Benedict" stands as the battle cry for the 're-Christianization' of Europe. In this respect it is important to understand that Ratzinger also envisages a 're-Christianization' of the Catholic Church itself.

Ratzinger is of the opinion that most Christians are only "Christians on paper" (as he likes to call them,) and not true Christians at all. The Catholic Church in this sense must be purified by a return to its fundamentals. To achieve this, the secularisation and watering down that began after the "Second Vatican Council" under John XXIII must be undone. If this means the loss of many members of the Church, well they are only "paper Christians" anyway, and the loss is not so great.

In the Catholic pantheon Benedict of Nursia is the Patron Saint of Europe. Ratzinger's choice of name also seems a reflection his desire to integrate the Catholic Church into the politics of the European Unification Project, thereby giving its policies a Catholic rubber stamp. In contradiction to the previous pope, Ratzinger has opposed the accession of Turkey to the European Union. This, taken with his position (stated in his recent visit to Austria) that the European Union must take a leading role in the fight for peace and against poverty, clearly places him tactically as a supporter of Franco-German Imperialism.

The choice of a pontifical name reflects the priorities of the new pope. Ratzinger chose Benedict to honour the work of Benedict of Nursia (whose role has been discussed) as well as Benedict XV. By taking this pontifical name he indicates his priorities, and this requires that we make a closer examination his most recent ancestor in the Benedictine line.

Benedict XV: A Pope of War, Revolution and Counter-revolution

Benedict XV, the forerunner of Benedict XVI, was pope between 1914 and 1922 in a time of war, revolution and counter-revolution. He developed the original idea of a necessary 're-Christianization' of Europe. His call for a crusade against the Russian Revolution was answered by the brutal attack of clerical authoritarian Poland on the young Soviet workers' republic.

The political Vision of Benedict XV was for a Catholic European superpower. If especially France and Germany should make peace they could form a bloc against both Russian Bolshevism and Anglo- Saxon Protestantism. In at least one sense he can be seen as a kind of mastermind for a future reactionary European unification.

Benedict XV described theological Modernism as a "corruptive plague" and came out against any form of democracy. He saw apostasy from Christianity as the reason behind the big evils of the time: War, Revolution, Socialism, Democracy. Christian apostasy was, for him, responsible for the demise of bourgeois civilisation.

As in the time of Benedict XV, today we also find ourselves in an age of war, crisis, turmoil, revolution and counter-revolution. The wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, hunger, epidemics, economic instability, the resurgence of poverty and mass unemployment in the industrial world, and revolution in Latin America, all characterize our time. Religions are also in a state of crisis, as is reflected in the fundamentalist upsurge within the three dominant belief systems. Indeed we live in perfect times, tailor-made for a new fundamentalist Catholic saviour, Benedict XVI. Decay can indeed be felt in all the pores of society. But it is not the decay of civilization as such; it is the decay of capitalist barbarism.

Benedict XVI: Pope of a new world (dis)order

Benedict refers time and time again to the omnipresent crisis of capitalism: He writes in his last book Jesus of Nazareth for example:

"Facing the cruelties of a capitalism, that degrades the human being to a commodity, we understand again, what Jesus meant with his ‘Warning of Richness,' of the God Mammon who destroys the human being and who has a stranglehold over large parts of the world." He also speaks of the world as a "desert of poverty, a desert of hunger and of thirst. A desert of loneliness, of abandonment and of destroyed love." [Translation of quote from the German]

But the only way out from behind the earthly veil of tears for Ratzinger is through Christ the liberator, and in the salvation of the soul. The physical well-being of humanity is nothing when compared with spiritual salvation.

During his visit to Brazil the Pope said that the indigenous population had been silently longing for the God of the Christian church long before Columbus ever came to the Americas. And it was their conversion to Christ that liberated them from spiritual want. Given the genocide that accompanied these conversions, this salvation is somewhat dubious! But this opinion is the logical consequence of the theological thinking of Ratzinger. The question therefore becomes one of what one values most: what is worth more, the "salvation" of the soul through enforced conversion, or attention to the concrete material living conditions of the population? To Ratzinger the answer is obvious; spiritual "salvation" tops the list.

Ratzinger knows very well that the turn of the church to fundamentalism fits the general trend of a world that is more and more shaped by social polarisation, instability and crisis. People are looking for answers and a way out from under the impossible contradictions in todays world.

"The fall into Nothingness"

In his early work, Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger deals with an impending fall of faith into nihilism. Ratzinger loves to fulminate against the dictatorship of relativism. When he speaks about the decay of morals, the loss of meaning, and the decay of values he again encounters an important feature of capitalist crisis, a crisis of human relations.

For Ratzinger relativism is not only the nihilism and scepticism of post-modernism (a philosophical concept also alien to Marxists.) For him relativism is also any ideological current that opposes the conception of the Last Judgement. Man must be controlled by the fear of God and of the Last Judgement; otherwise he will degenerate into a mad wild beast.

With this conception Ratzinger tries to explain the growing social instability, wars and terrorism. The only problem is that current wars and terrorist attacks are actually organised by people who believe in the Last Judgement. In reality, for Ratzinger, relativism is any humanist belief system which puts human kind itself, instead of God, at the centre of the universe.

That the theory of Ratzinger is deeply anti-humanist is shown by his opinion that Jesus alone is "truly human." This position reveals a belief that the physical human of flesh and blood is a counterfeit of the Christ figure, one that can never become "truly human". Only through Christ can one realize one's humanity. In this way Ratzinger denies the human being his or her personhood. This position is deeply inhuman and fundamentalist. It has been used to effectively excuse historical cruelties perpetrated by the Catholic Church, such as the enforced conversion of Latin American indigenous people.

"Satan attacks the Church both from within and from outside"

This comment of the ex-Bishop of Salzburg on the resignation of the reactionary Bishop of lower Austria following a sex scandal seems to comply with the thinking of Ratzinger. Pope Benedict XVI has so far written two works: The encyclical God is Love and the book Jesus of Nazareth. In the typical style of the "Great Inquisitor," behind these innocent titles there hides a bold content, aimed against "enemies" of the church, both those within, and also those outside of its borders.

The aim of God is Love is to portray the Catholic God as the only loving God, in profound contradiction to Islam, Judaism and Protestantism. In addition, for Ratzinger the God of the Catholics is the only God figure who is in accordance with the western conception of "Reason". As he made clear in his famous speech in Regensburg (2006), Islam is especially incompatible with "Reason". In Ratzinger's schema the Islamic God is an arbitrary and unreasonable God.

Ratzinger made these comments immediately after the conflict arising from the caricatures of Mohamed in the Danish newspaper "Jyllands-Posten" (Sept. 2005). In an atmosphere of high tension he poured oil on the fire, raising an artificial "clash of cultures." He claimed afterwards that he had been misunderstood. This is a childish and remarkably shallow excuse for the absolute leader of a major world religion. An impossible response, especially when he simultaneously claims to want dialogue and peace between religious tendencies in a time of heightened conflict.

Ratzinger's book, Jesus from Nazareth, is aimed at all theologians, especially those who work for change in the here and now. Ratzinger accuses those who support "Liberation Theology" of not understanding the "meaning of poverty." It is a condition which exists in Ratzinger's ideology exclusively to set the stage for spiritual liberation in heaven.

One might ask how poverty can have any meaning at all, and what kind of perverse thinking might hide behind such a morbid idea. In this context poverty has no real practical "meaning," and yet for us liberation from the real consequences of poverty is the task here and now.

In the book Jesus of Nazareth Ratzinger writes, "the interpretation of the Bible can indeed become an instrument of the Antichrist!" This is a declaration of war against all religious opponents of "the Great Inquisitor."

When bourgeois Journalists praise Ratzinger's move to appeal for criticism of his book from all theologians, they forget that his call contains a hidden threat. To criticize his position is to expose oneself as an "instrument of the Antichrist."

Bush and Ratzinger - Brothers in spirit

Ratzinger and his circle of friends speak with admiration of the Christian movement in the USA; it is seen as an example of how 're-Christianization' in a modern high tech society is possible.

The lobby power of Protestant Christian society of Baptists and Evangelicals in the US, with its army of TV preachers and fundamentalist pseudo-scientists, is to be envied. In fact, the Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a close friend of Ratzinger, started a debate about "intelligent design" in the New York Times. This reactionary theory of evolution is directed against a materialist scientific point of view. By advancing this idea the Austrian Cardinal supports the struggle of Christian society against modern science for dominance in popular consciousness.

Protestantism is a rival of the Catholic Church. But against the threatening fall of faith into nothingness, and in the making of a "clash of cultures," every Christian fundamentalist becomes an ally. The "clash of cultures", which sets the stage for all sorts of religious fundamentalisms, is exactly the thing that Ratzinger wants to happen. Within a "clash of cultures" artificial differences between people come into full relief and people start to close together fearfully around such constructs as "culture," "nation," "identity," and also around "religion." For Ratzinger this scenario is salvation for the Catholic Church.

In this relation it is interesting that Ratzinger stepped brazenly into American politics by supporting George W Bush in his election for a second term as President of the USA. As head of the "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith", Ratzinger, in the midst of the election campaign, sent a pastoral letter to be read out in all Catholic churches of the USA. The letter stated that Catholics who do not strictly oppose abortion should not be allowed to attend mass. This was directed against the position of the Democratic candidate John Kerry, who advocates a pro-choice stance on the issue. For the first time in the USA a large portion of Catholic voters voted Republican, that is, for the anti-abortion stance of George W. Bush. Such interference by the Catholic Church in American politics is unprecedented in modern US history.

Ratzinger and Marxism

There is nothing that Ratzinger hates more than the ideas of Marxism. During his visit to Latin America he appealed to the people to beware of Marxism that is up to mischief in Bolivia and Venezuela. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when all the media trumpeted that Marxism, socialism and class struggle were dead, the head of the biggest religion in the world warns against the danger of Marxism and of class struggle. And of course, from his own class point of view, he is right in doing so.

Marxist ideas present the biggest danger for Ratzinger, because they show a way out of capitalist misery, out of the "desert of hunger and of thirst, the desert of loneliness, of abandonment and of destroyed love" in the here and now ‑ a society where people are the masters of their social and economic relations, rather than mere commodities. And where we can become truly human in a democratically planned economy that produces for need and not for profits. We call this vision "Socialism". In Latin America this idea has already moved millions of people. This vision of a paradise in the here and now has historically always been the biggest danger for all those who preach that people should wait for salvation in a better world in the Kingdom of heaven.

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