The Third International after Lenin

Friday, April 29, 2011

Pope Ratzinger puts pontifical pen to paper


Joseph Ratzinger
Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011, 362 pp. hb

March 18 2011

Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Catholic Church. This book is the second volume of a three part series, with a focus on the most crucial days at the end of Jesus's life. I've been working a little on my understanding of religion and this book helps me to put together more pieces, including some references made by various rulers.

As before, the issue of story-telling and also the primacy of faith or the equivalent in Kantian philosophical ideas still does not sit well with materialists. The Pope says that the real world is in fact "relative" and transient. Meanwhile the word of Jesus was more firm and lasting. "'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away' (MK 13:31)."(p. 51) The Pope adds that "the word is more real and more lasting than the entire material world."(p. 51)

The Pope leaves hints that the Church itself may be temporary because God did not intend for history to go on without changes and a final "judgment day." Sacrifices to God became no longer necessary with Jesus's new Church and then one might in turn expect yet another change later. The Pope refers to "the time of the Church."(p. 45-6)

In discussing this point, the Pope raises an argument which covers some of the same ground I see in MIM's more typical disputes with Noam Chomsky on behaviorism. The Pope would like to free Christianity from the idea that it places a higher value on the afterlife than the here and now and thus becomes a cover for exploiters of the present.

"A further key element of Jesus' eschatological discourse is the warning against false Messiahs, and apocalyptic enthusiasm. Linked with this is the instruction to practice sobriety and vigilance . . . not neglecting the present, speculating on the future, or forgetting the task in hand, but quite the reverse--it means doing what is right here and now, as is incumbent upon us in the sight of God."(p. 48)

The question becomes whether it is possible to have a sober appreciation of reality without behaviorism. In particular, one might ask whether preaching "freedom" actually makes freedom more likely to happen. If so, then we should prioritize saying the word "freedom" as George W. Bush certainly did but which in context in arguments against MIM, Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen also did.

Whether the Bible, the Pope, Kant or Chomsky, the point is the same about freedom. We would say that for the ease of moral argument the idealists have abandoned a sober appreciation of reality. If previous religion promoted sober appreciation of reality, we should ask why the U.$. Civil War came so many years after Christ to end slavery. For that matter, the Pope himself said Jesus was a "slave." (p. 56)

Anticipating this line of inquiry, the Pope acknowledges that the story of Judas does not include Judas's psychology.(p. 68) We learn simply that money was a factor. That's where behaviorists would leave the question instead of going into imputed mental motivations.

The Pope kindly delves into historical literature to address whether or not Jesus was a revolutionary (p. 15) prior to his last week of life. The Pope answers firmly that the very point of Jesus was that he was a sacrifice by God who delivered a message while powerless. His critics ridiculed Jesus for having no power and also made animal sacrifices. So Jesus was an internationalist opposed to a certain vision of God. The Pope argues that the Romans really had no quarrel with Jesus as Romans per se.(p. 195)

On the other hand, the Pope did say that at several points Jesus told the Jews to leave. In one context he said to leave Jerusalem to avoid siege.(p. 28) Perhaps the bloodiest war to that date killed from 80,000 to 1.1 million people in the Holy City depending on the estimate.(p. 31) In that sense, some people looking at things from the religious angle in the Mideast are right to be vigilant. It's astonishing how some things have not changed.

The Pope dissects Jesus's life various ways, some contingent on faith and some a matter of historical narrative knowledge. In the back of the book, the Pope defines the "corporate personality" as the Old Testament idea "that a group is represented by an individual, who 'personifies' some aspects of the group's nature or by whom the group as a whole acts."(p. 313)

That's how I think of art. Sometimes in a play or opera we ask how to present the world in a representative way and Mao hoped that art would not always represent the exploiters and kings of old days. Art is not the presentation of sociological facts. By constructing a "corporate personality," it becomes possible to concentrate various characteristics. On the other hand, MIM has argued that we produce and distribute too much art and not enough social science.

Against us, "'I think we need to take more seriously the nineteenth-century view to live life as a work of art,' Ron Dworkin said. The question becomes how to tell a representative story and why it's not a good idea to tell stories. If we do tell stories, we should know we are in the world of art, and that we need a political commissar informed about social generality.

Certainly I do not mean to say that all the people at this very moment can dispense with their religions and nor can all absorb so much as the simple meaning of prison enrollment statistics. We have to distinguish what MIM writes for the vanguard party and elites and what anyone can understand.

The Pope says "eternal life"(p. 84) comes from a relationship to Jesus. We wish we could bash that idea more, but at this stage of history it's not possible. More extreme Christian utterances stem from the Avakkkianites. We Marxists also said the workers needed a relationship to the vanguard party. The ideas are not that far apart.

Another thing the Pope clarifies for our historical knowledge is that the idea of "scapegoat" came from animal sacrifice in ancient times. In one ritual, the people used to send a goat out to bear the sins of Israel.(p. 327) There were many other arguments that we Marxists recognize, including over the relative value of philosophers and fishers.

The party itself should know that a personal relationship to Jesus cannot be the same thing as a scientific understanding of the world. Story-telling is pre- scientific and even pre- political except that it will likely occur in certain predictable patterns.

The Pope acknowledges that truth is necessary to peace and also prepares one for God.(p. 59) The point seems to be it's not animal sacrifices or other bodily rituals that prepare the way to God according to the Pope.

Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth in Germany, so it is quite appropriate to have his writings on moral collective responsibility of nations in this book. He clearly distinguishes Christianity from previous Jewish practice but also leaves the crucification of Jesus as the work of a minority of people, the Temple aristocracy.(p. 185)

The Wikipedia says the Pope lost a cousin to death by Nazi eugenics. Although I have tended to oppose euthanasia including Dr. Kevorkian, I see it as a question of having a philosophy of struggle.

In his book Leadership and Crisis, Catholic Bobby Jindal says that without Jesus people may be reduced to instruments. The style of argument reminds one of how CIA operations officer James Olson covered the subject of morality in the CIA. It seems that Marxism is a bit complicated, but the simplest moral condemnations Olson did notice, including the Vatican's. Having a "word" that lasts beyond time may help in a quick and dirty argument, as a kind of shortcut, one an imagine.

Note: "This same goodness invites the free consent of the chicks, which they refuse: 'and you would not!'" p. 25


  1. Interesting post, Jay, but I had to cut and paste it into Word because the right edge of the text blocks are cut off.