More hypocrisy from so-called “Catholic Intellectuals”

Meet Benjamin Wiker, a man whose understanding far outstrips his ability to muster an honest argument.

Mr. Wiker has a nice little screed entitled Benedict Contra Nietzsche: A Reflection on Deus Caritas Est, in Crisis Magazine. He starts out well. It doesn't take a genius to see that some intellectuals who are not Papal Monarchists could use Deus Caritas Est (hereinafter DCE) as an excuse to grind their favorite axe, that being whether or not that axe applies.

For instance, Mr. Wiker is absolutely justified in pointing out that Bishop Francis Deniau is probably talking out of his butt if he regards this as a wink-and-a-nod towards softening the Papacy's position on contraception. Now, whether or not the Papal Monarchy has the grounds to tell us anything about contraception, as Deniau would probably argue against, is one thing, and as an obvious PM supporter, Mr. Wiker can argue that the Pope is entitled to regulate our dental floss, for all I care.

Because Mr. Wiker is so focused on demonstrating his position's moral superiority to that of the liberal Bishop, and using Nietzsche as his straw-man whipping boy in the process, that he badly distorts the Encyclical in the process.  Yeah, put words in the Pope's mouth, buddy.  Knock yourself out.

Enter the world's most-misunderstood philosopher.

For starters, Mr. Wiker needs to actually read some Nietzsche:

"It was quite surprising to have Benedict open with philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s charge against Christianity. “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink,” Nietzsche quipped; “he did not die of it but degenerated—into vice.”

Well, actually, Mr. Wiker, no, it's not. But that's because every Christian on earth reads the words "God is dead," and assumes that Nietzsche held the same b.s. views his Nazi sister did — the same sister who conveniently edited his works while he was in a coma. Of course, Nietzsche doesn't attack Christianity at all — which anybody who's actually read the text with their eyelids open can tell you. Instead, he argued against hypocrites calling themselves Christians, while simultaneously reducing God to nothing more than a Sunday-morning checkbox.

Go ahead, Mr. Wiker. Take off your ideological blinders for a couple minutes, and crack a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Of course the Pope quotes Nietzsche… Nietzsche is probably the most profound philosopher of the 19th century — especially when one contrasts the Hegelian nightmare of an intellectual world in which he lived — and is profoundly friendly to the practice of the Christian Faith.

But by all means, Mr. Wiker, never leave a straw-man unburnt and a convenient whipping-boy unwhipped, if that will allow you to smite the unholy liberal.

Can we get an honest argument from a conservative Catholic, please?

Now, by and large, I have no issue with the general argument Mr. Wiker puts forth, or would be putting forth, if he were willing to do the heavy lifting of writing an intellectually honest argument. But this guy is a Senior Fellow of Biblical Theology, not some holy-roller with a bachelor's degree pretending he understands hermeneutics. So when Mr. Wiker writes the following,

The restoration of eros demands that we reject both the gnostic denial of the reality and goodness of the flesh and the materialist, Epicurean denial of the reality and goodness of the spirit.

Mr. Wiker goes beyond the pale. As, unfortunately, is usual for Conservative Catholics lately. Opposing gnosticism? Great! Tossing an equals sign between Epicureanism and Hedonism, because that's convenient for your argument?

The holy-roller in the middle of his second semester of philosophy might make that mistake, but Mr. Wiker, you know better.

And so on, until we get to this lovely gem:

Perhaps, then, Benedict begins with Nietzsche as a prophecy. “I am a disciple of the philosopher Dionysus,” declared Nietzsche in Ecce Homo, “I should prefer to be even a satyr to being a saint.” That is, he would prefer to be less than human than to submit to the reality of a spiritual realm, for that would entail the submission of his will to God.

No, as usual, Mr. Wiker, the Pope's a touch smarter than you are. For starters, on the off chance he actually forgot, Benedict has some folks who can probably remind him that Ecce Homo belongs to a six-letter literary tradition beginning with an "s." In case you're having trouble guessing it, I've heard recently that it rhymes with "flat tire."

Well, the argument descends into a generally-worthwhile, albeit completely misdirected, meditation upon agape as a love that descends from above, and eros as a love that rises creatively from below.

Far from poisoning eros, Christianity not only affirms it, but elevates it beyond its wildest dreams. Nothing is lost; all is divinized.

Yeah, Mr. Wiker, no problem. Pity you don't realize that Nietzsche agrees with you, insofar as you're talking about actual Christians, rather than the Sunday-checkbox crowd.

But, no. Mr. Wiker has to add in the traditional, smugly self-righteousness parting shot so horribly common amongst conservative Catholics these days:

If only the satyrs had ears to hear.

Well, the "satyr," as you termed it, can't hear. He's not around to defend himself, and his works were half-hijacked by a Nazi (not that it takes a genius to see where). And he certainly suffered, on a number of levels, and from syphilis espcially.

In fact, his very last conscious act, before lapsing into a syphilis-induced coma, was to literally hurl himself into the street to throw himself between a coachman and the exhausted horse said coachman was literally whipping to death, shielding the horse with his body and choosing to accept the angry strokes of a vicious man's whip while weeping in sympathy for a cruelly-abused animal.

 “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16).

Remove the beam from your own eye, Mr. Wiker, and crack a copy of Mere Christianity: the "satyr" walking down his road of suffering was closer to God than you're ever likely to get up there on your high and mighty edifice.

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2 Comments

  1. celogomama

     /  June 15, 2006

    I don’t know why people feel they have to analyze Deus Caritas Est. Isn’t the encyclical clear enough?? It was beautifully written!! Argh on those reading things into the incredibly lucid mind of Benedict.

    Reply
  2. Agreed. Now, I’m not a Papal Monarchist, which in some circles has lately come to mean that I’m not even Catholic. (Apparently I’m allowed to be Catholic and still be pissed off about the Filioque — not the insurmountable I thought it was).

    So if even I know that the POPE isn’t a stalking horse for internecine and ultimately trivial political fights, why can’t professors of biblical theology figure that out? DCE is one of the finest encyclicals, imho, that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read — why diminish it by trying to put words in the Pope’s mouth?

    (If folks want to argue philosophy, fine, but using Christ as an excuse to slander a man who should be sitting squarely among the Christian philosophers is simple madness. And even then, why get so worked up over philosophers? “What has Athens to do with Christ?”)

    Reply

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