Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians
Wiley (November 29, 2006)
It may seem eccentric to hail a theological text by a Scots Dominican, ranked 133,692nd in recent Amazon sales, as the year's most important work on global strategy. Now that I have your attention, humor me for a paragraph or two.
To win a gunfight, first you have to bring a gun, and to win a religious war, you had better know something about religion. America's "war on terror" proceeds from a political philosophy that treats radical Islam as if it were a political movement - "Islamo-fascism" - rather than a truly religious response to the West. If we are in a fourth world war, as Norman Podhoretz proclaims, it is a religious war. The West is not fighting individual criminals, as the left insists; it is not fighting a Soviet-style state, as the Iraqi disaster makes clear; nor is it fighting a political movement. It is fighting a religion, specifically a religion that arose in enraged reaction to the West.
None of the political leaders of the West, and few of the West's opinion leaders, comprehend this. We are left with the anomaly that the only effective leader of the West is a man wholly averse to war, a pope who took his name from the Benedict who interceded for peace during World War I. Benedict XVI, alone among the leaders of the Christian world, challenges Islam as a religion, as he did in his September 2006 Regensburg address. Who is Joseph Ratzinger, this decisive figure of our times, and what led the Catholic Church to elect him? Fr Kerr has opened the coulisses of Catholic debate such that outsiders can understand the changes in Church thinking that made possible Benedict's papacy. Because Benedict is the leader not only of the Catholics but - by default - of the West, all concerned with the West's future should read his book.
I do not view religion as an instrument for strategic ends. On the contrary: we are in a strategic crisis precisely because religion is not an instrument, but rather the expression of the existential requirements of humankind. Nonetheless, we are in a war, and war concentrates the mind wonderfully. Radical Islam threatens the West only because secular Europe, including the sad remnants of the former Soviet Union, is so desiccated by secular anomie that it no longer cares enough about its future to produce children. Muslims may form a majority in Russia by mid-century, and may dominate Western Europe 100 years hence. Without the demographic decay associated with the decline of religion, radical Islam would be a minor annoyance to the West rather than a deadly adversary.
The pope has no strategic agenda apart from reconciliation and peacemaking. His work is to shepherd souls, not soldiers. But Benedict is the first pope in the past century to draw a bright line between Islam on one hand and Judeo-Christian revealed religion on the other, and that may destine him "not to send peace, but a sword", like his predecessor. This makes Benedict the most indispensable man of our times, and the Catholic Church, the founding institution of the West, its still-indispensable institution. That outcome could not have been predicted from events of the first half of the 20th century. Nazi neo-paganism rolled over the Church during World War II, such that it could not prevent the mass slaughter of Polish priests, let alone genocide against the Jews. Yet under John Paul II, the Church emerged as the world's conscience in the face of communism, and the Polish Church opposed Moscow more effectively than the German Church opposed Berlin a generation earlier.
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