The Fall of False Gods

Pope Benedict, the bishops, and the “clash of civilizations”

Pope Benedict XVI delivered an important meditation at the beginning of the October Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. The meditation addressed the “false divinities” that govern modern times. Though the Holy Father did not speak explicitly in the meditation about the media-labeled “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West, a topic central to many of the Synod’s discussions, his remarks apply to that struggle and offer the only real solution to it.

The world suffers under two destructive idols, he suggested in the meditation, one from the East that assumes the form of false religion, one from the West that takes the form of no religion. Both idols must fall under the advance of true religion, which alone comes from the Son of God:

Let us remember all the great powers of the history of today. Let us remember the anonymous capital that enslaves man which is no longer in man’s possession but is an anonymous power served by men, by which men are tormented and even killed. It is a destructive power that threatens the world. And then there is the power of terroristic ideologies. Violent acts are apparently made in the name of God, but this is not God: they are false divinities that must be unmasked; they are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a voracious beast, extends its claws to all parts of the world and destroys it: it is a divinity, but a false divinity that must fall. Or even the way of living proclaimed by public opinion: today we must do things like this, marriage no longer counts, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

These ideologies that dominate, that impose themselves forcefully, are divinities. And in the pain of the saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church which we are a part of, these divinities must fall. What is said in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians must be done: the domination, the powers fall and become subjects of the one Lord Jesus Christ.

The “clash of civilizations” is at bottom a clash of irrational ideologies: a distorted faith without reason in the East advances upon a culture of distorted reason without faith in the West. Modernist commentators propose that the two find peace in “pluralism” and other articles of man-made faith, but Pope Benedict can see that secular humanism provides no resolution to the conflict at all. It is just one more false divinity.

Peace will grow in proportion to the East finding Christ and the West rediscovering him. It is this diagnosis of the global crisis that contributes to the Pope’s urgency in calling for Middle Eastern Christians to preserve the faith in embattled lands. Inspired by his meditation, several Middle Eastern bishops spoke eloquently about the need for a continued Christian witness and presence in Muslim-dominated countries, despite the severe persecution Catholics endure in many of them.

Unfortunately, not all the bishops in attendance at the Synod grasped the meaning of the Pope’s words. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, one of two US representatives at the Synod, sounded more interested in winning conversions for modern liberalism than for Christ. Secular missionary activity appeals to Mahony far more than Catholic apologetics. While he would never dare call Islam a false religion, he is anxious to evangelize Muslims in the merits of pluralism, feminism, reciprocity, and UN-decreed human rights.

The lengthy recitation of legitimate grievances at the Synod from persecuted Christians contradicts the popular claim that Islam is an intrinsically moderate religion. But Cardinal Mahony still thought it appropriate to lecture fleeing Middle Eastern Christians on the virtues of Islam. It looks to the retiring archbishop, from his perch near Hollywood, like a very peaceful religion.

In his speech at the Synod, he said that a “particularly challenging” problem for him during his tenure was having to work with benighted Christian immigrants from the Middle East. He said “we have a strong ecumenical, interfaith, and interreligious legacy” in Los Angeles, yet “[r]egrettably such initiatives take place without much participation on the part of immigrant Christians from the Middle East. In fact, they are often critical of our efforts in these arenas, especially in the matter of forgiveness.”

Still other “Middle Eastern Christians,” he continued, “come to North America with attitudes and opinions toward both Muslims and Jews that are not in keeping with the Gospel or with the strides we have made in the Church’s relations with other religions.”

But Mahony isn’t giving up; he is willing to reeducate these immigrants according to his understanding of the spirit of Vatican II: “Because we in Los Angeles live ‘up close’ with peoples of many different faiths, how can we assist the people of this particular diaspora to correct these erroneous beliefs which might then influence their homelands through Christians living in the West? Although they may not want to hear it, Christians living in the Middle East and emigrating to the West need to be challenged to be a sign of reconciliation and peace.”

Cardinal Mahony isn’t normally so tough on immigrants. But these displaced Middle Eastern Catholics can at least take heart from words in the conclusion of the Pope’s opening meditation, that the “faith of the simple at heart is the true wisdom” and the Church’s bulwark against fashionable lies.

George Neumayr is editor of CWR.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.