April 12, 2007
Life is full of coincidences so fortuitous that it is hard to believe that they are simply random. Yesterday, as Taki’s Top Drawer published the final installment of my “Thoughts on the Antichrist” (click here for Part I and Part II), one of the chief “conservative” American Catholics that I had in mind while writing the articles (but whom I did not mention) unbosomed himself of a silly criticism of Pope Benedict’s Easter Urbi et Orbi message.
Irving Kristol once memorably wrote that “A neoconservative is just a liberal who got mugged by reality.” Apparently reality hit such “former” Jacobin leftists as Michael Novak so hard that it addled their brains, preventing them from realizing that neoconservatism is just another form of Jacobin leftism. The real mystery is why otherwise sensible conservative Catholics cannot see that.
Novak, who used to bill himself as a “theologian” back when he was publicly dissenting from the Church’s position on artificial contraception (being a neocon now, he no longer does so publicly), had not a word to say about the typical theological richness of Pope Benedict’s message, which was a meditation on how the wounds of Christ bring hope to a wounded world. Instead, he focused on one clause from a much longer sentence: “nothing positive comes from Iraq.” Stripping the Holy Father’s message down to a mere five words, Novak misses even the immediate context:
In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country’s political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy. Finally, I cannot forget the difficulties faced daily by the Christian communities and the exodus of Christians from that blessed land which is the cradle of our faith.
In other words, Pope Benedict stressed what I discussed yesterday—the breaking of the Body of Christ in the birthplace of Christianity and the destruction of the most ancient Christian communities. And Novak, in his Jacobin obsession with America spreading democracy around the world, more than proved my point about the shallowness and nationalism of so many “conservative” American Catholics.
Novak complains that Pope Benedict’s remarks “sounded like a standard European view of reality “ at least of those Europeans who have always disagreed with the American war aims, and now that things have become difficult and costly want to stick it to the Americans.” I wonder whom Novak thinks it should be stuck to. “The Americans,” after all, went into this war over the repeated and insistent objections of Pope John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger—both of whom not only declared it unjust but predicted correctly that “things [would] become difficult and costly.” Are they, and other Europeans whose opposition to the war turned out to be not only moral but prudent, to be blamed now for the mess “the Americans” have made?
Novak’s entire career has been a series of position papers in favor of “values”—the “value” of unfettered sexual activity; the “value” of egalitarian democracy; the “value” of free-market capitalism unshackled from the Church’s social teaching. Pope Benedict, on the other hand, is not concerned with “values” but with the concrete encounter with the Risen Christ:
“My Lord and my God!” We too renew that profession of faith of Thomas. I have chosen these words for my Easter greetings this year, because humanity today expects from Christians a renewed witness to the resurrection of Christ; it needs to encounter him and to know him as true God and true man. If we can recognize in this Apostle the doubts and uncertainties of so many Christians today, the fears and disappointments of many of our contemporaries, with him we can also rediscover with renewed conviction, faith in Christ dead and risen for us. This faith, handed down through the centuries by the successors of the Apostles, continues on because the Risen Lord dies no more. He lives in the Church and guides it firmly towards the fulfillment of his eternal design of salvation.
That an American Catholic “theologian” could miss entirely the point of Pope Benedict’s message gives the lie to Novak’s famous remark that “The American people are, by every test of fact, the most religious on the planet.”
In his autobiography, Confessions of an Original Sinner, the historian John Lukacs writes that, when he reads those words, “I hear not the voices of Satan but those of the Anti-Christ; not expressions of materialism (of which Americans are so often accused) but of an evil spiritualism running rampant.”
Perhaps Cardinal Biffi was wrong after all: The Antichrist may not be a pacifist. He may, instead, come bearing the sword, promising perpetual peace through perpetual war.