Monday, January 02, 2006

Benedict XVI and Whittaker Chambers

1) Benedict XVI and European Cultural Renewal

NEW YORK, JAN. 1, 2006 ( An essay by Benedict XVI on "Europe and Its Discontents" is published in the January issue of the U.S.-based journal First Things. The essay, originally written before his election to the papacy, will also appear in an upcoming book of the Pope's to be published in February under the title of "Without Roots" (Basic Books). In the essay, the Holy Father identifies "Europe" as a cultural identity, not simply a geographical concept. Its civilization extends to all of the continents, especially North America. But according to Benedict XVI, at a time when European civilization is the thoroughly dominant cultural force in the world today, its emphasis on techno-secular progress appears to have weakened the appreciation of its historical value system, culture and faith. To fill this vacuum, people are beginning to look to the religions of pre-Columbian America, Islam and Asian mysticism, he contends. Benedict XVI states that low birthrates in the West indicate that the "vital energy" of Europe has been lost. There is a lack of regard and hope for the future caused by the secular dogmatisms and ideologies that "view the spirit as produced by matter and morals by circumstances." The fallacy of communist economics has been rejected, but its moral and religious fallacies have not. The Holy Father compares the competing understandings of the development of civilizations offered by Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee.

Toynbee's line:

He notes that while Spengler's "biologistic" thesis meant the death of Europe was inevitable, Toynbee claimed that civilizational progress contained two elements: techno-material and spiritual. The spiritual dimension relies on the free choice of the people. Thus, if the civilization is sick, there can be a remedy. For Europe, Toynbee proposes the recovery of the religious and cultural heritage of Western Christianity. Pondering whether Toynbee's thesis is correct, Benedict XVI states, "If it is, then we must ask whether it is in our power to reintroduce the religious dimension through a synthesis of what remains of Christianity and the religious heritage of humankind."

2) Benedict XVI and “Creative Minorities

Benedict XVI ultimately agrees with Toynbee's understanding of civilizational development, and exhorts Christians to be "creative minorities" within "Europe," cultivating appreciation for the three (3) pillars of European civilization: a) respect for the dignity of the human person; b) marriage and the family; c) religion.
Christianity is the antidote to a Europe that is beset by materialism, secularism and multiculturalism; a Europe that no longer appreciates its roots and with little interest or energy left to preserve its heritage. This is a heritage the Pope states should be offered for the service of mankind.

* * * * * * * *

Whittaker Chambers[1] in Witness:” (p. 82-83).

“Why is it that thirty years after the greatest revolution in history, the Communists have not produced one single inspired work of the mind? What is our lack?

"Now in my despair, I asked at last: can it be God” I asked it first as an acknowledged absurdity which the mind is reduced to after rejecting every other possibility. I asked it, astounded that I could ask it at all, and with aversion as if something old, cunning and fetid from the past had reached out unfairly to possess my mind in its moment of greatest weakness. I associated God with ill-ventilated vestries and ill-ventilated minds.

"How could it be God? Yet if it was just as evil to kill the Tsar as to kill two million peasants, it was evil because a violence had been committed against the soul – the soul of the murderer as well as of the murdered. It was not evil for any lesser reason. By the logic of history it was expedient, and in its directness merciful. `How long are you going to keep on killing people?’ Lady Astor would ask Stalin brightly. `As long as it is necessary,’ he answered and asked in turn: `How many people were killed in the First World War? You killed that many people for nothing,’ he had added, `and you blame us for killing a handful for the most promising social experiment in history?’ In terms of the modern mind, which excludes from its reasoning the undemonstrable fact of God, Stalin’s answer was unanswerable. It could only be answered by another question: `And man’s soul?’

"At some point, I sought relief from my distress by trying to pray. I had tried to pray a few times before, in my boyhood and my youth. I had not been successful. My whole life as a man lay between those failures and my present need. Now, as I tried to pray, it was as if that spirit from my boyhood and youth took my hand and knelt and prayed beside me, so that in the act of seeking oneness with God, I became one with myself. The secret springs of my life, which had been lost so long in the desert of modernity, joined their impulses, broke free and flowed unchecked. At the same time, I began to sense that the two mirages that had beckoned me into the desert – the mirage of Almighty Mind and its power to plan human salvation – were illusions.

"As I continued to pray raggedly, prayer ceased to be an awkward and self-conscious act. It became a daily need to which I looked forward. If, for any reason I were deprived of it, I was distressed as if I had been deprived of some life necessity, like water. I cannot say I changed. There tore through me a transformation with the force of a river, which, dammed up and diverted for lifetime, bursts its way back to it true channel. I became what I was. I ceased to be what I was not.

"What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind – the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step. If I had rejected only communism, I would have rejected only one political expression of the modern mind, the most logical because the most brutal in enforcing the myth of man’s material perfectibility, the most persuasive because the least hypocritical in announcing its purpose and forcibly removing the obstacles to it. If I had rejected only communism, I should have changed my faith; I would not have changed the force that made it possible. I should have remained within that modern intellectual mood which gives birth to Communism, and denies the soul in the name of the mind, and the soul’s salvation in suffering in the name of man’s salvation here and now. What I sensed without being able to phrase it was what has since been phrased with the simplicity of an axiom: `Man cannot organize the world for himself without God; without God man can only organize the world against man.’ The gas ovens of Buchenwald and the Communist execution cellars exist first within our minds.

"But the torrent that swept through me in 1937 and the first months of 1938 swept my spirit clear to discern one truth: `Man without mysticism is a monster.’ I do not mean, of course, that I denied the usefulness of reason and knowledge. What I grasped was that religion begins at the pint where reason and knowledge are powerless and forever fall – the point at which man senses the mystery of good and evil, his suffering and his destiny as a soul in search of God. Thus, in pain, I learned the distinction between wisdom and knowledge – knowledge, which however exalted, is seldom more than the making of careful measurements, and wisdom, which includes knowledge, but also includes man’s mystery"
(my underline).”

[1] Former Communist; turned state’s evidence against alleged Communist, Alger Hiss; editor of Time Magazine in the late 40’s; author of the autobiography, “Witness.”

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