After following with interest the conversation here about Frank Schaeffer's article "With God on their side, " I decided I'd send him an email and see if he would tolerate a few questions from a fan (and I am a fan... he's written some good stuff, especially "Fundamentalists to the Right, Funadamentalists to the Left" for instance). He was kind enough to reply to my question, which essentially was, "I think you make some valid points but I also think you are wrong about Pope Benedict. What is your 'beef' with the new pope, anyways?"
His answer is below and he said "Feel free to post it." Essentially, I think he's frustrated over what he perceives as a lack of humility on the scene these days, and I suspect he might have a point in that regard:
Look, any misreading of my op-ed is my fault, not yours. That said please note that my op-ed is not "about" the pope. Nor is it "about" the Roman Catholic Church. It is about a trend in the world toward conservative fundamentalism and the political consequences of the collision between the "tolerant" and multicultural, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil crowd and people on the fundamentalist side who do speak, believe and act. The piece is also about seeing the mystery of faith as contradicting the scholastic fundamentalism of both the west and east.
"The final irony of fundamentalism, and the scholastic Catholicism represented by the new pope, is that fundamentalists turn out to be rationalists unwilling to abandon any part of their intellectual systems to embrace the mystery of spirituality."
I'm not the first Orthodox to point out that scholastic Western Christianity is at odds with the Orthodox view of mystery/theological reasoning. This is hardly earth shaking news.
So I don't know why this is read as a "beef" with the pope any more than observing that President Bush is part of the resurgent religious right would be a "beef" with the president. We are all defined by our moment of history and right now so is the pope. He is one of several examples in the op-ed not the focus any more than Bill Frist is, though I mention him too along with fundamentalist Jews and Muslims.
Everybody sees their own issues in a story. I'm getting email from Evangelicals that don't mention the pope but who think the op-ed is "about" my father since I speak of him in it.
I'm reminded of the story about the African village where some missionaries showed a movie about Jesus to people who had never seen a film. After the movie the missionary asked "What do you think that movie was about?" "A chicken," responded one villager. The missionary realized that the chicken was the only thing in the movie that was familiar. The village had chickens in it, but not actors dressed in bathrobes.
A Jewish friend emailed me about how she thought my piece was an "unjustified rebuke" of people like her on the politically correct left for being too tolerant. We all see the chickens we know. Me too.
PS, If you want to post this letter on your site go ahead.