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Wednesday, April 04, 2007



The New Republic should have added this "It gives off the unsettling aura of SECONDARY SOURCE term-paper research" (caps are mine). Kramer displays little knowledge of Benedict's writings, I suppose that is why she must frequently quote others in the article. Even a reading of his shorter works would reveal the idea the Christianity is not a cultural religion, as she supposes, but a trans-cultural one. For a supposed academic, the article lacks both style and substance.


It is well known that Jane Kramer wants to transform the Church of Rome, which is not to say that she wants to make it more responsive to the realities of a holy life as it is lived by Catholic women in the West, or by Catholic homosexuals, or even by the millions of desperately poor Catholic families in the Third World who are still waiting for some merciful dispensation from liberal women journalist who don't want them to have children.

She wants to dumb-down the Church, to make it more definitively un-Christian, less observant, obedient, and disciplined—you could say more like the way she sees spring break in Florida. And never mind that she doesn’t seem to like much about drunken under age students, or that she has doubts about the directions to the beach. (Her doubts are not unusual in today’s world; many with gps have them.) This journalist is a theologian-cum-bartender the first prominent theologian-cum-bartender to write for the New Yorker since some one actually read the thing.


The ubiquitous Amy Welborn links your article with the gloss: Carl Olson does the hard work so you don't have to. Well, too late - I read it when I received my copy a few days ago. But my reaction was the same as yours. I knew when I reached the second paragraph riffing on the usual progressive bugbears (women's rights, homosexuals, contraception, etc.) that I was in for a hatchet job. The only question remaining was: how sharp was the blade?

It turned out: Not all that sharp.

The shorthand rejoinder - we're tempted to say - is simply: "SURPRISE: POPE IS CATHOLIC." But there's more going on here - enough to make it another case study in media religious illiteracy. And precisely because Kramer had no apparent literacy in Ratzinger's thought, she became all the more easily channeled by the Pope's critics (whose criticisms she naturally found appealing anyway) as regards Regensburg and his handling of Islamic interreligious relations generally. Notice that aside from a brief comment or two from Lombardi (and to stretch a point, a sympathetic quote from Msgr. Akasheh), all of the figures she ends up talking to are in fact those critics - Daniel Madigan, Marco Politi, Tariq Ramadan, Rob Mickens, the Iranian ambassador, Franklin, Sheik Ashour, Feisal Rauf, Alberto Meloni - and somewhere, perhaps on background, one can't help but feel a whiff of the exiled Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald. One doesn't expect an interview with the Pope, but there is not even any real effort to engage any of the Pope's own extensive writings, let alone any of the thoughtful sympathetic critiques of Regensburg such as the ones you mention (you could also add Fr. Neuhau's). The result is not only a highly imbalanced article, but one which doesn't even know much about the terrain it's navigating.

And that's why it was particularly disappointing to see Kramer relegate the entire point of the Regensburg lecture to a brief afterthought of dismissal at the end of the essay. Kramer, Madigan and Michel would not be the first to have doubts about the proposition that "Greek philosophy is part and root of Christianity" but previous criticisms also managed something more than dismissing it out of hand in a couple paragraphs of deconstructivist assertions and secondary quotes at the tail end of a 10,000 word essay.

Either way, however, I enjoyed learning that the Gospel themed on Logos theology and written in Greek "was a Jewish document, not a Greek one." The things you learn in the New Yorker.


Letters from Azania by W. Evelyn.

The weather in Azania is abnormally cool for this time of year
(well I'm actually not in Azania I'm teaching a course
on Catholic theology at Vassar - perhaps teaching is a
stretch since I don't actually know anything about it - but I
did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once.)

Anyway the weather in Azania is abnormally cool for this time of year.
This forces the locals to stay indoors a lot to keep warm, while I am
sitting on the beach enjoying the sun. What delicious fun!
The local restaurant is fresh out of Lobster and so it will be a dreadful
Good Friday for all. Ta-ta for now.

Dave Deavel

The New Yorker should let only Peter Boyer write religion articles. I have no idea what if any religion he personally adheres to, but he is always meticulously fair and grounded in reality, unlike the pieces by Jane Kramer and Joan Acocella (though Ms. Acocella is good on the topic of dance).

Eufemia Budicin

To call S. Egidio a New Age movement is really what they deserve and makes the article worthy. Moreover it puts on the same level Melloni with Politi (Melloni will not be pleased). Besides the usual antiratzinger stuff (just looking forwards to his departure), I found the article a mirror of hopeless vanity.

Frank Shaw

Very interesting and informative post. It's great perspective and a different point of view. I like the New Yorker (and the Economist for that matter) because they write about topics that are controversial and require thinking. As a Catholic, I did not agree with all that was in the article, but it certainly made me stop and think. Term paper is a good phrase here -- I tend to look at this sort of article as a jumping off point, and not a defnitive answer to a question. There was another New Yorker article from a few months back about the poetry foundation, to which I had a similar reaction when I read it, and also a bit of an aha when I read about the story in the NYT Review of Books later. Jumping off indeed...


I am surprised that no one mentions Kramer's reliance on quotes from a journalist who says colleagues "warned" the Vatican that the Regensburg speech would be explosive, and then did their level best to insure that it was seen as explosive.
The poor naif ("naife"?) takes it at face value that self-fulfilling prophecies are genuinely, well... prophetic.



Agreed about Boyer. He is very good, knowledgeable and committed to understanding things. He interviewed me for a DVC piece (I didn't make it through the sausage grinder). We spoke twice and it was a pleasure. He's Anglican of some sort, I believe he told me.



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