Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope reaction

It's only been a day since the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to become the next pope — Pope Benedict XVI. I'm about as non-Catholic as one can possibly get, but the reaction of (mostly) the Catholic world to Ratzinger's election has proved unexpectedly interesting to me. And the reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

The reaction tends to be highly polarized — people are either thrilled or they see Ratzinger as something approaching the harbinger of the apocalypse. The latter reaction is the one that I find interesting, because of its basis. For the most part, the people who are objecting to Ratzinger's elevation do so because they object to his orthodoxy. In other words, they are unhappy because the newly elected pope is committed to retaining the church's long-standing moral standards and resulting policies.

These people who are so appalled at the selection of Ratzinger remind me very much of political liberals in the sense that they do not seem to believe there are any moral absolutes. For example, many of the appalled Catholics would like to see the church change its stance on contraception — even though, quite clearly, doing so would violate one of the church's most clear-cut moral standards: the sanctity of human life. For the church to change its stance, it would first have to acknowledge that its definition of what is moral could change over time. And the appalled Catholics are ok with that. Similarly, the political liberals in the U.S. are perfectly ok with the courts "re-interpreting" the Constitution to fit whatever the belief-of-the-day is.

If I were Catholic, I would be firmly amongst those who were thrilled by Ratzinger's elevation. My reasoning would be that the church represents, more than anything else, a moral framework that I subscribe to — and Ratzinger is a defender of that framework. And I suspect that my political conservatism is grounded in similar patterns of thinking — identification of a political framework that I subscribe to, and a desire to defend that against erosion.

ScrappleFace nails this issue perfectly. And John Hinderaker, in a current Weekly Standard column, makes the point somewhat more seriously:

The left makes no secret of its intentions where the Constitution is concerned. It wants to change it, in ways that have nothing to do with what the document actually says. It wants the Constitution to enshrine its own policy preferences--thus freeing it from the tiresome necessity of winning elections. And how will the Constitution be changed? Through a constitutional convention, or a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures? Of course not. The whole problem, from the liberal perspective, is that they can't get democratically elected bodies to enact their agenda. As one of the Yale conference participants said: "We don't have much choice other than to believe deeply in the courts--where else do we turn?" The new, improved Constitution will come about through judicial re-interpretation. It only awaits, perhaps, the election of the next Democratic president.

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