As everyone knows by now, we have a new pope. Not being Catholic, the identity of the pope has little to do with me (though I’m glad we finally have one – since John Paul II died, I’ve borne the burden of being the only infallible person on the planet, and I just don’t need that kind of stress). Still, I can’t be the only one who finds it disturbing that the man who held the title of Grand Inquisitioner would be named Pope. Been down that road a few hundred years ago, didn’t turn out too well. And it seems that some more liberal Catholics are a tad bit upset by this turn of events. Andrew Sullivan seems quite upset, and I can’t say as I blame him. He writes:
And so the Catholic church accelerates its turn toward authoritarianism, hostility to modernity, assertion of papal supremacy and quashing of internal debate and dissent. We are back to the nineteenth century. Maybe this is a necessary moment. Maybe pressing this movement to its logical conclusion will clarify things. But those of us who are struggling against what our Church is becoming, and the repressive priorities it is embracing, can only contemplate a form of despair. The Grand Inquisitor, who has essentially run the Church for the last few years, is now the public face. John Paul II will soon be seen as a liberal. The hard right has now cemented its complete control of the Catholic church.
Sullivan also points out the absurdity of Ratzinger’s election-eve homily blaming communism and naziism on “relativism”. Totalitarian regimes are anything but relativist; indeed, they are notable for their absolutism, both in terms of ideology (i.e. their positions on matters of both truth and morality) and in their zeal to destroy those who do not agree with it. As Sullivan correctly notes:
The philosophical appeal of Marxism was and is, for the handful of fools who still cling to it, its claim to absolute, scientific truth. Similarly, Nazism asserted as a scientific fact the superiority or inferiority of certain races. These totalitarian ideologies allowed for no dissent because the truth had been proven. You see precious little relativism in Communist or fascist regimes. They created absolute leaders to embody and enforce the maintenance of their truths. And they believed in the conflation of such truths with all political life, the abolition of autonomy and conscience. In structure, they were and are very close to the structure of a decayed version of Catholicism that asserts one version of the truth, suppresses any and all open discussion of such truths within its power, and elevates a cult-like leader and mass demonstrations to reinforce its propaganda.
This annoying use of the phrase “relativism” to describe those who reject the morality of the person speaking is absurd and needs to stop. That one holds to an absolutist conception of truth does not mean that anyone who doesn’t hold that conception is therefore “relativist”. More likely, they are merely absolutists with a different conception. One could scarcely find a better model for a Nazi or Communist leader than the “Grand Inquisitioner”, which ironically happens to be the title held by the new Pope for the last several year.