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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sullivan on Ratzinger

Popes aren’t elected every day, so those of my dear readers who have expressed annoyance at my frequent posts on religion lately will just have to put up with one or two more.Those of you who are interested in the greater meaning, religious and political, of Pope Benedict XVI may have run across Andrew Sullivan’s agonized posts today. Here’s a pertinent excerpt aimed at his readers who are tired of all the Pope-Talk:

I was trying to explain last night to a non-Catholic just how dumb-struck many reformist Catholics are by the elevation of Ratzinger. And then I found a way to explain. This is the religious equivalent of having had four terms of George W. Bush only to find that his successor as president is Karl Rove. Get it now?

Yeah, that’s a pretty scary vision. But you also have to understand that Sullivan has some real history with the new pope, having written a very perceptive analysis of his theology in The New Republic back in 1988.To use a shorthand that some of you will find illuminating and others inscrutable, Sullivan’s take on Ratzinger back then was that he represented the marriage of the German Augustinian tradition (the same tradition that produced great Protestant theologians from Martin Luther to Karl Barth) with papal power, along with an unhealthy attitude about sex and gender. It’s a very toxic combination, producing a very political agenda in the guise of the non-political sovereignty of the Church. That’s why Andrew ultimately compared Cardinal Ratzinger then, and compares Benedict XVI now, to Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor: a man driven by the logic of theology to, and perhaps beyond, the limits of Christianity itself.I hope Sullivan is wrong about the new pope, but there are unsettling analogies in his Catholic analysis of Ratzinger to the strangely un-Christian tendencies recently apparent in so many conspicuously Christian U.S. religious and political leaders.

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