Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The religious marketplace

Surfing the net, I've come across two major categories of concerns about Pope Benedict XVI: First, that he was once the Church's inquisitor, something that scares Jews; and second, that he is unlikely to change Church policy about homosexuality and the ordination of women. To all those raising these concerns, I suggest a bit of historical perspective. From Charlemagne to the Luther, the Catholic Church was the only game in town. Indeed, it was the only game in Europe. It worked hand in hand with each separate state, and had a complete lock on religion. The only exception to this lock was the Jews, and the Church periodically tried to destroy them (the Inquisition) or simply tolerated them for the useful money lending services they provided (services the faithful were unable to render). For those who disagreed with the Church on matters large and small, there were no options. For the Church, which was defending its territory (the known world), no quarter could be given, since every attack on the Church could, potentially, destroy its hegemony. This control also meant that, for people who disagreed with Church doctrine, their only hope was to reform the Church from within, because there was -- until Luther -- no other approach to Christianity (or, perhaps I should say, to Christ). That's all changed now. The Church is one faith amongst many. It has no ties to secular government. This fact should address both of the concerns raised about the new Pope. As to the Pope's being the former head Inquisitor, who cares? The Inquisition is no longer tied to world dominance, and no longer has as its goal stamping out (with fire) heresy in all its forms amongst all people. (Incidentally, this job seems to have been coopted by fundamentalist Islamists, as evidence by the unlamented Taliban and the religious police in Saudi Arabi and Egypt, who opt for sword, not fire.) The Inquisitor is simply concerned with making sure that, as to those who profess to be Catholics, their beliefs harmonizes with Church doctrine. And if their beliefs don't harmonize? Well, they can change their belief system or -- and this is something that couldn't be done in 1492 -- they can leave the Church. Which gets me to the second point. Liberals desperately want to change the Church. They want it to be a entity that embraces homosexuality and invites women into the priesthood. Well, this is the Catholic Church and it doesn't. But the Catholic Church is no longer the only one faith in the marketplace: Dissenters are no longer forced to try to reform it from the inside (and to risk fire in the process). They can go somewhere else. Heck, they can become Unitarians. The Church is what it is. If you don't like it, go somewhere else. If enough people go somewhere else, as they did with Protestantism, the Church might choose to make changes on its own initiative, as it did in response to Protestantism. Call it the marketplace of religious ideas. And by the way, considering the Church's enormous success in the third world, it seems as if the Church -- without embracing homosexuality and the ordination of women -- is doing quite fine in the marketplace of religious ideas. Good luck to you Pope Benedict XVI.