Monday, April 14, 2008

Peggy Noonan on the Pope

This piece by Peggy Noonan is worth a read. She argues that, as John Paul II was a Pope suited to television, Benedict XVI is suited to the Internet, by which she seems to mean written text, which, to be fair, existed in other forms before it existed on the Internet.

She notes, because Benedict recently did, that John Paul adopted the mantra "be not afraid." This always impressed me particularly coming from someone who spent the first four decades of his adult life living under Nazis and Communists. What Noonan doesn't mention, but what I connect with the context in which John Paul rejected fear, is the effect that Parkinson's disease had on his last few years, and the effect that it didn't have. The charismatic athlete eventually lost his vigor, but never his dignity. And this seems to be Noonan's point, if I'm reading her correctly: that Pope Benedict is valuable for his reason and his words (which he may have intended when he chose his name), while John Paul was more important as a role model and a sub-rational communicator.

I also wanted to note Noonan's description of the Regensburg address:
There he traced and limned some of the development of Christianity, but he turned first to Islam. Faith in God does not justify violence, he said. "The right use of reason" prompts us to understand that violence is incompatible with the nature of God, and the nature, therefore, of the soul. God, he quotes an ancient Byzantine ruler, "is not pleased by blood," and "not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature." More: "To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm." This is a message for our time, and a courageous one, too. (The speech was followed by riots and by Osama bin Laden's charge that the pope was starting a new "crusade.")
What struck me about that paragraph is that she isn't really distorting anything much, except in implying that Islam was more of a focus of Benedict's address than it actually was. If anything, he hits on the Protestants more than the Muslims. The rioters were really completely insane, but I encourage you to read the speech - it's pretty short, and has food for thought.

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