April 11, 2005


The Pope’s Failures (Slavoj Zizek, 4/08/05, In These Times)

[W]ithin our post-political, liberal-permissive society, human rights have, ultimately, become the rights to disobey the Ten Commandments. “The right to privacy”—the right to adultery, done in secrecy, where no one has the right to probe. “The right to pursue happiness and private property”—the right to steal and exploit others. “Freedom of expression and freedom of the press”—the right to lie. “The right of free citizens to bear weapons”—the right to kill. And ultimately, “freedom of religious belief”—the right to worship false gods.

The greatness of John Paul II was that he personified the disavowal of the liberal, easy way out. Even those who respected the Pope’s moral stance usually accompanied their praise with the caveat that he nonetheless remained hopelessly old-fashioned, medieval even, by sticking to dogmas out of touch with the demands of modernity. How could someone today ignore contraception, divorce or abortion? How could the Pope deny the right to abortion even to a nun who got pregnant through rape (as he effectively did in the case of the raped nuns in Bosnia)? Isn’t it clear that, even when one is in principle against abortion, one should consent to a compromise in such an extreme case?

One can see why the Dalai Lama is a much more appropriate leader for our postmodern, permissive times. He presents us with a feel-good spiritualism without any specific obligations. Anyone, even the most decadent Hollywood star, can follow him while continuing their money-grabbing, promiscuous lifestyle. In stark contrast, the Pope reminded us that there is a price to pay for a proper ethical attitude. It was his very stubborn clinging to “old values,” his ignoring the “realistic” demands of our time, even when the arguments against him seemed “obvious” (as in the case of the raped nun), that made him an authentic ethical figure.

That much is brilliant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Well let's look at the rest of thearticle, the part you didn't cherrypick, the part the flows logically from the part you quoted:

Let us also consider the abundant cases of sexual molestation of children by priests. These cases are so widespread, from Austria and Italy to Ireland and the United States, that one can effectively speak of an articulated counterculture within the Church that has its own set of hidden rules. And there is a connection between the pederast scandals and Opus Dei because the group works with the Church to intervene and hush them up.

The Churchs reaction to the sex scandals demonstrates the way it perceives its role: It insists that these cases, deplorable as they are, are the Churchs internal problem, and it displays great reluctance to collaborate with police in their investigations. Indeed, in a way, the Church is right. The molestation of children is the Churchs internal problemthat is to say, an inherent product of its institutional organization and of the libidinal economy on which that organization relies. Obviously, these scandals are not simply particular criminal cases concerning particular individuals who just happen to be priests. The problem is systemic.

No organization, be it Enron or the Vatican, will ever be able to police itself or reform itself of systemic abuses. This has to be done by an outside policing agency or exterior competition. That was the role of the Protestant reformers whose revolt forced the Chruch to end the abuses of the Borgia Popes and Renaissance Papacy with the Counter-Reformation. The Council of Trent would have never been called if it wasn't for the Protestants. To purge the current Church of the rot of pervison and cover-up, the RICO Act should be ammended to remove the excemptions for religions.

Then we can treat the Catholic Church the same way we would treat any other criminal organization whose activities cross state lines.

Posted by: at April 11, 2005 8:32 AM

Yes, the abusers should be prosecuted and the Church needs to screen out homosexuals. That's true of every modern institution that has access to children. The Church has done better than most but better isn't good enough.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 8:35 AM

Before the Reformation, it was usually the Holy Roman Emperors who cleaned any Augean stables. Of course, what that got them was Gregory VII.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 11, 2005 12:12 PM

What? No RKBA? The writer disapproves of my right to kill in self-defense at need? Now he done stopped preachin' and started in meddlin'.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 11, 2005 8:33 PM

Check out this comment posted directly below the article. Not a parody...

In These Times is not as craven as amy goodman in covering up the dead popes reactionary essence, but zizek lets john paul off pretty light given that he destroyed the liberation theology movement that was the only bright spot in 2,000 years of catholic oppression of latin america [...]

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 12, 2005 1:24 AM