Liberals can always be trusted to see God in Mumia Abu-Jamal and the devil in the Pope. As if on cue, they launched a rash of appalling attacks to mark the beginning of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of TIKKUN, a befuddled, New-Age magazine, emphasizing interfaith activities, wasn’t persuaded by good manners, or by the Holy Father’s brilliant mind and beatific smile—the whole holy package, really—to withhold his insufferably sanctimonious sermon.
Lerner, in whom delusions of grandeur and an atrocious lack of decorum combine, claims to speak (boy, is he windy!) for the entire universe, which is apparently agreed that, “The New Pope a Disaster for the World and for the Jews.” But then, the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics are not the only people Lerner lectures. A regular busybody, the Rabbi is always poised to remind Israelis, whenever their civilians are blown to smithereens by suicide bombers, to take the blame and turn the other cheek.
That Sub-Saharan Africa “is home to more than 60 percent of all people living with HIV” is by and large the Catholic Church’s fault, as Lerner sees it. No matter that an enormous AIDS-education effort has been underway for some time in these regions. Or that there isn’t a village that has not been missionized by AIDS educators. It is the church’s opposition to providing “birth control information to the poor of the world,” that has ensured “AIDS would spread and kill millions in Africa,” or so Lerner alleges. According to his logic, Church doctrine is killing Africans, for whom salvation will come when the Church joins Planned Parenthood’s African chapters in hanging condoms on every baobab.
Presumably Lerner knows that the main source of HIV transmission in Africa is rampant, promiscuous, heterosexual sex. One doesn’t have to be a South-African AIDS counselor, as I once was, to know that much. What moves people to fornicate into the afterlife? The inability to refuse sex, for one. Sexual violence is endemic in Africa, and I don’t mean campus “date rape.” In South Africa, for example, a woman—toddlers and babies included—is raped every few minutes. Cultural factors also determine infection rates. African patriarchs don’t like prophylactics; African women risk battery, and worse, should they insist on their, “Like, reproductive freedoms” (uttered in staccato, tart tones, indigenous to North America).
There’s also the entirely uncontroversial concept of time preference rates—the degree to which different people discount the future in favor of immediate gratification. Less delicately put: When do most Africans want sex? They want it now! A death-defying desire, indeed.
Here’s a simple enough proposition for Lerner and other liberals to contemplate: The Church also enjoins against sex outside marriage. If the Church’s dos-and-don’ts carry so much weight in Africa, how come this injunction is generally ignored? Isn’t it rather foolish, then, to imagine that Africans aren’t using protection in deference to Church doctrine? Or that if the Church sanctioned sheaths, Africans would put them on? In all likelihood, the Church’s consecration of condoms will have the same overall effect on African infection rates as its condemnation of sex outside marriage.
Lerner’s Fritjof-Capra inspired Judaism helps explain why he is furious with the Pope for “suggesting that secularism is now repressing religion.” Jewish “representatives” have long insisted that America must evolve into a secular and religiously neutral society, a stance that rests on dubious legal precedents set by a hyperactive Supreme Court. Last I looked it was the secular Left—and Jewish leaders—that was determined not to rest until the last nativity scene was removed from the public square.
The Rabbi is also lathered up at Cardinal Ratzinger for not discarding a filament of the Christian faith, the belief that the path to God is predicated on accepting Christ. “This is a slippery slope toward anti-Semitism, and a return to the chauvinistic and triumphalist views that led the Church, when it had the power to do so, to develop its infamous crusades and inquisitions. … This new Pope does not represent what is most beautiful and sacred in the teachings of Jesus,” he added.
What bad form and chutzpah it is for a Jew to lambaste this immensely learned churchman about doctrinal issues, in general, and the centrality of Christ to Christianity, in particular. (Lerner’s energies would be better spent protesting the faith of Jihad, honor killings, clitoridectomy, and forced marriage.) I certainly don’t hear Catholics telling orthodox Jews to ditch their maddening dietary laws, because these make people of other faiths feel inferior. As for Catholics reviving The Rack; shouldn’t Lerner be warning his Network of Progressive Spiritual Activists about more pressing perils?
Still, Lerner’s campaign for “kumbaya Catholicism” is not all worthless—its gift is Cardinal Josef Ratzinger’s coruscating appraisal of Buddhism, rivaled only by Ayn Rand’s. Contra Lerner, Rand was a staunch defender of Western civilization, not unlike the Holy Father. And like him, she was uncongenial to Buddhism “and its equivalents.” If “manufacturers of railroad engines suddenly went irrational and began to manufacture covered wagons, men would step into the industrial vacuum and start manufacturing railroad engines. But… when we are offered Zen Buddhism … as the latest word in human thought”—nobody volunteers to step into the intellectual vacuum to carry on the work of man’s mind.
Pope Benedict XVI’s goes one better, calling “Buddhism an autoerotic spirituality that offers transcendence without imposing concrete religious obligations … offers false hope, in that it guarantees purification based on a morally cruel concept of reincarnation resembling a continuous circle of hell.” “At the time,” laments Lerner, “Cardinal Ratzinger predicted that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the Catholic Church’s main enemy.”
©2005 Ilana Mercer