Tim Blair blogs a snippet that neatly sums up much of the initial reaction to the election of Benedict XVI, in one phrase: Cardinals elect Catholic Pope. World in Shock. Spare a thought for Rocco Buttiglione. In contrast, Daily Ireland welcomed him as sign that the church is keen to stablise its post Vatican II position. But in the FT Harold James has a different view of the new man.
He believes his choice of name resonates with an earlier time when belief was also in full flight before the rationalism of the Enlightenment. His earlier namesake resorted (amongst other things) to dialogue:
At the beginning of last year, Cardinal Ratzinger participated in a debate with Jürgen Habermas, the leading European philosopher of secular rationality. It was a conscious reworking of the dialogue of Voltaire and Benedict XIV. Cardinal Ratzinger concluded there was a “necessary co-relationship of reason and belief, which are called to mutual healing and cleansing, and each of which need each other”.
He also posed the problem in a fundamental way: both secular rationality and traditional Christianity had been accustomed to think of themselves as universalistic, but it was very obvious that this claim to universality was contested. The fact that there are big clashes does not mean the modern world can only be interpreted through the lens of Samuel Huntington as a “clash of civilisations”. So Cardinal Ratzinger thought that the clash needed to be ended with a dialogue. He concluded it was necessary to reject not only religious pathologies (in other words radicalised fundamentalism), but also rationalistic pathologies (such as the pathologies of Marxism).
Only on the basis of a re-examination of values could the two traditions, religious and secular, establish a “polyphonic co-relationship” and begin a “process of cleansing”. Instead of thinking that economic development and enhanced technology would automatically produce prosperity and thus solve by a kind of magic the problem of values, he felt we needed to think and talk explicitly about values. There are more commonalities across cultures in this discussion than we initially might suppose.