I’m taking up a subject already much commented on, but which I’ve just had a chance to ponder, in response to another friend’s sending me Frank Schaeffer’s unconvincing explanation of his quite, quite unfortunate San Francisco Chronicle article With God on Their Side.
It was the column that began by calling Joseph Ratzinger “the most fundamentalist Roman Catholic cardinal” and went on to reveal how horrifying a thing he (Schaeffer) thought fundamentalism to be. (Schaeffer grew up in a famous Evangelical home and has since become Orthodox, and seems, to put it charitably, to have issues he is still working out.) For example:
a) “fundamentalists equate criticism of their theology and/or politics with blasphemy. They’re sure they’re on a mission from God.”
b) “Certainties are what unite all fundamentalists: the fear of disorder and the unknown—in other words, the fear of freedom.”
He is a writer who seems to gotten his material from Cliches R Us. The article closes with the idea—he must have found this one on Cliches R Us’ after Easter clearance sale — that “The final irony of fundamentalism, and the scholastic Catholicism represented by the new pope, is that fundamentalists turn out to be rationalists unwilling to abandon any part of their intellectual systems to embrace the mystery of spirituality.”
“The mystery of spirituality.” For best effect, form the words at the back of your mouth and draw them out, especially the “s” in “mystery” and the last half of “spirituality.” This produces a semi-pseudo-English accent and makes you sound like an Episcopal bishop explaining to worshipful little old ladies why he doesn’t believe in the bodily resurrection. I’ll bet the Chronicle's readers like to hear it spoken. It’s a very marketable way of speaking.
Anyway, that Schaeffer-recognized Mystery sure puts Benedict the Fearful Rationalist Mysteryless Fundamentalist in his place. Except . . .
that the phrase has no discernable content. Using it to put down a man who happens to be an extremely learned and subtle theologian is rather like Spongebob Squarepants trying to win the World Series of Poker by slapping his cards face down on the table and reaching for the pot. One is inclined to ask to see them.
But the thing I find most disturbing is how well the article serves the enemies of the Faith. Surely, whatever Schaeffer thinks of Benedict XVI (or of his own parents, for that matter), he knows that he and Benedict stand together on one side of a divide from the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Or maybe he doesn’t. A reader who had read only this one article would assume Frank Schaeffer does not know this. That should worry him a lot.