Benedict And The Buddhism/Masturbation Controversy
posted at http://chinamatters.blogspot.com on September
Benedict's recent scuffle with Islam, including his non-apology-characterized
by Middle East observer Abu Aardvark as "that time-honored
classic 'I'm sorry that you got angry when I called you
fat'" dodge - has highlighted his confrontational stance
toward other faiths.
column by Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian makes a case
for his hostility toward Judaism and Buddhism as well.
the process, Bunting retails the notorious statement made
by Benedict while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, purportedly
equating Buddhism with masturbation.
Channel reported that the full quote, delivered in an interview
with L'Expresse in 1997, went like this:
Buddhism is attractive, it's only because it suggests that
by belonging to it you can touch the infinite, and you can
have joy without concrete religious obligations,'' Ratzinger
said. "It's spiritually self-indulgent eroticism.''
outlets cut Cardinal Ratzinger some slack, opining that
"auto-erotisme", the term used in the original article,
could more accurately translated at "self-love" or "narcissism".
auto-eroticism is an English-language term coined by the
sexologist Havelock Ellis to describe mental or physical
sexual activity not directed toward a sexual partner. It
was later picked up by Freud. Cardinal Ratzinger knows his
Freud. He considers Freud an originator of the secular spirit
he detests, and entitled one of his major pronouncements
on the decadence of Europe "Europe and its Discontents"-
a play on Freud's Civilization and its Discontents.
this case, I assume Cardinal Ratzinger employed auto-eroticism
as a term of art, using a modern term for the sinful, non-reproductive
sexuality abhorred by the church to condemn a kind of shallow
spiritual gratification that he considers futile, degenerate,
and dangerous to the soul.
although the Pope was not referring to Buddhists as masturbators,
they can find little consolation in the awareness that what
he really meant is that he was dismissing their spiritual
exercises as pathetic and contemptible.
any event, Benedict's hostility toward non-Catholic faiths
is a matter of public record. Religions that have felt the
lash of his disapproval include Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism,
2000, the National Catholic Reporter published a list of
Cardinal Ratzinger's greatest hits, including a money quote
from the same L'Expresse interview:
the 1950s someone said that the undoing of the Catholic
church in the 20th century wouldn't come from Marxism but
from Buddhism. They were right."
at the time Cardinal Ratzinger was incensed that there were
allegedly more Frenchmen studying to be Buddhist monks than
the Catholic Church's top doctrine cop - running the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, a.k.a. the Inquisition -
he also ordered a German Benedictine monk, Willigis Jager,
a.k.a Zen master Ko-un Roshi, to cease and desist from all
public statements and activities promoting dialogue between
Catholics and Buddhists.
strict demands for doctrinal conformity and acknowledgement
of the Catholic Church's unique role as interlocutor between
humanity and the one true God, Pope Benedict's worldview
is apparently militantly Euro-centric. Europe, in the Pope's
view, is a creation of Catholicism and the implication is
that Catholicism without Europe cannot survive.
was speculation that Cardinal Ratzinger chose his papal
title not to commemorate Pope Benedict XV, but to honor
St. Benedict, who founded the Benedictine order and is credited
with saving Catholicism from extinction in the European
Pope considers Europe to be Catholicism's home turf, under
assault from alien faiths and lazy tendencies toward syncretism
(literally "Cretan towns forming an alliance" according
to my Webster's, but figuratively speaking a meaningless
at the gates of Europe is Pope Benedict's particular bugbear.
Pope's perspective - in which Catholicism is inextricably
bound to its European matrix - has a creepy clash-of-civilization
vibe and his recent statements criticizing Islam were undoubtedly
a conscious "stay outta my yard" challenge to the demographic,
social, and political encroachment of Islam into Europe.
the lament on decadent, faithless Europe that he coauthored
- Without Roots - Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as
if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory
system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants
that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining
spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its
ethnicity is also taking place.
growing decline in its ethnicity". I don't think he's referring
to a shortage of good Vietnamese restaurants in Rome.
to the bone, the Pope's attitudes look a lot like racism
cloaked in theology.
reported on an interview Cardinal Ratzinger gave to Le Figaro
Ratzinger... has said Muslim but secular Turkey should seek
its future in an association of Islamic nations rather than
the EU, which has Christian roots. In an interview last
year for France's Le Figaro Magazine, Ratzinger, then doctrinal
head of the Roman Catholic Church, said Turkey had always
been "in permanent contrast to Europe" and that linking
it to Europe would be a mistake.
Pope Benedict is going to be busy re-fighting the crusades
in Europe and the Middle East and reliving the glories of
the Inquisition, he's not going to have a lot of interest
and energy in dealing with Buddhism except as a competitor
for the hearts, minds, and souls of the parfit knights of
his Caucasian Round Table.
since he is wrapped up in his theory that European civilization
is uniquely Catholic, he seems ready to write off the rest
of the world - at least those parts with "great cultural
protagonists", as he termed them, such as East Asia and
South Asia - as spheres that are innately Buddhist, Muslim,
will be interesting to see how the Roman Catholic Church
fares in China under Benedict's reign.
commenters on Peking Duck made the point that it's understandable
that the Pope should have the right to speak his mind. And
if he believes that Buddhists are (doctrinal) jerk-offs,
well, free speech doesn't stop at the Inquisitor's door.
Pope believes his is the one true faith, qualitatively different
from all others.
his right, even his duty. It's the cornerstone of his faith.
can also trash other religions, not only as inferior in
doctrine and rigor but also false paths to salvation.
he's also the head of a religion that claims not only to
profess the true Word of God, but also to serve as God's
instrument on earth, and provide the means of human salvation
that is not only unique but universal ("Catholic).
a test of his leadership - and God-given duties as Pope
- to put points on the board for the Catholic Church worldwide,
and not just in the European homeland.
John Paul II, who shared many of Cardinal Ratzinger's views
including, presumably, revulsion at Buddhism, understood
that his job was to condone inter-faith dialogue so that
the Catholic Church could claim to encompass the good points
of other religions and, at the same time, assert its superiority
in the critical matters of revealed truth and salvation.
XVI, on the other hand, appears to have made the dubious
decision that other religions have to be discredited en
toto so that Catholicism is the last faith standing.
an understandable position for an Inquisitor to take.
the necessary stand for the leader of an embattled sect,
which is how Pope Benedict sometimes appears to regard himself.
it is not a viable position for the leader of a global church
that considers itself not only unique in truth but infinite
in its understanding and universal in its scope.
every other religion (and for good measure, secular humanism)
to their foundations so that the deluded turn to the true
faith would be a tough job even if the Savior appeared in
person to do the job. For fallible men and a fragile church
to attempt it by themselves is simply beyond their capacity.
instead of engaging in a multi-millennial argument with
Islam, Buddhism, and every other religion that won't be
decided until the true God shows up to settle accounts,
I think the interests of the Catholic Church and the world
would be better served if Pope Benedict decided his faith
could be most effectively protected and propagated by looking
for good in the hearts of Buddhists, Muslims - instead of
making remarks easily construed as deriding them and their