Pope in Bavaria, or a Thought on Homogeneity

The Pope is making a visit to his home state of Bavaria in Germany today.

Pope_in_bavaria_2 Although Germany generally is a very secularized country where many people no longer hold to religious values or rites, it is very satisfying to see the Pope making a visit to this very Catholic area of the country.  He is among his own, both in the German and in the Catholic sense, and I am happy for him.  When in Bavaria, one gets a sense of pervading Catholicism, a feeling that is really very refreshing.  A little religious homogeneity — as can be found in the German state of Bavaria or in Austria —  can do that in an often disjointed world.  In the case of Bavaria, this religious homogeneity comes in the context of Germany and things German, of which anyone who knows me knows I am a great fan.  (photo from Die Welt.)

With regard to the point about religious homogeneity, the feeling I got last time I was in Bavaria was not much different than the feeling I get when spending time in central or southern Utah, where the religious homogeneity is centered in the Church of Jesus Christ.  I know there are many critics of homogeneity, religious or otherwise.  And I don’t want to be presumptuous in comparing the isolated and often, sadly, economically stagnant towns of the forgotten Mormon hinterland to the rich and brilliant tapestry of Catholic Bavarian villages and churches.  But religious homogeneity of the kind that one senses in both Bavaria and rural Utah provides comfort in a tumultuous world, particularly for adherents of the respective faiths.  For these, Truth merges with mundane living so that the blades of grass, the creaky boards beneath the front door, or the very fenceposts enclosing grazing animals are infused with principles of that Truth, and become literally Catholic or Mormon respectively.

For beauty and established civilization, Bavaria certainly has an edge on rural Utah.  And one can hardly dispute that Bavaria’s churches — and the Catholic tradition generally — provide a perhaps richer tapestry of heritage and culture than does the still fledgling LDS life of rural Utah.  But rural Utah shares the sense of comfort provided by a more-or-less sincere religious homogeneity, even if from a different religion.

Popes_birth_houseUnfortunately, the Pope does not face an entirely homogeneous or supportive audience on his trip home.  On the eve of his visit, vandals defaced his birth house to show their contempt, necessitating some last minute cleaning and retouching. (photo from Die Welt.)

In a mass celebrated by the Pope before 250,000 people in Munich on the occasion of his visit to Bavaria, the Pope addressed both the continuing secularization of Germany and the West more generally, and also the Tolerance that is the obligation of all believers.  I would add that the Pope addressed this issue in a way that demonstrates its application to religiously homogenous areas; essentially, religious homogeneity, although certainly comforting for adherents of the dominant faith, is no excuse for denigration or disrespect of the beliefs of others:

Die Völker Afrikas und Asiens, fährt er fort, "bewundern zwar die technischen Leistungen des Westens und unsere Wissenschaft, aber sie erschrecken vor einer Art von Vernünftigkeit, die Gott total aus dem Blickfeld des Menschen ausgrenzt und dies für die höchste Art von Vernunft ansieht, die man auch ihren Kulturen beibringen will." Nicht im christlichen Glauben sähen sie die eigentliche Bedrohung ihrer Identität, sondern in der Verachtung Gottes und in dem Zynismus, der die Verspottung des Heiligen als Freiheitsrecht ansehe und Nutzen für zukünftige Erfolge der Forschung zum letzten Maßstab erhebe. "Liebe Freunde!", ruft er immer drängender. "Dieser Zynismus ist nicht die Art von Toleranz und kultureller Offenheit, auf die die Völker warten und die wir alle wünschen. Die Toleranz, die wir dringend brauchen, schließt die Ehrfurcht vor Gott ein – die Ehrfurcht vor dem, was dem anderen heilig ist. Diese Ehrfurcht vor dem Heiligen der anderen setzt aber wiederum voraus, dass wir selbst die Ehrfurcht vor Gott wieder lernen." Applaus unterbricht ihn. Am Beginn hat der freundlich-frohe Papst bei seiner Heimkehr zu diesem "Fest des Glaubens" noch eine neue "Schwerhörigkeit Gott gegenüber", beklagt, an der wir in unserer Zeit besonders leiden würden. "Wir können Gott einfach nicht mehr hören. Wir haben zu viele andere Frequenzen im Ohr."

[The people of Africa and Asia, continued the Pope, "are naturally amazed by the technical achievements of the West and our science, but they are appalled by a type of rationality that completely bans God from people’s focus and that holds this as the highest type of reason, which is also to be taught to them."  The Pope stated that these people do not see the threat to their identity in the Christian faith itself but rather in the contempt with which the West holds God and in the cynicism that sees the mockery of that which is Holy as religious freedom and that elevates utility for future scientific successes as the ultimate measurement.  "Dear Friends!", the Pope called with more intensity.  "This cynicism is not the type of Tolerance and cultural candor that the people are waiting for and that we all wish for.  The Tolerance that we desperately need includes reverence for [or "fear of" -- JBF] God — reverence for that which is Holy to others.  This reverence for that which is Holy to others requires, for its part, that we also relearn reverence before God."  The Pope is interrupted by applause.  At the beginning of his return home [to Bavaria] for this "Celebration of Faith", the friendly-joyful Pope again criticized a new "deafness to God" with which we will particularly suffer in our time.  "We simply cannot hear God anymore.  We are tuned to too many other frequencies."] (my translation)

A religiously homogeneous people that lives the principle taught by the Pope in this speech — to show reverence for that which is Holy to other people by revitalizing our own faith — should not face the criticisms of homogeneity that are so standard in our society today.  And, of course, Die Welt also noted that this speech was appropriate for September 11, a time when we reflect perhaps more poignantly on the beliefs of others. 

Of course, there is no guarantee that merely respecting that which is Holy to others — that is, if the West generally or America particularly had shown a special level of respect for that which is Holy to Muslims — would have averted the terrorist attacks that occured five years ago today.  But holding that which is Holy to others in reverence, even if it is not the same thing we believe, seems like an ultimately Christian thing to do and emulates Christ’s example.  As believers in Jesus Christ, however, we (both Catholics and Latter-day Saints) should realize that following His example has never been a guarantee of deliverance from the murderous designs of secret combinations who lust for power, such as the Muslim terrorist networks.  But, in theory, it would provide them with less provocation to perpetuate such an attack.  And, I believe the Pope is correct in stating that it is not the Christianity of the West that is an affront to the Muslim world such that many sympathize with or support the terrorists.  Rather, it is the West’s godlessness. 

My own view is that much of the Muslim world does not understand the freedom that allows many in the West to be godless.  As a Latter-day Saint, I believe that this freedom is God-given and sacred in itself.  Thus, this freedom is a good thing and should not be jettisoned in the interest of placating Muslim terrorists.  Nevertheless, the Pope gives good counsel here, which we in the West must heed to make peace with the Muslim world.  They need to know that we also revere that which they hold sacred; that we respect their Prophet even if we do not believe in him.  Why should the West, collectively, not respect their Prophet?  They sincerely believe in him and his calling.  Are we that arrogant in the West that, although many of us do not share their beliefs, we can categorically state that those beliefs are wholly without merit or wrong?  Even if Christianity is the true religion (which I personally believe) does that mean that Islam is not or cannot also be true, in some form or sense?  I believe that we know too few facts to make that judgment categorically, at least with regard to Islam in its inception.

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7 Responses to Pope in Bavaria, or a Thought on Homogeneity

  1. john f. says:

    Well, that’s really two posts in one, but hey, it’s just a blog!

  2. >Are we that arrogant in the West that, although many of us do not share their beliefs, we can categorically state that those beliefs are wholly without merit or wrong?

    I think the answer to your question is yes. I see it from both camps here in the West. It’s in the left-wing assumption that religion is an opiate and that only the ignorant and those who wish to sign over the decision-making in their lives are religious. It’s in the “Christian Right’s” repeated insistence that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not Christian.

    We in the West need to make peace with each other as much as with the Muslim world.

  3. Ronan says:

    Nice writing, John.

    A note on religious homogeneity: it sucks when you’re the minority! I feel like a leper being a Mormon in Vienna; at school, Jacob cannot take the Catholic religion class becaused he already has a “Religionsbekenntis.” Strangely, if we were atheists, he could participate. When we said we were “Mormonen” there was an awkward silence; Warren Jeffs, you see, was a “Mormone.”

    Ack. I’m ranting. Good news, though: the Church has been given a portion of the Vienna central cemetery for Mormon burials. I’m glad that we are demanding our rights as a church that is just as “staatlich anerkannt” in Austria as the Catholics.

    I do not think that religious homogeneity is always conducive to spiritual growth. The RC Church’s unassailable power in Austria is not a good thing, even for itself.

  4. Simón says:

    John – Great piece of insightful and thought-provoking writing, as usual. I read this with great interest, and noted that Rabbis were ordained in Germany for the first time since WWII! You can read the story at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-2349256,00.html
    Keep up the good work!

  5. gunner says:

    My own view is that much of the Muslim world does not understand the freedom that allows many in the West to be godless.

    I think the masses do not understand it, but it is their educated ones that FEAR it. If the standard Muslim gets a knowledge, and understanding of freedom, it will move the world. The educated(not the three R’s type of educated, but their religiously educated) fear what can topple their control.

  6. john f. says:

    That certainly rings true to me.

  7. john f. says:

    Thanks for the link Simón! (We need to get the group together for lunch again sometime soon.)

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