Thursday, April 21, 2005

Timothy Garton-Ash has written two very nice books and tons of moderately good to great articles over the years (he may have done more than that, but I only mention what I know). I guess it is safe to say that I am generally pro-TGA. His latest offering, for example, begins with

"Atheists should welcome the election of Pope Benedict XVI. For this aged, scholarly, conservative, uncharismatic Bavarian theologian will surely hasten precisely the de-Christianisation of Europe that he aims to reverse."

Quite right. The mood on the German street (which is smooth and clean and has well-marked lanes and generous crossing options for pedestrians) is decidedly anti Bennie the Rat. Even Birgit's mother, easily the most devout Catholic I know (and pretty conservative) doesn't like him. So, hats off to TGA for not only noticing this nail, but also hitting it slap on the head.

What makes my love for TGA less than pure, however, is his occaisional Thomas-Friedman-like lapse into bullshit. For example:

"This [the rise of secularism] used to be less true in eastern Europe, where the pressure of communism helped to keep the churches strong."

Tim? TGA is an historian of sorts, and Mitteleuropa is his beat, so he knows good and well that this is a misleading thing to say. The churches in a couple of E.Eur countries were indeed strongISH during the Cold War (the Evangelisch in E. Germany, for example, and the Catholic Church in Poland) but this was only relative to other communist countries like the Soviet Union. If by "strong" he means "having much impact on the daily lives of most folks, or even a large minority" then he is wrong and knows it. What is true--and he knows it--is that the states used the churches to help blunt anger at the regime. They were allowed to exist, given a little bit of wiggle room, and were observed for signs of counter-revolutionary activity. This broke down in Poland in the early 80s and churches in E. Germany played host to protest meetings in the mid to late 80s, but that's about the size of it.

And then there is this gem:

"In Berlin, for example, Muslims are already the second-largest active denomination, after Protestants but before Catholics."

That's a ridiculous thing to say. It would be just as accurate to say that in Berlin there are more Punks than Catholics, or more Skinheads, or more panhandlers, or more Kebab shops. There may even be more Jews in Berlin than Catholics. See, Berlin is in what folks used to call Prussia, and Prussia was one of the first kingdoms to go Protestant way back in the 16th century. It has been a long time since Berlin could claim to be a Catholic town.

Why did he say that? Because people have heard of Berlin. He knows better.


But here's what troubles me about Bennie the Rat, on a personal level:

Before Bennie the Rat, the Papal Name Rankings had John in the lead with 23, Gregory in second place holding at 16, and Benedict at 15. Now? I'm tied with Benedict. I hope the next Pope is more thoughtful when he picks his name.

And by the way: if any one among you doesn't read Carlton's blog, I would like to urge you to do so. He's been writing quite a lot lately, and much of it is well worth reading (unlike me, with my infrequent and not-as-readable waste of electrons).

And here's where I remind you that I know the score: there aren't many people reading this, and most or all of them read Carlton anyway. I'm just saying.


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