- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2005

When my Jewish son-in-law was a teenager he was tutored for two weeks at a religious retreat in Germany by Joseph Ratzinger. He was sent there by his Jesuit teachers. The young boy’s father had died and he was being raised by his mother, a descendant of a family of Sephardic Jews who hadconvertedto Catholicism like many other Jews who left Spain during the Inquisition, to put down new roots in the New World.

The Jesuits intended for the boy to be a Catholic with a complete understanding of the meaning of the religion. This required that he learn how to think.

As soon as he arrived he was sworn to a fortnight of virtual silence, speaking only to his tutor. He remembers Joseph Ratzinger vividly; as a mature man he regards him as the most brilliant man he has ever encountered. The tutor had been through World War II, a Hitler Youth who learned at first hand the irrational evil of fascism. Marxism was then alive and well behind the Iron Curtain and Joseph Ratzinger understood the evil — and danger — of that particular brand of ruthless and materialistic evil.

He didn’t talk to the boy about such things, instead assigning the work of Aristotle and Plato, the novels of Thomas Mann, the philosophy of Heidegger, and the most critical piece of all, “The Grand Inquisitor,” the powerful legend embedded in a single chapter of “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dosteovsky. “The Great Inquisitor” is about earthly power wrestling with spiritual power, about religious purity embodied in Christ and earthly corruption wherever it can be found, sometimes even in the church.

Dosteovsky does not tell the reader what to think about his legend, but requires only that the reader think about it. Dosteovsky was a deeply religious man, a point many readers missed. Dosteovsky always regretted that. The young man tutored during that fortnight long ago does not remember Joseph Ratzinger’s full interpretation of the legend, but he remembers the questions and the young boy’s answers and how his shallow reasoning slowly became not so shallow. He learned that belief is based on reason as well as faith, that fascism and communism were “un-reasonable,” demanding blind faith and depriving men and women of their freedoms of both spirit and body. Reason-based faith, by contrast, offered freedom within the Judeo-Christian tradition that has been tested for thousands of years. The tradition encourages tolerance by requiring the exercise of reason as it is bequeathed through faith.

That tutor, it seems to me, resides still inside Benedict XVI. The new pope has ascended through the church hierarchy with a constancy and a consistency that infuriates his critics within and without the Roman church. One London newspaper, eager for a cheap pun, headlined his election as the triumph of “God’s Rottweiler.” But others, who know him better, say he is the tutor eager to argue with different points of view with humility and gentleness: a good egg, Benedict.

It takes more than a little chutzpah on the part of a Jewish columnist to interpret the ideas of the new pope, but it’s clear to me that his election is important to everyone, whether everyone likes it or not. He will have an enormous influence on cultures all across the world. Benedict’s consistency grows out of the anathema he feels to the relativism enshrined as truth in our modern secular society.

You don’t have to be Catholic to stand with the new pope against the arrogant theories of deconstruction rampant in the universities where language has become Orwellian, where the only absolute is that there are no absolutes, where right and wrong are considered anachronisms held by piously nave religious men and women, and where open-mindedness is so open that “educated” brains have fallen out.

My son-in-law, a scientist, did not convert to Catholicism. But he cherishes the Jesuitical training he had at the Catholic school that sent him to that retreat with Joseph Ratzinger, where he learned to argue over issues concerning religion, power and personal aspiration, to learn to examine with reason the evidence in front of him. So must we all honor the intellectual force of an argument grounded in universal truth, to ask hard questions within a disciplined framework of reason, guided by a firm faith in what man can become. Great teachers, after all, transcend ideology.

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