Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

We Won't Get Fooled Again

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 23, 2006

C.S. Lewis's relatively unknown book The Pilgrim's Regress allegorically recounts a young man's journey through the intellectual terrain of the 1920s (a landscape that, with respect to its spiritual hazards at least, has changed remarkably little in 80 years). In the course of his trip "Through Darkest Zeitgeistheim" the pilgrim, John, is caught and imprisoned in a dungeon of cowering Freudians guarded by a Reductivist giant. Reason, a mounted warrioress, slays the giant and offers the captives release. Only John accepts.

Then [Reason] turned to the door of the pit and struck it so that it broke and she could look into the darkness of the pit and smell the filth.

'You can all come out,' she said.

But there was no movement from within: only, John could hear the prisoners wailing together and saying:

'It is one more wish-fulfillment dream: it is one more wish-fulfillment dream. Don't be taken in again.'

I was put in mind of the wailing of these willing dungeon dwellers by a review of Robert Blair Kaiser's latest lapse into paranoia (via Amy). The villain, as ever, is the deathless Tomás de Torquemada, cleverly disguised in our times as Joseph Ratzinger:

A Great Deceiver lurks within the 250 pages of A Church in Search of Itself, and his name was Joseph Ratzinger but is now Benedict XVI (always the shape-shifter). Kaiser makes no effort to hide his disgust for the new pope: At one hyperbolic point, he writes that the then-cardinal has "wolverine rings under his eyes." When Ratzinger finally emerges as Benedict XVI to address the throngs that had gathered at St. Peter, Kaiser writes: "They had hoped for someone as wide as all outdoors. Someone like John XXIII. Instead, they got a man they only knew as narrow."

If you believe Kaiser, Pope John Paul II was little more than Ratzinger's puppet, someone whose only use was to wave to the television-watching masses; Ratzinger, meanwhile, nefariously expanded his power over the Catholic Church even as he publicly expressed no interest in becoming the Vicar of Christ. It's a bold thesis, but Kaiser nails it by merely retelling the past.

Kaiser, you remember, is the pathetic ex-Jesuit journalist whose progressivist cyber-journal died in the cradle and who, at the time of the papal elections last year, exhorted a group of U.S. feminists in their sixties to burn their bras in St. Peter's Square to attract media attention. Somewhere in Kaiser's life something got stuck.

This latest book proves that Kaiser is still aground on the same sandbar, and his invective is so ill-aimed that it rouses more pity than indignation. A man might argue that Ratzinger is gravely mistaken, but no sober scholar acquainted with both men could say that Ratzinger is narrow where John XXIII was broad -- in fact the assertion that Ratzinger lacks intellectual or imaginative breadth recoils, like the falsehoods of Susanna's accusers, upon the head of the man who made it. So what caused Kaiser's tunnel vision?

The prisoners of darkest Zeitgeistheim cry " Don't be taken in again." The "again" signifies that they were reacting to some injury received in the past. It is their inability to move beyond the wound -- whatever it may have been -- that locks them up and keeps them perpetually shackled to the pain dealt by the original injury. What moves them to alarm and expostulation is the sight of free men who are not captive to the same fear: the fear of being taken in. Again. Kaiser illustrates a comparable attitude (also visible in some of the NCR and Commonweal crowd) that takes the form of panicked fury at young people who read John Paul or Benedict at face value and who are intrigued, or edified, or even joyed by what they find. Some day I'd like to be able to ask the embittered orphans of 1965-style progressivism: what was it that you lost, what joy was taken away from you by the Church, that still hurts so badly that you can't bear to see anyone else happy in her?

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