Benedict’s Christ is not a teddy bear: Analysis by Samuel Gregg

My friend Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute is one of the smartest writers, commentators I know.

He has a very good piece on the blog of the Acton Institute about Pope Benedict’s book-length interview which goes beyond the Condom Conundrum.

Gregg says that the image of Benedict that emerges from the interview is that of a “Christian radical”, properly understood.

Here is a taste… with my emphases:


At Christianity’s center, Benedict states, is the person of Jesus Christ. But this person, the pope insists, is not whoever we want him to be. Christ is not the self-help guru proclaimed by the charlatans of the Prosperity Gospel. Nor is he the proto-Marxist beloved by devotees of the now-defunct liberation theologies. Still less is Christ a “compassionate, super-intelligent gay man”, as once opined by that noted biblical scholar, Elton John.

According to Benedict, Christ is who Christ says he is: the Son of God. Hence, there is no contradiction between what some call “the Christ of faith” and “the Christ of history.” In Light of the World, Benedict confirms that underscoring this point was why he wrote his best-selling Jesus of Nazareth (2007). “The Jesus in whom we believe,” Benedict claims, “is really also the historical Jesus.


But why, we might ask, does Benedict belabor the point? One reason is surely the damage done to Christian faith by scholars parading various pet theories as “facts.” Another reason, however, may be Benedict’s sense that even many faithful Christians have forgotten the radical implications of accepting Christ as whom he says he is.

First, such an acceptance rescues Christianity from becoming what the German philosopher Rüdiger Safranski calls “a cold religious project”: a “mix of social ethics, institutional power thinking, psychotherapy, techniques of meditation, museum curation, cultural project management, and social work.” That’s a concise description of the “liberal Christianity” that’s helped empty Western Europe’s churches, particularly in Benedict’s German homeland.

Second, it forces us to take seriously aspects of Christianity that have disappeared from public view over the past forty years.

In recent decades, Benedict claims, Christian preaching has stopped mentioning the Last Things revealed by Christ: i.e., heaven, hell, and the fact that all of us will be judged. Instead, preaching has become “one-sided, in that it is largely directed toward the creation of a better world, while hardly anyone talks any more about the other, truly better world.”

For confirmation, just look at the websites of those religious orders which talk endlessly about social justice without relating it to Christian belief in the limits of earthly justice and the reality of divine justice. This diminishes Christianity to either what Benedict calls “political moralism, as happened in liberation theology” or “psychotherapy and wellness.” It also, some might interject, encourages us to conjure up secular messiahs who, not being God, cannot possibly fulfill religious-like expectations of hope and change.

In the end, it results in the same thing: practical atheism, at the heart of which is a teddy-bear Christ who, as Benedict wrote years ago, “demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us.”


Dr. Gregg doesn’t pull punches.

Do go over there and read the whole thing.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. priests wife says:

    It seems that those orders that emphasize ‘liberal’ social justice are going the way of buggy whips- while hard-core orders are doing fine or flourishing.

    Jesus is not a teddy bear- he does demand much from His people.

  2. “Teddy Bear Christ”. I gotta remember that one.

  3. digdigby says:

    “In the Age of Faith there was a reliance on things not seen, on the great truths of eternal reality, hence much of a man lay hidden like a tree’s roots in the earth of worldly life. Even pirates and murderous brigands when made captives by the Saracens often chose death rather than to deny the divinity of Christ.”
    Kenelm Henry Digby, MORES CATHOLICI, Vol. 4

    How many modern Bishops and religious fall far below the level of ‘pirates and murderous brigands’ of the Age of Faith? What hideous tortures did Hans Kung endure?

  4. So, here we are in Illinois, and couldn’t agree more. Our Catholic Governor and our Catholic Speaker of the House have just strong-armed a “civil union” bill through the Illinois Legislature. Under this legislation, there will be no difference between “civil unions” and “same-sex marriage”. What did we have from the pulpits? Well, close your eyes and what do you see? That’s what we had from the pulpits. Religious relativism had it’s day. One Representative, openly lesbian, said “finally discrimination is over. Finally she will be able to live in a just city.” Of course, if the real truth were known, she is the sister n law to our convicted governor, Blago, and the daughter of the most powerful alderman in the city of Chicago. Bernadine’s ghost does live on in this city. I believe he appeared in Springfield, urging his fellow Catholic leaders to vote Yes on “civil unions”. This brings to mind, Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned.

  5. Jerry says:

    “In the end, it results in the same thing: practical atheism, at the heart of which is a teddy-bear Christ who, as Benedict wrote years ago, “demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us.”

    The late Fr. Robert G. Smith emphasized the same point in his book, The Other Side of Christ. From the back cover:

    Jesus Christ, the Lamb who gave His life as a ransom for many, is a God of infinite mercy and loving kindness. Yet some people have dwelt exclusively on the love and mercy of God and concluded that He is so nice that He wouldn’t send anyone to hell, even those who disobey Him, persecute His Church, and hate Him.

    Father Smith looks at the other side of Christ: the God of infinite justice, who gives us every grace for salvation and who desires that none be lost, but who requires faith and obedience. Father Smith presents Christ’s teachings on morality and His warnings of the consequences of sin, warnings that are too often neglected or ignored.

    The Other Side of Christ presents the fullness of God’s love in redemption — not amnesty for all whether they repent or not, but an atoning sacrifice to save from the fires of hell those who believe and obey.

  6. Jerry says:

    Correction: the author is Fr. Robert D. Smith.

  7. Random Friar says:

    Allow me to join the “Amen Corner” on this one. A nice, concise criticism. Anytime I hear “X theology,” or any kind of advocacy theology, I start squirming inside.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    Oh my goodness, the teddy bear reference reminded me of that awful book, On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear by Matthew Fox, which I actually heard referenced in 2010. Pu-leeze, when will the liberals roll over and die, at least intellectually?

  9. irishgirl says:

    Whoa-never heard Our Lord referred to as a ‘teddy bear’!
    You’re right, Father Z–these guys at the Acton Institute don’t pull any punches!
    I remember how Father Robert Sirico went after the secularist / atheist crowd during the Holy Father’s UK visit. He looked as if he was ‘pickin’ for a fight’!
    I’ll have to go over and read the whole article, that’s for sure!

  10. abiologistforlife says:

    As Dorothy Sayers put it: “We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

  11. Traductora says:

    Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

    Cuddly Jesus is a heresy that awaits a name. We sang some “Jesus Luvs Me” hymns at mass yesterday – or everybody else did, because I refuse to sing them – that were enough to gag a maggot.

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