Ernest Hemingway (a curious choice to cite during Holy Week) once wrote to his editor, Max Perkins, “Nothing is more discouraging than unintelligent appreciation.” In saying that, Hemingway showed uncommon grace—since a more typical trial (whether for Hemingway or the Holy Father) is unintelligent denigration.
Defend me, O God, and plead my cause
against a godless nation.
From deceitful and cunning me
rescue me, O God.
—Psalm 43, Liturgy of the Hours, Tuesday Week II, Morning Prayer
It is appropriate, I suppose, that as the Church’s earthly shepherd leads Catholic Christians through Holy Week, those who oppose him would rear their heads most angrily. Do we hear echoes of the crowd in Jerusalem who reviled Jesus of Nazareth two millennia ago, the Savior Whom the Holy Father constantly places before our world?
No surprise then, that MSNBC’s news program, Morning Joe, trotted out atheist Christopher Hitchens. The surprise was that Hitchens, despite all his journalistic accomplishments, had absolutely nothing to say when the program host sought his opinion about other news of the day. “I came to talk about the Pope,” was Hitchens reply. “I’ll wait my turn.” What focus!
Terry Eagleton has written well of Hitchens and his crowd in Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflection on the God Debate. Eagleton calls them “Ditchkins,” conflating the names of vocal atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. In the preface to his book, Eagleton asserts:
Most such critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap . . . it is with this ignorance and prejudice that I take issue in this book. When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing . . .
. . . the agnostic left cannot afford such intellectual indolence when it comes to the Jewish and Christian scriptures . . . not only because it belongs to justice and honesty to confront your opponent at his or her most convincing [but also because] radicals might discover there are some valuable insights into human emancipation, in an era where the political left stands in dire need of good ideas.
Don’t mistake Eagleton’s indictment of “Ditchkins” as a precursor to a defense of Christian orthodoxy! But Eagleton’s view of his former colleague Hitchens succinctly summarizes Hitchens’ scowling, idea-free polemic against Christ’s Church and her earthly shepherd, Benedict XVI.
During this Holy Week, Heavenly Father,
O send forth your light and your truth;
let these be my guide.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain
to the place where You dwell.¹
¹ Psalm 43, Liturgy of the Hours, Tuesday Week II, Morning Prayer