Bush Lauds Pope at White House Visit

The pontiff formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger visited the White House this morning and President Bush laid it on thick.

Pope Benedict White House Visit Photo Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd as President Bush applauds, Wednesday, April 16, 2008, during a South Lawn arrival ceremony at the White House in Washington.
(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds) An enthralled South Lawn crowd of more than 9,000 sang “Happy Birthday” to Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday — twice — and President Bush said that the first papal White House visit in 29 years was a reminder for Americans to “distinguish between simple right and wrong.”

“We need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth,” Bush said in brief remarks welcoming Benedict to the White House. “In a world where some see freedom as simply the right to do as they wish, we need your message that true liberty requires us to live our freedom not just for ourselves, but in a spirit of mutual support.”

The pontiff turned 81 Wednesday, the first full day of his first trip to the United States as leader of the world’s Roman Catholics. His 90-minute stay at the White House was accompanied by the kind of pomp and pageantry rarely seen even on grounds accustomed to routinely welcoming royalty and the world’s most important leaders.

Do we really need a papal visit in order to distinguish right from wrong? And since when did Ratzinger invent the idea that liberty means more than mere license? For that matter, what kind of liberty “requires” a “spirit of mutual support”?

Granting that the pope represents one of the largest religious denominations on the planet and that a significant number of Americans are Roman Catholics, at least nominally, why is he entitled to such a lavish, deferential greeting by the secular leader of the United States? What other cleric would get such treatment?

And who’s the joker waving the Rebel flag? (UPDATE: Commenters surmise that it’s actually the Mississippi state flag, which has been used since 1894 and prominently features the Confederate battle flag.)

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Well, it is the Pope’s birthday. I can’t think of a leader who’s a head of a church and a state. Also, President Bush didn’t say the Pope invented the idea that liberty is more than license. Finally, a reminder about distinguishing between right and wrong is rarely a bad thing. We humans forget that often.

  2. John Burgess says:

    I think the Pope gets special treatment because he is unique, sui generis.

    The Dalai Lama used to get it before he made the US his home away from home. But there really is no recognizable counterpart to the Pontiff. The Archbishop of Canterbury is probably the closest, but clearly not in the same league. The various Orthodox Patriarchs don’t have the same kind of followings nor do they speak with the same level of internationally recognized authority on moral matters. Even Muslims give him a certain amount of deference.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Sean: Most people have a birthday pretty much every year. And the pope isn’t so much the head of state as his little compound is sovereign. He’s only slightly more a head of state than the head of an Indian reservation. Sure, the right/wrong thing is useful. I just resent the implication that it’s inherently a religious teaching and that we need a pope to come by every few decades and remind us.

    John: I agree that there’s really no analog. I was going to go with Billy Graham or Louis Farrakhan, but that’s just flippant. Still, at the end of the day, he’s just a preacher who happens to have a large following.

  4. My first thought was also what was up with the Confederate flag. Bad stage management there, really bad.

    As for Bush sucking up, I think he’s making a try at playing nice with as many world leaders as possible in his last year. Hence his fawning over the Pope and his plans to go to Beijing as a “sports fan.”

  5. Michael says:

    And who’s the joker waving the Rebel flag?

    I doesn’t look like the confederate battle flag, the cross doesn’t seem to take up the entire field. Rather, it looks to be the Mississippi state flag (another picture shows the Florida state flag in the background).

  6. Given that it’s next to an Indiana flag in the picture… yeah, that would almost certainly be the Mississippi state flag.

  7. Dantheman says:

    “Do we really need a papal visit in order to distinguish right from wrong?”

    For this Administration, yes. (Sorry, but if you’re going to throw batting practice, someone has to step up and swing.)

  8. John says:

    Still, at the end of the day, he’s just a preacher who happens to have a large following.

    Now that’s flippant. The organization he heads has over a millenium of tradition, a billion adherents, a strong central organization with continuity, strong scholarship and theology, etc. etc. He is a leader chosen by the heads of the Church, not some slick-talking bible thumper. His congregation isn’t just a local group gathered around the latest electric public speaker. You dismiss the influence and power of the entire Church with such a remark. Of course, as a Jew, I may be somewhat biased toward groups with thousands of years of scholarship and tradition.

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    The Pope is clearly a world leader. He is a leader who teaches and preaches peace, tolerance, and understanding of others. He has no army and can lead only by example and exhortation of those whose church he leads. Why would the President not treat him in a manner befitting?

    Secular does not mean anti-religious. This secular government of ours can still recognize the important role the Pope has in the world. I don’t get the critique, a party on the lawn is lavish and being nice is deferential?

  10. Bithead says:

    Sure, the right/wrong thing is useful. I just resent the implication that it’s inherently a religious teaching and that we need a pope to come by every few decades and remind us.

    Well, look, there’s a lot of trap doors in this thing, but like it or not this country and most of the countries that what are now our native peoples come from, draw their cultural oines directly throgh the heart of christandom.

    It is that culture and it’s values from which decends our perception of right and wrong. Example; A comparison of cultures for example shows one religion whose proponants are caught sleeping with young boys and ostricized, and another culture whose religion considers such situations o be nomral, and in fact considers one who did that to be the sole spokesperson of God.

    It is perhaps true that one need not be an adherent of the religion to understand such, but to deny that the culture’s value… it’s morality.. it’s sense of right and wrong, are largely driven by the majority religion, is foolish at least.

  11. C Stanley says:

    I suppose you could say that we didn’t need Pope John Paul II’s leadership to fight communism either, but it sure didn’t hurt.

  12. legion says:

    I suppose you could say that we didn’t need Pope John Paul II’s leadership to fight communism either, but it sure didn’t hurt.

    Kinda makes you wonder if WWII might have been shorter & less devastating if there’d been Papal leadership against the Nazis, too…

    like it or not this country and most of the countries that what are now our native peoples come from, draw their cultural oines directly throgh the heart of christandom.

    That is such a bullshit statement. Those values existed long before Jesus came along; he didn’t invent any of them. Those things that come “through the heart of christiandom” came from other sources first. To say otherwise is to engage in the _exact_ sort of foolish cultural denial you caution against.

  13. legion, there are a few of us here who believe Jesus is God. Therefore He did invent those values like He created everything else.

  14. Bithead says:

    That is such a bullshit statement. Those values existed long before Jesus came along; he didn’t invent any of them.

    ..

    legion, there are a few of us here who believe Jesus is God. Therefore He did invent those values like He created everything else.

    Sean… actually, I take his point… though, of course, he’s wrong.

    Legion’s problem of course… at least so far as his logic here goes… is that he considers that culture didn’t exist prior to Christ’s arrival as Human on this planet. What he fails to understand is that, even from a secular POV, (which I assume him to be asserting, here) the Christian and Jewish histories up until Christ’s arrival, are a SHARED history.

    But to use that to aver that the whole of Europe whence came the majority of our forebearers and therefore out majority culture, wasn’t heavily influenced by the Jedeo Christian ethic is a bit of a streach.

  15. Michael says:

    What he fails to understand is that, even from a secular POV, (which I assume him to be asserting, here) the Christian and Jewish histories up until Christ’s arrival, are a SHARED history.

    I think he was pointing to the fact that Judaism is not the only history Christianity shared, values and traditions from many non-Jewish sources are a part of Christianity. Also the fact that most of the “moral” values were not originally from Judaism.

  16. Bithead says:

    I think he was pointing to the fact that Judaism is not the only history Christianity shared, values and traditions from many non-Jewish sources are a part of Christianity.

    And they took the best of each; No arument. But once so adopted, they became part of the religion and the cultures that we come from. Sorry, there’s no disconnection here.

    I mean, how far back in time do you want to go to support the argument? How many twists and turns do you need to perform in your desire to seperate the religion from the culture, after 2000+ years of that relationship being established?

    Legion isn’t going to like this, I’m quite sure, but every major culture, has a religin tied to it, from which comes it’s values, it’s morals, it’s traditions. In many ways, those connections are what defines the culture.

  17. Michael says:

    And they took the best of each;

    I didn’t go that far, but they did at least drop some of the less-desirable things like human sacrifice.

    I mean, how far back in time do you want to go to support the argument?

    I’m not making an argument, just trying to clarify what is being said.

    but every major culture, has a religin tied to it, from which comes it’s values, it’s morals, it’s traditions. In many ways, those connections are what defines the culture.

    In many ways, yes, but they are not the only ways. This, I think, was where legion was going with this, that our shared religious history was a conduit for our values, but not necessarily the originator of them.

  18. Bithead says:

    I’m not making an argument, just trying to clarify what is being said.

    In this case, ‘You’ was used in the editorial context.

    In many ways, yes, but they are not the only ways. This, I think, was where legion was going with this, that our shared religious history was a conduit for our values, but not necessarily the originator of them.

    he will correct me if I err, I’m quite sure. But it seems to me even assuming that to be the case, doesn’t disconnect the culture and it’s religion. Think of it this way; do we pay royalties to the inventor of the wheel, each time a car is sold?

  19. legion says:

    every major culture, has a religin tied to it, from which comes it’s values, it’s morals, it’s traditions.

    That’s true enough, bithead. But I have a number of problems with this business.
    First is the assertion that a particular religion is the _sole_ basis of a given culture, combined with the implication that other religions – even ones Christianity draws from & relies on – are not. You may not have intended that, but it’s a pretty common complaint I’ve run into when discussions turn this way.

    A lot of times I’ve seen people who would really rather just call the US a “Christian” nation stop & condescend just enough to use the term “Judeo-Christian”. There’s been a lot of flak where I live the past few years about public display of the Ten Commandments, and a number of loudmouths have had to be reminded that the Jews actually came up with them… I have no issue with statements that Christianity or Christian values are one of the thing the US was founded on, but giving it sole credit is demonstrably untrue.

    And Sean, I understand your POV also, but even within Christianity the literal equating of Jesus and God isn’t a universal belief. I know a few Christians that would take strong issue with anyone taking that tenet and applying it across the entire religion, just as I object to taking Christianity and applying it across the entire country.

  20. And Sean, I understand your POV also, but even within Christianity the literal equating of Jesus and God isn’t a universal belief. I know a few Christians that would take strong issue with anyone taking that tenet and applying it across the entire religion, just as I object to taking Christianity and applying it across the entire country.

    Not to get into a debate over religious definitions but I would hardly call someone “Christian” if they don’t believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. BTW, I could hardly be called a “fundamentalist.”

  21. Michael says:

    Not to get into a debate over religious definitions but I would hardly call someone “Christian” if they don’t believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

    There is a big difference between Jesus being the divine Son of God (poly-theism), and Jesus being God himself (monotheist trinity).

    But even so, there are Christians who do not believe that Jesus was himself divine in any way. It is certainly not a required belief according to anything I have read in the Bible.

  22. Bithead says:

    That’s true enough, bithead. But I have a number of problems with this business.

    Obviously…..

    First is the assertion that a particular religion is the _sole_ basis of a given culture

    And at what point did I say that, particularly?

    A lot of times I’ve seen people who would really rather just call the US a “Christian” nation stop & condescend just enough to use the term “Judeo-Christian”.

    Look, Legion… I’ll make this simple… Anyone who understands a whit about Christianity knows that it and the Jewish tradition are one story. That’s why Bibles carry both the old and new testiment. Jesus, after all, was Jewish.

    Why should I have to explain this each time, I’ve no idea.

    That said, you should note that I’ve been arguing this from a secuular point of view.

    But from that same viewpoint I gather that part of your discomfort is the influence of religion on our law, by way of it’s influence on our morality. You’re concerned about us slipping into mandating religion. It’s a worthy concern, but not needed, in reality, I think.

    I’ll state as a practical matter that such things cannot in reality be seperated totally from one another, nor I suspect would you like the results, should we ever have managed it.

    IMV, politics, and the governments and laws resulting from politics are ideally supposed to be reflections of our deepest values, and both the cultural and a personal level. So, too, is religion linked. That’s because religion, is supposed to be DRIVING our deepest values.

    If we understand (as I have argued for years) that the purpose of government is to codify and enforce the values of the culture that gave it life, and also to hopefully extend the influence of that culture within the world… then the influence of religious values in our government will be a product of the degree to which religion is a part of the culture itself. This is not mandating religion; it is simply reacting to, and holding respect for the culture, as government should; this is the proper relationship.

    In that sense, it can hardly be argued, even from a secular POV that the pope is not a cultural icon.. which is why while I understand James’ confusion in Bush’s welcome of the Pope, I don’t share it.

  23. Michael says:

    This is not mandating religion; it is simply reacting to, and holding respect for the culture, as government should; this is the proper relationship.

    But what should happen when the culture and the religion take different paths? For example, on the issue of homosexuality where the culture is largely accepting, but religion is not. Which set of values, then, should our laws respect?

  24. Bithead says:

    But what should happen when the culture and the religion take different paths? For example, on the issue of homosexuality where the culture is largely accepting, but religion is not. Which set of values, then, should our laws respect?

    That would seem to argue that the majority within the culture support that more tollerant POV.

    However, the test has never been made. IE; at what point has the question been put to a national vote? Instead, the solution to the question has been imposed on us by the courts and by secondarily by legislatures, both of which who acted with less than the full support of the people.

  25. Bithead says:

    I should add, Micheal, that you should not mistakean individual putting up with something, to equate to that individual’s SUPPORT of something, particularly when the individual in question doesn’t have a voice in the matter.

  26. Michael says:

    That would seem to argue that the majority within the culture support that more tollerant POV.

    However, the test has never been made. IE; at what point has the question been put to a national vote? Instead, the solution to the question has been imposed on us by the courts and by secondarily by legislatures, both of which who acted with less than the full support of the people.

    I didn’t specify gay marriage for exactly that reason.

    However, most religious establishments in this country still view the _act_ of homosexuality as wrong, amoral, and sinful. But, we as a culture are mostly accepting of the _act_ of homosexuality being practiced among consenting adults. So, on the issue of anti-sodomy laws, the religious teachings and cultural opinions are likely to be quite different.

  27. Steve in wNY says:

    James,
    I have always been struck by your fairness regarding religious faith, even though you are a professed atheist. Your tone on this posting caught me a little off guard as it seemed unduly and uncharacteristically harsh. What gives?

  28. James Joyner says:

    Your tone on this posting caught me a little off guard as it seemed unduly and uncharacteristically harsh. What gives?

    I’m both 1) criticizing Bush and 2) wondering what gives with the rock star treatment of the pope vis-a-vis other religious leaders. I don’t fault the pope for being Catholic, as it were.

    I don’t mind the lighting of Christmas trees, wishes for God to bless America, and the like, which I consider simply part and parcel of the culture. I do, however, resent when political leaders, in their capacity as office holders rather than candidates, equate morality and religion. That comes mighty close to Establishment for my tastes.

  29. Bithead says:

    I didn’t specify gay marriage for exactly that reason.

    But is, in the end, what you’re driving at, no?

    But, we as a culture are mostly accepting of the _act_ of homosexuality being practiced among consenting adults.

    Actually, that, too, is a questionable statement. Laws barring such activity were in large part overturned by the courts, not by the people.

  30. legion says:

    But from that same viewpoint I gather that part of your discomfort is the influence of religion on our law, by way of it’s influence on our morality. You’re concerned about us slipping into mandating religion. It’s a worthy concern, but not needed, in reality, I think.

    And in this, Bithead, you are correct. I freely admit your statements were not so sweeping or generalized, but I have seen this kind of discussion go “there” so many times (both on the net and IRL) that it tends to set off red flags very early on.

    IMV, politics, and the governments and laws resulting from politics are ideally supposed to be reflections of our deepest values, and both the cultural and a personal level. So, too, is religion linked. That’s because religion, is supposed to be DRIVING our deepest values.

    I agree with the first part, but it’s the rest that concerns me (in a general sense). While I have a deep respect for religion in general, I don’t believe it’s a _necessity_ for one to have a viable social & moral center – I believe atheists have just as much chance (and right) to be a good (or bad) citizen as anyone else. Unlike nutjobs like this.

    In that sense, it can hardly be argued, even from a secular POV that the pope is not a cultural icon.. which is why while I understand James’ confusion in Bush’s welcome of the Pope, I don’t share it.

    And on this I also agree with you – the Pope has pretty much always been given something of a ‘rockstar’ treatment when he travels – at least as far back as I can remember, and I still recall the unfortunate swath of bodies that preceded JP2…

  31. Bithead says:

    I agree with the first part, but it’s the rest that concerns me (in a general sense). While I have a deep respect for religion in general, I don’t believe it’s a _necessity_ for one to have a viable social & moral center – I believe atheists have just as much chance (and right) to be a good (or bad) citizen as anyone else.

    Which is why I chose the wording I did as regards the extent to which the religion pervades the culture. I do not suggest religion the exclusive path, but state that in majority, that it is the way the culture in majority arrived there.

    The rest follows.

  32. Bithead says:

    Afterthought:

    And look Legion, I said at the off that there’s a lot of trap doors in this thing. But that admission, of itself is suggestive that the two subjects can never be fully disconnected.

    I wonder though, how much of this discussion is driven by an emotional need for self-justification? Consider that even in the most religious of the times of this culture’s history, the atheist (agnostic, what have you) has never been excluded from society.

    Is recognizing that the vast majority see a connection between morality and religion, of itself exclusionary? I don’t think so.

    Understand me clearly; I have always held that the culture is supposed to drive the government, not the reverse. On that basis, I see the government pushing a discnnect between reigion and morality to BE that reverse… to BE the government attempting to alter the culture by seperating it, in fairly subtle fashion, from it’s religious values. I see that tampering as dangerous to the continuance of that culture.

  33. Michael says:

    Actually, that, too, is a questionable statement. Laws barring such activity were in large part overturned by the courts, not by the people.

    True enough, though I don’t think a majority of Americans would vote for reinstating anti-sodomy laws, do you? Homosexuality has become an accepted part of our culture, only the aspect of marriage has been held back.

    I think that is mostly because marriages are, by and large, a religious construct that the government has build laws on top of. Probably most people would be accepting of a “civil union” type of legal arrangement recognized by the government for legal purposes, with marriage being a separate, not government-regulated, institution.

  34. Bithead says:

    True enough, though I don’t think a majority of Americans would vote for reinstating anti-sodomy laws, do you? Homosexuality has become an accepted part of our culture, only the aspect of marriage has been held back.

    Well, that’s not the point I’m making, here. I was not attempting to judge the value of the laws, or acceptance, or of homosexual behavior. I do have some opinions in the matter, but they’re not even on the radar of the point I’m making.

    Undertsand the line I’m drawing, here; Would a vote on the matter pass now? Quite possibly. Would it have done so prior to the courts deciding the matter for us years ago and since? I tend to doubt it.

    What I’m suggesting is that the government over-rode the culture in that case, that it stepped outside its appointed role, in that case, and therein lies the difference between our estimates of the hypothetical voting then and now…. the culture was changed by it’s government.
    That’s a bad thing for two reasons; Transformation is invariably a more positive thing than change.
    When the external force… in this case, the force of government, is removed or altered, the cultural element that got forced into change invariably goes back to it’s original, culturally driven form.

    Put another way, one can force people to obey laws… but changing minds is a lot harder.

    Finally, there’s a lot in the way of pitfalls over issues of rights in what we’re discussing. I will dare to suggest to you that the rights we’ve become used to in this country and in this culture are the greatest collection of human rights put together in one culture in one country in the history of man. The recognition of those rights is the result of the values of the culture. But, what happens to rights, even down to the very concept of them, when the culture responsible for recognition of those rights gets arbitrarily changed by the power of government? Government, and not the culture, beocmes the arbitor of rights. And we know where that leads.

    That’s just a scratch of the surface of this thing, but it’s a start.

  35. Michael says:

    Undertsand the line I’m drawing, here; Would a vote on the matter pass now? Quite possibly. Would it have done so prior to the courts deciding the matter for us years ago and since? I tend to doubt it.

    I assume you mean that revoking anti-sodomy laws would not have passed previously, and you are probably right. But that doesn’t mean it was wrong for those laws to be revoked by the courts. What is that saying about 2 wolves and a sheep? Democracy doesn’t always ensure liberty.

    What I’m suggesting is that the government over-rode the culture in that case, that it stepped outside its appointed role, in that case

    Well no, it’s not the government’s job to enforce cultural norms. Our constitution puts more importance on liberty than morality, such that when a conflict arises between the two, the one path ensures liberty should be favored. I believe that, in the case of anti-sodomy laws, the government did what it was supposed to do.

    and therein lies the difference between our estimates of the hypothetical voting then and now…. the culture was changed by it’s government.

    I’m not so sure it did, obviously the culture was already moving in that direction, or the validity of the anti-sodomy laws would not have been questioned. And the repeal of those law did not immediately make the act acceptable in the culture. Rather the government making it legal added credibility to the acceptance of homosexuality in our culture.

    That’s a bad thing for two reasons; Transformation is invariably a more positive thing than change.

    Like I argued above, the government’s acceptance of homosexuality was a necessary part of the transformation that was already taking place.

    I will dare to suggest to you that the rights we’ve become used to in this country and in this culture are the greatest collection of human rights put together in one culture in one country in the history of man.

    I would agree with you too.

    The recognition of those rights is the result of the values of the culture. But, what happens to rights, even down to the very concept of them, when the culture responsible for recognition of those rights gets arbitrarily changed by the power of government? Government, and not the culture, beocmes the arbitor of rights. And we know where that leads.

    I’m not sure the government even has the power to change our culture.

  36. Bithead says:

    I assume you mean that revoking anti-sodomy laws would not have passed previously, and you are probably right. But that doesn’t mean it was wrong for those laws to be revoked by the courts. What is that saying about 2 wolves and a sheep? Democracy doesn’t always ensure liberty.

    Perhaps not, but government NEVER does. It ahs been suggested abot slavery that it was not required that we fight a civil war over it; that it would have ended in a few years, anyway, and that change would ahve been driven by the culture, as oppsoed to being imposed by the government… and as a result of THAT change, we’d not have had the following 100 plus years of racial upheaval.

    Well, work the same formulae as regards your question and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

    Well no, it’s not the government’s job to enforce cultural norms. Our constitution puts more importance on liberty than morality, such that when a conflict arises between the two, the one path ensures liberty should be favored.

    Again, study the passage:

    If we understand (as I have argued for years) that the purpose of government is to codify and enforce the values of the culture that gave it life….

    I’m not so sure it did, obviously the culture was already moving in that direction

    No. Small sections of the culture… less than 1%, decided to use the activist court system against the culture itself. The majority were forced by law and government into compliance. Having been so conditioned in the matter by law enforcement, they’re nor more prone to feigning approval of it.

    I’m not sure the government even has the power to change our culture.

    Oh, but there are so many examkes if it happening. Since I’ve already mentioned slavery one example hat races to mind is the Emancipation proclamaition.

    Take the communists, anywhere you’d care to name… cuba, the USSR, NORK, China, wherever. Think there wasn’t cultural change invoked by the power of governmet in those situations?

    A look at the overnments of Mugabe, Chavez, etc, come to mind as well. The cultures have essentially been disabled or destroyed, in those cases.

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