But there is far more to this 219-page book than grist for scandal-mongers and controversialists.
It is true that the Pope is forthright and frank in responding to questions ranging from ecumenism to global warming. And he does not duck tough questions on his handling of controversies and scandals that have arisen in the Church under his watch.
He also speaks candidly and offers an unprecedented personal glimpse into his papacy.
At 83, the job can make him weary, he admits, and he makes a special effort to organize his time well and to make sure that he gets enough rest and time for prayer.
And he thanks God that he is in excellent health — because this Pope does not like to exercise.
Asked whether he ever uses the exercise bicycle given to him by his former physician, Pope Benedict responds enthusiastically: “No. I don’t get to it at all — and don’t need it at the moment, thank God.”
“Light of the World” presents the Pope as one of the world’s foremost public intellectuals, a man who has thought deeply about the modern world, with all its problems and its promises.
At the root of the problems in the world today is what he calls “the question about God.”
“For many people today, practical atheism is the normal rule of life,” Pope Benedict says. “Maybe there is something or someone, they think, who once set the world in motion eons ago, but he does not matter to us at all. If this attitude becomes a general existential position, then freedom no longer has any standards, then everything is possible and permissible.”
As he sees it, God has been displaced in a society that now puts all its confidence in the capacities of human reason and science and technology. “Today man thinks that he himself can do everything that he once awaited from God alone,” he states.
The Pope calls for a “major examination of conscience” of modern assumptions about the uses of knowledge, power, and freedom, and about the meaning of progress.
“This is the question: What is good? Where should knowledge lead power? …” he asks. “Is it progress if I can destroy? Is it progress if I myself can make, select, and dispose of human beings?”
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He rejects what he calls a “fundamental concept of the modern era: freedom, which is understood as the freedom to do anything.” This understanding of freedom leads to the dangerous belief that “whatever one can do, one must also be allowed to do,” he says.
He also warns of the rise of a “new intolerance” in secular society that rejects traditional religious symbols and teachings as incompatible with modern freedoms. He notes that Christians and Church institutions are increasingly being pushed to the margins of society.
“When, for example, in the name of non-discrimination, people try to force the Catholic Church to change her position on homosexuality or the ordination of women, then that means that she is no longer allowed to live out her own identity … In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished; this is the real threat we face.”
In the face of growing secularization, Pope Benedict poses hard questions for Catholics.
“To what extent do people belong to the Church in the first place?” he asks. “On the one hand, they want to belong to her and do not want to lose this foundation. On the other hand, they are of course also shaped and formed interiorly by the modern way of thinking.”
The Pope sees believers today as afflicted by “a sort of schizophrenia, a divided existence.” Faith in God is reduced to “a sort of archaic stratum” that has less and less meaning in a society where people are encouraged to live as if God is not relevant.