And Now a Word From Pope Francis, On the Matter of Ideology

“[F]aith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements…

“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose the faith and prefer the ideologies.”

(Note: That last link is to something I wrote — me imposing my own editorial point of view.)

Pope Francis is not perfect, nor does he have the all the same moral and social concerns that I do (not to mention the same religious perspective), nor do I agree with him or his Church in all their positions. But in many ways I find him to be a genuinely remarkable Pope; one I see speaking of the sort of Christianity that I think is closer to the humility and grace of Jesus than one often sees in the world. He is, I truly believe, a well-timed and well-needed Pope. I hope he is heard.

 

122 thoughts on “And Now a Word From Pope Francis, On the Matter of Ideology

  1. I’m an atheist, but from what I know about the teachings attributed to Jesus, they seem like mostly good, generous, and kind ideas. A lot of the rest of the Bible and the ideology built up around it, is pretty horrific. It’s nice to see a prominent (probably the most prominent) religious leader see and acknowledge the difference.

    Speaking of Jesus’ teachings, I really need to read the Jefferson Bible.

  2. I have been very impressed with this pope.

    My analogy for most of modern Christianity:

    There is a freeway, and there are people standing in the freeway. Occasionally some of them are hit by cars. There are people who huddle together, and sing songs about the nature of life on the freeway. The songs are about how there was a man, once, who told them to get the hell out of the road, because they would likely be hit by cars otherwise. And the songs are about their absolute certainty that this man existed, and that he was a genuine traffic cop, and thus an authority on the nature of the freeway. And about their belief that, because this man was a traffic cop, people who truly believe that he existed and was a traffic cop will not be hit by cars. They stand in the middle of the road, singing their songs, and trying to warn other people of the dangers of not believing that the man existed and was an actual traffic cop, and being sad when people are hit by cars.

    In this analogy, Pope Francis is the guy over on the side of the road yelling “guys, guys, I think when he said to get the hell out of the road, he meant to go over here, and seriously, since I went here I’ve barely even felt a breeze from passing cars, maybe you should come over here?”

  3. I will remain unconvinced that Francis represents anything new until he gives us more than rhetoric (which has admittedly been refreshing thus far) and starts taking concrete action or changing actual policy.

  4. Frances is a Jesuit. If the Jesuits weren’t in the Catholic church, they’d be considered heretics ;) They tend to think a lot, and be pretty open minded – partly because they study the bible texts in the original languages. He seems a pretty cool pope.

    Apparently there was something that was interpreted as a sign during the conclave, there’s no way he’d have been elected without that.

  5. Robin:
    Very similar sentiments were expressed in “The Light” by the Proclaimers – a song which very much fits in with the original post. And one which pulls off the rare feat of expressing a real and heartfelt faith without getting either cloying or preachy.

  6. Robin H, it’s a bit like “Jesus save me from your followers.”

    I’m not religious, and I don’t think I ever will be, because I just don’t have a theistic view of the universe. But I have little doubt that any weak inclination I may ever have had in that direction was killed by various religions insisting that in order to be a “good” Christian, you had to oppose most of what I supported and favor most of what I oppose. It just seemed to be more about hate and being better than other people than about building bridges and learning from one another.

    Maybe the new pope is reading the writing on the wall which makes it clear that younger people are increasingly unaffiliated (though most still say they believe in some kind of god) because the strident preachiness and hatefulness of the most outspoken Christian churches in our society (including Catholicism) has turned them off. He is a vast improvement over his predecessors, and I hope some of his stance, at least, comes from genuine convictions and not a simple calculation of what is necessary to garner more souls without really changing anything in the Church.

    I’ll withhold my unqualified praise until they lift the ban on contraception and make it clear that they believe women are the spiritual equals of men.

  7. Hmmm … When Francis speaks about “ideological Christians”, I can’t help thinking he means the thousands of Christians from Latin America who risked their lives in the struggles of the poor and marginalized for justice. The military dictatorships who hunted down, tortured and killed those Christians who were inspired by liberation theology, usually listened to what the ecclesiastical hierarchy had to say. And the hierarchy very conveniently told the juntas that liberation Christians were not proper believers at all, but misguided ideologues. By refusing to speak out for the liberation Christians, the Church condemned them to death.

    However, if Francis, when speaking of rigid and moralistic ideologies, is referring to the kind of religious bigotry that is obsessed with who you are allowed to love and have a relationship with, then I wish he would have realized this a little earlier. After all, he was archbishop of Buenos Aires when in 2010, same-sex marriage (or equal marriage, as it’s called down there) was introduced in Argentina, and the same person who now talks about opening doors famously called for a “war of God” against the country’s new marriage law.

  8. When my father abruptly quit his 25 year career as a Unitarian-Universalist minister, he said to me, “It’s the job of the priest to stand in the temple and tell people to follow the rules of the church. It’s the job of the prophet to stand on the steps outside the temple and tell people to forsake the rules of the church. I’m tired of telling people to follow the rules.”

  9. People treat the term “ideology” like it’s a slur. The word simply means “body of beliefs or principles”. Every mature adult has an ideology, whether they admit it or not. A lot of people just refer to their ideology as “my beliefs”.

  10. @Robert Enders: This is a correct definition, but is missing the Pope’s overall point. An ideology, a set of principles, beliefs, and laws followed exclusively, is why Jesus said “”Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” Or, this is why the Pope says Jesus said what he said. (I’m not biblical at all. I’m just following his stated points.)

  11. Robert: “body of beliefs or principles”. Every mature adult has an ideology,

    Some ideaologies are more open to self-correction than others.

    And “idealogy” carries a heavy negative connotation because it is so closely related to the word idealogue:

    idealogue: an adherent of an ideology, esp. one who is uncompromising and dogmatic.

  12. Seebs -
    Thank you! That is perhaps the best illustration of how people replaced Jesus the Teacher with Jesus the Symbol, and leeched his philosophy of meaning while worshiping the mere form of it, I have ever read.

    As for Pope Francis: his words are good; let’s see if he follows up with actual changes to doctrine or practice. (Not that it matters overmuch to me, as I’m not Christian nor religious in any way.)

  13. Meh… Jorge Bergoglio can mean well all he wants, he still represents a corrupt authoritarian edifice. If he wants to be a benevolent dictator, that’s great. But the most heroic thing a Pope could do at this point is disband the institution.

  14. @Keith

    I will remain unconvinced that Francis represents anything new until he gives us more than rhetoric (which has admittedly been refreshing thus far) and starts taking concrete action or changing actual policy.

    I think perhaps you misunderstand the role of the Pope, and religious leaders in general. They are not politicians. Whether His Holiness is delivering a mass or speaking ex cathedra, his words are never to be taken as rhetoric among his flock. They are to see him not as one of them elevated by ideology, but as the direct successor to Saint Peter whom Jesus gave the Keys to Heaven. His words are not arguments for Catholics, they are words from Christ’s representative on Earth. Disobeying them or failing to heed them is not a matter of disagreement or temporal dissent, but of turning away from God, to whom Catholics see the Church as their conduit. This is a double-edged sword and something I oppose on the same grounds and I oppose the divine right of kings, but Catholics do not, as a matter of dogma.

    I’m an atheist, and if I were a Christian I’d certainly be no Catholic as I don’t believe Christ’s gospel indicates that bishops and other clergy are necessary middlemen for His salvation, so I obviously don’t believe they’re correct. But mass from the Pope is not to Catholics like speeches from a political leader. Nor is this distinction unique to Christianity, or even monotheism.

    @Anubis

    Hmmm … When Francis speaks about “ideological Christians”, I can’t help thinking he means the thousands of Christians from Latin America who risked their lives in the struggles of the poor and marginalized for justice. The military dictatorships who hunted down, tortured and killed those Christians who were inspired by liberation theology, usually listened to what the ecclesiastical hierarchy had to say. And the hierarchy very conveniently told the juntas that liberation Christians were not proper believers at all, but misguided ideologues. By refusing to speak out for the liberation Christians, the Church condemned them to death.

    In fantasyland where Latin American revolutionaries were the righteous freedom fighters you characterize them as, I might agree. In reality they were often as bigoted, petty, self-aggrandizing, gate-keeping and murderous as the juntas. The only difference was which hegemonic superpower backed them. So many people want to believe in a narrative of heroes and demons. I recommend sticking to fables, with which Christianity is rife.

    @Robert Enders

    People treat the term “ideology” like it’s a slur. The word simply means “body of beliefs or principles”. Every mature adult has an ideology, whether they admit it or not. A lot of people just refer to their ideology as “my beliefs”.

    Most people don’t use ideology as a synonym for personal beliefs. The word actually means narrative or story about ideas. Narratives and stories are communucated among interlocutors. The synthesis of ideas held in one’s own mind are called ideations. Ideology is a social construct. You are free to dilute the word if you so choose, but for most people the purpose of having different words is to mean different concepts. All that said, this is ultimately a semantic argument. We both know there is a difference between communal ideologies and personal beliefs. The Catholic Church, like many religions, does not consider its communal beliefs ideologies, but rather dogma, because they don’t believe it’s a human artifact, but rather a divine message. Obviously, I think it’s actually ideology that’s much more resistant to change than most. YMMV.

  15. @Lou Doench

    But the most heroic thing a Pope could do at this point is disband the institution.

    I suspect that in the highly improbable case of that actually happening, you would find the fractious results rather worse than the current corrupt authoritarian edifice. Indeed, that is more or less prophesied to occur in Book of Revelation’s supposed predictions of the future. It’s tempting to think that the way to dismantle a corrupt institution is to pull the big red lever, but in truth is requires enlightened reformation of the minds of its adherents. However much many Catholics may claim to believe in Papal Infallibility, I think an attempt to dissolve the Church would be the quickest way to discover the limits of that particular faith. I (pedantically) say dissolve rather than disband because the Church is not a coalition of equals; it’s a hierarchy.

  16. I hadn’t read your “My Jesus forgives you Jesus” post until just now. Very, very powerful, and I’m going to use that. Thank you.

  17. I am not catholic, but I am noticing this Pope’s words and actions in a unique way.

    After years of polite ignorance of the catholic faith, I’m seeing, and reading, about this new Pope with fascination. I have been continually moved by his piety, by the way his actions support his words.

    I am very intrigued by his interpretation of a kindly god.

  18. I do like a lot of what I hear from this new Pope. Knocking off the gay-bashing, possibly even accepting that women are people, and that people have sex, and that sex isn’t bad.

    I’m still a bit peeved about updating the laws so leaking Vatican secrets is a criminal offense. You know. Things like reporting child molestation should not be illegal. Child molestation itself should be punished, preferably by firing squad.

    However, having followed events with the Catholic church since leaving it at about age 18 when my brain switched on, I have come to think that perhaps child molestation is just something very important to The Vatican. Some take on “suffer the little children”, mayhap. I’m glad this is a step in the right direction to a more tolerant, less authoritarian Catholic Church. Perhaps, in time, they’ll be able to knock it off with the kiddy fiddling too, for all that it seems so important to them. It’s always hardest to quit that which we enjoy the most, isn’t it?

  19. As an atheist who is mildly annoyed by my belief in God I _thought_ this Pope a breath of sanity, until I heard he was a Jesuit, (above). If true, his statements aren’t relevant, much as someone’s saying “I didn’t do it!” is of no value: The caught politician and the person what didn’t do it will say the same thing. My saying this has to do stuff that I don’t recall that I recall as stupid, and to do with a Jesuit proving (to his satisfaction) it the cat’s meow.
    -
    IMO the Christian bible ‘that I have read’/’the ones I’ve skimmed’ are anthologies of every story the editor could find or “remember” and include the story by the dude who made a /really/ bad choice while out picking ‘shrooms for goat milk and mushroom soup.
    -
    My belief is that everybody should be taught how advertisers influence people. A population that understands that will be less vulnerable to getting fucked over by those who know how to advertise.
    This is from what we are: We are social animals that uhm.
    OK, uhm.
    Hungry four year old holding a hungry kitten? Which should you open first: The cat food can or the human food can?
    What will happen in either case is the kitten will purr and eat, and the child will eat, so you I suggest the can of something that won’t give the kitten the runs.

  20. As a progressive Catholic (and someone who studied at a Jesuit university), I’ve liked the way Pope Francis has spoken. While he’s hasn’t been as radical as some might have liked (he’s reforming the Church as an organization, not changing its teachings), he is at least trying to foster a genuine dialogue with people whom the Church didn’t connect with or turned away with its rhetoric over the years.

  21. Gulliver: I think perhaps you misunderstand the role of the Pope, and religious leaders in general. … clergy are necessary middlemen for His salvation

    Martin Luther is knocking very loudly on your door right now. In fact, I think he’s using a hammer.

    You’re gonna need spackle or some shit like that….

  22. This guy seems to be quite similar to the character of the Low King of the Dwarves in Terry Pratchett’s “The Fifth Elephant” and succeeding books: a clear compromise candidate who enacts more reforms than the embattled liberals had hoped for, and disappointing the conservatives who appointed the guy because the alternative was civil war with the minority-but-still-powerful liberals.

    That’s meant to be a complement, by the way. The new Pope is a WHOLE lot better than the last one.

    Also, when they mentioned the last Pope’s resignation, I couldn’t help but think of this charming fellow:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestine_V

  23. I’m a profound skeptic when it comes to Francis. My friend Sparky summed it up best in this post:

    http://sparkindarkness.livejournal.com/509322.html

    I think Francis talks a good game but doesn’t walk the walk. When things actually change – when, for instance, the Vatican stops looking like the horde of a hundred Nazi war criminal art looters, and they start selling off some of their illgotten gains, or when Francis removes the ban on gay Catholic priests, or starts paying real compensation and offering real apologies to the thousands of victims of priestly child abuse – then I’ll take him seriously.

    Until then, I’d prefer he stop offering patronising remarks about us atheists going to heaven anyway. I might (actually I won’t be because it doesn’t exist and if it did, I’d work my butt off to make sure I didn’t), but I’m pretty sure his predecessors didn’t, no matter how many of them he declares saints.

  24. @Greg

    Martin Luther is knocking very loudly on your door right now. In fact, I think he’s using a hammer.

    Wrong door. I’m not saying that’s the role religious leaders should have. In point of fact it is precisely because I don’t believe in divine revelation that I don’t think religious leaders are actually anything more than kings in clerical drag. My point was that Catholics don’t see the Pope as a politician and so are not at liberty to be skeptical of his missives. Actions speak louder than words, and for Catholics the Pope’s words carry the force not only of actions, but of divine actions. This is not a value judgment. I think the whole thing’s delusional. I’m making am empirical observation about the role of the Pope in his Church.

  25. Pope Francis will be the greatest and most influential pope of our lifetimes. He will not only change the Church, he will change the world.

    His words speak louder than his actions because his ideas are so radical that they must be heard – and articulated – to be believed, understood and absorbed. And once expressed – through simple language – they have more impact than symbolic action could. His ideas and thinking are what are powerful. His goal is to change how others think, how the “Church” ‘thinks.’ He appears to believe that this is a prerequisite to any meaningful change and reform.

    The pope’s critique of the Church reaches well beyond Rome. The same illness and corruption that permeate the Catholic Church also infect our political and social order as well.

    How long before they start calling him names? (I suspect the US Bishops already are.)

  26. Gulliver: Wrong door.

    it was partly a joke, and party a correction to your statement about “the role of the Pope, and religious leaders in general”.

    It may be that’s how the Pope operates in catholicism, but that’s not how all religious leaders operate in all religions. Martin Luther was the obvious explicit counter-example in western culture. Buddhism is a counter-example in eastern culture.

  27. My mother is Catholic, while I most decidedly am not, for many reasons. But I’ll agree that Pope Francis was the right choice for the position. He’s begun to lead the Church ever so slowly toward reform, or at least some shifts in focus. He’s certainly the polar opposite of Ratzinger, who had headed the CDF and wrote some of the more bigoted encyclicals. First Jesuit Pope and first from the Americas seems to be doing pretty well so far.

  28. And once expressed – through simple language – they have more impact than symbolic action could.

    Nope. Catholics – and ex-Catholics like me – have had a belly full of popes and bishops mouthing platitudes for decades, while acting in direct opposition to those pretty words. (Look at their attitude to the poor, and to child abuse victims, for two very powerful examples.) Just because Francis is more elegant and populist than Ratzinger, doesn’t make him a better pope or a better person.

    Let’s see some action. Whatever you claim, deeds are more powerful than words.

    Frankly, I kind of despise Francis for his spin without concrete changes. He’s like every successful politician, knowing how to mollify the rubes while getting on with business as usual. He *is* a politician and a political figure. Let’s not lose all common sense about him just because he talks purty.

  29. @Greg

    it was partly a joke, and party a correction to your statement about “the role of the Pope, and religious leaders in general”.

    Going back and re-reading what I wrote, I see I misspoke. I meant to indicate that it was a feature not unique to Catholicism or even monotheism, not that it was universal. It certainly is not.

    Buddhism is a counter-example in eastern culture.

    That depends on the sect of Buddhism. In certain sects the role of reincarnated Buddhas is very much that of divine sage. That many use this influence primarily for good, while certainly a comment on the religion’s oft ignored core principles itself, does not negate that it is so.

  30. @Ann

    You may be right … but only in the future. It is premature to write him off completely already.

    I disagree with your distinction between actions and words when it comes to someone like a pope, or a president. Ronald Reagan is good example. His rhetoric and his ideas are a much more important and enduring legacy than any specific actions he undertook while in office. He changed the way the country thought about things and viewed the role of government. Whether or not he was a fraud or just another politician is almost beside the point.

    While my praise for the Pope is enthusiastic, i judged him relative to other popes. I did not evaluate him relative to my personal preferences, values or ideals. As repulsive as I find the Catholic Church – it is an important institution that I find fascinating, too. The fact that Francis is such a departure from Ratzinger is significant. He is also much more effective as a ‘politician.’ The change he brings is and will be positive, in my view, even if all he does is change the conversation and thinking within the church. It’s still a positive and has consequences that extend well beyond the church.

  31. CaseyL: Thank you much! I’ve been polishing that one for at least a decade now, and I’ve sort of cleaned up the flaws in it a bit at a time.

  32. @Gulliver:

    “In fantasyland where Latin American revolutionaries were the righteous freedom fighters you characterize them as, I might agree. In reality they were often as bigoted, petty, self-aggrandizing, gate-keeping and murderous as the juntas. The only difference was which hegemonic superpower backed them.”

    Nobody but you is talking about characterizing Latin American revolutionaries as righteous freedom fighters. I certainly wasn’t. I was talking about Christians who suffered persecution and death because they were influenced by liberation theology.

    “I recommend sticking to fables, with which Christianity is rife.”

    Well, what you say in the first quote is a fable. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle, it’s an entirely respectable capacity of the human mind to make up stories. But when it comes to reality, I recommend sticking to non-fiction. A book about Latin American religion and politics in the 20th century might be a good start.

  33. @Anubis

    But when it comes to reality, I recommend sticking to non-fiction.

    I’m well aware of the history. The people who spilled blood while cloaking themselves in the justifications offered by the likes of Boff and Gutiérrez are neither innocents nor saints. If you want to believe their cause justified their actions, go right ahead. Mixing religion and the sword (two things bad enough in and of themselves) has always been and will always be a recipe for travesty.

    Nobody but you is talking about characterizing Latin American revolutionaries as righteous freedom fighters. I certainly wasn’t.

    You said:

    Hmmm … When Francis speaks about “ideological Christians”, I can’t help thinking he means the thousands of Christians from Latin America who risked their lives in the struggles of the poor and marginalized for justice.

    Reason deliver us from true believers! If religious folks manage to do a little less damage to the world, good for them. Otherwise the human species would be better of without such irrational beliefs.

    At this point I don’t see this discussion going anywhere good, so I’m going to go ahead and wish you a pleasant week and leave it at that.

  34. “I’m well aware of the history. The people who spilled blood while cloaking themselves in the justifications offered by the likes of Boff and Gutiérrez are neither innocents nor saints.”

    I’ve studied Latin American church history for years, and I’ve never heard of anyone spilling blood in the name of Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutiérrez. Of course, the idea that liberation theologians were Soviet-backed instigators of violence is a well-known conspiracy theory. In other words, it is a particularly ugly fable, a remnant of Cold War paranoia.

    “Reason deliver us from true believers!”

    Does “true believers” include overcredulous worshippers of reason who pick up random pieces of biased opinion and then claim they’re just making “empirical observations”? I suspect not.

  35. I think quite a few people here, wishing for rapid changes, have an exaggerated idea of just how much power (as opposed to authority) the Pope has, or how cautious even the most progressive members of the Church hierarchy are about rapid change. We’re talking about an institution close to two millennia old, and while it has changed enormously over all those centuries, it prefers to operate on the scale of decades and generations when it comes to change. (Which is absolutely understandable, when you keep in mind that the Church considers itself as the best source of salvation and hope for mankind, and they don’t want to endanger that responsibility by being too hasty.)

  36. Of all the comments on this thread so far, I think I like the early highway analogy best. Pope Francis on the side of the road saying, “hey guys, let’s do what Jesus said to do and get out of the road” works for me. Anytime any Christian (of any flavor) refocuses on Jesus is a good thing. Disclaimer: I am Christian. As Sir Scalzi has observed here many times (from his agonistic position), Christians would do well to be less organized and insititutional and more people of simple faith in Jesus.

  37. Reading the Pope’s statement and all of our comments here, I’m reminded of many of John’s posts re: Republicans/Conservatives. Since most of us on this site (and John too, if I may speak for him for a second) aren’t Republicans/Conservatives, when we see them move a little to the left we think that’s a good thing. But, to a “real” Republican/Conservative, they see it as exactly the opposite–they label these people RINOs or traitors to the party and try to remove them from power.

    The same is true here. I haven’t seen a comment on this post from someone who labelled him/herself a practicing Catholic; most of the comments have come from atheists, agnostics, and recovering Catholics. And here’s the thing: for right or wrong, the Catholic leadership doesn’t care about our opinion. Hell, they don’t even care about the opinions of Catholics! So when we see Pope Francis’ statements and say we think they’re positive moves, I wonder if rest of the Catholic leadership isn’t secretly working against the Pope (because Lord knows that’s what political leadership here would do if they saw their titular leader speaking against the “true faith”).

    Of course, since real Catholics also believe in Papal Infallibility, I wonder if any of the leadership see the irony in questioning Pope Francis’ statements when he tells them they need to get away from ideology and return to faith.

  38. That does sound decent but, talk is cheap. All of his work is still before him.

    Rape, physical and mental abuse, rape of children, physical and mental abuse of children, institutionalized cover-up of these crimes and protection of the criminals, knowingly enabling the criminals by providing them new “pastures” to graze in, knowingly continuing to promulgate policies that have contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths because of the asinine doctrine that it is a sin to waste sperm (notice that for some reason this doctrine does not likewise inspire the church to deal with its own child rape issues), stigmatizing gays, engaging in various unsavory methods to encourage governments to withhold certain civil rights from gays that are granted to all others, pushing their anti gay doctrines in societies that they know will lead to the persecution and even death of gays, (notice how mere consensual gay sex is sinful enough to warrant all that, but catholic clergy raping children actually warrants protection instead), and so much more.

    This Pope may turn out to be better than some past Popes. He may even turn out to be better than any other Pope ever. But that is not saying much at all. What actions will he take to fix these problems? He has been a clergy person for many years. What actions has he taken in all those years? From my point of view his ethical standards are far below what I would consider decent merely for remaining in the church hierarchy for the years that he has. Anyone doing so has either been deluding themselves or has ethical standards that would make the average person sick to their stomachs if they weren’t cloaked in the righteous reverence of the Catholic church.

  39. @ wizardru – Love it!

    John, re: your linked post – Wasn’t following you back then, so first time I’ve read it. Not only thought-provoking, but highly resonant with one of the factions’ positions in John Barnes’ “Daybreak” series (for which I might be angry with you about publicizing via Big Ideas, since it has cost me much sleep :-).

  40. @Beej:

    “Of course, since real Catholics also believe in Papal infallibility, I wonder if any of the leadership see the irony in questioning Pope Francis’ statements when he tells them they need to get away from ideology and return to faith.”

    Although Papal infallibility definitely is a bizarre concept, contrary to common assumptions it doesn’t require Catholics to believe that every word a Pope utters is infallible. For a Papal statement to be infallible, certain conditions must be fulfilled.

  41. I’ve read a study that concludes that, for the most part, spiritual people and religious people are not the same folks. It may be that Pope Francis is a spiritual pope. It will be fascinating to see how the institutions of the religion he now leads will adjust.

  42. I consider myself a “cafeteria Catholic” or a “secular Catholic”. I pick and choose which dogma(s) I wish to ignore — and recognize that I come from a Catholic upbringing and that Catholicism is part of my personal/family culture (and that isn’t all bad).

    I like the direction that Pope Francis appears to be leading the Church- towards more tolerance, more focus on missions benefiting the poor, more focus on faith vs. ideology (some Christians seem to worship the Bible (the book/object) vs. Jesus’ teachings therein).

    As others have mentioned – policy changes need to materialize

    Priests who abuse children need to be prosecuted in criminal courts- if the Church needs to excommunicate /defrock priests in order to turn them over to government officials – so be it. There can be forgiveness – but penance (justice) must be served

  43. And with every other BIG ANNOUNCEMENT that Francis has made, I expect the College of Cardinals to come out with a statement explaining “what he really meant was… mumble mumble smoke mirrors pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” within the next day or so.

  44. As someone who has spent far too much time hanging out with Jesuits (such that all my conservative friends think I am liberal and all my liberal friends think I am conservative), I think Pope Francis is exactly what the Catholic Church needs – he is not changing the teaching of the Church, but trying to change *how* the Church teaches – emphasizing faith, hope, and love before and prior to the laws and moral standards, and certainly before any ideologies (i.e. idols of politics). Key to this is making sure that the Church is, in fact, practicing what it preaches. And for seven months in the life of an almost 2,000 year old institution known for slow change, I think he’s done a very good job – putting issues of poverty and justice at the forefront, and emphasizing that even people who the Church typically shuns – gays and lesbians, and atheists – are still our neighbors nonetheless.

    And for those who still doubt his commitment to changing this last part, consider this piece of news just from today – he just relieved a German bishop who spent $40 million in questionable expenses on a diocesan office building, and sent the bishop out of his diocese pending an audit. I have never heard of this happening in the context of finances before.

  45. There’s a chance that Francis can drag the Catholic church, kicking and screaming, into the 19th century. Which is not perfect, but it’s an improvement on the 13th, where it seems to have settled until now.

  46. I have to admit that I wasn’t too enthused about Francis when he was first elected – but he is definitely growing on me. I am looking forward to seeing who wins here – Francis or the Curia. I’m praying it will be Francis. (Born a Catholic, both sides of the family Catholic except for the odd Lutheran, raised a Catholic, etc. So I definitely have a dog in this fight.)

  47. darrelle, have you ever heard the expression “The perfect is the enemy of the good”? Yes, it would be wonderful if somehow a Pope had been elected that would overturn centuries of terrible institutional behavior instantly. That person could never, ever, have been elected Pope, however, and even if somehow he was, the Catholic Church is a little like an aircraft carrier; you can’t turn it around on a dime, however much you want to. Even as the Pope.

    Personally, I think that of the possible candidates, he was the best one, and that he is genuinely trying to turn that aircraft carrier, if only by a point or two of the compass. I think he’s very far from perfect, but I do think he’s vastly better than his predecessor who, in my opinion, tried to turn the Catholic Church in the direction away from social justice, rather than towards it.

    Interesting word, predecessor, when the guy you’re following isn’t actually deceased…

    I’m reminded of the people who fulminate about how awful Obama is on Guantanamo and privacy and so on, without considering how much more awful Romney would have been on the same issues and more besides.

  48. Gulliver: That depends on the sect of Buddhism. In certain sects the role of reincarnated Buddhas is very much that of divine sage.

    “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

    You’re still doing it. We could find atheist’s who are dogmatic leaders as any religious leader you find. It would be like Sturgeon’s Law, but applied to people/religious/atheist beliefs.

    Consider, perhaps, that your atheism slip is showing in your generalizations about religion.

  49. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

    As someone who is named Buddha[1], I have never liked that saying.

    [1] Blaise Pascal is my nom-de-’net, which I’ve used for 30 years, but my name off the net, and on my birth certificate, is Buddha

  50. @Anne Somerville – you might want to give the guy a little grace. He has been pope for what, seven months? The Catholic Church is a massive and moribund bureaucracy, change does not come quickly or easily. And yet this guy has ousted several key players from the head of the Vatican Bank and Pope Benedict’s Secretary of State (who was widely viewed as one of the great power brokers for the Curia). These were not small moves. There was an interesting article in the Independent (http://ind.pn/17bJ80k) a couple of days ago that goes more in-depth, if you are interested.

  51. Cally,

    Your arguments seem to assume that I think the catholic church, though flawed, is a necessary or desirable institution. That just isn’t so. I don’t think anything like that. I don’t think that there is anything worth saving, or that there was ever anything worth having in the first place. Whatever needs people believe the catholic church provides for them, guidance in their religious beliefs and practices, tradition, what have you, they are not remotely important or vital enough to justify the price the church exacts in damaged and ruined human lives. People can talk to their gods and commune with like minded believers just fine without the church.

    The catholic church institutionalizes behaviors that would, rightly, land the average person in jail for life. Many of its doctrines are so unethical that many of its own more liberal adherents reject them when they encounter them bare of holy rhetoric.

    If this pope’s goal is to work towards a politically powerless, everyone love and respect everyone else, keeping their nose out of properly secular affairs, law abiding and upholding catholic church I will be the first to offer him accolades. But I’ll wait until the evidence is clear. Right now, based on the entire past history of the church and its heirarchy, it would be unwise to assume that such is the case.

    Lest you think I am singling out the catholic church, please accept my assurance that I am not. It just happens to be the topic of this particular thread.

  52. I think it is kinda sad, sometimes, how many people write him off as a fake, or a carefully crafted pr stunt. Cleaning out the monolith that is the Catholic Church as an institution is the work of decades, not months. What is important is that he speaks his heart and his faith, often with little regard to the beaurocracy, much like the man who’s name he chose. And St Francis is one of those figures that even non-Catholics can relate to.

  53. “What is important is that he speaks his heart and his faith, . . .”

    I disagree. What is important are his intentions, which we can not reliably ascertain yet, or maybe ever, and his actions. Rhetoric has never been very reliable.

  54. Darrell:

    Rhetoric has never been very reliable.

    Er. The entire Western judicial system is based upon the use of rhetoric, as are most Democratic political systems. Rhetoric is perhaps the single most common thread in revolutionary histories. Martin Luther, and his namesake MLK Jr, both used rhetoric to change their respective societies, at both micro and macro levels.

    Anytime you speak or write in attempt to convey meaning, you are engaging in rhetoric. It’s absurd, and sharply ironic, for someone engaging in rhetoric on the internet to make an argument dismissing the importance of rhetoric.

    The removal of Classics and rhetoric from mandatory college curricula is the downfall of rational thought and the reason for the rise of the Tea Party, I’m convinced. Oh, Cicero, how far we have fallen! The swans have gone, and only geese remain…

  55. Personally, I’m remembering what happened to the idealistic Pope (based on John Paul I, who “died in his sleep”) IN GODFATHER III – and figuring there are a lot of Cardinals plotting the same thing for Pope Francis!

    Yes, actions speak louder than words – but his words (and some of his tentative actions) so far suggest that while he may not be a Flaming Sword of Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church, he may just be the slowly liberalizing influence who might eventually shift The Oldest Corporation Ever from the ugly social conservatism and hypocrisy of Pope Ratzi the Nazi….

  56. Cally: I’m reminded of the people who fulminate about how awful Obama is on Guantanamo and privacy and so on, without considering how much more awful Romney would have been

    I fulminate about how awful President Obama is compared to how much better Candidate Obama would have been. Candidate Obama promised quite a bit that he didn’t deliver.

    mintwitch: The removal of Classics and rhetoric from mandatory college curricula is the downfall of rational thought and the reason for the rise of the Tea Party

    I’m not entirely sure that’s the cause of the Tea Party….

    ;/

    As for what is important, I don’t think it is importantthat he speak from his heart, or his intentions, or his rhetoric per se. I think what’s important is whether he has any effect to better the church and its followers. What is important about a leader is that they lead their followers to a better place. That is their job.

    It seems like this Pope is heading in a better direction. Whether the church follows him is to be seen.

  57. Mintwich,

    I apologize for setting you off on a wild goose chase. Allow me to clarify. Rhetoric is not a sufficient or reliable metric to judge a persons character. Or their intentions, or how they will actually behave. Particularly when utilized by people who are trying to sell something, or convince others to give them something. Like authority, power, money.

    I am using the term as described here:

    “: language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable

    : the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people”

    Please note that despite your assuredness of my absurdity, that does not require or imply “dismissing the importance of rhetoric.” No need to even discuss all the various meanings and contexts of “importance.” It does imply that understanding certain ways that rhetoric is commonly used by people is important to understand and acknowledge.

  58. you might want to give the guy a little grace.

    Kathrynne, firstly, why are you singling me out?

    Secondly, I’m an atheist. As others have pointed out, the pope doesn’t care what people like me think, so why do you?

    Thirdly, Francis is a secular political figure, and as such, deserves the same scrutiny as any other secular political figure – more so, since he is an absolute monarch. Unlike, say, President Obama, he doesn’t have to wait for a house of representatives to vote him the money to keep election promises (which is the reason Guantanamo Bay is still open, not from any lack of will or action on the president’s part.) If Francis wanted to give compensation ot child abuse victims, he could simply sell a couple of paintings from a collection worth $17 billion, and instruct the cardinals to pay it directly. Not the entire collection, since Catholics are sooo worried about the heritage of the church (gag) (and dog knows that we are incredibly short of Renaissance religious art in the world today).

    An act like that, a concrete act, would mean something. So would making sure that this kind of crap just cannot happen again.

    In seven months, Benedict managed to do a lot to damage the Church’s standing in secular eyes, and entrenched its homophobia, anti-woman positions. Francis could at least toss a few edicts out with his nice words that match his apparent position.

  59. @ Ann Somerville: The pope is a religious figure as well as a secular one. Even if we don’t believe that he is anything more than a dude in a funny hat who has a bunch of minions, Catholics still see him as a major religious figure. In the same way, the Federation sees the changelings as just a bunch of paranoid shapeshifters with lots of minions, but the Jem’hadar see the changelings as gods.

    I do not disagree, however, that Francis deserves the same amount of scrutiny as, say, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, or Xi Jinping, or Robert Mugabe. The fact that he seems to be less of a douchebag than Lil’ Kim or Mugabe is nice, but irrelevant.

  60. The pope is a religious figure as well as a secular one.

    Yes, I do know that. So does everyone else, Floored. I was pointing out that *as* a secular figure *as well* he should be scrutinised in secular terms.

    This non-grandmother already knows how to suck eggs, thanks.

  61. @Lurks-no-More

    I think quite a few people here, wishing for rapid changes, have an exaggerated idea of just how much power (as opposed to authority) the Pope has, or how cautious even the most progressive members of the Church hierarchy are about rapid change.

    While he obviously isn’t in a position to give marching orders to every Catholic, my understanding (and this could be wrong as I’m not up on Church law) was that the Pope had fairly broad power to set policy for the rest of the hierarchy. I suspect that is what most critics here are calling for, that he do more to stop child abuse within the Church and that he alter the Church’s stands on gays and condom use. Some also probably want him to change the Church stance on abortion, although I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the Church ever does that.

    We’re talking about an institution close to two millennia old, and while it has changed enormously over all those centuries, it prefers to operate on the scale of decades and generations when it comes to change. (Which is absolutely understandable, when you keep in mind that the Church considers itself as the best source of salvation and hope for mankind, and they don’t want to endanger that responsibility by being too hasty.)

    Understandable is not the same as justifiable. Since they are not the only source (and I pretty sure it thinks it’s the only, not merely best, hope), there’s no good reason for being slow to amend its own injustices.

    Religious folks sometimes do good things in spite of their unreal metaphysical beliefs. If this Pope turns out to be one of them, that’s nice. But religion is like a tumor. At best it’s benign. It is never benevolent. It’s practitioners often are, but unreal beliefs are never an asset in accurately interfacing with the real world. I don’t say this with a beam in my eye. Everyone has delusions. I am doubtless no exception. But some delusions get you institutionalized, and some delusions are institutionalized. If enough people with enough power between them share an unreal belief, others are encouraged to adopt it and protected from the consequences of harm they do others in the name of that belief. I realize this is not the silent abiding that religious folks have grown use to after at least some seven or eight millennia of they or their co-believers killing us unbelievers off, but the truth bites. I support religious freedom. No one needs to agree with me and I would fight against a world where they had to. But that does not mean I cannot express my beliefs as openly as they express theirs about me going to hell.

    @Greg

    You’re still doing it. We could find atheist’s who are dogmatic leaders as any religious leader you find.

    I’m not sure why you say that as though you expect me to disagree, when I’ve never said there weren’t.

    Consider, perhaps, that your atheism slip is showing in your generalizations about religion.

    Look, I said I was mistaken to state it as a universal. That was a case of miscommunication, and you can either believe me or not because I can’t form a telepathic link with you. But that does not invalidate my statement that claims of and belief in divine authority is not unique to monotheism or that it doesn’t exist in some groups who claim to follow the teachings of Gautama Buddha. That’s all I meant to say. If you want to argue with that, I’ll be happy to debate it. If you want to argue with something I’ve already said was in error, I don’t know what to tell you.

  62. I am also a fan of the Pope, and that seemed to agitate some of my fellow liberals when I said so on facebook, but I think the surest sign that he’s a good choice is that the conservatives are starting to become agitated. Pretty sure this is *not* what the conclave had in mind.

    He’s significantly better than Benedict (granted, not hard to do), and possibly even John Paul II, which is already impressive. And his rhetoric on gays and lesbians *is* important, because he’s the pope, so even sending a signal that they’re worthy and sending a second signal that Catholics really shouldn’t be obsessing over sexuality is a fairly big deal.

  63. Seebs — That (The Pope by the Highway) is excellent.

    Rhetoric — I took the complaints to be about “empty R.” or “hollow R.” or “only R.”; the use of the word to mean “skillful argumentation” is ancient, even to my ears. It is the correct use, but very rare these days.

  64. I am not a Catholic, and never have been. But my understanding is that the Pope cannot easily change Catholic theology, even as Supreme Pontiff. This makes some of the changes people want harder than others.

    The Church’s stance on homosexuality, on clergy marriage, on women clergy, and on abortion are based on church theology, and are going to be very hard to change, no matter how much people might want Pope Francis to change them.

    On the other hand, the theological stance on child abuse by clergy or money laundering by the Vatican bank is much more clear-cut: it’s wrong. Francis can, and should, do what he can to stop it. At least as far as the Vatican Bank is concerned, he’s apparently already starting to clean house. He’s also started clearing out the Curia.

    He seems to be starting with dealing with bureaucratic corruption and monetary issues at the highest levels, which also seems to be long overdue. It may have his hands full at the moment, delaying attention to other things.

    When, or if, he will tackle the issue of abuse by clergy, is not clear. I do not know what his past history as bishop and cardinal has been on that issue. He may be doing things that aren’t public yet, he may ignore the issue until the next new scandal breaks.

    But will he change the Church’s stance on clergy marrying? On woman priests? On gay marriage? On abortion? I don’t see it happening.

  65. @Timeliebe:
    I had the exact same thought many times over the past several months of reading Francis’ public statements. If he just keeps it to nice words, it will probably stay close enough to business-as-usual that the power brokers inside the church will tolerate him. If he really starts to implement policy changes and, Heaven help him, behaves in a Christ-like manner, then I fear for him.

  66. @Dave Bronson, the Pope does not really make your distinction between “the teachings of Jesus, which are awesome” and “all the other Bible stuff”, particularly as there is much more to Christian theology than Jesus’ teachings. Also, “a lot of the rest of the Bible and the ideology built up around it” is the basis of more than one living faith, and you just made a comment indistinguishable than that of a Christian supercessionist. Please consider whether that’s really your intent.

    By Pope standards, I like this guy. I am pleased that this Pope is angering the Opus Dei types, and is publicly preaching humility and the dignity of all people, including the ones who don’t have a lot of money. I didn’t realize until reading about his participating in the foot-washing ceremony that the previous Pope or so had delegated a bishop to handle that task. I emphasize “by Pope standards”, however, given that I am significantly underwhelmed by the Church’s intellectual honesty on many theological matters.

  67. gulliver: But that does not invalidate my statement that claims of and belief in divine authority is not unique to monotheism or that it doesn’t exist in some groups who claim to follow the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

    I will let Sturgeon explain Sturgeon’s Law:

    I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud.[1] Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

    Your comment about the Pope, and religious leaders in general, and your comment about certain sects of Buddhism, is like commenting on the crappiest tropes of science ficiton.

    I pointed out that your comments could be just as easily applied to atheist leaders and you dismissed it.

    The thing you’re deriding about religious leaders isn’t inherent to religious leaders but rather inherent in leadersI of any stripe who happen to be human.

    While you’re comment may not be technically “invalidated”, you’re not actually saying anything more than pointing to the worst of religion and making an observation about religious leaders that isn’t actually limited in any way to religion. If Sturgeon’s law is true, it is certainly not invalid to state that 90% of Science Fiction is crap, but it doesn’t tell the whole story either that 90% of all genres are crap.

    in short, you keep saying that religious leaders are crap, and I’m trying to say that perhaps its simply leaders who are crap.

  68. @Ann – (apologies for the extraneous ‘e’ before!)

    I didn’t mean to offend, I was responding to your statement “Frankly, I kind of despise Francis for his spin without concrete changes.” It just seemed like you were asking a lot for seven months worth of work. He has made some concrete changes. Some big ones. That was all. I understand the distrust, as I said, large and moribund. I hear the complaint you are voicing a lot from friends both Catholic and not (I am not a Catholic, though it has been on the periphery of my life for a long time), and there is no doubt that the Church is dearly in need of change. I just can’t see a scenario where it will happen quickly, unless we are using geologic time as a scale!

  69. Darrelle:

    Your arguments seem to assume that I think the catholic church, though flawed, is a necessary or desirable institution.

    Not at all. My argument assumes that the Catholic Church is a real, and powerful, institution that exists in the real world, and that what it does has an impact on that world. My argument assumes that the leadership of powerful institutions matters insofar as they lead those institutions to towards doing either more good or more evil in the world. Furthermore, my argument is that Pope Francis, while very far from a perfect person, is more likely to lead the Catholic Church, however incrementally, to do more good in the world than his predecessor, Benedict, did.

    The catholic church institutionalizes behaviors that would, rightly, land the average person in jail for life. Many of its doctrines are so unethical that many of its own more liberal adherents reject them when they encounter them bare of holy rhetoric.

    Doctrines? Really? Precisely which doctrines are you talking about that would land the average person in jail for life? The divinity of Jesus? The Virgin Birth? The Assumption of Mary? It’s true that I’m not Catholic, but I can’t think of any Catholic doctrines that would land a person in jail for life. Except, perhaps, in anti-Catholic theocracies, who might jail a person for life for blasphemy or apostatism.

    If this pope’s goal is to work towards a politically powerless, everyone love and respect everyone else, keeping their nose out of properly secular affairs, law abiding and upholding catholic church I will be the first to offer him accolades. But I’ll wait until the evidence is clear. Right now, based on the entire past history of the church and its heirarchy, it would be unwise to assume that such is the case.

    So everything is all or nothing with you? Seems to me that a person who attempts to improve an organization deserves praise for it, even if he does not or cannot magically make it perfect. Obama didn’t close Guantanimo. Obama didn’t stop the wiretapping. Obama didn’t produce a single-payer health care system. The only realistic choice, however, was him or Romney. Would Romney have been better on any of those three things? I think we can praise Obama for the ACA even while recognizing that it has many flaws, because Romney wouldn’t have done anything even as good as the ACA, and the ACA is still better than what we had before.

    The perfect is the enemy of the good. Work to make the good better, but don’t act like the good is just the same as the bad, just because neither of them is perfect. And praise the good that people do, because it encourages people to do more good. In my opinion, Francis is vastly better as the leader of the massive organization that is the Catholic Church that Benedict was.

  70. @Greg

    Your comment about the Pope, and religious leaders in general, and your comment about certain sects of Buddhism, is like commenting on the crappiest tropes of science ficiton.

    Because the crappy religious trope of divine authority is what we were talking about. I said it sucks, but is nothing unique to the Catholic Church. You brought up Buddhism as an exception and I pointed out that it isn’t an exception. It’s not like a loged into WordPress so I could go bashing Buddhism. Most Buddhists I know are fine people. Same goes for Catholics.

    I pointed out that your comments could be just as easily applied to atheist leaders and you dismissed it.

    No, I agreed with you. Oh boy do I agree with you. What I dismissed was your completely unwarranted assumption that I thought otherwise.

    The thing you’re deriding about religious leaders isn’t inherent to religious leaders but rather inherent in leadersI of any stripe who happen to be human.

    I’ll say it one more time. I meant some relationships between religious leaders and some of their followers. I’m not deriding the people, I’m deriding their unreal beliefs.

    in short, you keep saying that religious leaders are crap, and I’m trying to say that perhaps its simply leaders who are crap.

    What thread are you reading? I said religion is wrong (and I could probably have been more polite about it, for which I do apologize for losing my cool). Not the same thing.

  71. I realize this is not the silent abiding that religious folks have grown use to

    A ha ha ha ha. Silent abiding of all religious folk, that is humorous. I’m sure the Baha’i are way too nice to chime in on that, though.

  72. @mythago: I thought it was extremely obvious that I meant by atheists. Historically atheists are almost never free to speak out against religion. The Baha’i and the Jews and followers of other persecuted religions at least sometimes enjoy tolerance. But for most of history religious freedom has meant the freedom to join a recognized religion, not the freedom to openly disbelieve. So yeah, I think religions have grown used to us keeping our mouths shut to save our lives and livelihoods.

  73. Gulliver: I meant some relationships between religious leaders and some of their followers.

    some => 90%.
    religious => science fiction.
    Sturgeon’s law.

    I’m not deriding the people, I’m deriding their unreal beliefs. … I said religion is wrong

    Science and religion answer different questions. Both are valid questions, but they’re different questions.

    Certainly, sometimes people mistakenly use their religion to answer scientific questions. God makes it rain, and such. But likewise sometimes scientific people use their science in a way it doesn’t actually work to “disprove” religion or God or spirituality.

    Religion isn’t wrong, it operates in an area that science has no power. Religious beliefs are “unreal” in that they’re not in the objective realm of science, but that doesn’t mean they deserve being “derided”.

  74. Gulliver: So yeah, I think religions have grown used to us keeping our mouths shut to save our lives and livelihoods.

    Our mouths? Our lives?

    That is an interesting shift into a very personal pronoun. Did you have to keep your mouth shut about religion to save your life?

    I think there is something here that has a very strong personal charge for you, and I think it is clouding your judgement a bit around the topic of religion.

  75. @Greg: I really don’t get what your driving at with Sturgeon’s law and percentages. As for religion and science having separate dominions…science attempts to understand nature by studying empirical evidence and looking for causation; religion makes up fantastical “answers” to vague questions. It’s not right. It’s not even wrong:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong

    Separately, I replied to you in the other thread, but it got punted to the mod queue (I think because it had a link to Memory Alpha which isn’t a common website and probably tripped a filter). I’ll email John in the morning and ask him if he can get it out. For now I have to get some sleep.

  76. @gregm9143

    “He’s significantly better than Benedict (granted, not hard to do), and possibly even John Paul II, which is already impressive.”

    Never quite got what was so great about JP II. He was a populist pope, true. He did a lot of kissing babies and waving at crowds and walking among the poor, but he really didn’t do much to change anything in the Church. The molestations that Benedict covered up were happening on his watch (and before, to be fair), and he was theologically very conservative. I don’t think there were any real changes for the better in the Church during his papacy, unless you call huge rallies that made him look like a rock star.

    I’m not religious either, but I could never understand how all my progressive Catholic (and no few non Catholic as well) friends, who used contraception, thought women should be ordained, and felt that the Church should be nicer to LGBT people (back in the 80s and 90s, for crying out loud) gushed over him when he was publicly opposed to everything they were doing and believing in their own lives.

  77. Gulliver: I really don’t get what your driving at with Sturgeon’s law

    I responded to your first comment about Pope/religious leaders because it seemed that you were being dismissive of religion in its entirely. The point about Sturgeons law was to use a non-religious version of “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”, so maybe you’d grant it a little more respect than the biblical version.

    religion makes up fantastical “answers” to vague questions.

    And the reason you cannot grasp what I’m driving at with Sturgeon’s Law, is that I’m trying to say that religion and spirituality are valid and different from science. I’m tryign to say that What you were criticising about religious people is actually a problem about people, religious or not. And you will have none of that.

    None of it.

    You are, as I said before, a biased observer, entirely dismissive of religion. And that means you can’t see certain answers that religion provides. To invoke another non-biblical parable, I am providing you a telescope but you refuse to look, because you think you already know the answer.

    grace and forgiveness are aspects of the spiritual. and they can give you access to peace, which is also a spiritual answer. They make no logical sense. There is no objective measure of them. but one of the things I really like about Zen specifically, is that part of Zen is actually about distinguishing that science and religion are two different things. That trying to explain the spiritual using the material is just silly.

    Zen Koan: monk: what is Satori? master: Six pounds of flax.

    If you think love is nothing but endorphins and biochemical responses in neurotransmitters, then you cannot see the spirtual in the material, you cannot see the forest for the trees, you cannot see mind from the brain.

    If you can’t see, or don’t want to see, or refuse to look, that’s your choice. But when you start talking about other people and their relationship to God, when you start handing down your scientific edicts that religion makes up fantastical answers to vague questions you are, in your own way, behaving just like those Popes and religious leaders you were deriding who were handing down their religious dogma and trying to impress it upon others. Atheism can be just as dogmatic as any religion. Doesn’t have to be. but it can be. Just like religion doesn’t have to be dogmatic, but can be. Which, in its own way, was what I was trying to point to with the bit about Sturgeon’s law.

    And if you don’t want to believe, I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s just that you don’t seem to be fine with anyone who does have a religious or spiritual belief.

  78. “The evangelists’ success points to a hunger for the product they are selling, a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause. They need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them.” BARACK OBAMA, -The Audacity of Hope-

    Religion is about a shrieking need for relevance and approval; if your life is lacking in some key way – and for who isn’t this true, we, social creatures that we are, need a backup for human approval and a guard against the knowledge of oblivion. It’s a natural tendency and I sympathize with Greg among others for their desires, but it is no less childish in its essential character, and a behavior I think we as a race need to grow out of if we are to be anything more than dirt scrabbling semi-literates. I’m not real optimistic though.

    But back to this guy, the Pope. I like him in the sense that I like seeing self-satisfied people and organizations get kicked around and he’s the one doing the kicking – well, ok, more like a feather duster but it’s something. That the catholic establishment did this to themselves is rich. Still, he’s one guy even if pope. He’d have to be another Gandhi not to get worn down and muzzled and I don’t see that level of character in him.

  79. @Greg

    You are, as I said before, a biased observer, entirely dismissive of religion.

    Everyone’s biased. Being biased is not the same as being wrong. Spirituality and religion are not the same thing, though religion usually has a spiritual component. Insofar as spirituality answers actual questions presently beyond the scope of empirical science, it is philosophy. Insofar as it treads into mysticism and supernaturalism and miracles (in the original sense of the word), it is fantasy. If there is a divine creator or a nirvana or any sort of meaning built into the universe (as opposed to that which we as the only empirically verifiable observers give it), there is no evidence that it has a separate set of mechanics governing that aspect of existence. Believing otherwise is wishful thinking. The less realistic a person is in interacting with reality, the more likely it is that they’ll do damage to their world and those around them (for instance the absurd belief that the Pope is speaking for God when he tells people birth control is a sin). As I said, benign at best. If someone needs to believe in magic to follow their moral compass, what happens when they realize magic doesn’t exist? If someone will follow their compass whether they believe in magic or not, then they don’t need to believe it to be a moral actor.

    grace and forgiveness are aspects of the spiritual. and they can give you access to peace, which is also a spiritual answer. They make no logical sense.

    Maybe not to you. What makes you think spirituality and logic are mutually exclusive?

    If you think love is nothing but endorphins and biochemical responses in neurotransmitters, then you cannot see the spirtual in the material, you cannot see the forest for the trees, you cannot see mind from the brain.

    We weren’t discussing spirituality. We were discussing religious dogma. If you want to discuss spirituality, that’s a different topic.

    And if you don’t want to believe, I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s just that you don’t seem to be fine with anyone who does have a religious or spiritual belief.

    You’re the one who decided to toss spirituality in there. I never said anything about it. And of course I’m fine with people disagreeing with me and believing in unreal things. I don’t worry about things beyond my control. To do so would be futile and self-defeating. But that in no way means I’m going to pretend they could be right, any more than I’m going to believe up is down.

    And, dude, just because I don’t believe in the mysticism that crops up in all major world religions doesn’t mean I don’t believe patterns contain information not present in any one part. You leaped the Grand Canyon with that one.

    @Ambivalent

    Religion is about a shrieking need for relevance and approval; if your life is lacking in some key way – and for who isn’t this true, we, social creatures that we are, need a backup for human approval and a guard against the knowledge of oblivion.

    With respect, not all of us do.

    It’s a natural tendency…

    There are other ways. Faith in a teleological universe or a caring creator(s) is not the only path to transcending the existential dread of existence.

  80. Greg, Gulliver:

    This would be the time to ask yourselves what the aims and goals of your argument are, and whether they can be accomplished with a lower temperature, and if they cannot, whether you should continue.

  81. @mythago: I thought it was extremely obvious that I meant by atheists.

    Indeed, it was. I was taking a swipe at the conflation of “religion” and “mainstream Christianity”, and at your breathtaking collapse of the whole of human religious thought and behavior throughout history into a simplistic narrative, in effect retconning a particular modern conflict – evangelical theocracies and communities that persecute non-believers – as if it was true everywhere and always, or near enough as to make no difference. There are theists who do this too, as you probably have encountered; some Christians who point to their treatment by Rome in their early years, or the treatment of Christian missionaries in certain countries, as proof that they have a long history of victim; or the handful of Wiccans who assert that “the Inquisition” was really fighting a sub rosa religious war of extermination with a secret, underground cabal of Goddess worshippers. I don’t expect better from atheists than I do from any other group of people, but neither do I think atheists get a special exemption from “all religion is and has always been like the mainstream religion I grew up around”.

    TL;DR: I don’t truly care what religious faith you hold or whether you personally value religious belief or identity, but I do care about bad, myopic history.

  82. Cally,

    “Furthermore, my argument is that Pope Francis, while very far from a perfect person, is more likely to lead the Catholic Church, however incrementally, to do more good in the world than his predecessor, Benedict, did.”

    Then you have read into my comments something that isn’t there and your responses are off target. I have no issues with what you said here. Except that I would change “to do more good” to “to do less harm.”

    I have no expectations that the catholic church can be reformed or made extinct in the span of a single life time, nor have I demanded that, or stated or implied that I believe anything like that is possible. What I have said is that I am not impressed by the pope. I am saying that pope Francis has not yet earned any particular respect from me, and that based on the previous history of the catholic church and its leaders it is premature to place any confidence in him. Do you have issues with skepticism in general, or only when it is applied to religion?

    “Doctrines? Really? Precisely which doctrines are you talking about that would land the average person in jail for life?

    First off, that is not what I said. Take a look at what you just quoted from my previous comment. Let’s pick the low hanging fruit here for an obvious example. Are you implying that the catholic church’s cover-up, protection of rapists and molesters, enabling of rapists and molesters, etc. has not been institutionalized by the church? Or that if your neighbor were found guilty of these things she would not be at risk for life imprisonment?

    Let’s look at what I actually said about catholic doctrine. Let’s pick some more low hanging fruit. Original sin. Do you think it is ethical to hold a person responsible for a crime (and that is a major concession!) that their great grandfather committed? Do you think it is ethical to hold people responsible for things which they have no control over? And let’s not forget what “held responsible for” means here. Are you implying that you think it is ethical to punish a person for eternity for anything? Or even to merely threaten people with eternal punishment? Or do you agree that such behavior is unethical for humans but okay for deities because, well, they are deities after all, and we are just humans?

    “So everything is all or nothing with you?

    This is getting tiresome. Please explain how that is derived from “If this pope’s goal is to work towards.” Apologies for not fitting the caricature you are intent on replying to.

    “And praise the good that people do, because it encourages people to do more good.”

    I agree.

    “In my opinion, Francis is vastly better as the leader of the massive organization that is the Catholic Church that Benedict was.”

    Do you mean to say that Benedict was so awful that it is highly probable that anyone else will be vastly better? I could probably agree with that. But, that is not saying much.

  83. This thread is incredibly fail-oriented, with subspecialty ‘read too much into what someone is saying’.

    Can we maybe dial back the inferential distances and go with somewhat more minimalist interpretations of each others’ comments?

  84. C>> “Doctrines? Really? Precisely which doctrines are you talking about that would land the average person in jail for life?

    d>> First off, that is not what I said. Take a look at what you just quoted from my previous comment. Let’s pick the low hanging fruit here for an obvious example. Are you implying that the catholic church’s cover-up, protection of rapists and molesters, enabling of rapists and molesters, etc. has not been institutionalized by the church? Or that if your neighbor were found guilty of these things she would not be at risk for life imprisonment?

    My apologies; It was late when I read your reply, and when you put behaviors and doctrines into the same paragraph, I conflated them. What you wrote about doctrines was that “Many of its doctrines are so unethical that many of its own more liberal adherents reject them when they encounter them bare of holy rhetoric.”

    Of course I think that the cover-up of child molestation, and the active moving of known child molesters to new territories, was terrible and evil, and the perpetrators, including Benedict, should go to jail. I have, in fact, argued just that for literally years on the Compuserve Religion Forum (though the Catholic I used to argue with in particular seems to have left the Forum).

    d>> Let’s look at what I actually said about catholic doctrine. Let’s pick some more low hanging fruit. Original sin. Do you think it is ethical to hold a person responsible for a crime (and that is a major concession!) that their great grandfather committed? Do you think it is ethical to hold people responsible for things which they have no control over? And let’s not forget what “held responsible for” means here. Are you implying that you think it is ethical to punish a person for eternity for anything? Or even to merely threaten people with eternal punishment? Or do you agree that such behavior is unethical for humans but okay for deities because, well, they are deities after all, and we are just humans?

    I don’t think the Catholic Church has the capacity to punish people for eternity. As for threatening them with eternal punishment, in what way are they any worse offenders than the Hellfire and Damnation Bible Church down the street? The whole eternal punishment thing comes bundled with most flavors of Christianity. Blame John of Patmos, if you like. It looks to me like you’re not complaining about Catholic doctrine; you’re complaining about the doctrine of most of Christianity. That’s kind of outside the scope of what Popes can change.

  85. @Greg

    Well, I suppose if everyone’s doing it, then it must be ok,

    You presented the fact that I’m a biased observer as though it invalidated my argument. You do that a lot, question someone’s motives, point of view and even speaking tense instead of addressing his or her arguments directly. When you do address arguments directly, you tend to treat them as though the person making them was speaking of a much larger context than the narrow confines of the thread topic.

    I’ll try one last time. The only thing I’m disparaging is when blind faith leads to real world harm. I do believe religion is wrong in postulating the supernatural, and I believe people would be better off not believing in it, but I don’t worry about that because I can’t do anything about it. I do not believe supernatural hypotheses correctly answer any questions. This has zilch to do with the sum being greater than the parts, about which there is nothing supernatural or religious. If you want to call that simple philosophical observation spiritual, be my guest.

    With regards to this particular thread’s topic, I pointed out that when this religious leader speaks, those who follow his religion’s dogma believe he does so with more moral authority than the any other mortal man or woman. I also noted that this wasn’t unique to Catholicism, lest anyone get the impression I was singling out one religion. I worded it poorly and it sounded as if I was attributing that characteristic to the relationship between every religious leader and followers. You called me on it. I corrected it. You kept calling me on it, seemingly oblivious to my self-correction, and trotted out Sturgeon’s Law as though I considered non-religious leaders immune to blind obedience. That was an assumption on your part and a wrong one.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve answered all the points you’ve raised. If I missed any, I’m sorry. This is my final reply on the subject because we’re starting to go in circles. I’ll read whatever concluding reply you have to offer, but this is me signing off this discussion.

  86. Gulliver, the problem I have with discussing atheism and religion with religious people is that, while many atheists were raised in religion and had some belief in a deity before they lost it and so understand what comfort being a believer is, most religious people have never lived without a belief in a god. They therefore cannot get their minds around an existence where that belief is unnecessary and not in any way desirable. To them, such a life is bereft of meaning and spirituality, and even wonder (see this awesome post in reply to Oprah Winfrey’s crass assessment of atheism.) They literally can’t believe that atheists can live without an imposed set of rules or dogma, and that their morality must be a fragile or nonexistent thing because it’s not grounded on any structured belief.

    This inability is not malicious, I must point out. It’s just a thing, like being right or left handed.

    So you may attempt to see things how Greg sees them, but he is unlikely to ever understand your point of view because he literally can’t imagine how it works. It’s like trying to describe colour to a blind person – or a synaesthetic trying to comprehend how people without synaesthesia see the world.

    So my advice would be to avoid such discussions and stick to what you both have experiences of. To do other is to end up in frustration and acrimony.

  87. Ann: So you may attempt to see things how Greg sees them, but he is unlikely to ever understand your point of view because he literally can’t imagine how it works.

    Except I’m an atheist.

    I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in some kind of supreme deity. But being an atheist doesn’t make me anti-religion. Not all religions require a belief in a supreme being. And even the religions that do posit the existence of a supreme being, can be adhered to by followers as a personal relationship to god, a private relationship with god. And in those cases, someone who believes in god, but makes an effort to NOT push that belief on others is OK by me.

    I said further up that religion and science answer different questions. The questions that religion answers are entirely personal. The questions that science answers are entirely universal. That’s what makes them answers for entirely different questions. It’s a simple distinction. But people, religious and atheists, keep fucking this up. Religious people want to make science a personal attack on their religion. Atheists want to make science somehow “prove” that religion is “wrong”. It’s fucking crazy.

    Richard Dawkins is the perfect example of an atheist who opposes and is confrontational towards religion because he doesn’t understand it, because he tries to map the personal onto the universal. What Gulliver was doing above is exactly the same. Gulliver said “Religion is wrong” and that’s relating to it as if it were some sort of absolute that can be proven or disproven.

    I don’t care if Gulliver is an atheist or a devout follower of Zuul, a christian or an agnostic. I don’t care because it is entirely his personal decision. The point at which I do care is when he attempts to take his entirely personal decision and try to make it universal, like atheism is “right” and religion is “wrong”.

    It’s not that atheism is right and religion is wrong. It’s not that this religion is right and all other religions are wrong. It’s that religion and atheism are entirely personal choices, and logic and science are entirely universal doctrines. And everybody, religious and atheists, keep wanting to conflate them into something they’re not.

    I think this is a Western problem. Zen certainly doesn’t have a problem distinguishing that science/logic from enlightenment/satori. Many koans are specifcially designed to point out the foolishness of trying to conflate one onto another. I posted this koan earlier, but it’s meaning seems to have been missed:

    Zen Koan: monk: what is Satori? master: Six pounds of flax.

    Satori is entirely personal, subjective. Flax is entirely material, universal.

    Anyway, the problem isn’t that I have a problem grokking atheism, and if I could only understand atheism, then I’d know that atheism is “right” and religion is “wrong”. The problem is when people take their personal religious decision (which includes atheism) and attempt to make it a universal truth for everyone else.

  88. I’m agnostic, but it’s been so comforting to hear Pope Francis speak on various different topics (thus far). I feel like someone in a Christian church is not actively out to destroy me. It’s a nice feeling.

  89. Greg, my apologies for assuming you were a deist. But I’m afraid your arguments sound exactly like the kind of stuff I hear from religionists all the time, and I can’t agree with the ones I understand. Most of them I just don’t get. (Please don’t try to explain them. I suspect I still won’t get them.)

    Richard Dawkins is the perfect example of an atheist who opposes and is confrontational towards religion because he doesn’t understand it, because he tries to map the personal onto the universal.

    Dawkins is a narcissistic narrow-minded bigot with an inability to listen to those he does not respect and who respects almost no one. He’s got one template for looking at the world, and continues to use it regardless of whether it fits or not.

    The atheists I know personally can’t stand him or understand him any better than I do. He’s not a perfect example of anything than the nasty little fuck that he is.

    <blockquoteWhat Gulliver was doing above is exactly the same. Gulliver said “Religion is wrong” and that’s relating to it as if it were some sort of absolute that can be proven or disproven.

    If he meant ‘wrong-headed’ I’d have to agree with him. As an atheist, I don’t believe there is any kind of higher power. Any system which has a belief in a higher power as its basis is going to be wrongheaded to my thinking because it’s based on a fallacy. Since the existence of any go is unprovable, the validity of such a belief system can never be established. If one dismisses faith as a validator, then there is no validation possible.

    That doesn’t mean that religion doesn’t inspire people to do good in its name. It’s something I’ve explored a number of times in my novels. I believe that many, many people do great things in the service of their god, and those acts are good even if the justification is nonsensical to me. But the good done by believers has to be separated from a discussion of whether religion is ‘wrong’ or ‘good’ because atheists do those good things too. Religion does not *cause* goodness. It’s a convenient vehicle for good or evil. The fact that same good and evil things are done all over the world and all over history in the name of a multitude of deities and belief systems means that no religion can claim to be the actual inspiration of either.

    The problem is when people take their personal religious decision (which includes atheism) and attempt to make it a universal truth for everyone else.

    This pisses me off, frankly. My atheism wasn’t a ‘decision’. I woke up one day when I was seventeen and realised the belief in god, which I had clung to all my life raised as a Catholic, had just gone, and nothing I could do or argue with myself over, would make it return. To me, it was no more a choice than it would be to be gay or talented at maths.

    I attach no importance to being non-religious. I made no decision to leave the Catholic church. It was simply that the Catholic Church exists to support those who believe in God, and I don’t, so there’s no point in me hanging around. I am as indifferent to no longer being Catholic as I am to not being Buddhist or Wiccan, and I regard all those religions and any others with the same degree of disinterest. Atheism is not a religion. It’s an absence of religious belief. Remarks like yours, which mirror so many religious critics of atheists (because they can’t believe in a life without religion of *some* kind), come off as someone saying that being blind is just a form of seeing, or being gay is just differently straight. No, it’s not.

    You say you understand what being an atheist is like, but I find that hard to believe from your arguments with Gulliver and this reference of atheism as a religious choice. It sounds to me like you still like the idea of a religion, even if you don’t believe in a god. That doesn’t resonate with me at all.

    But then I don’t ‘practice’ atheism. To me it’s just a thing that is core to me that I have no choice over, no interest in changing, and no interest in prosetylising. An ‘atheist religion’ or even humanism is of no interest to me at all.

  90. @Ann Somerville

    My atheism wasn’t a ‘decision’.

    Yes, this. Belief is not a decision.

    Stricktly speaking, I’m agnostic, but I’m atheist with regards to religion because I don’t believe there’s any compelling evidence that any human cultures or individuals have privileged knowledge regarding the existence of character of the non-falsifiable hypothesis that would be recognizable as a higher power(s) or transcendent order(s). It’s usually a lot easier just to tell people I’m an atheist :)

    It sounds to me like you still like the idea of a religion, even if you don’t believe in a god.

    I suspect some of the confusion comes from the fact that Greg seems to at least partly follow some version of Zen Buddhism, I would guess the Rinzai school and specifically the teachings of Hakuin Ekaku. That particular school tends to stress the importance of self-knolwedge as being unique and elightenment as coming in a series of sudden awakenings through meditation until the practioner is continually aware of the illusion of selfhood even in the stimulation of daily life. There is a lot more to it than that, and I’m grossly oversimplifying, but it doesn’t stress a higher power which some Buddhist sects do. My guess is that Greg reists calling himself a Buddhist because he’s too realistic to believe in reincarnaiton, but I may be wrong.

    My late sensei was a devout Buddhist, albeit a different school. He was one of my closest friends and like a second father to me. I was immensely fortunate to be able to study under him. I miss him dearly and not a day goes by when I don’t meditate on something he tought me so that I can be a better teacher, a better martial arist and, most importantly to me, a better student of his that I may honor his legacy. Consequently, much of my personal philsophy incorporates the non-supernatural elements of Buddhism, though I am not a Buddhist. So you can imagine my bemusement at Greg’s assumptions about me and my perspective.

    @Greg

    I got wound up and trenchant in our discussion. I consider you a friend and I apologize for being short with you.

  91. Many of the comments here have an American perspective, and I think that’s limiting with regard to the Catholic Church. Francis grew up in a developing country, has first-hand experience with violence and poverty (and the resulting devastating impacts on society) and is speaking to a global audience. It’s important to get past our personal neuroses if we really want to begin to understand what he’s saying.

    There’s no doubt in my (Catholic) mind that Francis will be a transforming pope. He hasn’t had the job an entire year and heads are exploding all over the place. I read online an article by an Italian atheist magazine editor who’d written an editorial on his doubts about Francis. After publication his secretary ran into his office and said “The pope’s on the phone!!!” The Big Holiness himself, inviting the editor to a private meeting at his lodgings to discuss the issues raised in the article. Then the entire transcript of the meeting where they went back and forth on Descartes, the Enlightenment, Augustine, belief, Aquinas, etc. etc.

    Would Benedict or John Paul II or Paul VI have done that? John Paul I – maybe. John XXIII – you bet. It’s a new era. But it’s not going to be familiar to Americans.

  92. Ann: those acts are good even if the justification is nonsensical to me

    But everything we all do is nonsensical. It is only “justified” or made sense of because of the meaning and significance we add to those actions. Existentialism calls it the notion of the absurd, that there is no meaning in the world but what we give it. But the idea exists in buddhism and zen, hinduism, and elsewhere.

    The world is meaningless, but we bring our meaning to bear on it. And that meaning is always an entirely personal choice. Love makes no sense in the world, but we can choose to love someone, we can generate that meaning internally, and live a life according to what we created, and express that love in the world as we wish.

    An atheist pointing to a religious person doing something for religious reasons and scoffing at them saying that is “nonsensical” or that is “wrong”, needs to look in the mirror. The reasons anyone does anything ultimately makes no sense in a meaningless world. Ultimately, we have to generate the reasons we get out of bed in the morning, and whether it’s God or love or making money or saving the world, it is all self-generated. It is all meaning we each create from within ourselves in a meaningless world.

    Atheism is not a religion. It’s an absence of religious belief.

    Meh, atheism can be said to be the belief in the NON-existence of god. In a meaningless world, any atheist who generates meaning to get out of bed in the morning, is generating meaning just like any religious person is generating meaning. The languaging you’re using doesn’t acknowledge that you invent meaning in your life just like any religious person invents meaning in theirs. It’s more like you’re pointing at religious people and saying “look how they’re just making stuff up just to give their lives meaning”, when you do that every morning that you get out of bed. You make it up.

    In a meaningless world, the reasons anyone gets out of bed and goes on with their life must be generated internally. That’s why it is an entirely personal thing. And those reasons are sourced by the person generating them, because the universe is meaningless, the universe has no reasons to give.

  93. Gulliver: I apologize for being short with you.

    We cool, Yolanda.

    If Ann thinks I am a deist trying to rid you of your atheism, then obviously I wasn’t communicating my intent with you with any clarity whatsoever. Not sure how I could miss the mark so entirely badly, but ah well.

  94. @ Magda: Links are fine with Our Host, but more than three in the same post can result in the WordPress spam filter holding it up.

  95. Thank you, Floored. Good to know.

    This part of the interview is a good example of what I mean by Americans having a hard time appreciating Francis’ meaning. Can you imagine an American Catholic leader talking like this?

    Eugenio Scalfari: You heard your calling at a young age?

    Francis: “No, not very young. My family wanted me to have a different profession, to work, earn some money. I went to university. I also had a teacher for whom I had a lot of respect and developed a friendship and who was a fervent communist. She often read Communist Party texts to me and gave them to me to read. So I also got to know that very materialistic conception. I remember that she also gave me the statement from the American Communists in defense of the Rosenbergs, who had been sentenced to death. The woman I’m talking about was later arrested, tortured and killed by the dictatorship then ruling in Argentina.”

    ES: Where you seduced by Communism?

    Francis: “Her materialism had no hold over me. But learning about it through a courageous and honest person was helpful. I realized a few things, an aspect of the social, which I then found in the social doctrine of the Church.”

  96. I’ve been so grateful for Pope Francis, especially after Pope Benedict who was everything I disliked about Catholicism. It’s such a relief to hear him speak compassionately about other people. I much prefer his moderation of so many extreme positions the Church has taken concerning gays, and non-Catholics. His humility is genuine and he seems to truly love everyone. I hope the bishops and cardinals let him lead the church into a more compassionate, caring, practical, and non-judgemental future.

  97. In a meaningless world, any atheist who generates meaning to get out of bed in the morning, is generating meaning just like any religious person is generating meaning.

    Your mistake is in assuming that atheists – or all atheists do this. I don’t. There is no ‘meaning’ in existence, and no more reason to get out of bed or do anything other than basic biological urges – because an action (or lack of action) gives pleasure, pain or causes fear. I don’t kill myself rather than struggle on every day because as Dorothy Parker wrote

    Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acids stain you;
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren’t lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live.

    Not because my existence has a higher purpose, or any purpose, or any value other than to me.

    People do ‘good’ things because it gives them a happy to do this – this is because of nature and nurture both rewarding altruism. Religious people justify feeling good because it pleases some deity or gains them points towards rebirth or whatever. Some atheists believe in humanity as a cause, not a fact. I don’t believe either.

    Really Gred, please speak only for yourself when you talk about atheists. Your views on the subject don’t mesh remotely with my lived experiences. I don’t ‘believe’ in the absence of a god, any more than I ‘believe’ in evolution. Both are theories, but one is supported by a total lack of evidence, the other with an overwhelming amount of it. I choose to accept evidence-based theories, like I choose to take evidence-based medical treatment. But I don’t have ‘faith’ in either.

  98. @Magda:
    Thank you for the link, Magda. The conversation was wonderful. What the Pope has to say is hopeful and refreshing. I struggle deeply with my own inherent sense of cynicism, but the truth is that at the bottom of my heart, I hope he is sincere in his desires and his ideas of what direction the Catholic Church should take.

  99. Ann There is no ‘meaning’ in existence, and no more reason to get out of bed or do anything other than basic biological urges

    Any conscious action you take is sourced by some meaning. Even quote “biological urges” unquote is meaning. The drive to live is sourced by meaning, even if it is nothing more than “I want to live”.

    Your attempt to devolve meaning into “biological urges” is nothing more than an attempt to conflate mind into body, to reduce thought into neurochemical reactions, to reduce consciousness to a ghost in the machine. And I can only imagine you’re trying to do this in some desparate attempt to distinguish yourself from those “silly” religious people with their “silly” meanings.

    The thought “I want to live” exists nowhere but in your mind. It doesn’t exist in your brain. It exists in your mind. And it is a meaning you bring into a meaningless world. And it is, in its own way, just as “silly” as any other meaning anyone else wants to bring into the world.

    please speak only for yourself when you talk about atheists.

  100. The thought “I want to live” exists nowhere but in your mind. It doesn’t exist in your brain. It exists in your mind.

    Since the urge to live is present in creatures as lowly as earthworms, as diverse as mammals, reptiles, fish and birds, and absent in no creature ever discovered, your claim ” I can only imagine you’re trying to do this in some desparate attempt to distinguish yourself from those “silly” religious people with their “silly” meanings” is rather stupid, and ignoring facts in evidence.

    The will to live is a biological reality, like the will to breed. It’s the importance we attach to that which distinguishes humans from other creatures. I attach no importance to it. We are not unique, and it is not something that makes life meaningful.

    I’m really offended at your attempt to impose religious beliefs on me. If you can’t survive without them, or without some belief or moral structure you’ve gained from external sources, that’s fine for you. But you must stop doing it to me. Everything you are assuming I think or feel is completely wrong.

    So far as I’m concerned, this conversation is over. You do what you like.

  101. Guys…come on. Our Glorious Host, may His name (which I am unworthy of speaking) be praisèd, will probably be wrathful if we get too snippy with each other.

    Plus, you’re both talking past each other, Ann illogically called annelids “lower animals” even though they are just as complex as we are, Greg advocates an illogical view of the mind as a separate entity from the brain, and I am certain that I am the only person listening now. So let’s just all shut up and go do something else before Mr. Scalzi breaks out the Mallet.

    I will take my own advice by going and rereading “Redshirts” for the eightieth time when i have posted this.

  102. Ann: Since the urge to live is present in creatures as lowly as earthworms, as diverse as mammals, reptiles, fish and birds, and absent in no creature ever discovered

    Right. And if someone ever makes a sentient, self conscious, walking, talking robot, I’m sure they won’t have to program it with a will to live, or a directive to survive, avoid getting harmed, maintain battery levels, avoid harming others, and so on.

    Oh, wait…

    I’m really offended at your attempt to impose religious beliefs on me

    Look, just because you can’t see your own programming, doesn’t mean pointing out you HAVE programming is “imposing religious beliefs” on you. I’m not imposing anything ON you, I’m just pointing out that something you already HAVE.

    Floored: Greg advocates an illogical view of the mind as a separate entity from the brain

    Not sure if you’re being facitious or not. But you might google the “mind-body problem”.

  103. @ Greg: Not being facetious. The idea of a separate, amorphous “mind” is pseudoscience at best. That’s part of why the only telepathy I can tolerate in Star Trek is in Q and Vulcans–Vulcans because it needs close contact, which lets me rationalize the whole mess as a bioelectrical neuron reading/sensory…thing, and the Q because the Q are gods that are willing to provide reasonably testable evidence of their existence, and so don’t work by normal rules.

  104. @ Mr. Scalzi: Aaaaaargh, sorry, your comment didn’t show up the first time I refreshed. Looks like it’s time to restart my computer again–and maybe actually fix my browser so that it doesn’t keep opening ads randomly.

  105. Floored: The idea of a separate, amorphous “mind” is pseudoscience at best.

    Well, its an issue that’s plagued philosophers for centuries, so I’m glad to hear somebody finally figured it out. A pretty happy note to end things on, I’d say.

  106. Coming to this awful late. Having been raised Catholic, railed against the Church in my early 20s and now have started to slowly return to the Church – I know the confusion and resentments that I’m picking up from this thread.

    First, there is the Faith and then there is the Institution of the Church. Like all institutions throughout all of history – the Church has been no more than the sum of its parts or people. People are all flawed, thus all institutions are flawed. To single out any one any to vent one’s ire upon is like screaming at the ocean. Sure you’ll make a lot of noise, but the ocean remains its mercurial self. Because an institution is just a subset for all humanity. If you choose cynicism and nihilism and say nothing good comes from people that’s your choice.

    For me, to condemn the Church for all it’s existence is to ignore the context of history and to judge history by the standards of the modern era. The current sins of the church are egregious and abhorrent. Yes, child molesters should be prosecuted by the secular law. But to see that as the be all and end all of the church would be like judging a human life solely upon his or her sins. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes excruciating, but to see the Institution of the Church as grey rather than black and white is more intellectually honest.

    A famous professor from ironically enough, Georgetown University, in the 60s wrote extensively on the evolution and effectiveness of institutions. http://wovenminutia.blogspot.com/2010/06/carroll-quigley-and-institutions.html?m=1

    If there is one thing I take from those writings and, well, my useless history major is that great change takes an incredible amount of time. Our modern insistence on instant societal change is not how the bulk of history has unfolded. If you were to go to the same French village in 1100 and then again in 1500, you’d find that very little their lifestyle had changed.

    I find hope in Pope Francis, not because I expect him to be my liberal darling, but because he is changing the people and through them, hopefully the institution.

    I’ll shut up now. :-)

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