New Pope Caught Between Sacred Past and New Present

Pope Francis Portrait Painting
Pope Francis Portrait Painting (Photo credit: faithmouse)

The whole world rejoiced when the new pope was named, myself included. No, I am not Roman Catholic, but I looked for the white smoke, and when it showed, I rejoiced.

When former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio emerged from the security of the cardinals into the insecurity of the world, everything seemed in balance again.

Though confused as to why the Roman Catholic church continues to elect such old men to an office that has behemoth responsibility, there is something to be said about the peace that the world could possibly be feeling this morning because that important office has been filled.

Now what?

Can an old man address the newness of an old world, with old religious beliefs and practices?

It is true that the world wanted the office of pope to be filled, sooner rather than later, but the new pope has a mess awaiting him. The Roman Catholic church is in disarray, due largely to the reported incidences of sexual misconduct of priests.  That disarray is further exacerbated by the fact that the Roman Catholic church has seemed to be resistant to the way the world has changed. This is not a day and time where Catholics receive a word from the Vatican as sacrosanct, unable to be challenged.  Catholic women want to be ordained as priests. Some male priests are challenging the value of the need for priests to take vows of celebacy. More and more Catholics are speaking up for same-sex marriage, which the new pope reportedly opposes. It seems that there is a search for a new Catholic dogma and doctrinal reality, but from what has been shared about Pope Francis, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any modern or updated changes to ancient Catholic practices and beliefs.

This pope is said to be an extremely humble man, a man who gave up his house in order to live in a more modest apartment, a man who takes public transportation, and who reportedly once washed the feet of men infected with HIV/AIDS. He has a heart for the people, “the least of these,” which is endearing and encouraging to know.

But in his office as pope, it seems highly unlikely that he will be able, or even allowed, to get out and mix with the very poor and forgotten Catholics of the world. What a mark it might make on a world which is filled to the brim with countries that are severely in debt, apparently putting more stock in materialism and the acquisition of wealth, rather than with taking care of those less fortunate. In fact, in these hard economic times, lawmakers of struggling countries seem more eager to cut programs that help “the least of these,” a category of people which seems to be growing daily, than to cut into the lives of the very wealthy.

One wonders if Pope Francis will address that apparent reality? Some would ask if it’s even necessary, but in a day where morality is being investigated, especially as it regards the rights of the LGBT community and same-sex marriage, and, of course, the sexual scandals involving priests and young boys, there seems to be a need to expand the definition of morality. Surely, ignoring the poor is immoral. Surely, taking from the poor in order to protect the wealth of the wealthy is…immoral.  Will the new pope, if he believes along the lines just stated, be able to effectively communicate that widened definition of immorality to a world which isn’t all that interested in attending to the poor?

The issues before the new pope – a man enmeshed in ancient dogma which has not really helped the Catholic church in recent years – are wide and deep. Benedict remained tenaciously connected to the ancient dogma, in spite of many Catholics calling for change. Pope Francis, the first pope to take that name, and who, like so many others, has been moved by the life of Francis of Assisi, will be caught in an interesting place  between the sacred past and the formation of a new sacred present. It will be interesting to watch.

A candid observation …

Would the World be Better Without Religion?

A report issued this week said that lobbying and advocacy by religious groups has increased by fivefold since 1970 and has become a $400 million industry.

The study, issued by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, said that religious groups are making their voices and opinions known as never before, addressing issues including abortion, marriage, the relationship between church and state, and bioethics and life issues, among others.

Religious groups include Roman Catholics, evangelical and mainline Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and other, smaller religions of this country, and all of them seek to influence both domestic and foreign policy.

But a question arises: Why? Why should religion get so heavily involved in politics and policy-making? Is there separation between church and state, or not? And, echoing a question argued this week on National Public Radio, “Would the world be better off without religion,” would it? Would there be less of a mess, less gridlock and less acrimony on Capitol Hill if religious people would simply “do God” and leave politics alone?

Some argue that there is a moral crisis in this country and in the world, and if that is the case, a co-mingling of religion and politics hardly seems the way to address and rectify the problem. Religion is supposed to be the vehicle in which rule of morality and “right behavior” are carried to people and taught. Politics, on the other hand, would scoff at such a vehicle because the aim of politics, or politicians, is to win, no matter what.

Forget the “golden rule” would seem to be the battle cry of those looking to win an election. Politicians, it would seem, push God to the periphery so that they can freely ignore all religious precepts as they go for the “big win.” The quest for salvation can come later, if at all.

There seems to be no concern for religious precepts or the will of God when it comes to politics and elections, so what are religions trying to do as they spend close to $400 million annually lobbying politicians?

In the NPR debate, which occurred on a program called “Intelligence Squared US,” a rabbi, a descendant of Charles Darwin, a philosopher and a scholar squared off over the value of religion in the world.  Predictably, the rabbi and scholar argued for the good of religion in the world, and the descendant of Charles Darwin and the philosopher saw no real need for religion.

Matthew Chapman, the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, and A.C. Grayling,  argued against the value of religion for the world. On the cheer team for religion were Rabbi David Wolpe and Dinesh D’Souza.

Religion, the “keep-religion in the world” proponents said, organizes people “to do good things.” If that is the case, then we might assume that the lobbying going on by religious people are encouraging politicians to “do good things.” But, notes A.C. Graying, there is no one “great rule” or one model of what is good. So, what is “good” for an evangelical might not be seen as good by a Muslim, or what is lobbied as a good thing by a mainline Protestant might seem reprehensible by a Roman Catholic.

And, noted Chapman, “religion makes everyone an infidel to something.”

Those statements are baffling, seeing as how presumably there is one God who gave one blueprint of what “good things” are, but “we the people” seem to have participated in revisionist interpretation of the sacred texts, so that “we the people” decide what is “good,” according to our own values, culture and predicament, God notwithstanding.

So, what “good” are the religious groups lobbying for? What good are these religions, which have allowed so much pain, and in fact inflicted so much pain, based on their definition of “good?”  While religions are lobbying, using these millions of dollars, I find myself wondering if that money might better be spent on doing “good” for those who really need it, who have nothing to pay except extreme gratitude for being looked upon as human and worthwhile by one who says he or she loves God.

That would be a candid observation.

Would the World Be Better Without Religion? © 2011 Candid Observations