Monday, December 2, 2013

My Continued Thoughts on His Holiness

The increasing notoriety and fandom of Twitter-pontiff Jorge Bergoglio is a magnet for theological discussion -- especially as an opening argument in the face of atheism. It would seem to many of the faithful, to those sitting on the agnostic fence, and even to moderate atheists that His Holiness Pope Francis is a new beacon in Catholicism for goodness, humanism, truth, and equality -- staples which many have futilely claimed to belong to the doctrines of Holy Mother Church since its inception. At a passing glance, it is easy to see their point: Francis's views on homosexuality, humility, poverty, and decadence are -- to say the least -- refreshing sentiments to be expressed from the Vicar of Christ. From all sides of the religious spectrum, the new password to the cult of religious passivity is: "Hey, I'm not that religious, but I like this guy."

It's difficult, therefore, not to feel that many of those with a more dedicated atheistic bent (namely, yours truly) are being looked at with arched eyebrows as if to be inquired of: "Well, what do you have to say now?" Naturally, this scrutiny is rare, and many of my close friends who are religious or even fervently Catholic have had the grace not to stick their necks over the hedge. Nonetheless, the question stands -- and it's a beautiful one. I might pose it of myself for the fun of answering it had it not already been placed to me.

The thesis is very simple: nothing that Bergoglio has to say, despite its basis in truth and kindness, is objectively good inasmuch that we should credit him for saying it. Some of what I am about to write has been said before in a blog post examining his remarks on homosexuals -- I apologize in advance if the overlap becomes too severe. The sum of this argument is in several segments. In order to understand the overarching theme, we'll have to originate with the meta-topical and then offer more specific instances later.

To begin with, let's do away with the obvious: the pope is a mammal. He was born of the same process as are we all and he will decompose in the same fashion, albeit likely in one of the most gorgeous palaces built in human reckoning. Bearing the Fisherman's Ring does not a telepathic connection to the divine make, and when he speaks an opinion, he does so with the same relevance and magnanimity as any soul on Earth, with no more or less authority. The stature of moralist is not reserved for those who claim to know the will of god. All superstition, transubstantiation, and Resurrection aside, the pope is as per the old colloquialism: a man in a funny hat. It is astonishing to me, therefore, that the vehicle of his thoughts do not seem to inspire his followers (and others) by merit of their virtue, but by a sense of argumentum ab auctoritate. Merely by the fact that the pope said something, its morality or immorality notwithstanding, there is a weightiness to the sentiment that must be acknowledged in the minds of all those who care about the height of a clerical career. One can easily see the flaw in reason with this train of thought. Despite being a man, despite being a mortal, despite having no further connection with the transcendent than a transient on peyote, the mark of the Holy See makes true that which may not be so.

In order to follow the argument fluidly, let us assume that the above observation does not matter (I will give those in favor of the pope continuous benefit of the doubt as we sojourn forward). Let us pretend that the office of His Holiness does indeed carry with it the authority of truth by virtue of its existence, and that everything the pope says is, a priori, true (or, at the very least, moral). We then must ask ourselves whether or not what he says is done in originality, i.e.: is he professing something we didn't already know, and therefore does the basis of its truth lie in the fact that he professed it or in the existence of the fact already? (One can see a slightly mortalized version of the Euthyphro Paradox, here.) For example, Francis has extolled the virtues and rights of the homosexual (there are many ill-construed facets of this that I won't repeat here, but you can read the earlier blog post I have on this subject if you are curious as to my thoughts on this specific instance): could the morality and merit of homosexuality have been determined through basic humanism, evolutionary psychology, or even sheer fucking empathy without the pontificating (notice the origin of that word), patronizing acceptance of His Holiness? (The answer is undoubtedly yes.) It stands to reason, therefore, that Francis did not illuminate or contribute to the discussion, but rather provide information that was already there. In this as in all other moral issues on which he has cared to comment, the pope has helped as much as anyone without his position or apparent insight to the human condition. Thus, the question: why care what he thinks if anyone else with a decent moral compass could have come to the same conclusion, and indeed had done so long before his time?

Of course, the argument goes further -- for the implied answer to the question above is that: "It's important that his Holiness profess a position of humanist morality because it will help to steer the Church into a more tolerant direction, away from bigotry and malice, and set the example by his leadership." While I would never be the one to suggest that the path to truth lies down apathy's yawning maw, it would be remiss of me not to point out the following:

Despite the obvious morality of Francis's statements, unoriginal and unsupported by a respectable authority as we've just illustrated, there is nothing to suggest that his profession of them will do anything to curb the domineering and discriminatory arm of Holy Mother Church that has arched its shadow over humanity for centuries. The pope has not made a single effort to change dogma, to challenge divine revelation as was written in the Gospels or in the laws of the prophets, to convene ecumenical authorities in order to address the issues on which he has earned the most fame (the acceptance of homosexuals and atheists, the luxury of the clergy, etc.), to issue a single edict by which the authority invested in him by god might legitimately make for the better of his church. Instead, he has merely spoken -- beautiful, true, and moral things, no doubt -- but in the end, they amount to little more than sound bytes for the amusement of those who are shell-shocked by his admission of them. Again, to concede the benefit of the doubt to those across the aisle, it is obvious that the beginning of any true change lies in the exposure of the issue, and it can be easily asserted that the Holy Father is doing this exact thing -- but can we please agree to accept the condition that nothing yet has transformed, nothing has moved, and Francis's words are currently air and not canon law? Leviticus 18:22 and countless other pieces of biblical barbarism still stand as the inerrant word of god, and many of the faithful will hold true to this no matter what plain shoes, robes, crosier, and throne the pope adorns himself with. Or, to explore this even further, it must be reminded of the reader that no mandate of His Holiness is permanent outside of his lifetime -- a conservative pope following the death of Francis could in the mere span of a day undo any artificial changes to dogma that Francis might actually accomplish in the course of his papacy: and it is extraordinarily likely that the product of conclave will be such a man. Furthermore, those whose minds refuse to be changed won't allow themselves to be swayed by the word of a new pontificate, and those who do are clearly invalidated of the moral substance of the assertion to begin with.

Also, it bears to note that the emptiness of these words is made doubly toxic by the mark of his office -- I do not mean this in the same way as I do the merit of his office as mentioned above: it is to say that the pope cannot be considered a serious authority on morality while he heads an organization that for hundreds of years was and is the proliferator of such things as: the complete abjection and subversion of women, the instigator of the Inquisition, the inspiration to the Crusades, the silent supporter of Hitler through the Reichskonkordat and Mussolini via the Lateran Pacts, the fraudulent sale of indulgences, the trial of Galileo, the shameful world-wide communal rape of young parish children and the full-knowledge of the Holy See in the obscuring of those crimes, the persecution and execution of heretics, a replete history of anti-Semitism, the cheerleading of the Ustaše; a church that promulgates the end of the world, who holds the creed that a certain human sacrifice was not only a moral act but one that all living souls should revel in, that beatified pederasts, gangsters, liars, and thieves -- and a litany of other complaints besides! A man who worships this history littered with the blood and tears of innocents, who serves such an organization, who then aspires to lead it in the form own his own person and has the audacity to claim knowledge that we empirically know is impossible for any human to hold: is this a man in for whom we should care what he thinks, even if he happens to be right (and thankfully doesn't hold the authority on the subject to give it substance regardless)? And do not his statements hold even less resolve when made from a pulpit that was wrought out of the agony of all the actions and many more listed above? I hate to be so blasé, but such a conclusion seems obvious. As Dan Savage quipped when asked to comment on a Hawaiian priest who claimed that children are traumatized when brought up by gay parents:

"He’s confusing children with gay parents with children who are raped by Catholic priests ... They don’t have moral high ground when they talk about the welfare and safety of children, they just don’t. They have squandered that on the tips of their dicks.”

None of this is even to comment on the legitimacy of the Church as a constructive entity, whose entire basis of morality is based on a lie. And, were it based on truth, would be even more ghastly in its implications.

Allow me, gentle reader, to lead you only slightly further down the rabbit-hole. Let us for a moment wipe away all I've just said -- I'll even concede it to the other side for a moment as insubstantial and perhaps even untrue, if only for the more fun in the antithetical argument. Let's throw the ball as far into the other yard as possible and entertain the idea that Francis changes the Church for the better -- for the best, even. Through his tireless efforts, the Catholic Church now recognizes in canonical law the salvation and marriage of homosexuals, the humanity of atheists, issues the world's most heart-felt apology for its past and current atrocities -- throw on whatever other what-have-you's while we are at it. Then ponder the outcome of this and ask yourself truthfully: what has changed? As a homosexual, as an atheist, as a woman -- even as a Catholic -- are you more fulfilled, more human, more valuable than the day before the pope and the Holy Roman Church made such a concession? By their feeble acknowledgement of your right to happiness and even existence, are you made more whole? Is anyone else?

Of course not.

If you take away nothing else from this post, gentle reader, then know this: you do not require the acceptance of anyone or anything. There is no god or church on earth that can tear down your individuality, can amputate the essence of your soul or divide you into nothingness -- nor can it equally validate you, compose you, represent you. You are the sum total of your own accomplishments, thoughts, vindications, and proclamations. You are the basis of the human condition defined and perfected. Do not forsake that liberty to hang with false hope on the words of some other great ape in a robe, no matter if he is the head of a clubhouse with 1.5 billion initiates. No more than let him or his antiquated rulebook hover over your own sense of worth should you imagine that it defines that of anyone else.

In summation: fuck what Francis says, even if he happens to be offering the correct conclusion. Even a blind nun finds a rosary, once in a while.


  1. Question in re: your hypothesis that he is (in summary) not worthy of credibility because of the organization he heads - what of the possibility that his intention is to work change from the inside?

    Even Rome wasn't built in a day, to coin a phrase. Change won't come overnight, no matter how one goes about it. He is set up in perfect - dare I say, immaculate? heh, heh - position to bring about some of those policy and dogma rewrites you mention. If he tried to do it all at once, he'd be ousted one way or another, likely in a pine box. Perhaps you could wait a couple of years and see what comes of his papal edicts etc. before unleashing your verbal wrath?

    No, wait, this is you. Never mind. :D

  2. I just finished "Oh, Your God!" Great reading. I am an avid reader of Dennet, HiItchens, Harris & Dawkins, and I think they would be all impressed with your synopsis. Someone must have said it, but one thing that I have yet to hear is that nowhere in the bible does it make ANY mention of a prohibition on Sapphic love. Sure there are at least two lines about the sin of men sleeping with men, but where do the bible thumpers find their prohibition on lesbian lovers? Like so much else, probably from their impoverished imagination. Thanks for the good read! Robert

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Robert. As to forays to the Isle of Lesbos, I think I quite agree with your analysis: general ignorance and a lack of imagination are their best validations for their hatred of women and, by extension, women squared.