Atheist Applauds Pope (2015Sep24)


Thursday, September 24, 2015                                        3:36 PM

I join in the celebration of light and compassion that the papal visit has become—as an atheist, I can applaud his words and actions without necessarily dropping the ‘lapsed’ from my childhood Catholicism. I enjoy the wild excitement of the people lining the streets to be blessed or touched or kissed by the current occupant of St. Peter’s Chair. It’s not like some other world figure or celebrity—the crowds just want to see him, to be near him—and he returns their affection. It’s a beautiful thing—says Capt. Obvious.

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I truly don’t know what to do with my feelings—just as this head of the Church of Rome is almost a Humanist in comparison to his predecessors, this is the first time in my memory that people are in the streets celebrating the truly important things—compassion, forgiveness, charity, acceptance—without looking for something, wanting something or someone. It is very paradoxical for a man who, as a boy, found all the authoritarianism and close-minded-ness that seemed to be the real evil in the world, in the Catholic church. I guess one thing you can say for a vast authoritarian institution—in the hands of a proper leader, the Holy Roman Catholic Church, like some many things, finds its true self and flourishes.

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All illustrations are from the Papal Archives

I suggest we make the carrying of toddlers from rope line to papal vehicle (approx. 50 yards) and back again an Olympic event—those guys make it look easy—and some of those toddlers were big enough to walk themselves—did you see it? Amazing. Like they were ‘baby-boys’ at the US Open or something.

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The only sour note in this whole celebration is the rogue Republican—you don’t hear the Democrats whining about the many ways in which Catholicism departs from their platform—they just celebrate the commonalities, like good hosts. But GOP pols have become so knee-jerk about climate change and protecting big business that they just have to attack any other opinions—let the whole world disagree (which we mostly do).

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Francis has no beef with them—he’s just being a Catholic—out loud. Better not let Ben Carson hear him—Catholics are at least as crazy as Muslims—just ask the Irish. Next thing you know we’ll have to put an asterisk beside JFK’s name. Will someone please read the Constitution to Ben Carson—article 6 – “…shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

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So hail Pop Francis! Or as the Italians say—‘Poppa’. Someone needs to say to the fat cats, “You oughta be ashamed of yourselves.”—but who among us has the moral authority? Not me, bub. But he does—and he’s making some people deservedly uncomfortable. Let criticism of Pope Francis be our shibboleth—by their words shall ye know them.

And while we’re about ‘knowing them’, let me say that Volkswagen has recently been caught installing emissions devices that only operate when the sensor tells them they’re hooked-up to a testing device! The rest of the time, all their 8 million customers were driving around in illegal, over-polluting cars. Without their knowledge, they had been duped into being pawns in a fraudulent conspiracy. Why anyone would ever buy a Volkswagen again is beyond me—we forgave them for having been Nazis, but this is just too much.

For those of you who think I’m easily swayed—well, that’s true—but my point is that I celebrate the effect that Pope Francis’ visit is having on the country, particularly on Washington. That doesn’t mean that I support Catholicism—Pope Francis is wisely focused on the best his faith has to offer—it has other aspects whose details I take exception to. But leadership counts for almost as much as dogma—what Francis emphasizes will become the emphasis of his followers, regardless of the fine print. And that should be celebrated.

Here are some papal tiaras:

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2 responses to “Atheist Applauds Pope (2015Sep24)

  1. Great post that really resonated with me, a fellow lapsed Catholic, who gave it up in 1974. Then 15 years later with two daughters and 600 miles away from my Hoosier family (and 3000 from my then wife’s British parents), one day I was wondering how to provide them a moral framework when I wandered into a Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockville, Md. They had a Latin American speaker on US-armed death squads (think Iran Contra) and was so moved that I persuaded my wife to join. It was sufficiently humanist and very anti-dogmatic and the were proud of all of the famous universalists and Unitarians who fought for social justice, voting, scientific reason and civil rights. There were were given fellowship and the space to explore whatever spiritual path, or not, we wished. There I started learning tai chi, practiced meditation, and listened to stimulating sermons that actually made you think. As my kids got older and my marriage deteriorated I became less involved and moved away, becoming a lapsed Untarian. Buddhism always appealed to me as did Taoism so I drifter in that direction. You don’t necessarily have to believe in God to be spiritual. Then I met my wife, a secular daughter of a concentration camp survivor, who like me also wrote and practiced yoga and had spent years in therapy. On Tuesday I stood by Pennsylvania Avenue filming the pope’s motorcade go by and I felt like you–thrilled by his simplicity, warmth and Christlike love of the poor and suffering. If you didn’t listen to his speech to congress look up the text online. It is perfect and a beautiful example of all that is good in the Catholic Church. I tell you it’s enough to turn me into a lapsed Atheist. Best!

    • My wife of thirty-five years was also a childhood sweetheart—she wasn’t the girl right next door—there was walking involved—but still—and her family were Unitarians. I was mystified by the contrast between the Catholic masses I had so recently abjured and the cocktail parties that passed for Sunday Services at her Unitarian ministry. The inclusion aspect mystified me as well—to the Catholics, other faiths were opposite, not acceptable. I was only vaguely interested, since any theism was anathema to me—but it sent me in search of aspects of religion—I attended Quaker services a few times—very different from both Catholic and Unitarian—and I delved into eastern religions/philosophies as well—and developed a sense of the difference between personal spirituality and organized faith. It seems to me, now, that the faith is an accessory to the spirit—if you have a good heart, that will shine through any framework—as it has with Francis—and, conversely, a closed mind and closed heart will only bend a particular faith to its own ends.
      Reason, too, has only so much connection to the spirit of a person—the small of mind and atrophied of heart can misuse reason just as religions can be turned extremist by certain leaders. In fact, I fear that Humanism, organized as a ‘movement’, simply complicates the issue—Francis injects humanism into Catholicism, extreme right-wingers sometimes eject humanism from reason. The difficulty lies in the lack of any clear definition of ‘humanity’—there are no rules to being a nice guy, it’s just a matter of spirit, of personality. Being good is a tricky business—overlays of dogma don’t work without a willingness to point them towards goodness.

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