I’ve been where the pope is at—I can sympathize. He doesn’t feel he has the strength to do all that a modern pope is expected to do—the travel, the heated debates over orthodoxy, the public pronouncements and appearances across the globe. He is undoubtedly unhappy about ceding his life’s greatest achievement before his time—but he knows that he simply hasn’t the strength to do the job properly.
And I know what it’s like to be barraged with outrage and questioning—‘all the other popes died in office!’—‘how can he let the church down this way’—‘what is the real reason he’s abdicating?’ ..and so on. The questions only deepen his sadness at having to appear to ‘quit’ when he is actually acting in the best interests of his flock. How disgusting it must be for him to have pederasty be the most publicly discussed aspect of his church. How conflicted he must be about the conditions caused by overpopulation in the world’s poorest areas—and reconciling that with church dogma forbidding birth control of any kind.
It won’t be long before we have to discuss the status of manufactured humans—or, worse yet, creatures with only partially-human DNA. Are they property?—are they a crime against nature?—do they have souls?—is owning one a venal or a mortal sin—or no sin at all? The pope that gets that one in his lap will need a degree in biology just to issue an edict.
Women are being accepted into many faiths as pastors or priests—how can the Catholic Church respond to the self-evident equality of men and women when it contradicts their deepest beliefs? And consider Celibacy—it has been made painfully clear that priests have sexually abused children as far back as living memory—which implies that it’s gone on longer even than that. What good is a vow of celibacy when it is connected to that horrendous history? Catholics might be better off with married priests—they certainly can’t be any worse off. Can a modern pope process this unfolding tragedy into a renewal of dignity and self-sacrifice that has been, until now, only a false gloss over the real activities of working priests? I’d hate that job—kinda like being the judge and the defendant at a murder trial.
But worst of all is Obedience. It is a central tenet of the Roman Catholic Church—it really can’t be removed without losing the entire structure. But obedience is a problematic concept when it is used to hide stupidity and corruption. This is a problem for many faiths, really. The idea that authority shouldn’t be questioned is part of the zeitgeist of a religion—it draws a parallel to the concept of questioning the faith itself, and thus makes it forbidden.
This is the crux of the conflict between modern civilization and the major faiths—the world has learned that government should be accountable—that it is our duty to question our leaders and criticize their mistakes. The world has also learned much science—a practice based on never-ending questioning of everything! The validity of disobedience has been glorified by the American Revolution and the more-recent Arab Spring. The validity of scientific inquiry is even more desirable—weapons, medicines, agriculture—you name it, science will add some nitrous tanks and boost the hell out of it.
Where once caste systems, total power, and superstition made a nice, neat fit with Religion, the modern world has inverted the principles of both Government and Reason. Those two legs of the tripod of tyranny have become actively averse to their old teammate, Religion. Separation of church and state becomes more true with every passing year—even in places other than the USA. The Neo-Cons made an impressive effort to roll back time, for a while. But their need to do so was even more impressive—church memberships are plummeting, as are the number of divinity students and acolytes.
It can’t be helped, really. The example I always use is the bible story about God stopping the Sun in the sky. The fundamentalists have come up with debate-points that ‘teach the controversy’, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that the people who believed in God back then also believed the Sun moved across the sky. Science has overtaken this myth, just as it has turned ‘Heaven’ into our ‘Upper Atmosphere’, followed by ‘Outer Space’—places we regularly fly through.
We’ve gone ‘all in’ on global technology—and, too late, the pious have realized how thoroughly incompatible Knowledge is with Religion. In the Middle East, countries use nuclear-science-based weapons to threaten the infidels (the people with different religions) and blithely overlook the fact that the science of our universe is unchanged by one’s faith. No matter what superstitions we cling to, Einstein still applies. But then, Einstein believed in God—so, there you are.