I Don’t Trust The Pope

How do we tell the difference between a fraud with clever PR, and a sincere individual moving an organization one inch at a time?



So Pope Francis gave a speech.

In the words of one friend:

Holy shit Tim! You have to listen to this speech..! It’s quite possibly one of the best speeches of the 21st century.

Apparently while I was at work, the pope was commending me for “sustaining the life of society.”

How nice of him.

There is something about Pope Francis that is generating more buzz and more respect for him, and just the position of pope, than ever before. My brain is quite divided on this, so try to follow along.

  1. He’s not awful. Okay, so the Catholic Church is not currently burning people at the stake or locking people under house arrest that it doesn’t agree with, and neither is Pope Francis. He likes to do cool shit like take selfies and feed the homeless. That’s pretty rad, but if we’re going to hold him against all the other popes, he’s inevitably going to look good. Does that mean that he’s “progressive”? Does that mean that he shares our values just because he can recite what they are?
  2. I don’t believe in God – but the pope does. Do we not ask any more of a person who claims some kind of supernatural connection with a divine creator? I personally don’t believe that that “Creator” exists, but Pope Francis does. And if you’re going to tell me that you have a connection with that thing, and that that thing is made out of love, don’t you think I should reasonably be able to ask a little more of you? Since when is “not homophobic” a benchmark? That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. Would you like a cookie?
  3. But he is still kind of awful. I don’t like that he goes to AIDS ravaged countries and tells them not to use condoms, even when that belief in the prohibition of contraception has no grounding in objective fact. He has tasty nuggets about the trans community, and in response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings, just kind of said, “You cannot criticize faith.”

Those praising this pope’s liberal and progressive values seem to be praising a wife-beater who beats his wife half as much now. Whoo.

These might make it seem like I’m coming down too hard on the pope, and here’s where the division in my mind takes place. If we want to be fair, there’s something we have to take into account.

Organizational inertia is a thing. Have you ever seen Obama try to get Congress to do…well, anything? It’s a process as slow as watching molasses roll down a sandy dune. And as my friend pointed out to me the other day, it’s the same thing with Pope Francis.

Let’s pretend for a moment that instead of a devout Catholic a closet secular humanist got elected pope…I’ll tell you what they wouldn’t do, they wouldn’t get rid of all of the ideology that they disagreed with overnight. That’s a very quick ticket to losing a lot of your credentials, and probably wouldn’t stick as policy changes.

There is no such thing as magically swooping into an organization as large as the Catholic Church and making the liberal sun shine. At some point, not hanging and burning people did have to be a benchmark of progress. Even though we have different ones now, we often do have to be satisfied with “less”, because “less” is what is sustainable.

Also, in many ways, it’s easier for some of us secularists to judge from the entirely disenfranchised point of view, but it takes more than that when you actually still work within an institution.

How do we tell the difference between a fraud with clever PR, and a sincere individual moving an organization one inch at a time? 

In my opinion, there isn’t really an ironclad way to tell. The practices of someone who cares and someone who wants people to think they care are almost indistinguishable from each other. And you can forgive my reticence, I hope, to believe that he’s on my team, because he and his ilk have not been on Team Humanity for a very long time.

But maybe it doesn’t even matter.

I’m never going to say that someone who tells us to feed and house the poor and the most vulnerable of our society runs counter to my agenda. That’s the whole agenda. (Unless, of course, he’s just doing it to take over the world, as the Adventists of my youth would have me believe.)

So even if he says or does things that are outside of that purview, as long as he keeps doing and promoting enormous amounts of good, we might tentatively call each other friends, if we can, step by measly little step, move into a better world.

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7 thoughts on “I Don’t Trust The Pope”

  1. This reminded me of an author named William Blum who talked about his “3 day plan” if he were ever to be president: he would issue public apologies for all the bombings and assassinations carried out in the name of foreign policy, he would cut military spending to pay reparations and to help fix the damage from those bombings and invasions, and then he would tell Israel to be its own country instead of thinking it’s the unofficial 51st state.

    On day 4 he would be assassinated.

    As for the pope… sure, maybe he really is a decent guy… he just happens to be the head of a really horrible commercial/religious enterprise. Perhaps change is in the wind, though. It took them 400 years to get behind Galileo. It only took them 150 to get behind Darwin. Who knows what’s next!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I can completely understand someone’s reticence to trust the pope, no matter how nice he is. I wouldn’t call that irrational, I’d call that learning from experience. But there is reason to suggest that this pope is different, as well. Which is why, hey, I’m willing to give anyone the chance to not suck.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is absolutely impossible for the church to help anyway to solve the problem of poverty. This can do only working people by means of social revolution, and the church is the worst enemy of the revolution and of socialism.


  3. I will never forget when Obamacare was passed, half the country was outraged that Obama was giving away ‘free’ healthcare, and half the country was outraged that he didn’t adopt the full single-payer system like much of Europe or Canada. What he did do was get 10 million people healthcare. You’re argument here seems very much in line with the “he didn’t go all the way with single-payer healthcare” criticisms I heard often. It also does not even begin to acknowledge the progress and huge leaps forward that were made for 10 million people who are now insured.

    The pope is not only progressive for a religious leader, (lest I direct your attention to the leader of the Adventist church and the conversations/decisions they are currently making regarding whether women should be ordained in a branch of Christianity founded by a female prophet, or whether we should continue to have segregated conferences in the US in 2015…voted no to women and yes to segregation FYI), but he is actually more progressive than half of our country’s leaders. Yes, let that sink in, the leader of the Catholic Church is more progressive on issues of science and social issues than the republican party of today is.

    Now, to be clear, I am NOT saying the pope is a beacon of light and hope in every way possible. I am NOT saying he is fixing every single closed-minded and hateful view the catholic church has held in the last few thousand years either.

    I AM saying that when a religious leader comes to a country that has ‘In God We Trust’ printed on every single dollar bill we own, and talks openly about our responsibility to immigrants, ending the death penalty, racial injustice, the weapons trade, our part in climate change, and poverty, that is HUGE! Especially when the counter argument to why we SHOULDN’T care about any of these issues has been spread as the christian agenda by the christian-right.

    Now, are there a few topics he didn’t include that he should have? Sure, abortion, contraceptives, women empowerment, our relationship with Israel, illegal animal poaching, and the list goes on.

    Furthermore, I want to point your attention to an additional component of the Catholic Church’s’ history; while they have been absolutely evil when it comes to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, family planning, or women’s rights to contraceptives, the Catholic’s also created the entire concept of charity work and humanitarian aid. The Catholic church is the founder of humanitarian aid. So as you rightfully criticize the problems that have been spread by anti-condom rhetoric, also be aware that the only reason there are ANY humanitarian organizations in the first place, is because of this church. Pope Francis has not taken back his deplorable stance on contraceptives yet, but he has strongly encouraged and endorsed the creation and use of HIV/AIDS medications, and more scientific research in this field.

    Now all these ‘progressive’ ideas he has been preaching, teaching, and following, have gotten him in serious trouble, and are loosing him a lot of conservative followers. He’s fired many, many high-up bishops, focusing on getting rid of child molesters in the church head-on, and came to our republican-run congress to shame us on our lack of god-driven moral obligations to each other and the planet. Is he a fraud with clever PR, or a sincere individual moving an organization one inch at a time? If his controversial and outspoken actions have not helped you make a decision, I don’t know what else will?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel like you misunderstood me just a little. I hardly ever criticize people for what they don’t do. It’s mostly against my code.

      So I’m not saying, “Well, he can do better” I’m just saying “Hey, look at this behavior that’s incongruent with the values you espouse.”

      Which can mean either you are not about what you say you’re about, or you’re sincerely trying one inch at a time. And considering the pope’s position and his organization, it’s not unreasonable to have a degree of caution and wanting to make sure that someone is as genuine as they appear to be.

      But like I said, it’s possible that intent doesn’t matter. And if he is willing to preach or practice any of these more progressive values, we can be cool.
      But on the whole, absolutely, you are right. Unity depends on being able to praise good work and critique bad work, even if they’re both contained in one person. Unity also demands that we come to agreeable, diplomatic solutions, even with our enemies, or those who’ve wronged us in the past.

      And if we really want to work together towards peace and unity, we will choose ideals and behaviors to disavow and discourage, instead of choosing people.

      Thanks for commenting!


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