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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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