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Habemus Papam

I’ve made no secret in the past of my attitude to religion in general and to the Catholic Church in particular. I will just reiterate it here though. I think religion is primitive superstition and an embarrassment in the modern world, although I do admit it has some good points too, such as doing a certain amount of charity work and providing a community for many people. And, in the past, Catholicism has been the greatest evil the world has ever seen, although again I admit it is now relatively benign.

So what’s my actual point? Well I want to comment about the new Pope, of course. Whatever you think of religion and whatever you think of Catholicism there is no doubt that the Pope is an important leader. He is the leader of the second biggest group of people on the planet today (there are about 1.2 billion Catholics but almost 1.4 billion Chinese, so by this standard Xi Jinping is slightly more important) and that cannot be ignored.

I’m very much an individualist myself and I’m quite disinterested in leaders’ beliefs and opinions, but I do realise that the majority of people are (to put it rather unkindly) barely better than sheep and would prefer to assimilate their beliefs and moralities from an esteemed leader rather than think for themselves (well, I did say that would be unkind).

So given that many people will just incorporate the ideals of the church leadership it is important that the leader is a good person. It’s far too early to know the details of the attitudes of the new Pope but I think, despite the necessity for a predisposition towards superstition, he is a good person with an interesting and positive personality and certainly seems preferable to the previous holder of that office.

But why is the Pope always old, white, and male? I think it’s time the Catholic Church modernised a bit and had a young black woman as Pope. And just to make things even better, let’s make her a lesbian as well! Yeah, that should drag the antiquated, creaking structure which is the world’s biggest religion into the 21st century! Currently they haven’t even made it as far as the 20th, or 19th, or 18th, or… well, you get the idea.

I’m not totally serious about the suggestion above, after all these things probably need to happen one step at a time, but surely they could make a bigger effort to modernise the institution.

Everyone has positive and negative personality traits, so what are the good and bad points of Pope Francis? He does have some conservative political ideas, especially around issues of sexuality so I guess equal rights for gays and a more progressive attitude to contraception are probably too much to hope for.

Here’s a quote which shows this backward attitude: “Let’s not be naive, we’re talking about a simple political battle; marriage equality is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

That comment shouldn’t be a surprise of course, and to be fair I do have to concede that marriage equality is more a symbolic issue than a practical one, but I would have thought that the central message of Christianity, tolerance and forgiveness, would tend to fall on the side of allowing a couple to marry whatever their sexual preferences.

But he does seem to have some real socially progressive attitudes too. He genuinely seems to care about the plight of the poor and even the environment which is an issue Christianity doesn’t seem to have traditionally concerned itself with too much (after all, how much does Jesus have to say about environmentalism in the New Testament?)

I do have to say though that the thing I like the most is just that he seems like a nice person. He isn’t haughty and disconnected like previous Popes. I see him more like that other extremely likeable religious leader, the Dalai Lama, who is also a friendly, unpretentious person, and who it is almost impossible not to admire in some ways.

Pope Francis has showed that he really doesn’t want to be treated as something beyond any other human. He talked to school kids and commuters in a seemingly natural way. He returned to the hotel he was staying at to get his own luggage and to pay his bill. He looked uncomfortable when the cardinals knelt and kissed his hand (I could make a joke about that but let’s avoid nasty innuendo!) And he tours in a standard car instead of the armoured Pope-mobile.

Yes, I find myself liking him, although I totally disagree with his mindless acceptance of Catholic dogma. Still, he is the Pope, what else would I expect?

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