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Humility, Concern, and Love

December 16, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

It is no secret that I am no great fan of organised religion… or disorganised religion either, if it comes to that! But I do have to say that I have some admiration for the new Pope who has just been made Time Magazine’s person of the year. Now admittedly their choices in the past (both Hitler and Stalin appear) might impart a certain amount of discredit on the whole process, but it is still significant, I think.

So I want to take a look at some of the things the Pope has said and done since he took over almost a year ago. Any positive comments here don’t mean that I think large organisations based on superstition are a good thing, just that there is good and bad in everything and there is a lot more good in the Church now than in the past. So, on to the list…

On trickle-down economic theories:

He said “Trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world … has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power … Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

He’s 100% right. The trickle-down theory (the idea that laws which make life easier for, and give greater wealth to commercial and industrial leaders will lead to a better life for the rest also) has never been proven to work and in my opinion can never work. How long have we been waiting for the benefits of this ideology? Too long, and we will need to keep waiting because they will never arrive.

On what he calles “the new idolatry of money”:

He said: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Again he’s right. Money is supposed to be a tool which allows us to control resources and exchange goods. But it has become and end in itself and people who are both immoral and self-centered do well playing that game. I really don’t think that is what any economic system should be focussed on.

On luxuries:

He seems to genuinely eschew the trappings of high office (he lived simply even before becoming Pope) and realises that an organisation which has many of its members living in poverty has no right to demand every luxury for itself.

He temporarily relieved a German Bishop (who had earned the nickname “Bishop of Bling”) from his post after reports of his liking for luxury goods, such as a $42 million renovation of his residence and first-class plane flight to India. I’m not sure why this wasn’t permanent but maybe it’s all to do with that “forgiveness” thing!

When he can, Pope Francis avoids travelling in the fortified Mercedes previous Popes have used and recently he accepted a 1984 Renault 4 from a priest and intends to drive it for short journeys. He also rejected living in the luxurious papal apartments, and moved into a Vatican residence with visiting clergy and lay people.

Famously, one day after being chosen Pope, he returned to his guest house, thanked the staff, and personally paid the bill.

I find this quite inspiring. If more of our leaders (and not just religious leaders) took this sort of attitude I think the world would be a far better place. We have extreme hypocrisy everywhere: the rich getting huge income increases while telling everyone else that in tough times we must make sacrifices, politicians accepting salary boosts while driving down wages and conditions for everyone else. This dishonesty has to stop and maybe this is a start.

On the church’s priorities:

When asked to describe himself, he said: “I am a sinner.” He also insisted that “the church’s ministers must be merciful” instead of “acting like bureaucrats or government officials,” and said that it is “not necessary” for the church to focus on abortion, gay marriage and contraception “all the time.”

Yeah well, here I’m not quite so positive. This emphasis on sin is unhealthy in my opinion. I would like to know what sins he has committed though! On the positive side he is against bureaucracy and that is also one of my pet hates! Saying that less emphasis should be put on those social issues is good but why not go one step further and allow them all?

Symbolism:

On Holy Thursday 2013, re-enacting the ritual that Jesus washed the apostles’ feet before his death, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 criminal offenders. That included two women, one a Serbian Muslim.

Surely this is the ultimate symbol of humility, and surely it is an important part of the Christian message (note that I think just about the whole story of Christ’s life is fabricated but a message can be based on fiction as well as fact and that doesn’t necessarily make it less inspiring).

Even as an atheist I find it hard to dislike Pope Francis, although I still have problems with some of his church’s dogma. Whether Catholic dogma is true or not (it clearly isn’t) doesn’t really matter. The point is that it is the biggest church in the world and if having a leader like this can make a positive difference then I say… Well here’s a couple of examples from comments on the Internet: “Pope Francis… you may see me in mass Sunday. Way to go.” and “Christian leaders everywhere could learn from the Pope’s example. His humility, concern for the poor, deference and love are refreshing.”

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