Thursday, April 21, 2005

Well, it IS Pope Ratzinger

My friend Hal Bidlack wrote me today and asked me to blog something about the new Pope. And so Hal, here you are! These words are a little jumbled as I have my five year old climbing on me while I write them.

My views on the new Pope, for anyone who might care about that:

My friend Jamy Ian Swiss always says that the best dramatic events are both surprising and inevitable. And I guess Razinger’s win as Pope fits that nicely. How naïve I was to think it could have been anyone else. And yet, it seemed impossible that he would be Pope. If this were a movie, he would be cast as the hard-lined antagonist and he never would win. I guess, living in Hollywood, my bets are off because I’ve been lulled into a sense of the dramatic positive ending actually happening outside of the movies. Or maybe it’s just that old pesky optimism rearing it’s raw, under-experienced head again.

On the other hand, what do I care? I don’t even think there’s a God, so what difference could it make to me? Well, because there are a lot of Catholics that I care about. Because there’s one billion people out there who are affected by this choice. And because people like Ratzinger can influence life and death in my lifetime. And, because I have a special love for Catholicism (a special not-love too) and I can’t help myself from being interested in the machinations, the politics, the influence that it has on our world. It’s like a family that you’ll never quite be away from. It’s always there to offer comfort, reminiscences, and a renewal of my conviction that it’s all a bunch of bunk. And with the Pope being reelected, the drama is inviting. So…there’s my excuse.

Okay, on the one hand, it makes no difference if he’s Pope. Probably, anyway. He was so much a part of JP II’s worldview; it’s like Cheney becoming president. What difference would that really make? In a way, it’s quaint. I think of people like Cheney and Ratzinger as people who would never want to be the front piece, the focal point. Because they know the real power is BEHIND the throne. So, in any case, Ratzinger is just a continuation. What is sad for me is that this Pope will continue to destroy the gains made during Vatican II, and countless children will be born under his watch that have AIDs because of the Church’s policy about condom use for those with AIDs, and countless children will be born in poor countries to people who cannot afford them and those children will not have the chance for basic needs and education and enough social structure to give them a good chance in life – let alone what the population, the extra population on the earth due to the Catholic policy – is going to contribute to the destruction of a habitat that will allow all of us humans to survive over the coming centuries.

I hate that this Pope will do nothing about the abuse that is rampant in the church due to it’s dark-ages view of sexuality and misunderstanding of basic biology. I hate that lots more boys and girls will be molested than otherwise would be if a Pope who made some basic changes had been elected instead. And of course, I hate that this Pope will help to create much new human life and then make sure they live with a medieval view of their place in the world, never allowing them to experience what I think is what is most truly human and unique about us: our ability to see our place on this planet and in this known universe as aware animals, lucky animals with a lot of real knowledge and the truth about death. I guess there’s no Pope that I can imagine being elected that would make that kind of change! So, that’s just wishful thinking. But I do feel sad about all the new children who will be born because of the Catholic Church’s view on birth control, and then told a lie, a lie about death and about life. And I am sad for all the little girls who will be born with as much potential as anyone else who will watch man after man after man stand on the altar and tell her how God doesn’t want her voice at Church, except in song or in agreement or at the bake sale counter. And Ratzinger is someone who will prevent any progression in this regard for maybe another generation. Yeah, that’s possible. Another whole generation.

But here’s what might be good or at least interesting about Ratzinger. According to my friend Kevin Gunn, who I got to talk with on the day of the election, and who did the Pope Watch bios that I put on my site, Ratzinger and all those other conservative Cardinals hated communism. Well, I mean, we all know that. But why? Mostly because of the association often made between communism and totalitarianism. It’s always been so curious to me, the Church’s stand on communism. If you read the Bible, outside of a couple of passages, and one parable that I can think of, Jesus is constantly admonishing people to give up everything they have for the poor right and left. Jesus would TOTALLY have been a communist.

I am personally not a communist because I think it doesn’t work. I think we aren’t that altruistic in our nature, and the incentive to work for our own personal gain is too good an incentive to let go of. Witness: every communist country and government. In any case, JP II and Ratzinger (I just can’t say Benedict…yet…but I will, by the end of this blog…I swear!) have been credited with helping to collapse communism. But the truth is that they hate capitalism just as much as communism. And they particularly hate capitalism as practiced by one particular nation: US. And maybe Ratzinger can get somewhere on that, put pressure on economic policy that impacts the third world. They hate poverty and even though the church fuels poverty with their birth control stance, maybe they can do something on the policy end that might make a difference. So, there’s one good thing.

Also, they hate the war in the Middle East. And maybe Ratzinger can make a difference there. In fact, this is what I have the most hope for. That Ratzinger can help with the bridge between Muslims and Christians. I mean, I don’t know how much headway we can expect on this front from a person who has repeatedly said that the road to redemption is held only by Catholic Christians, and through no other way. But still, maybe there’s some hope there.

And maybe he’s craftier than any of us think. Maybe his conservative stance was a ruse that would set him up in the power seat to make some real change in the church for the better. Nah…

I am sympathetic to Ratzinger’s hard-line ethical approach, just not the things he’s hard lined about. My loss of faith caused me to become much more conservative rather than liberal. In the Catholic Church, the liberation theology movement, that Ratzinger has spent so much of his time dismantling, destroying, and fighting against, has an ideology that God is within everyone. We are all God’s children is their creed. No matter what race, or what religion. And this comes from the idea that people are basically good and pure and wonderful simply because they are human and a child of God. This was the sort of Catholicism that I was immersed in in my last two years of high school, by the particularly liberal Jesuits who taught there. God was a concept and heaven was an instant out of space and time and maybe just an idea and everyone was intrinsically good and graced by God. And this view has often been accompanied by a more relaxed and relativistic view of the traditional moral code. And that’s where I think it can, CAN, go wrong.

I mean, I love that worldview, that everyone is equally good and God-like, but I also think it’s hopelessly naïve. I’m not saying that I don’t think that every human being has worth and merit and isn’t intrinsically valuable simply by the fact that they are human. I do think that. But I can see how this idea isn’t going to work in a world where you want people to conform to a social code that is rigid and branded, like Catholicism is.

In any case, the liberation theology movement doesn’t put Catholicism in a place better than other ideologies. And Cardinals like Ratzinger have pushed against this open-minded approach by saying that a strict reading of the rules of the church is necessary for redemption.

And why this is similar to my world view is that, while I do not think Jesus was the son of God or that Catholicism has any particularly good road to the afterlife, I do think that a stricter rather than a more relaxed adherence to a social code is necessary for a society like ours with so many people in it, to work best. I am fairly conservative in my judgments of morality. I believe in rigorous honesty, which is very difficult. I believe that we are responsible for the world’s poor and I believe that we must all contribute to the collective society. I believe that each child should have an equal chance at success. I think that laws should apply to everyone and that certain groups or corporations should not be treated differently than other groups or corporations. I believe that commitments should be held to. I could go on and on, but what I’m saying is that I do not have a relaxed moral code. And I personally don’t think anyone should and that our society should shape and encourage people to adhere to a strict moral code. I don’t think we are all born intrinsically good. I think we have a mixture of social and anti-social behavior that is inbred in us and that our communities and families shape these innate tendencies inside of us so that we can function well in society. We must be taught compassion. Anyone who doesn’t think that this is the truth should go visit on Kindergarten recess break and see what it’s like. You have to teach kids not to bonk each other on the head and take things, and not to be aggressive or ostracize some kids.

So, in this convoluted, desperate way, I am similar to Cardinal Ratzinger in my a-theology. I am more conservative than liberal in this particular way. And I can see how Ratzinger, like almost all of the other Cardinals, might be afraid of a looser structure without strict adherence to a moral code. It’s just that….I disagree with much of the particular moral code they promote. That’s the only difference.

Wow, am I desperate to find something to relate to in the new Pope.

On a final note: I have to say, when Pope Benedict 16th came out on the balcony and waved, I was carried away by his genuine smile. I mean, I have never ever ever seen Ratzinger smile. But Pope Benedict 16th was smiling. He seemed over the moon. And I couldn’t help but feel happy for him. I mean, this is a dream come true for him, probably more than sixty years in the making. And his smile made me smile. I couldn’t hate him anymore. Honestly, I just was won over. Even though I know that some of the worst people are the most likeable, and that smiling and getting your dream does not make you a person I need to like, still, I was happy for him. I am interested to see what he does. In an odd way, it felt, in that instant when he waved, like the Catholics were actually taking a step forward.

And I get all caught up in the pomp and circumstance. Even though I hate it, the majesty of it, the middle ages-ness of it, the beauty and old-world of it, gets me every time. I really wished I were a priest and could be standing under some gothic archway discussing the new pope in Rome or even at some Catholic University. I wanted to be in the club again.


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