Pope Politics: You Can Be Critical AND Religious

The whole idea of dogmatic religious authority just doesn’t make sense to me.  There is an essential failure in the chain of epistemic reasoning.  Why is one religious authority invested with so much damnable trust?

It is with this sense of bewilderment I’ve watched the Pope’s recent statement and the reactions it has provoked.  These have been varied.  One rather neat view is as an positive affirmation of a Christianity apart from the control of the Catholic Church.

But The Seeker blog at the Chicago Tribune appears to be missing the point badly.  Manya Brachear writes (emphasis mine):

Protestants panicked Tuesday over a papal document that rejected other churches as alternative routes to salvation and emphasized Roman Catholicism is the one true path.

But do religious communities have a right to criticize a church’s doctrine that’s not their own?

Couldn’t one argue that is precisely what the Pope did in his statement?  Yet the real blunder comes later on in the post (emphasis mine):

Since the day Benedict was elected, there has been a fear that he would single-handedly dismantle the ecumenical dialogue Pope John Paul II worked so hard to develop. Many believe that his comments about Islam, his decision to lift restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass which on Good Friday calls for the conversion of the Jews and this document support that conclusion.

But Tuesday’s document makes a point to emphasize that the pontiff remains committed to ecumenical dialogue.

How is this any different from Bush remaining “committed” to ending the war in Iraq?  His moves towards Islam, Judaism, and now even other Christians push him farther from interfaith dialog.  When you walk away from the negotiating table, there is a point at which saying that you “remain committed” no longer has any credibility.

At what point do you start to say “Hey, maybe something doesn’t add up?”.

Isn’t it important to understand, going into any interfaith conversation, that everyone at the table in their own minds and hearts is right — without question? Isn’t the challenge about finding a way they can all be right and live in harmony?

Whose statements make that goal more difficult to reach? The pope’s? Or his critics?

Right now, the Pope launched the first volley.  And perhaps we should just drop this idea that all religions are “right” anyway.  Maybe they are all wrong in some way or another.  Maybe each one has only that small spark of the divine, and has tried to build a house of rules when an inner fire would have been more appropriate.

There is a fundamental problem with Faith, in that it is belief utterly devoid of any driving reason for existing.  That is what the Pope’s statement represents.

Belief in a particular way of doing things is fine, but why don’t we find it socially acceptable to demand a reason for that belief?  So the Pope is the authority of God on Earth.  Oh yeah?  Prove it.  The humble goal of being an example of an ethical existence is enough of an effort all on its own.  Yet in that effort one creates the proof in one’s good works.

The previous Pontiff was a truly amazing and inspiring man.  When he spoke to the world, people of all religions (and the non-religious) could often find much to listen to, much to contemplate.  Pope Ratzinger is departing from what appears to be a modern anomoly in the Church, a man of God we can all look to for moral leadership.  Not because of his inherent authority, but because of the positive example of his actions.

I am not a Catholic, and I certainly found much to disagree with in the actions of the last Pope.  But I found much to admire and respect.  His efforts to bridge relations between the religions were truly righteous.  It is a shame to see this legacy was not passed on to his successor.

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One Response

  1. Is Manya Brachear angling for a job in the Vatican PR office? You’ve got to admire the chutzpah of using her existing employer to publish her application (although obviously she won’t be using words like’ chutzpah’ in Pope Benny’s new old-church).

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