Sometimes when I hear Pope Francis, I wonder what world he is talking about. If he isn't a liberal Catholic child of Marxist inspired Latin American liberation theology, he keeps coming across as one. And even if the endless legions of Francis apologists will descend upon the Internet en masse to correct the liberal interpretations and tell us, once again, what Pope Francis really meant, I can't help but notice the Left is more than happy to accept the initial meanings that most attribute to his statements.
I know this isn't the first time. And many of Pope Francis's biggest supporters will try to draw parallels to the misunderstandings of Pope Francis and those of previous popes. But here's the thing. Those who hated and loathed Pope Benedict or Pope John Paul II because of their stances on homosexuality, women priests, abortion and contraception, or other issues near and dear to the liberal heart, were right. In typical form, those popes were accused of hate and bigotry and sexism and the usual. Those who defended them knew exactly what they meant. Nobody said 'well, Pope Benedict really meant, or Pope John Paul II actually said.' They might have ignored inconvenient teachings, but everyone knew what they stood for and what they meant. When they were disagreed with, attacked, or celebrated, it was done based upon the biases, stances, beliefs or traditions held by those doing the commenting, defending or attacking.
But with Pope Francis, we have an entirely new dimension to the age old pope wars. We have those who don't like him because of stances he has taken that they don't like. We have those who cheer him because he speaks to issues from the point of view that is near and dear to their hearts. But we also have this new level of debate, the 'what Pope Francis really intended to mean when he said what everyone misunderstood' level of debate.
Apart from Pope Benedict attacking Muslims at Regensburg and his call to allow condoms for gay prostitutes, misunderstanding was not a hallmark of the last two papal debate cycles. But with Pope Francis it is a twice daily event. It allows those who subscribe to liberal religious doctrines to disagree with Pope Francis on several key issues (most of which cleave heavily unto the regions of the genitals), while nonetheless finding solace in various statements he makes, believing that they are simply ways to assure them that not now, but soon, the Church will finally come around to their way of thinking. So we have this that I commented on the other day. It turns out I'm not the only one throwing the yellow flag on this one.
In 2004, Sam Harris, a radical proponent of the new, aggressive evangelical atheism, published a book titled "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason." Of course there were a million problems with the book, and greater minds than mine had no problem unpacking those problems and pretty much skinning the thing and leaving it out to dry. Despite its problems and its premise - that it's high damn time non religious types get aggressive and start being open about their desire to eradicate religion from the planet - it was met with much praise and adoration by many in the Christian community who were, shall we say, left of center. The president of Union Theological Seminary famously gave the book two thumbs up.
One of the most often referenced points of agreement between Harris and those liberal Christian leaders I knew was his insistence that only by embracing secularized societies can the world have hope. The more secular, the more peaceful. The more religious, the more horrible, violent, and oppressive. Even folks like me didn't take more than a minute to say 'The Soviet Union? North Korea? The Khmer Rouge?' Eventually Harris did back down and drop that as part of his stump speech.
Enter Pope Francis. His latest interview is, once again, drawing attention to say the least. The idea that converting people to Christianity and jihad might be the same thing has found stunned reactions by many in the Christian community. Likewise the idea, much embraced by Western liberals, that Christianity and Islam are two of many sides of the same coin, just like any other religion, seems to have gotten a jolt from him, especially when he added his praise to London for electing a Muslim mayor and seemed open to a potentially Islamic dominated Europe.
Over at The Catholic World Report, Carl Olson takes apart some of this, pondering why Pope Francis seemed so reluctant to ascribe Christian influence to the roots of European Civilization. If Pope Francis is a child of Latin American liberation theology, that's easy. I don't know Catholic liberation theology, but the Protestant brand was a simple nut to crack. Basically, there is no Satan or Hell, there's only the Democratic, Capitalist West. That is pretty much the source of all evil and suffering in the world. A child of Latin American theology might well chafe at the idea of associating Christianity too closely to the Western Tradition. In the same way Gnostics chafed at the idea of an Incarnation. What is by definition evil can't possibly have a spark of the divine.
Perhaps Pope Francis means to distance Europe from exclusively Christian origins in order to separate the Church from always bearing the brunt of Europe's sins. There were, after all, other historical ingredients in the soupy mix that would become the European stew. Charity suggests I might take that approach to understanding his statement. His follow up statements, however, suggesting that appealing to Christian roots equated to triumphalism and even colonialism make that interpretation difficult.
But on the factual level, his subsequent dismissal of confessional states in preference to secular states is even more baffling. Again, Pope Francis seems to say it doesn't really matter. Things like Global Warming, open borders for immigrants, Socialized economies and tolerance and mercy for liberal sexual norms are the key positions to have regarding life and death, blessings and curses. Other things don't seem to be much more than opinions with which we can respectfully disagree, and as a result, it doesn't really matter what religion is running the ship or what religious ship people want to board.
As I looked at the interview a couple more times, his preference for a secularized society was most troubling. Assuming Pope Francis isn't hardcore to the Left and speaking the words of his heart, then he seems almost tone deaf to the majority of the secularized world that hears his words and rejoices to hear a leader of one of the world's largest religions conceding the superiority of secularization.
Beyond that, you have the basic problem that he is wrong. There is absolutely nothing historically to suggest that going secular is the key to happiness and embracing religious confessional states will kill an empire. In fact, after the 20th century, you would be hard pressed to find a more wrong statement to make. And given the track record that arguably could be attributed to secularized nations, it goes beyond just wrong to being dangerously wrong. It is so wrong that even Sam Harris finally had to concede and change his spiel to acknowledge the facts. And yet, it is something of which our Pope appears convinced. If he is not a liberal Catholic child of Marxist inspired Latin American liberation theology, he makes less and less sense every day. For it to make sense, well, you know.