Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Francis

I'm starting to sour on him a little, I must say. I think the word he has repeated most frequently in his Papacy so far has been "poor." He says he wants the church to serve the poor. As we know, different people mean different things when they say they want to help the poor. When I say it I mean I want to eliminate poverty. I have a feeling that's not what Francis has in mind. And in fact eliminating poverty would directly contradict Holy Scripture: remember, Jesus said that the poor would be with him always.

And of course, as many people have pointed out, the Catholic Church is now strongest in the poorest parts of the world. Is Francis a real revolutionary, as some optimists have speculated, or, quite to the contrary, does he want to keep the Church strong by keeping the number of people in poverty huge?

Refusing to wear some of the Papal bling which had become usual before his pontificate, riding in a bus with the other Cardinals instead of in a Papal limousine, personally paying a hotel bill -- these things don't impress me. They're peanuts. The Catholic Church has billions if not trillions of Euros at its disposal -- and a Euro is more than a dollar -- and Francis apparently expects people to ooh and ahh at gestures which amount to dozens or hundreds. And anyway, conspicuous consumption doesn't spread poverty. If wealth is accumulated through sweatshops and union-busting, then yes, it does spread poverty. But ornate robes and high-end jewelry are made by skilled craftsman at high wages, a large part of which wages go into the general economy -- whatever, just study some basic economics, and no, Ayn Rand was not an economist, she was merely a creep.

Birth control in the Third World would help the poor. Francis is no help there. Education would help the poor. Francis is not a Franciscan, he is a Jesuit, and when the Jesuits began they were among the best educators in Europe and the European colonies. Many Jesuits and their fans will insist that they still are, but of course that isn't true. Many students who received the benefits of an education by the Jesuits in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries grew up to be quite secular and eventually to create secular institutions of learning. And I'm not even going to add "--paradoxically" to the end of the previous sentence. It was no paradox. In the earlier centuries of the Jesuits' existence there were no non-Christian universities in Christendom, and non-Christian schools at lower levels were relatively scarce, and private tutors and private scholars also were clergypeople more often than not. In short, Christianity still had a monopoly, pretty much a stranglehold, on Western education. Therefore it makes absolutely no sense to assume that a clergyperson had chosen his or her vocation for the sake of religion and not for the sake of education, and no sense to assume that a Jesuit teacher was Christian in more than name only. And in fact many of the leading, most blatant anti-clerics of previous centuries were Jesuit clerics. It wasn't a paradox at all, it was a function of circumstance. Now that there are abundant opportunities for education completely apart from Christendom, it does make sense to assume that a Jesuit is saddled with quite a bit of superstition of the exact kind from which earlier generations of Jesuits sought to free their charges.

If by helping the poor Francis means raising them up out of poverty, and if he actually succeeds in doing so in significant numbers, then he will succeed in significantly shrinking the Catholic Church. (As well as deservedly winning the love and gratitude of many people, Catholic and non-.) If he means to keep their loyalty with an occasional kind word and pat on the head and bowl of soup and crust of bread or bowl of rice and pair of second-hand shoes, then he's not really their friend. Many misguided Leftists seem to find poverty picturesque, and despise wealth and luxury. (I'm a Leftist, but not that kind.) Maybe Francis is one of those. If so, many Leftists will love him, and the poorest human populations will not do nearly as well as they would have with a Pope who loved the bling and the limousines and ate haute cuisine and stayed in penthouses whenever he traveled, and used his power to CHANGE things, to expose exploitative right-wing regimes, to combat multinationals which sell products from sweatshops and industrial farms, to support unions, and education, and access to the best medical care for the broadest possible populations, and birth control and other women's rights.

I was actually fairly optimistic for a few hours of Francis' papacy. Now I feel I was taken in. Which is not to say that I think Francis is insincere. I have no idea how sincere he might be. And I also don't much care. His actions are going to be what they will be, whatever motivates them. But I hope that I'm now wrong to feel taken in, and that Francis actually will change some of the big things, and not merely the Papal wardrobe.

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