I’ve never had a particular interest in becoming a Catholic. But last week, I followed Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. with much interest, as I am sure many of my fellow Protestants did.
Francis represents something new and novel for people my age. See, for much of my life, John Paul II was the pope, but by the time we came of age to know anything about the world, he was pretty old and frail. To look at old photographs when he was young and vibrant, commanding crowds of thousands is almost surreal. Like Billy Graham in a robe.
And then there was Benedict for a few years, and nothing against him, but this is the first time in many of our lifetimes that we know a pope that is out and about in the world. Like it or not, he goes where he wishes and comments on issues that are relevant to every human being on earth.
And so, as I followed the Pope’s visit, I also kept up with what people were saying about the Pope’s visit.
People who call themselves Christians.
People who claim to stand up for morals and righteousness.
And I found myself shocked, though perhaps I should be past shock by my age. But there is a whole world of so-called Christians who I have absolutely nothing in common with.
All it took was a visit from the Pope to reveal it.
“Politics as Usual” From the Pope
Any Pope is going to have throngs of people flock to him and other people dismiss him or even vilify him. And few Popes in history have been above “politics.”
But I don’t know if any modern Pope has been as unwillingly “politicized” as Francis.
Have you noticed there is a whole group of people who are only able to see the Pope in political terms?
They are the talking heads, the radio personalities, the writers and consultants who wear little American flags on their lapels. They call the Pope a “radical,” a “marxist,” even just a good old-fashioned “liberal.”
Americans, we have been trained to see everything in terms of politics, namely party politics. We are taught to put everything into boxes and neat little categories. Us vs. them. Right vs. wrong.
This is exactly the kind of thinking that makes our public discourse so completely intolerable today.
And something seems wrong about calling the Pope a “marxist.” Something seems wrong about applying labels to the Pope. I know I’m not a Catholic, but I think the Pope gets to be just the Pope, no matter what he is saying, without any labels to try to box him in.
Towing the Party Line at All Costs
There comes a time when we become so soaked in a cause, that we cannot see anything else.
C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters describes it this way. A man becomes a Christian, and his faith is based on the basic tenants of scripture.
Then, a special cause is attached as an addendum to his faith.
Pretty soon, the special cause grows and the faith becomes the secondary thing to the cause. And finally, the cause replaces faith altogether.
This is exactly what we have been tricked into doing. American Christianity has been poisoned because we put priority on labeling everything, finding out who our enemies are, towing the party line, and circling the wagons.
I don’t care if you are a conservative. If you can’t get on board with protecting the environment, then you are selfish and evil.
I don’t care if you are a liberal. If you cannot condemn Planned Parenthood for what has been going on, then you are selfish and evil.
And if you hear what the Pope says about the poor, and all you can hear are politics and all you can do is ask “Are we supposed to give even more?” then you are probably a little bit selfish and evil.
Let the “Real Men” Take Care of Business
I heard someone dismiss the Pope by saying “his job is to save souls, not tell governments what to do.”
Great point. Really good way to dismiss the spiritual leader of a billion people.
The problem is that many of us suffer from this division, this divorce in our minds between justice here on earth and in heaven. We like to leave the fancy religious stuff to the guys in white, so long as they can be left out of the loop, while the “real men” take care of business. We don’t want a guy to serve as our conscience, to tell us “Yes, you do have to give more.”
Besides this, ignorant Americans don’t know that American government sprang from the Enlightenment, a time of prolific thinking that held produces radical ideas such as the dignity of all people, the social contract, all men are created equal. Our very government was formed in the ideals of liberty and justice, and yet there are many people who claim the mantle of Christianity and the mantle of the Constitution, claim we are a “Christian nation,” and yet do not see the profound connections underlying it all.
We have come a long way since Popes actually coronated European monarchs. Now we tell the Pope he has no business telling us how to live our lives or run our nations more justly.
I’m not a Catholic, but I think we ignore the Pope to the peril of our souls, especially if we still try to grasp at straws and claim to be a “Christian” nation at all.