Friday, May 24, 2013

Wherein Pope Francis wins me over

As I've said before, I'm not an atheist. Neither am I particularly religious though I did suffer from Catholic envy when I was young and I collect Catholic religious items now. Because they're beautiful. However, I've never had any great love for the Pope. In fact I found the whole concept of the papacy somewhat insulting. So I'm surprised to find myself liking Pope Francis so much. He doesn't talk or behave like the others before him, at least in my lifetime.

This homily he gave on the theme culture of encounter is the foundation of peace rather knocked me out. I mean when have you heard words like this from the Vatican?
"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

...And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
I was genuinely shocked by the reaction to this on my social nets. Whole lot of angry atheists sneering at him for being condescending, or demanding moral authority. I read it a whole different way.

He's not saying dear atheists, I absolve you. He's talking to the whole damn world saying don't sit in judgment of good works just because the doer doesn't share your belief system. Not all that different from Mr. Rogers saying look for the helpers. And it's powerful, because the Pope is saying it. Millions of people do give him moral authority, while even those who don't will hear the words. Perhaps it will even make some people reconsider their self-claimed absolute righteousness in their own beliefs. Surely, that would be a good thing.

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