How could any normal person with humanity's interests at stake and a yearning for peace possibly come down on Pope Francis I? It beggars the mind and imagination (the worst recesses) to think there are actually Catholics who deplore his actions and words and wonder if he is some kind of a "heretic" out to subvert Church teachings. I mean, hell, even atheists love this pope! Probably because he evinced a truly enlightened tolerance for them 5 months ago, when on delivering a homily at the Chapel of the Domus Santa Marta he said:
"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. 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."
But according to a Sunday New York Times piece ('Some Catholics Feel Left Out of Pope's Embrace' ) this exhibition of tolerance has evidently pissed off conservative Catholics (you know, the ones who think 'Opus Dei' is just grand, and yearn for old Latin masses and more saints). In this sense they're like a certain self-professed fundie who has roundly proclaimed he "ain't sharin' no afterlife with any atheists". Seems the afterlife cosmos is just too damned small for these close-minded folks to allow "heathens" and "believers" i.e. those who think they know what's up there (really) to co-exist in the same post-space-time continuum.
The part of Francis' address that really got to them was not generally published in the U.S. media - but was re-published in the NY Times article (p. 27):
"Everyone has his own idea of good and evil".
Which is, of course, true. A starving child or parent of that child will, for example, regard evil as the gross systemic inequality in a supposedly rich nation that permits such a travesty to occur. Yeshua, when he was alive, regarded evil as turning from one's fellow man and employing "rule-based" theology to exclude or demonize others. This is why he upbraided the Pharisees as "whited sepulchres." They were so obsessed with their petty rules, laws and rule-making that they lost sight of the total spiritual vision, i.e. that a true God would embrace all humans, irrespective of beliefs, or unbelief.
As the Times piece observes: "The Pope has won affection worldwide for his humility and common touch."
But not among these regressive Catholics. The Times cites one conservative Catholic blogger named Steve Skojec - "the Vice President of a real estate firm in Virginia who has written for several conservative Catholic websites".
Skojec, according to the Times (ibid.) asks if Francis' statements are "explicitly heretical" - deciding they aren't ....quite, at least not yet. But he responds in an afterthought:
"Are they dangerously close? Absolutely! What kind of Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That should disturb Catholics everywhere!"
Actually, no. Only seriously deluded Catholics would be so disturbed. Catholics who really think they have a lock on ultimate truth and know "God" to a tee. But as I noted in my recent book Beyond Atheism, Beyond God, the most people with limited brains and neural capacity can do is formulate relative, subjective God concepts. This means apart from not being any of their damned business to meddle in others' lives, they lack the epistemological certainty to be able to justify trying to "convert" anyone. This is because their god beliefs are as relative, limited and subjective as any other believer's and their neural capacity is no greater than an unbeliever's!
This further supports the contention of philosopher Joseph Campbell to the effect that:
‘God’ is an ambiguous word in our language because it appears to refer to something that is known..
If this entity is de-conceptualized, then it can’t be debated, even by the most ardent or determined atheist. Similarly, no one possesses the knowledge, spiritual advantage or superior moral position to “convert” any other person to what he accepts or thinks is a "one true" God concept. Because there is no "one true God" precisely because you're only dealing with a limited concept, not the actual entity.
My point here is that no one, of ANY religion, is in such a superior epistemological position that he can assert his religion is the “one true one”. This also means he’s in no position to “convert” anyone to his religion. Is there any advantage to be gained by acknowledging that a God-concept is what people are really talking about when they use the noun “God”? I think there is. For one thing, the acknowledged use of the term God-concept reinforces an attitude of cautious forbearance. The implicit relativism acts as a restraint, backing the believer away from a militant stance of absolutism. Ideally, this should dispose him or her to be more tolerant - tolerant toward unbelievers and tolerant toward those of different religions.
What is the alternative, after all? It is that each monotheistic religion, whether Islam, or Evangelical Protestantism or Catholicism will be spurred to condemn those not numbered in its fold. Each then prescribes "hellfire" for the outliers or unbelievers, and sows the seeds for incessant strife in this world as well as spiritual apartheid in the next.
But will a guy like Stevie Skojec be able to process all of this? Probably not. Because his absolutist stance admits of no questioning, or any smidgeon of tolerance for others'. In other words, like the most extreme Islamist extremists, he won't be satisfied until all "unbelievers" are "converted" or....if we carry his reasoning forward and extrapolate it to its brutal conclusion: put to the sword. Because, there is no other way, and none of us (atheists) are going to convert willingly nor are we going to listen to any authoritarian yap from the likes of his ilk.
All of which reinforces the point that when people use the word G-o-d they’re not talking or writing about an actual entity but a limited construct or approximate mental ideation configured as a noun, which we call a God concept. Further, because it’s limited by content and comprehension, i.e. by finite minds with finite intelligence which can’t grasp all aspects, then all such concepts must be relative and subjective. This means that the Jewish concept of Yahweh, the Muslim concept of Allah, the Hindu concept of Brahmin and the Christian concept of the Trinity all stand in the same epistemological relation. From an informational point of view, none can be selected as “true” to the exclusion of the others.
If indeed Catholics, including the conservative faction, yearn for a better world, there is only one way and that's to allow for inevitable differences in epistemological, belief (or unbelief) approaches that reflect human cultural, geographical and experiential differences. TO presume instead that there is only one "right" way and by god you are going to demand it, is to offer a prescription for endless war, endless strife and endless hate.
You really, really want that? Didn't think so!
Everyone with a grain of sense, including conservative Catholics like Steve Skojec, ought to be applauding Francis' open statements of tolerance, instead of denigrating them as one step removed from what they believe is "heretical".