Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Discussing Pope Francis with the Codgitator

Yet another conversation link, though this one's a bit shorter. Basically going over some of the Pope's second interview, and once again I think what the Pope is actually saying and doing is on the whole far more reasonable than how he's so far been presented.

I think a good share of the problems people are having - not all of them, but a good share - basically come down to this: on the one hand, the Pope seems to be actively trying to engage and approach people who have grown distant from the Church. Not 'Richard Dawkins', but just 'modern non-believers'. The simply irreligious, the nominal-at-best Christian or Catholic. And this, frankly, is a group that the modern Church has never really focused on before. In fact, it's a group that I strongly suspect a lot of orthodox Christians simply do not know how to engage: they're more comfortable with out and out hostile idiot-atheists, or with fellow believers. The merely irreligious, the social liberal who is liberal just because they kinda-sorta think it's right to be so rather than regard hardcore social liberalism as key to their identity? They tend to get ignored. They're not loud, after all.

It's the engagement of that group that has caught my attention for a while now, and it's probably one reason why I'm being a lot more forgiving of what I'm seeing out of Francis right now. I don't think engaging this group requires any sacrifice of orthodox stances. I do think it will naturally require different language and different approaches than what orthodox and traditionalists have been providing up to this point. So right now, I find myself understanding of and even encouraged by most (not all, but most) of what Francis is saying. I may change my mind in the future, but for now, it's nice to have a pope that - at least in my casual experience - the irreligious like and find inspiring. I'm not quite so sure the social liberals are going to like him ultimately. I really do think he's panicking them.

9 comments:

The Deuce said...

Hi, Crude,

Like I said previously, I just don't see how it's possible to make something unobjectionable out of what he said, particularly regarding morality. To review:

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Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?
"Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good."

Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that's one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.
"And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."
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His first answer would be difficult enough to square with Christian doctrine (heck, with theism!) even if it were all by itself, without context.

But we *do* have context, which makes it even worse! He is explicitly and directly asked if there is an objective standard of Goodness. And he doesn't respond by saying that there is, or even by suggesting that there is. God isn't mentioned at all, not even indirectly. Instead, he says the exact opposite, giving a relativist answer. There's not even the slightest hint that "we" should try to lead people to the actual Truth, and encourage them to do what's actually right, rather than what's "right for them."

And then, in the next question, he doubles down on it by making it even more explicit that yes, he's really talking about peoples' personal ideas of good and evil.

I don't see how he could've been clearer here. I guess he could have said, "No, there is no universal standard of right and wrong. God just wants you to be happy and he's cool with whatever as long as it feels right to you. Let me repeat in case that didn't quite register: there is no absolute standard of right and wrong," but short of that, I can't think of anything.

And while I agree that he seems to be trying to communicate with the wishy-washy masses, and not with those already in the Church, I don't see how that helps. Isn't whole the point of such dialogue to spread the Truth, to bring people closer to it? I don't see how anybody outside Christianity could possibly read the Pope's statements and not get the exact wrong idea about what Christianity teaches about sin, and thus about what Christ represents. They're less familiar with whatever highly-refined theological "context" might be used to rationalize away the plainly stated relativism of his statements than you or I are. If they did decide to look into the Church further, they would be very confused about the contradiction, and likely conclude that they'd been lied to.

Also, Peter and Paul were largely preaching to a pluralistic, relativistic, "anything goes" society. Did they say anything remotely like this? Could you even imagine them saying it?

I'd like to make something nice of his statements, but I just don't see how. It's almost like he went out of his way not to leave any avenues of charitable interpretation open. I can't just unsee what I've already seen.

Crude said...

Deuce,

But we *do* have context, which makes it even worse! He is explicitly and directly asked if there is an objective standard of Goodness. And he doesn't respond by saying that there is, or even by suggesting that there is. God isn't mentioned at all, not even indirectly. Instead, he says the exact opposite, giving a relativist answer. There's not even the slightest hint that "we" should try to lead people to the actual Truth, and encourage them to do what's actually right, rather than what's "right for them."

First, I'm not sure about his being asked if there is an objective standard of goodness. At least the translation talks about a 'vision of the Good' and 'who decides what that is' - which I think is a flimsier question. That said, yes, the Pope pretty well punts on it. But I don't see that he denied there was an objective good. He said that everyone has their own vision of good and evil, and we should encourage people to follow their consciences and do what is good, which would 'be enough to make the world a better place.' That doesn't mean that the conscience -determines- what is actually good or evil, or that there is no work to do in convincing people what is or isn't good or evil.

And while I agree that he seems to be trying to communicate with the wishy-washy masses, and not with those already in the Church, I don't see how that helps. Isn't whole the point of such dialogue to spread the Truth, to bring people closer to it? I don't see how anybody outside Christianity could possibly read the Pope's statements and not get the exact wrong idea about what Christianity teaches about sin, and thus about what Christ represents.

Sure, the goal may be to spread Christianity to people - but in the process of doing that, you may try to convince them of something that falls far short of Christianity. You can say the purpose of the Five Ways is to bring someone to Christ, but even Aquinas will tell you that the Five Ways only gets you to God, not God as Christians know Him. So no, I don't think the Pope is even trying to say what 'Christ represents' there. He's operating at a much smaller level, for better or for worse.

If they did decide to look into the Church further, they would be very confused about the contradiction, and likely conclude that they'd been lied to.

I think it'd be pretty easy to explain things to them if they actually decided to look into the Church further - and if at that point they went 'Well, wait, I thought I could just believe what I wanted and join the Church!' and they leave, well, unfortunate, but it's for the best too. Likewise, again... I don't think that's anywhere close to what the Pope was doing. He wasn't trying to sell Christianity in that exchange, anymore than WLC is when he argues Kalam. Christianity is a different, larger conversation.

I did like how at one point the atheist interviewing the Pope says 'well I don't believe I have a soul' and the Pope flat out says, yeah, well, you do.

Crude said...

Also, Peter and Paul were largely preaching to a pluralistic, relativistic, "anything goes" society. Did they say anything remotely like this? Could you even imagine them saying it?

I don't think Peter and Paul were dealing with very many out and out irreligious or nonbelievers, and I think their context - a small but growing initial church that was being attacked from all sides - was different too.

Actually, let me try to explain the position I'm taking here: I'm not saying 'oh the Pope isn't saying anything problematic, that's all in everyone's heads.' Now, I do think some of the interpretations are inane - NARAL's, I think, is a case of flat-out lying and dishonesty. I do think there are some inane liberal interpretations of the Pope's words. I do think some of the criticisms of the Pope are way off-track from the conservative end too, but only some. Some of them are valid concerns.

This is where I'm getting tripped up. Once I filter out what I think are unreasonable interpretations of the Pope - no, I don't think he so much as hinted a change in Catholic teaching on abortion, LGBT things, etc. No, I don't think he endorsed relativism, as opposed to blandly encouraging people to do what they think is good, etc - I have some problematic leftovers. Yes, it sure would be nice for the Pope to once again re-affirm that fighting against abortion, etc, is good and -right-, even if he wants it done in a different way. (He did some of this at the Catholic gynecologist meeting.) Yes, it would be nice for the Pope to again firmly state these orthodox teachings, etc. Yes, some of what he's said has been confusing. Not as confusing as some people are saying, but confusing.

But then I look at those problems, and I also see what I really believe the Pope is doing - trying to reach out to the nominally Christian, the irreligious, etc, in a way to bring them to the Church and defang some of their passive dismissiveness and hostility, or trying to communicate Church teaching to them as it really is, rather than as it's interpreted by hostile forces and so on - and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and see where this leads, and I think this is the best position to take. So it's not like I'm sitting here saying 'there are no problems, there have been no missteps', only 'the missteps are minor, and in context, I can overlook them'. That may change, but for now, I'm sticking with the position I'm at.

Hopefully that at least lets you know where I'm coming from on this.

malcolmthecynic said...

When I first read the Codgitator I thought, "Okay, another conservative concerned over what the Pope is saying". Now that I'm checking it a little more regularly...am I the only one slightly disturbed about how hostile he's being to the Pope? Even his "Praise Pope Francis" thread is really backhanded.

This is why I find myself perhaps being more knee-jerk defensive than I should be. I agree, as per usual, with you, but the reaction of conservatives, like Codg, is seriously disturbing me.

Crude said...

Malcolm,

Codg feels strongly about it, and to be honest, I'm not too disturbed by it. I think some of the reactions go too far and are wrong or exaggerated, but honestly? I think social conservatives, particularly Catholics, have always looked to the Church as the one place they can rely on for a consistent, socially conservative teaching and leadership. If that doesn't fit their expectations, they're going to get disheartened, and I can see why.

I think to a degree this may be necessary. I mean, look at what I've argued over at WWWtW, and the reactions I got. And I'm damn far from being a Pope. I got hit with the 'liberal!' tag repeatedly, when I'm anything but. Some hostility will be inevitable at first - people are worried. I think they shouldn't be as worried as they are. We'll see.

malcolmthecynic said...

Oh, I get the "Why" behind the reactions. I thought the same way, then considered the idea that hey, maybe the Pope is older, wiser, and has been around the block a few more times than me. So while I do think he can be a little careless with his tongue I am trying to interpret him in as positive a way as I can, and I think that trying a new approach might be a good idea considering how things have been going for the conservatives.

But Codg? One thread on the interview, yeah. A second on his next comments to atheists, okay. But three other threads (that "Praise" thread was backhanded enough that I look at it as a negative)? All of them are not just critical, but extremely critical, almost nastily so, of Pope Francis? I think this goes a little beyond overreaction right into outright disrepect for an admittedly orthodox Pope.

Agree or disagree, he is the Pope. He deserves respect. Of the "uncomfortable" conservative responses I think Fr. Z has taken the best attitude - "No, I don't agree a lot of the time with the way he does things, but he's our Pope. Let's show some respect". I think people are taking the idea that "Hey, the Pope CAN be wrong!" too far and practically turning it into "the Pope is a raging heretic". And while Codg hasn't quite gotten that far, he does seem to REALLY rip into the guy all the time, complete with sarcasm. And yeah, that bothers me - and Codg is just an example.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Sorry, but, when I meet a clericalist, I suddenly become anti-clerical. Vatican-centric clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity. St. Paul, who was the first to speak to the Gentiles, the pagans, to believers in other religions, was the first to teach us that.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Besides, malcolm, I don't see what the number of my posts has to do with anything. Crude has almost half a dozen posts dealing With the Pope in the past few weeks. Is he some obsessed apologist for Francis? Of course not. He's responding to the Pope's words and actions as they impact the Church and the world. It may be granted that I am too prolix, but what you object to is the perceived tone of and sustained disquietude within those posts ("We get it, okay! Just simmer down and get in the conga line behind the Pope!"). If I don't work through my worries and frustrations, I assure you they will only fester and seep deeper into my soul. Besides, who are you to judge? ;-)

malcolmthecynic said...

I never said get in the conga line behind the Pope. I said you're too over the top, and you're criticizing almost *everything* he says. Discussing is one thing. Bashing him each time I quite another.

Just so you know, I said something about our exchanges on the latest post on your blog. I don't really wish to hi-jack Crude's thread. Suffice to say here I'm not really *mad* at you. We're both Catholics; we agree on the important things after all.