Tuesday, October 15, 2013

They'll get the wrong idea, Your Holiness!

So far, the biggest problem orthodox Catholics have with the Pope seems to be summed up in one word: misunderstanding. It's not that they think Pope Francis is necessarily saying anything or doing anything out and out unCatholic, or giving some teaching that is at odds with the deposit of faith, or even - at least not yet - necessarily taking actions that are going to, in and of themselves, directly harm the Church. Instead, the problem is just that - insofar as he serves as the representative of the Catholic Church to the world - he's saying things that can be taken as inconsistent with Catholic teaching.

There's no "Catholic" God? People will get the wrong idea, padre. They'll see that and think accepting Christ or preaching the gospel is entirely optional! It doesn't matter if you meant that God is known by more than just the Catholics, that God is involved in our lives regardless of our faith, or that Catholicism does not have a total monopoly on truth about God. People will mistake your words!

You say the Church should not focus exclusively on gay marriage, abortion and contraception? People will get the wrong idea, padre. They'll think you're tacitly endorsing all three things, rather than urging Catholics to explain the greater rationale behind their views, or to pay attention to the other threats to morality and life and faith. You'll make Andrew Sullivan happy, but others sad!

You say that nonbelievers should follow their consciences and do good, and that if everyone did what they thought was good the world would improve? People will get the wrong idea, padre. You'll be interpreted as saying that the conscience alone determines what is right and wrong, rather than encouraging people to sincerely reflect upon their acts and beliefs and urge them to recognize good in the process. Pro-abortionists will go out and say their conscience dictates that abortion is good!

To a degree, I think concerns like these are valid. There's nothing wrong with the admonition for someone - even the Pope - to make sure that what they are saying is most likely to be interpreted not only in the way they actually intend them to be interpreted, but also that they're saying what needs to be said to begin with. If the Pope is speaking out against abortion, he probably doesn't want to use language that implies that the only women who get abortions are adulterous sluts who are trying to hide an affair. And if the Pope is arguing that women who have gotten abortions should be able to be forgiven if they repent and welcomed back into the church, he probably doesn't want to use language that makes it sound as if abortion is - as far as the Church is concerned - something close to 'jumping a turnstyle at the subway'.

But there are two big pitfalls with this kind of thinking - and I think they're pitfalls some orthodox critics of the Pope are falling into.

1) The idea that the Pope should never say something that can be taken out of context is just absurd. It's laughably easy to take just about anything out of context - particularly if you're shameless, dishonest, or are willing to only quote a portion of what someone said. There's no lack of these people in the modern climate, since most of what the Pope says is going to have some potential political repercussions, direct or indirect. For anyone who disagrees with this, I have an open challenge - give me a select statement that I cannot misrepresent, right here in my own comments section. I get to quote you selectively, 'summarize' your words, analyze and interpret you to my heart's content.

This is nothing new to Francis. Benedict received this same treatment, except it was usually in the opposite direction - see how Benedict was treated regarding Galileo with La Sapienza University. There's going to be an element of nuance here: saying something like 'I'm against abortion even in the case of rape because sometimes God intends children to be born due to rape' is inane. It doesn't matter 'what you meant' by such a statement - there's a better way to put it than that. Saying, 'I'm against abortion even in the case of rape, because I think it's wrong to hold a child responsible for the acts of his monstrous father' is better. Is it still open to misrepresentation and misunderstanding? Absolutely - everything is. It's a considerable improvement, but there's still nuance involved here.

But that misunderstanding leads me into...

2) The idea that if the Pope says something that some people can and/or will misunderstand, then he shouldn't say it, is worse than absurd - it is insane. It would mean that the Pope should never speak about much of anything, because really... the number of slow-witted, non-reflectful or otherwise 'difficult thinkers' in the world is incredible. I would go so far as to say that they are probably the rule, rather than the exception. And their problems are exacerbated in a modern media culture that strongly emphasizes quotes, sound bites, gists and third party analysis.

If you tell a roomful of people that gays should be treated as human beings rather than judged purely on their sexual preferences, almost half of the room will hear 'Homosexuality is A-OK! Gay marriage should be legal!' If you tell a roomful of people that sodomy is morally wrong, and that same sex marriage should not be legal, half of them will hear, 'Being gay is evil! It's okay to beat up people for being gay!' If you try to explain, at length, the particularities and nuances of a position such that 'being gay' is not immoral, but certain sexual behaviors are, most of the room will say, 'I don't even understand what this guy is saying. Why's he talking so much? Why can't he just say whether or not I should accept gay marriage or beat up gays?' Oh, and this only gets worse if you're dealing with people who are both a little on the slow/inattentive side and ALSO are given to one kind of bias or another.

So when I see people griping that what the Pope said is 'going to be misunderstood', all I can ask is what else is new. Every Pope I've ever known in my life was repeatedly misunderstood, misrepresented and more, and often across the political spectrum. When I see Francis getting taken to task because, God forbid, there's some idiot out there who's going to think that abortion is okay because the Pope said that we shouldn't focus exclusively on those topics and then read a two-bit analysis by a left-wing blogger with a penchant for fantasy, while everyone else just gets riled up, I mostly end up feeling bad for Francis. I notice that even when Francis speaks in an orthodox way, it doesn't matter to a lot of people - the left just winks and nods and suggests that Francis has to say such things to keep orthodox Catholics happy (leftists I encounter usually seem surprisingly A-OK with the idea of people lying to get their way), and the right just laments that it isn't public enough and so ultimately doesn't matter as much as what gets reported more loudly (which, if the media IS biased, is just setting themselves up for total disappointment.)


Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I have not yet read this, and I don't know if you cite me in it, but I should clarify that I have abandoned the idea that the Pope is culpable merely for leaving himself open to misinterpretation, and am now elucidating why his very words are themselves the source of the confusion. Blaming the MSM is just that: blaming someone other than the Pope. I am doing all I can to sift the destructive chaff from the wheat of this "off the cuff" Pope, in order, first, that the rest of his otherwise good witness would not be buried by the appeal of his howlers (though, honestly, I think that's the end result in the world's mind), and, second, that the simple would not be duped by the errors he has promulgated. I won't comment on anything in the post here until I've read it in full.

Crude said...


I would agree, entirely, that it's difficult to decide how much blame rests with the Pope and how much rests with everyone else. Nor am I against the idea that the Pope could have said various things better.

But I think some people are saying 'The Pope should speak clearly so he CAN'T be misrepresented', and I think said people don't realize that this is literally impossible. They're just used to and now comfortable with being misrepresented in a particular negative way, which is a danger itself.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Yeah, that's dumb, but it's also not a view I've heard very much. It's one that Mark Shea trades in on a lot, but it's just not one that I actually find in the endless reading I am doing about all this.

Crude said...

Also, I think your criticisms of the Pope would come across better if you toned down the snarkiness. As it stands, it's hard to go a paragraph without the Pope being called some nickname or otherwise taunted, and when you write a very long post, that builds up quickly.

I think you have points worth making, but they're being distracted from and the result makes it hard to follow.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Thank you for that reminder. I know it gets lost in the verbiage, but the reason I use those terms is to indicate how starkly they contrast with the Francis I want to believe in. I know what it means when someone tells me, "You're using your teacher voice," so I don't mean it to be snark when I say that the Pope is
"using his Guido voice." But I'll try to dial it down. Heh.

Crude said...

I have a lot to respond to you on, at this point. I'll try to get to it soon. I think one thing I have to do is talk about Vatican II, and how I see it. The short version in advance is, 'I reject what most people who are enthusiastic about it view it as. I accept what I think is the orthodox interpretation of it.'

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Vatican II, especially given your Byzantine perspective.


Crude said...

Which parts? Name some documents or isssues in particular - this will help me focus.