Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Strawman Dialogues: Volume Pope

And now, in what may be a semi-regular feature on this blog, I present to you... The Strawman Dialogues. Today's subject: Pope Francis.

Catholic A: Did you see that the Pope is Time's person of the year?
Catholic B: Yeah. I guess that's a good sign.
Catholic A: Feh. As if.
Catholic B: Eh? I thought you'd enjoy this. Nice to see a Pope who's actually popular.
Catholic A: He's popular for all the wrong reasons! Did you know MTV U named him man of the year too? Along with Lorde?
Catholic B: That's nice. Wait, who the hell is Lorde?
Catholic A: Doesn't matter. The point is that this is the last thing the Church needs.
Catholic B: What? Having a Pope who people don't spend most of their time comparing to Emperor Palpatine? Benedict was great in many ways, but I'm mostly encouraged by Francis' papacy so far.
Catholic A: Why!? Look at all the mistakes he's making!
Catholic B: Every pope, even the good ones, make mistakes. But what mistakes are you talking about?
Catholic A: God, where to begin. That horrible interview with the italian atheist. He's making the Church sound liberal!
Catholic B: What, did he go soft on abortion? Gay marriage? Anything like that?
Catholic A: He criticized the way conservatives have handled those issues!
Catholic B: Well, we could be doing better on that front. We're doing so-so on abortion. Gay marriage and same-sex stuff? Kind of a disaster. We lost the public in the span of ten, maybe five years.
Catholic A: But we should be speaking out against those things MORE as a result!
Catholic B: With the same exact approach? At what point do we start to question if maybe we've made some mistakes in how we've handled ourselves?
Catholic A: That's insane! The chips are stacked against us. A hostile liberal media! A secular culture of death!
Catholic B: All true. On the other hand, last I saw the Pope didn't give an inch on these topics. He's reiterated the Church's opposition to abortion, period. He's spoken out against moral relativism.
Catholic A: So?
Catholic B: So I think it's pretty impressive for a socially conservative Catholic, with a hostile media and culture, to swing Time's Person of the Year and even MTV U's - didn't even know that existed until today - Man of the Year award, without giving up an inch on doctrine. Sounds more like a man to emulate, at least in some ways.
Catholic A: Emulate!?
Catholic B: Yes, emulate. For a moment we have a Catholic Church, orthodox in its teaching, with a leader that people like. Agnostic friends I know like this pope. The Cult of Gnu is steaming that a religious leader is being praised even by liberals. Not everyone is a liberal activist diehard. Some of these socially liberal people are that way almost as a default. Perhaps this is a way to reach them - by improving our image, by focusing on things we can agree on, while holding fast to our orthodoxy.
Catholic A: But look at all the social conservatives the Pope upset!
Catholic B: I'm a social conservative, but I'm not upset. And frankly, a lot of the upset people are too fragile. They don't want to admit they may have made some mistakes over the years. The very thought of a new approach when the old isn't working confounds them.
Catholic A: We don't NEED a new approach.
Catholic B: Right, what did I just say.
Catholic A: What I mean is the Church needs to speak with clarity on these issues! There are still Catholics who approve of gay marriage! Or women priests! Or...
Catholic B: You think it's news to them that they're taking a liberal position? Sometimes people disagree even if you speak with clarity. Let's try clear messages with different approaches. Repeating an old mantra may not get us anywhere.
Catholic A: Obscuring the issues certainly won't help.
Catholic B: The Pope's not obscuring anything. He's been clear about abortion, about women priests and more, time and again.
Catholic A: The public doesn't read those documents! They just read soundbites!
Catholic B: Then take the documents where he's clear and make some soundbites. Easy to do. Problem solved.
Catholic A: And what about the social conservatives who get disheartened?
Catholic B: Not desirable, and I think the Church is clearly trying to calm them. But as with the diehard liberals, you can't make much progress with the perpetually aggrieved.
Catholic A: They just want a Pope who teaches clearly!
Catholic B: No, they want a Pope who sticks to a script so they're never disturbed. They're so used to hostile reactions that if a Pope isn't hated by all the right people, they're afraid of him. I'm afraid that if we're going to make any progress in the culture war, people who like the same exact message repeated ad nauseum will need to be disturbed. We don't need to change any beliefs or orthodoxies, but we damn sure need to change how we express them.

13 comments:

Craig said...

If Catholic C can pipe up to add something, the stories that mass attendance and confession (!!) are both up in Italy and Latin America is a clear indication that the Holy Spirit is making use of Pope Francis. I would not have predicted that his methods would bear that kind of fruit, but it's not the first time I've been out of step and it's kind of nice to see things working out better than I would have expected.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I... see what you did there. ;)

"Let's try clear messages with different approaches."

To which I answer, "Repeating an old mantra may not get us anywhere."

Fresh, new, accommodating, pastoral, intimate, change-of-emphasis-not-dogma, dialogue, encounter, etc. The Spirit of Vatican II all over again.

This just brings up the fundamental dilemma that I'm talking about ("the Francis Affect"). On the one hand, I hear people (e.g. you) say that it's a victory to get TIME, and thus the larger culture, to "like" Pope Francis ("in him have we all trended" heheh). On the other hand, people tell me that the selection is meaningless, since TIME doesn't always choose people they like or endorse (e.g. Stalin). Which is it? TIME embraces Francis ALONG WITH Catholic truth, or IN SPITE OF it?

Same thing in a different form: conservatives clutch at every instance of liberals "turning on" Pope Francis when they "find out" that he's a conservative. Yet you seem to be saying that the TIME selection is a great success, since Francis is pulling "the culture" closer to our side. Errm, I suppose so, but what about that satisfying promissory "conservative head fake" that Francis is so good at? Are we supposed to be happy that the conservative "bait and switch" burn will only serve to re-entrench the opposition?

Or again: you talk about "making progress" in the culture war, yet keep harping on how intransigent the opposition is. The world doesn't play nice, and never will. The Church has always spoken with mercy and beauty, but allegedly Pope Francis is a game changer on this front. Victory and progress are not our concern: unflinching loyalty to the complete exposition of the Catholic Tradition is. If you don't see how Pope Francis's "style" has created unusually massive difficulties for pastors to explicate the Faith, then I guess we're watching different papacies (cf. Bp. Tobin's remarks about "angst" and the pope's remarks recently).

The very terms of Francis's putative strategy is incoherent. On the one hand, he is praised for softening up and winning over the opposition, but on the other hand he is praised, with conservative Schadenfreude, for "sticking it to" gullible liberals who tried to exploit the pastoral pope. It's just a massive soup sandwich of a papacy.

A knack for public relations is not a gift of the Spirit, but a successful media campaign does have a Pelagian whiff about it. "Sí, se puede!" I'm sorry, but, without any snark, I see no substantial difference between what you're saying here and a promo for "Catholicism WOW!". We've tried the shiny, new soft-pitch approach for decades now. It's not working.

BenYachov said...

I love this Post!!!!!

Crude said...

Codg,

Fresh, new, accommodating, pastoral, intimate, change-of-emphasis-not-dogma, dialogue, encounter, etc. The Spirit of Vatican II all over again.

I think you would define any 'change of message' as 'The Spirit of Vatican II all over again', and that's what worries me. The problem with Vatican II was not the mere idea of trying to find new ways to engage a modern and even hostile culture. It was its hijacking by the corrupt, and some bad decisions. I don't see any bad decisions by Francis yet, accent on the yet. I do see its attempted hijacking, but I also think it's something we can fight if we actually bother to fight it rather than complain about it.

On the other hand, people tell me that the selection is meaningless, since TIME doesn't always choose people they like or endorse (e.g. Stalin). Which is it? TIME embraces Francis ALONG WITH Catholic truth, or IN SPITE OF it?

I do not think your binary list works here.

Time chooses a person of the year based on their impact, and this Pope has made quite an impact. It's largely viewed as a positive impact, even if some of the people with that view are liberal. Culturally, that's a good thing. Does it mean that the Pope is now in sync with Time's values? Not at all.

Yet you seem to be saying that the TIME selection is a great success, since Francis is pulling "the culture" closer to our side. Errm, I suppose so, but what about that satisfying promissory "conservative head fake" that Francis is so good at? Are we supposed to be happy that the conservative "bait and switch" burn will only serve to re-entrench the opposition?

You seem to be of the impression that the only progress being made here is that, basically, 'The Pope is lying to liberals, who will hate him even more once they find out he's not liberal.' I propose another possibility - there are middle of the road, 'inertia' social liberals for whom liberal views are not the passionate "correct" view, but a default. If you can reach them - get them to listen to you, shake the image that the diehards have made of you and use it wisely - you can get them to regard your views as reasonable. Maybe even right.

So no, it's not a bait and switch.

Or again: you talk about "making progress" in the culture war, yet keep harping on how intransigent the opposition is. The world doesn't play nice, and never will.

Notice I stress that it's the Cult that is beyond reasoning, not mere irreligious, on that topic. Why? Because not all of the 'opposition' is intransigent, and not everyone who disagrees is 'the opposition'. I don't give a rat's ass about trying to convert Andrew Sullivan. The man needs miracles or massive changes of heart, not dialogue. Many other people? They're not so intransigent.

The very terms of Francis's putative strategy is incoherent. On the one hand, he is praised for softening up and winning over the opposition, but on the other hand he is praised, with conservative Schadenfreude, for "sticking it to" gullible liberals who tried to exploit the pastoral pope. It's just a massive soup sandwich of a papacy.

It starts making sense once you realize that there's more than a single group of liberals out there.

Crude said...

Craig,

That's good news. The reports of increased mass attendance is definitely something encouraging - I guess it shows that, at least for now, the better view of the Pope is carrying over to a better view of the Church.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Crude,

How do you propose to fight the attempted hijacking of Pope Francis without/rather than complaining about it?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

By the way, I find the "conservatives want a pope who doesn't challenge them" canard the only major defect in your post. It didn't originate with you, thankfully, but it sounds like a typical liberal taunt, and really sets my teeth on edge. As if I and others like me didn't embrace the very challenging teachings and decisions of prior popes. By my lights, the majority of conservatives these days couldn't be more tickled by Pope Francis, so where does being challenged by him come into the picture for yourself (just to keep things concrete)? In any event, I'm not clear on how it is the pope's role to challenge the faithful and confirm the world, when Christ predicted conviction of the world and strengthening of the disciples to come from the Church. But that's just me being old-fashioned, I guess.

Crude said...

How do you propose to fight the attempted hijacking of Pope Francis without/rather than complaining about it?

Do what you do already, in part. Read what he writes. Point out the clear teaching that others are glossing over. The added ingredient is 'emphasize that', and while you're at it, think about how you're emphasizing it. Try to be effective, try to reach your soft opponents, the normally apathetic.

You know how it is, man. 'Read what he writes' puts you far ahead of 95% of the people out there, liberal and conservative. Even among the diehards, actually reading sources is skipped over typically. It's boring! And diehards don't get into this for intellectual reasons many times anyway.

I think - I suspect - the difference we have is that, while both of us love to fight against those intransigent opponents (the Andrew Sullivans, the Cultists of Gnu) who will fight tooth and nail against anything but their bizarre and intellectually deficient dogma, you don't really recognize that those people are rather fringe. They have an effect, they need to be answered, but there is also a whole lot of people out there - liberals, irreligious, apathetic, neutral - who you can have a discussion with, and make progress with. People whose minds can be changed, people who may disagree but are not foot soldiers in some abhorrent cultural army.

Or maybe they just don't interest you. Maybe that kind of conversation isn't your thing, and that's fine. But trust me - they are out there. And they need to be approached. Just as there are plenty of 'soft' conservatives, soft Catholics, the nominally religious, whose minds can be changed - and who the smarter liberals target. Even if you don't try to reach out to them, recognize that they are there, and that it's reasonable for others to try and reach them, even if it's not your thing.

That's my advice, anyway. And that's why I'm more encouraged than not by Pope Francis. He verified something important for me - approach matters. Presentation matters. He didn't need to capitulate on abortion, on gay marriage, on women priests to gain ground in the public. Not an inch. He did something right. Even if he's also doing something wrong, I want to identify what he did right and use it. And I think that manner of thinking is not the Spirit of Vatican II. I think it's the Spirit of Francis Xavier.

Crude said...

By the way, I find the "conservatives want a pope who doesn't challenge them" canard the only major defect in your post. It didn't originate with you, thankfully, but it sounds like a typical liberal taunt, and really sets my teeth on edge. As if I and others like me didn't embrace the very challenging teachings and decisions of prior popes.

I think you misunderstand. I'm not saying 'conservatives want a pope who doesn't challenge them.' The Pope isn't challenging any conservative on dogma (perhaps a bit on the capitalism front, but that's a whole other post.) He is challenging them on approach. And I think many social conservatives have a major, major problem with the thought that their approaches have been flawed.

I stress: it's not their dogma, it's their approach. Believe me, there are social conservatives out there who are still convinced that Mourdock and Akin didn't even say anything wrong in their respective gaffes (or, in the case of Akin, didn't say anything that was a big deal). They have the idea - particularly with Mourdock - that 'so long as fundamentally, when understood in proper context, no matter how hard it is to frame it that way, what a person said is true or largely true', that it cannot be a mistake to say it. And if the world misunderstands, that's the world's fault.

In terms of culture war, that's pretty close to suicide.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Good stuff.

Slightly tangentially: have you read Evangelii Gaudium yet? Plan to blog on it?

Crude said...

Only the highlights. I may blog about it. It's a huge document of various thoughts, and I think it's the sort of document that works best by picking out particular paragraphs than an exhaustive treatment when it comes to discussing it.

But hey, that's valuable enough.

Eufrosnia D said...

I know this is an old post but I just wanted to say something that didn't seem to get brought up.

The reason why people may want Pope Francis to stick to an "old Script" is because that gives people INSIDE the Church a clear beacon to follow. When the Pope's actions are ambiguous, the words even more so, then the person inside the Church also starts to become lukewarm.

To put it another way. The Pope is like a father of the family. When the father starts to look ambiguous, the children start questioning whether what they were told to do before is actually what the father is expecting of them. The Devil is more likely to step in during such moments as well.

Now can we release sound bites of the good stuff of the Pope? No, the world does not work that way. The world is quick to spread what it likes and quick to suppress what it finds disagreeing with them. Best example of this would probably be Reddit. You post something contrary to popular trend and it will disappear. We also cannot forget that this is how the devil works and well as the world is suppossed to work. It is suppossed to be hostile to the Church.

I am not saying that nothing positive will come out of this. I am sure there will be. But it would be a mistake to conclude that because some positives came from it, the method was sound. Good does come out of even evil acts.

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

I agree that the 'old Script' gave people a clear beacon. The problem is, I think a new script is needed. The old script was maintained, and we've still been bleeding people - even churchgoing Catholics - on these issues. I think that's as clear a sign as ever that we should at least consider altering our approach.

And I recognize that said problems are not all onesided, ie, it's not all 'the church' at fault. But social conservatives do make their own problems at times.