Even the American media can’t screw up reporting on how popular Pope Francis is. After years of reporting on Pope Benedict the XVI, whom many saw as too much of a judgmental and conservative Catholic, the media are now overjoyed reporting on Francis who they see as much more liberal and warm. Much of this distinction is an illusion though.
Take for instance Francis’ comments that he, and presumably no other human being, is in the position to judge someone who is gay as being a bad person. The press ate this statement up as if the Church was going to start marrying gays within the next week. The truth, however, is that the Pope said nothing that was controversial to anyone who knows the basics of Catholicism. Being gay was never a sin, only engaging in homosexual acts is considered a sin (before casting the Church as anti-gay, remember that the Church does not even support heterosexuals having sex merely for pleasure). This same pattern can be seen in many of Francis’ praiseworthy actions: he does not change Church teaching, but he does have a talent for communicating the message of the Church in a way that Benedict XVI (whom I still like) could not.
Francis is doing nothing more than being a good Christian. He is humble, he is unconditionally loving of all people, he is forgiving and he truly embodies what it means to practice christian charity. The result of his actions as Pope is that people are starting to realize that all of the nonsense they are taught in college and the media about religion is wrong. Religion is not about intolerant, ignorant, irrational people who want to make life on Earth miserable in the name of some fantasy called “heaven”. Benedict XVI wrote a marvelous encyclical called “Deus Caritas Est” which means “God is Love”. In it he explains how God (and religion) is about love, not bigotry. A true christian loves his neighbor, not judges him. While Benedict perhaps was not the best at communicating this message to a popular audience, Francis has shown that he is more than capable of this task. With every act of love that Francis does, more people begin to understand what religion is all about. The question of whether or not this will lead people into the pews on Sunday remains to be answered, but there seems to be reason to be optimistic (so long as you are not a militant atheist who is just as intolerant as a hardcore christian fundamentalist sometimes is).
This post was titled “Of Popes and Politics” so now I have to begrudgingly switch from discussing the wonderful topic of love and compassion to talking about the exact opposite. Because I don’t want to think to much about the shamefulness of politics today, I will keep it short.
In my opinion we have two parties in America: the Democrats who are really good at playing the politics of compassion and expressing that they “care” about people, which is a popular proposition. The problem is that the way I see it the Democrats end up governing the country in a way that often hurts people, especially in the long run. On the other side of the isle there are the Republicans who may know how to govern a country better, but they are downright awful at convincing voters that conservatism is good for them. In essence, people perceive the GOP as intolerant and uncaring about anyone but the rich, which does not play well at the voting booth.
My advice then for the GOP is to learn from Francis. Keep your principles, but show that you care about the poor and vulnerable. This still means pursing things such as entitlement reform so that our country’s long term fiscal health can be improved. But instead of framing the argument purely as “saving money”, focus on how if we do not reform entitlements in a meaningful way the ones who will end up being hurt the most are the poorest and most vulnerable among us. This is not lying and both of these arguments for reform are valid, but focus on the argument that doesn’t make you look like a banker foreclosing on a home. Francis is a master of this. He still feels very strongly that abortion is murder, but he doesn’t focus simply on decrying its evils. He still points out the abortion is bad, but he also makes sure he stresses that just because a woman has an abortion does not mean that God no longer loves her. In fact it means that we as a society need to love her more.
If the GOP could only grasp this point and become more genuinely compassionate they would not have so many problems winning elections. Ironically, they would also truly become the christians many of them claim to be.