Even as an atheist, I can’t help but admit that I have no qualms with the agenda of Pope Francis. When the jovial pontifex first started appearing on the cover of Time Magazine and at White House dinners I became a tad uncomfortable. Popes of the past have tended to be far less amenable and I braced myself for another child abuse scandal or money laundering scam where the gold trim of the Vatican would be sold to the highest bidder. However, as I began to cautiously listen to the messages the pope professed, I actually found myself enjoying most of his sentiments. His subtle jabs at capitalism and greed helped me identify, with, dare I say it, a religious figurehead.
On the contrary, what I dislike, upon the pope’s arrival in America, is that he has all but been granted a pulpit behind U.S. podiums emblazoned with the presidential seal. Should he be cornering congress and advising them how to govern our nation? I think a lot of people would not mind. However, I imagine people would not mind because Pope Francis tends to be mild in his messages. His speech, his incredibly slow and deliberate speech, is refreshingly honest, but frankly, simplistic.
Let’s face it, the pope is imploring the U.S. Congress to legislate and vote as Democrats, at least the ones who are allegiant to their party’s ideology, hence why nearly all the Republicans look as if they’re experiencing an aneurysm when he gives one of his somber speeches laced with anti-capitalist sentiment and environmental activism.
When the pope visited America, I don’t think the media frenzy was necessarily warranted. Too many political newsrooms tried to usher in theologians and pastors who professed their own warped interpretations of the Bible to susceptible viewers. Since no station was granted backstage access with the pope, all seemed to fill air-times by twiddling their thumbs with wanna-be bishops decked-out in gaudy rosary beads. From flipping between MSNBC (my favorite), CNN (The Great Equalizer), and Fox, which I watched with my jaw clenched and fists curled, I could see that none of the stations were actually talking about the radical breath of life Francis had blown into the 20 percent of the U.S. population that identifies as Catholic. Instead, it was a barrage of petty quibbling over who was offended by whom, and five minute commercial breaks.
Since our broadcast media has largely failed us once again, I’d like to use this article to focus on the achievements of Pope Francis, because even as someone who doesn’t subscribe to the belief in a higher power, I can still see the merit and sincere intention of the pope even if I don’t share his sentiments.
Besides being the first religious head to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and auction his Harley Davidson motorcycle for charity, the pope has offered sage advice to many desperate ears. It’s not that the advice is necessarily prolific or revelatory, rather I find the pope’s aphorisms to be along of the lines of the sensitive, thoughtful grandfather most of us never had (Although, maybe he’s not like our grandfathers, because he actually likes the Internet).
In January 2014, the pope penned an article to be a critique of Catholic church communications. In the article he called the Internet “Something truly good, a gift from god.” Unlike most 78-year-olds, the pope saw the advantage that the technology of our times posed for the church and took the opportunity to publicly endorse it. He noted the “immense possibilities” that communication represented, but also the implicit danger in relying too heavily on its potential, saying, “It could have an isolating effect on our neighbors and those closest to us.” Again, nothing more than the type of advice you would get from your mother while looking at your phone at the dinner table, albeit a tad more eloquent.
The pope also extended his influence into fields that had not previously been addressed by other pontiffs. Between discrediting fundamentalist views of an origin story where woman is made from man’s rib and a talking snake shames humankind out of the garden of Eden, Francis wants those who subscribe to the Catholic faith to subscribe to a more pragmatic creation myth. “When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.” For theists, this might be a difficult statement to accept, but I promise that the interpretation is even more convoluted as an atheist. For the pope to renounce some aspects of the Bible as fallacies, but accept other fables as gospel, is incongruous and is an overarching tenant of biblical rationale that I just can’t seem to wrap my head around. So, Genesis is a myth, but when Jesus moves a boulder blocking his tomb in Luke 24 after he is allegedly dead, that’s perfectly normal?
Alas, I suppose one can’t find rationality in religion; it is called faith for a reason. Looking for fact in faith is all for not. Nonetheless, the pope has been a fount for a few more intelligible notions. For example, the pontifex has suggested that Catholics shouldn’t be arrogant in insisting that they alone possess the truth to eternal life. Such a remark sent a ripple of dissent through the more conservative factions of the church.
To my ears, it’s wonderful. There are approximately 5,000 proposed deities in the world, and the probability that the one which any given individual worships is the savior is statistically improbable. What makes Buddha different than Mohammed, other than the fact that it’s the narrative you are force fed as a child? The pope’s plea for humility in his followers’ pursuit of faith is refreshing in an era where it often feels like mass indoctrination and recruitment is the 11th commandment. The pope instead suggests a dialogue where both parties involved share the belief they each have something “worthwhile to say.”
Perhaps most importantly, the pope’s methodic, knowledgeable perspective seemed to wear away at House of Representative leader John Boehner. Boehner, a long time Catholic-devotee, recently resigned from his position after a brief meeting with the pope during his visit to the U.S. this past week. Here, I would like to insert some scathing indictments I imagine the pope had for Boehner and his Republican cronies, instead we’ll leave it at this — whatever he said worked.
Pope Francis suggests that there’s hope for atheists like myself to find salvation. His love for others is omnipresent despite their religious affiliation. Remember the photos the press went gaga over when he washed the feet of two Muslims during the Holy Thursday re-enactment of Christ washing the feet of his apostles?
He has some warped views on abortion, but he also was a metal head in the 70s, and in some parallel universe perhaps his awesome grandfatherly qualities cancel the one glaring negative out. If ever a pope gave me hope for the face of religion, this is the one.
Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org