So. Much. This.
Poor Carl Olson sounds like his head is about to explode. I can sympathize. The poor guy, who’s one of the good ones and a decent enough guy to have published a couple of my articles and paid me for them, is doing the herculean heavy lifting required to try to make some kind of sense out of the things that Pope Francis says. In his latest attempt, Carl has tried again to take some bit of the garbled nonsense and compared it to, well… reality, and has been coming up snake-eyes. And it seems like the task is driving him a little squirrelly – as it would, poor chap.
I read this piece last night, and I was thinking, “Dude, you’re doing it wrong.” The effort to try to fit Francis’ blitherings into the context of the real world is wasted. Seriously, Carl, you’re just going to hurt yourself.
This effort that so many seem to be engaged in starts from a false premise, namely that Francis is saying things based on knowledge or reading or scholarship or coherent, rational thought, or any of those things that one would normally – and quite justifiably – expect from a pope … even a bad pope. We compare him to popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI at our peril – or at least at our brains’ peril.
We understandably try to approach his nonsense in the same way as we did those other, somewhat more sane people, looking for the artifacts of normal, rational discourse; things like verifiable facts, continuity with his other sayings, logical consistency (which mostly means adherence to the Logical Principle of Non-Contradiction), the ability to have a message and stay on it. We assume – again perfectly understandably – that a man who has risen to such a high office would be capable of stringing two thoughts together in a coherent sentence that follows the basic laws governing our rational capacity to communicate. More, we rightly assume that a pope has read a bit, that he knows at least the fundamental things about the subjects he’s talking about, that he cares about conveying with his words something approaching factual reality.
This has been the problem with Francis’ interpreters all along. They’re assuming things about Francis that he has shown absolutely no evidence for. We simply cannot imagine that it is possible for the pope, THUH! POPE! to have the intellectual capacity and mental habits of a semi-literate modern junior high schooler.
Perhaps we have spent our lives around people who think and read books, who are able to do the basic tasks of the intellect with some coherence. Perhaps we are writers and editors and people who have spent our lives pursuing, at least in some small way, the intellectual discourse. So to us it seems simply incomprehensible, inconceivable, that a pope would adhere to the slogan-happy ideology of a thirteen year-old social justice warrior on Twitter. But Carl, he does, and he is.
Pope Francis doesn’t think about what he says, at least in any way you or I would call “thinking”. In this, he is the perfect model of a modern person. He doesn’t think, he recites, he parrots. It is well known in Rome that he does not read, not even newspapers or magazines; with the sole exception of ten minutes a day of La Repubblica – the aggressively anti-Catholic Italian paper of his close friend the atheist ultra-liberal, Eugenio Scalfari, a man who has spent his whole life fighting the Church and everything she holds. He does not read books, he does not read any other paper, and because of the poverty of his “intellectual training” as a 1970s Jesuit, it would never occur to him that he needs to.
What he recites, randomly and without consideration even for internal logical coherence, are simply the slogans and soundbites of secular liberalism – and that in its most debased, truncated and deracinated, Twitter-oriented form. There’s no thought to be interpreted. There’s no there there.
Now and then he pulls a thin little gauze of Catholicity over his intellectual nakedness, and coughs out a reference to Jesus or the Devil. “Jesus likes this.” or “Abortion’s bad.” or “Watch out for the Devil; he’s gonna getcha.” And the papal apologists (of whom I am aware you are not one, Carl,) fall over themselves to start screeching at the Trads – “See! SEE! You people are evil and crazy! He’s as Catholic as I am…” (And we cough politely and say, Yes, I can see that.)
It doesn’t matter to him that his sayings are incoherent, that they do not match up with external reality or – as we used to call them – “facts,” or even if he contradicts between one sentence and the next something he has said himself. The past means nothing to him, even the past of five minutes ago, and most especially including the immediate past of his two most recent predecessors. As a modern man and a determined “progressive” the only direction he can turn his head is forward, and it is only “forward” in the sense of it being the direction he happens to want to go.
As the perfect narcissist, he is aware only of his own will, it is the only reality he knows. The reports of his insane burst of apoplectic rage – witnessed by dozens, since it happened in the cafeteria he affects to eat in with his cronies – when confronted with the opposition to his plans by 13 cardinals at the Synod, are that he repeatedly shouted QUI COMANDO IO!!, “I AM IN CHARGE!! I’ll take their hats!” It is an excellent summation of his mindset.
It’s difficult for non-narcissists to understand. We take for granted that reality is something one has to just deal with, however annoying it may be. But to a man like Bergoglio, nothing, nothing at all except his own will drives him in all his actions and everything he says. This doesn’t just mean he ignores the dictates and restrictions of the Catholic religion. It means he cares nothing for the dictates and restrictions of external reality.
So, poor Carl – as have so many others – seems to have put quite a lot of work and reading into his piece on Pope Francis’ interview with La Croix. And his points are interesting. His quotations of Ratzinger’s thoughts on the Catholic roots of Europe are extremely so, and I may seek out some of these books. But his tone is of a man completely fed up with the nonsense. He has, as one would, taken at face value the things Francis says, and held up a hand and said, “Wait, Holy Father… I don’t understand. Do you mean this?… What about this?”
Obviously Carl, as the editor of a respected Catholic journal, is required to be somewhat restrained, sober and sensible. Polite. But in the context of my blog, I think I can say, Dude, give it up. He doesn’t mean anything. There’s nothing to understand. There’s no reconciling – even in error – anything Francis says with anything we think of as “real”.
Did you ever see that weird movie with John Cusack, Being John Malkovich? Remember that scene when we are transported inside the brain of Malkovich, and saw the world as he sees it, and every face he saw was his own, and everything anyone says to him is one single word: “Malkovich.” That’s narcissism. In Bergoglio’s mind, there is only one word, recited over and over and over. In Bergoglio’s world there is only Bergoglio. In this, he is the perfect representative not only of the modern Church – of NOChurch – but of the modern world. He’s the “selfie-pope.”
I really hope, Carl, that you will be able to understand and take to heart what I’m trying to convey here. I’m worried about you. You’re a nice and smart guy and a very good editor. I’d hate to see you drive yourself nuts.
Anyway, just for fun, and since I’ve got a layman’s interest in archaeology – that is, I really love Youtube documentaries on Ancient Things – I thought I would helpfully help by expanding a little on one of Carl’s interesting points. He takes Francis’ bizarre and heretical [zzzzzzzzzzz…ssssoooo sleeeeepyyyyy…] statement that “confessional states end badly” and says, “Huh… what about Byzantium, Holy Father… A Catholic confessional state that lasted a thousand years. And would probably still be with us today if it hadn’t been conqured by … wait for it… Muslims!” … and that’s almost verbatim. The poor guy.
Actually, pretty much all states are and always have been either confessional or ideological, since the concept of the state first began in human history. That is, as long as we humans have been organizing ourselves in settled communities, we’ve been organizing ourselves with a mind to set up organized worship of something. Even if that something isn’t a “god” but an idea, as in the case of the Soviet Union and the United States of America.
Egypt – possibly the oldest single state in human history. Its age is not definitively known since it has been shown to run back into that misty time when certain human skills were just being developed. But scholars, though they differ and new evidence is being revealed regularly, generally agree that the earliest origins of Egypt can go back at least to the tenth millennium BC. (In other words, so long ago it’s more or less impossible to be precise.) Human settlement in the Nile region dates back to 40,000 BC. but what we think of as ancient Egyptian civilization dates at least to 3150 BC (with some outliers claiming it’s much older). And by “ancient Egyptian civilization” we mean that culture we all recognise from the movies – with its main feature of life being its religious cult that continued throughout the long centuries more or less the same. All those pyramids and animal-headed gods and feather balances and hieroglyphs, and people standing sideways and linen and and priesthoods and lotus-topped columns and all the rest of it. Egypt was, as we would put it today, a “confessional state,” to the point where their kings, their pharaohs, were thought to be semi-divine beings. It lasted as an independent state until it was conquered by Rome. (So, what’s that… abut 4000 years? Thereabouts? Really, no one knows for sure.) But even after that, the Romans being the Romans, the culture of Egypt – including their monarchy – survived until – wait for it… it was conquered by Muslims. The Copts, now distinguished from their alien Arab conquerers by their determined Christian faith, are the survivors of that catastrophe. Whatever happened to the Ancient Egyptians? They’re still there. They became Christians and then got flattened by aggressive, militant Islam.
China – Although China is regarded as another one of those “cradle of civilization” places, which means no one really has any idea how far back Chinese culture really goes (and some Chinese scholars claim that the earliest human origin remains are found there, and not in Africa). There is a sort of an accepted start-date to the historical Chinese empire, around 220 BC, when the Qin Dynasty was founded. (I actually took a course on this in university!) But the legendary origins of the Chinese empire/dynasties goes back to the Xia, the semi-mythical proto-dynasty which, if it’s true, emerged around 2100 BC. This was followed by the Shang, which is the oldest dynasty for which we have solid historical evidence, starting in the 17th century BC. It was from this period that we have the earliest forms of Chinese writing, from which modern Chinese characters were derived. But the real “Imperial” period started with the first emperor to call himself an Emperor of China, whose name is now transliterated as, Qin Shi Huang. With this Emperor began the first single, unified state.
In the time of the Qin dynasty, Chinese religion was of the animist/shamanistic sort, with animal sacrifices and belief in nature spirits and whatnot. Poor old Qin Shi Huang didn’t live long, and his son lost his empire as he tried to install his father’s rather heavy-handed authoritarian control measures. (The famous incident of the burying and burning of dissident scholars and all that capital-crime-to-make-a-spelling-mistake wasn’t very popular.) It was left to the dynasty that followed, the Han, to install Confucianism as the state religion, at which point all the basic building blocks of the Chinese state were in place that remained through the millennia until it was all overthrown by Mao. China lasted as a confessional state throughout its long and rather tumultuous history. Whatever else happened – and China experienced wars, invasions, civil wars and dynastic struggles and all imaginable kinds of troubles, – it remained unified by this religion – one that officially tolerated Buddhism and (in a smaller way) Taoism – from 221 BC to the day it was all overthrown, conquered if you will, by Maoist communists in 1949 –
Sumer – In the list of extremely long-lived and incredibly successful states that had religion at their core, we can include nearly every single empire of the ancient world, starting with Sumer, the world’s first “urbanized” civilization (that we know about). Sumer, as far as anyone has yet discovered, was a confederation of city states in the early Bronze Age, with a single language group and a king, all of whom busied themselves with draining swamps and developing agriculture and various useful crafts (including beer-making!). The main point of Sumer, however, like all ancient states, was to facilitate the worship of their gods. The king was thought to have come from a line of divine or semi-divine beings, and the central social structures were all religious in nature. Also, ziggurats!
“Great Britain” – a nation, occasionally an empire. Both archaeological and DNA evidence has shown that the poor old Island has been occupied by the same group of humans since the neolithic. (Evidence in the south shows signs of pre-homo sapiens human or proto-human settlement dating to the early paleolithic, but at that time there was no English Channel, so it wasn’t an island… ) It was unified as a Christian “confessional” state for the first time by the time of Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon king, known as the English “Charlemagne,” who was a devoted Christian, an educated man and a translator of Boethius. The kingdom that Alfred started, by the usual method of overwhelming rival tribes, continued until the rise of Tony Blair, who re-wrote much of Britain’s Constitutional realities, making British people into “citizens” in the French Englightenment model, and other outrages. At the moment, Britain remains officially a “confessional state” with the Queen as the head of the nominally Christian Church of England as its official religion.