“…meditating with two deep divines,
Not sleeping, to engross his idle body,
But praying, to enrich his watchful soul.”
King Richard III, act 3, sc. 7
Sipping an espresso in the park’s cafe’, I looked at the trees, thinking of that “time of the year… when yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang upon those boughs that shake against the cold…”(1)
When two other joggers sat at the next table and I couldn’t help listening to their discussion – I will call them Jogger A (JA) and Jogger B (JB).
JA At least you must admit that the Pope’s visit to the US and Washington was an unprecedented success. Pope Francis really wants to give a new direction to the Church.
JB If you say so…
JA Come on now. This was the first Pope who addressed the American legislature in history, ever since the first Continental Congress in 1774.
JB I’d rather not discuss this, for whenever we start a dialog on political or social matters, our conversation ends when you say that something is true, based on faith. And faith for me is not evidence.
JA But here we talk about history, not faith. And I am interested in your opinion irrespective.
JB Since you mentioned the first Continental Congress, I’d like to remind you that the Bill of Right of the Constitution includes the principle of the separation of church and state. Which prohibits Congress from establishing any religion. Furthermore, Thomas Jefferson was quite explicit on the issue, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” The Pope’s address to Congress seemed to me an implied endorsement of a religion by the state.
JA But the Pope was here as a head of a state, rather than a religion.
JB I don’t know how you can separate the two. In fact, this duality of postures enables him to switch hats in mid-air so to speak, from head of state to head of church and back. Therefore, when he is promoting his religion, you will say that he is only a head of state. And when he is promoting an agenda, you will say that he can do it for he is the head of a religion.
JA But there is nothing wrong with his agenda. After all, for example, the Pope warned against “deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” And everybody applauded.
JB An ingenious irony, a generalized blame towards the machinery of death, while being applauded by those who draw from death their hyperbolic wealth.
It reminds me that in Sicily, every so often, they hold religious processions against the Mafia. And the first parishioners, behind the parading statue of the Madonna, are routinely the Mafia bosses, against whose power the procession is held.
We are often misled by meteors mistaken for stars, and are driven from our course by the changes of the wind.
JA But what else could the Pope do?
JB It’s not for me to say. But Popes tend to be quite generous with generalities and stingy with specifics.
Where was the Pope when the US assassinated Gheddafi of Libya, or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, when they razed those countries to the ground, when they bombed Yugoslavia, when they organized and organize “regime changes” to further the rape, rapine and neo-colonization of countries only recently de-colonized? When they arm the same jihadists whom they also pretend to bomb?
To me the whole visit was but a Disneyland-type propaganda exercise to shore-up and re-affirm the exceptionality of the exceptional nation. For otherwise, who can bear with patience those who claim such superiority to the rest of the world, and who can imagine mankind at leisure for attention to their statements of supremacy, while rating the statements as treasures of modern wisdom?
The Pope made a string of impressive declarations that please at first by flowery luxuriance, and spread in the sunshine of applauding acceptance. But they mean little or nothing and perish at the first blast of reality.
JA Are you not too critical?
JB Only if you equate realism with criticism and willfully ignore details to safeguard the general. Take the Pope’s opening statement, “I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave””. These are the very brave who inaugurated, continue and will expand the extrajudicial drone-killing of people anywhere in the world from the comfort of an air-conditioned office. While the land of the free is spying on everyone with the “US Freedom Act.”
JA But what was the Pope to say then? He could not criticize the nation that gave him such a honorific and enthusiastic welcome.
JB You are making my point. In some instances silence equates to purposeful blindness, which means acceptance. And acceptance in politics equates to approval.
JA You are not saying that the Pope approves of drone-killing or wars?
JB No, but generalized condemnation of wars and killings means nothing, while silence on specific wars and killings means tacit endorsement.
JA But the Pope as the head of the Church, cannot criticize a government.
JB Can’t he really? That was the reply the Vatican gave Archbishop Romero in Salvador when he asked Pope John Paul II for help against the death-squad that would shortly murder him, “…Do not fight the government…”
Which, by the way, proves Thomas Jefferson’s argument.
Think about it. The unofficial 1.5 trillion $ yearly spent for US “defense” could generate 50 million jobs at 30 thousand dollars each. This would in essence eliminate poverty, even if some of the jobs were, for example, counting butterflies in the neighborhood. How can you realistically expect the barons who thrive on death, to give up their source of limitless wealth? Their applauses to the Pope are no different from the applauses to a good joke.
JA But isn’t the Pope concerned about the earth and climate change?
JB So is my barber and the concern of either has the same weight and effect.
JB Because there is no way to curb the effects of pollution on climate change, without addressing the root cause, which is unbridled, neo-liberal, turbo-capitalism. As per Reaganesque trickle-down economics, for Lazarus to have one crumb falling from the table of Epulon, Epulon must gobble-up ten full dishes. And for Lazarus to have two crumbs, Epulon must have twenty dishes. And so on, metaphorically speaking, until the last tree is felled, the last drop of oil extracted, and the last green pasture turned into a subdivision.
Furthermore, I am quoting the Pope now, who called for “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
I referred before to generosity with generalities, and avarice with specifics. Here is one befitting example.
In one of his encyclicals, (Laudato si’ – “Be praised”), Pope Francis denounced the economy and finance for which profit prevails over everything “without caring for actions that may result in negative consequences for human beings.”
In Italy, there is (was) a 30-year old industry, manufacturing electric gates and mechanisms. Three years ago, the owner-founder of the company died and left the profitable company to the church of Bologna.
Whereupon the Archbishop of Bologna found himself in the role of a captain of industry. “I will be the guarantee of your future” – he said to the workers. But in 2012 the company purchased a factory in Bulgaria. Now the operations in Italy have been transferred to Bulgaria. At the beginning of this very September 2015 the company closed down and the 55 employees found themselves unemployed. This information, by the way, is easily verifiable from various sources on the web – the company’s name is FAAC.
Which reminds me of Portia’s philosophic pronouncement in the Merchant of Venice, “If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces – it is a good divine that follows his own instructions. I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own
JA But the Church is made of men and men are fallible.
JB If so, then what is the function of the Church?
JA For two thousand years the Church has given people hope….
JB Let’s not go down that track, for you will force me to bring out the killing and torture of heretics, the endorsement of slavery, the forced conversions etc. Perhaps you mean something else.
JA I mean hope for the after-life.
JB If you believe in it. But I am afraid we are approaching the point where our discussions inevitably end. If you need a Church and a Pope to support your faith in the afterlife, so be it. Personally, I am quite content that, perhaps, a few billion years from now, a spec of my dust will be part of a star. I will be veritable stardust, “the stuff that dreams are made on, while our little life is rounded with a sleep…” (3) I find it quite romantic, actually.
JA You are incorrigible, you are beyond change or, according to me, salvation. There is no plumb line long enough to fathom the depth of your faithlessness. Still, how would you summarize the Pope’s visit?
JB I think the image of Pope Francis between Biden and Boehner was quite symbolic. In England King Richard III was a politico appearing between two priests. In America, the Pope was a priest appearing between two politicos. A brilliant performance in the theater of the national oligarchy. The politics of illusion dressed in a mask of words. “A tide of pomp beating upon the high shore of this world” (4). A triumph of the society of the spectacle, with a wealth of articles and TV programs on such critical issues as the papal wardrobe, the papal entourage, the papal itinerary and the pope-mobile. An apotheosis of the irrelevant and the important hidden behind rhetorical meaninglessness.
JA I guess that if I did not have faith, I may possibly think as you do.
JB That is an issue that has long exercised the schools of philosophy.
…. They got up and left and I am glad they didn’t ask for my opinion.
(1) Sonnet 73
(2) Merchant of Venice
(3) The Tempest
(4) Henry V
In the play. “… meditating with two deep divines…”. In a masterful image-building charade, Richard III arrives at the meeting of the London Council accompanied by two priests, all in prayer.
Jimmie, it is unbelievable how you are able to get to the crux of matters. Even me, with all my reservations about religion mixing with politics, have been kind of impressed with this Pope and carried away by what you have pointed out to be pure rhetoric, including the focus on the Pope Mobile. Thank you for your perspectives, which make one think deeply on issues that matter. Enjoy your columns immensely. Keep with them.