Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pope Francis and the "holy cunning"

Francis has repeatedly praised the Jesuit trait of “holy cunning” — that Christians should be “wise as serpents but innocent as doves,” as Jesus put it. - Huffington Post
While the great cathedrals of Europe are still largely empty of worshipers, Francis has prompted many a lapsed Catholic to take a second look. A church that was identified with concealing sexual abuse, a very stratified version of organized crime, and scorning of those living nontraditional lives, is presenting a far different face in the forgiving smile of Pope Francis. Instead of being known for what it’s against, the church is showing what it’s for. Timothy Egan - New York Times
The Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples met with Pope Francis last Thursday during his U.S. visit(...) "He held out his hands and he asked Kim to pray. He thanked her for her courage. He said these words, 'Stay strong,' and they embraced and hugged." The pontiff also gave Davis two rosaries that he personally blessed. USA Today
Before beginning to analyze the strategies of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, AKA Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, it might be useful to give a clear operational illustration of that order's version of "holy cunning".

In my opinion the example most relevant to what Francis is doing now in the arena of progressive politics would be the order's nearly successful attempt to convert the imperial court of China, and all China with it, to Catholicism led by the legendary Father Matteo Ricci S.J. 

Imagine Mao Tse Tung as an alter boy.

Absurd? Well, you may remember that Fidel Castro was educated by the Jesuits.

Here is how Wikipedia tells the story of Matteo Ricci's chameleonic effort to convert China:
Matteo Ricci SJ in Chinese Dress
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
During his research (Ricci) discovered that, in contrast to the cultures of South Asia, Chinese culture was strongly intertwined with Confucian values and therefore decided to use existing Chinese concepts to explain Christianity. He did not explain the Catholic faith as entirely foreign or new; instead, he said that the Chinese culture and people always believed in God, and that Christianity is simply the completion of their faith. He borrowed an unusual Chinese term, Lord of Heaven (Chinese: 天主; pinyin: Tiānzhǔ) which is based on the theistic Zhou term "Heaven", to use as the Catholic name for God. (Though he also cited many synonyms from the Confucian Classics.) He supported Chinese traditions by agreeing with the veneration of the dead. Dominican and Franciscan missionaries felt he went too far in accommodation and convinced the Vatican to outlaw Ricci's approach. Wikipedia

Things are not going all that well for the church these days.

In Spain, where I live, arguably history's most fanatical "defender of the faith", the churches now are mostly empty except at Christmas and Easter, divorce and abortion are legal; there are more civil marriages than religious ones and not only is gay marriage legal, Spain's conservative prime minister, who officially opposes gay weddings, recently even attended one... And unthinkable as it might seem to many Irish-Americans, ultra-Catholic Ireland recently held a referendum that legalized gay marriage on the Emerald Isle.
Since his election, the modest Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has earned praise for his warnings about climate change and criticism of unbridled capitalism that causes the enrichment of the few and the impoverishment of many.(...) In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, an old-school leftist, has been elected to head the opposition Labour Party.(...) In the United States, Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist and one of only two Independents in the Senate, has been filling stadiums with young, enthusiastic supporters.(...) we may be seeing not only a retreat from the right-wing ideology and free-market dogmas that have dominated political discourse in the West over the past three decades, but the makings of a left-of-center counterrevolution. Alexei Bayer: "Get Ready for a Leftist Revolution" - The Globalist
As many analysts such as the one above have observed, there is a growing populist movement that is mobilizing masses of idealistic young people, who march, volunteer and vote.

Even as recently as the 1950s, idealistic young people from Catholic families in developed nations, the sort of young people that today march against global warming or occupy Wall Street, would often become priests or nuns.

Nowadays, convents, monasteries and seminaries are nearly empty. The sort of young men and women who once were drawn to the religious life have drifted away or have turned their back on the Church.

I believe that Pope Francis is trying to keep this estrangement and indifference from hardening  permanently and that these young people don't grow into maturity considering the Church their natural enemy... in the hope of someday bringing them back into the fold. The very survival of the Church is at stake.

He certainly has his work cut out for him.
As Maureen Dowd recently pointed out in her New York Time's column:
His magnetic, magnanimous personality is making the church, so stained by the vile sex abuse scandal, more attractive to people — even though the Vatican stubbornly clings to its archaic practice of treating women as a lower caste. Pope Francis would be the perfect pontiff — if he lived in the 19th century. But how, in 2015, can he continue to condone the idea that women should have no voice in church decisions?
The fact is that with Pope Francis there have been no changes in the Church's moral teachings on birth control, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, women priests etc. But, by taking a strong, progressive stand on such issues as global warming, refugees, inequality, poverty and even unregulated capitalism itself, Pope Francis has turned the Catholic Church from being viewed a retrograde and reactionary knee-jerk enemy of the left into a valuable and powerful ally of all progressives... someone you are happy to have fighting alongside you and not against you.

"Wise as a serpent, innocent as a dove" and unlike Matteo Ricci, who nearly converted China to Catholicism, these days Jorge Borgoglo, Francis the First, is the Pope himself, and  nobody in the Vatican can tell him to stop. DS

1 comment:

stunted said...

What will be remembered of the pope's visit to the U.S. is his meeting with Kim Davis in secret so as to avoid any commentary while he was on U.S. soil. Like sneaking out back to smoke when you've publicly given it up. One of his top advisors rushed the day after his appearance before Congress to clarify that families and the sanctity of life were the main concerns for this pope and not the climate or financial inequality, and that the Vatican would not be divesting itself of any fossil fuel investments. He basically called homosexual a threat to society and unfit for parenting. His digs at the financial world were conveniently skipped in the Congress address and shelved entirely in Philadelphia in favor of impromptu fun. He strikes me as progressive as Obama, i.e. when he talks the talk. Perhaps he'll get a Nobel prize as well for what people think he'll do based on the excitement he generates. Progressives can't lean on hot air when they need someone by their side. His visit with Davis is of the same stuff as Boehner inviting another head of state, Netanyahu, to meddle in domestic politics. At least Boehner and Bibi did it openly. All he took away at the end, on his way home, was his agreement that the bullshit war on religious freedom exists in the U.S. and the right to object on religious grounds to the law of the land is paramount, something he was a tad more muted on during the dictatorship in his country. I suppose we should be grateful he didn't ask to see Obama's passport. All that will be remembered here, stateside, is that homosexuals should remain in their place which is nowhere any normal person has the right to be. Ditto for women. Charity is the Vatican's answer to poverty and the environment should stop being polluted but not at the expense of Vatican investments. This is not so progressive.