Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Habemus Vacuitatem: Do we really want Pope 2.0?

Atheist fundamentalist P. Z. Myers titled his blog post yesterday, "Who cares if the Pope retires?" to which the answer seems to be: "Almost everybody"--at least if the sheer volume of news coverage of the event is any indication of interest.

I was actually taken aback by the amount of media coverage of yesterday's announcement that the Pope was stepping down from his position as the head of the Catholic Church. I thought fewer people cared than actually did.

The more relevant question is, "Why do so many people care?" The media is buzzing with interest in why  Benedict XVI chose to abdicate as well as with speculation on who will replace him.

Some of the things you hear, mostly from liberals outside the Church, is the wish that there will be a more "modern" Pope. You know, someone more up-to-date. Someone who understands modern sensibilities. Someone who won't talk so much about issues like contraception and abortion and same-sex marriage--issues about which even many Catholics differ.

I mean, couldn't they at least put a spoiler on the popemobile?

And not only that, but what about appointing someone to the position from a developing country? What about a Black pope? What about a Latino Pope?

The funny thing about these two pieces of advice on what kind of pope should be selected--often coming from the same person--is how completely inconsistent they are. If you want a more up-to-date pope, one who will take more liberal positions on issues like contraception and abortion and same-sex marriage, the last place you want to look is the Third World.

Liberals have this dreamy idea that the average person living in a rural village in Southeast Swazililand is some kind of liberal progressive. Just look at what passes for "multiculturalism" over at your local college. As Dinesh D'Souza pointed out a few years ago, when the liberal ideologues running our universities want to teach about what people in, say, Guatemala think, they assign their students to read I, Rigoberto Menchu, as if Marxism were somehow indigenous to Latin America. If multiculturalists ever realized what most of the native literature of the countries they're always talking about actually espoused (racism, sexism, and "homophobia"), they would be scandalized.

These are people who really think that a primitive tribesman fresh out of the jungle is a perfect candidate for a subscription to The New York Times Book Review.

If I were one of the progressive liberals now giving the Church bad advice, I would absolutely, positively NOT want a pope from a developing country. I would want anything but a pope from a developing country. No. What I want is a lily-White European male.

Oh. Wait a minute. That's what we have now. Never mind.

Furthermore, the idea that we need a more modern pope--Pope 2.0--is about the stupidest idea I've heard yet this year (although I realize that, given the creativity of liberals, I am fairly certain it will be superceded).

There is an interesting sense in which the Catholic Church becomes more, not less relevant by striving intentionally not to be. While everyone else is expending vast amounts of cultural energy trying to keep up with the times, an institution that strives instead to be 2,000 years behind the times tends to stand out from the crowd.

One of the things about constantly modernizing yourself today is that you will most assuredly be antiquated tomorrow. In a conversation with an old friend a few years back (the one who introduced me to my wife), I mentioned that my wife still wears dresses that are 20 years old. She (the old friend) said, "That's because she wears classic clothes." If she bought the things that were trendy today, she'd have to throw them out tomorrow.

The scientific materialism that is so fashionable today among the scientifically up-to-date (and philosophically naive) is one of the flies of the historical summer: It is here today and it will be gone tomorrow. And after it's gone, the Catholic Church will still be around--dealing with some other historically transient intellectual fad. And because of its historic sensibility, the Church will have the advantage of having fought some similar idea before--in all likelihood, several times.

That's the thing about intellectual and cultural fads: they're usually just a rehash of some previous idea that was in vogue 200 years ago--and 200 years before that--and 200 years before that.

In fact, historic Christianity is constantly having to open some creaky old door, climb a ladder, and blow the dust off of some faded and ancient volume in order to find the proper refutation of the latest idea--an idea usually voiced by someone who has no clue that it has already been refuted about fifteen times.

Think of the most anachronistic thing you can and remember that, at some point in the past, it was all the rage. The eternal things are the only things that never get old.

If there were a history written of all the attempts to be culturally relevant, it would actually end up being a chronicle of perpetual obsolescence. But when you are an institution that is almost completely impervious to the intellectual trends of the time, you tend not to have to worry about about constantly falling out of fashion.


KyCobb said...

Of course people care; who else gets to be the spiritual leader of a billion people?

Anonymous said...

Why don't you run? It would be very entertaining.

KyCobb said...

Of course the Church's positions on contraception and homosexuality are harmful and it would be nice if they changed, but it is what it is. To me, a more interesting question is whether the GOP should continue to try to be as Catholic as the Pope. The GOP thought that taking a hard line on abortion, contraception and marriage equality would help it win Catholic votes, but exit polling showed that half of Catholic voters supported the President, a small margin over Romney, while the President racked up a huge margin over Romney with unmarried women. Romney did win white evangelical voters big, but they were only 26% of the electorate, and the President won 60% of everyone else. And its not that the GOP is the party of Christians and the Democrats are the party of secularists. The President got the votes of 2/3 of Christians who are neither Catholic nor white evangelicals, 25% of the electorate. So the GOP is going to have to decide if it wants to be a governing political party of a secular state, or the political arm of the Catholic bishops and white protestant fundamentalists, and serve merely to obstruct rather than govern.

Martin Cothran said...


In what way is the Church's position on contraception "harmful?" There is a quite plausible argument that the widespread availability of contraception is itself harmful.

The severing of sex from reproduction has caused all kinds of social consequences which it seems to me it would entirely glib to say were all good.

KyCobb said...

We would probably disagree about the extent to which things you consider harmful can be blamed on contraceptives. I would hope that you would agree that unplanned pregnancies among teenagers is harmful, and the fact is that when effective contraceptives are readily available the teenage pregnancy rate goes down. As the exit polling makes pretty clear, fighting this battle has not helped the GOP win the Catholic vote, and its killing the GOP with single women. Despite all the talk about Hispanics, unmarried women gave the President a much larger vote margin over Romney than Hispanics did.