Instructions for Your Pope Panic Du Jour

Here’s your morning freak-out. The Pope puts out a perfectly genial call for dialog among people of different beliefs who are all children of God (obviously). The proper response is:

1. Set your hair on fire.

2. Run around screaming. Random squeals of outrage are fine, but it’s better if you pepper it with cries of “indifferentism!” A soupçon of Francis-hate is, of course, the spice that holds the dish together, but don’t overdo it or you just look crazy.

3. Copy and paste long blocks of text from previous popes anathematizing indifferentism and pointing out that Christ is the only way to salvation.

4. Post a link from a preferred traditionalist site. Rorate Caeli is optimal. They hit that sweet spot of rigid literalism without tipping over into the pure crazy of Novus Ordo Watch.

5. Take a deep breath.

6. Feel better now? Good. Then you can pause and realize that a 90 second call for religious toleration and dialog in a world riven by religious violence is not a call to indifferentism, and not a capsule summary of everything this pope thinks and believes about the Catholic faith. I’m not a fan of empty ecumenism, but we have a base line good-faith assumption with the POPE OF THE CATHOLICS that he believes what the church teaches, so when he says one thing we assume that he still believes all the other things.

Many choose not to give Francis the benefit of the doubt, even though he preaches Christ daily. People have decided to distrust his fidelity because they don’t like his politics. They’ve developed a habit of reducing everyone to their political views and sorting them into Them and Us as though they were the sheep and the goats. Our reactions to those within our faith are falling into the same knee-jerk responses we use for our political leaders and ideological others.

Christianity isn’t a philosophy or political movement, and that kind of response is not merely inappropriate, it’s poisonous to the body of Christ. As Pope Benedict said:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

We don’t fit simply into ideological boxes. We’re not a philosophy. We’re not even merely a set of dogmas and doctrines. We are so much more than that. We are the body of the living and incarnate God.

Do you think Buddhists are not children of God? If so, I’d be fascinated to hear who you think created them. We don’t invent gods by believing in them. Unless worship is of something obviously false and diabolical, then separated peoples of good will worship the One True God, even if they do so defectively or incompletely. Their salvation is in grave danger without the faith of the Catholic church, but charity should lead us to assume that their desire to encounter God is genuine if misguided.

We have to evangelize in the world we have, not the world of a hundred or five hundred or two thousand years ago. Anathemas and syllabi of errors are in no short supply–and I guarantee you I’ve read more of them than you have–but while their fundamental truths remain unchanged, their form doesn’t particularly speak to every time and place. For example, trying to apply the language forged at Trent in the fires (literal, not metaphorical) of the Reformation to a different situation in a different century in a globalized, interconnected world is not always going to be practical. Truth doesn’t change, but language and expression do, and our efforts to deal with other religions in a world where those religions collide on a daily basis, in ways the Fathers did not encounter, must take those changes into account.

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