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Missionary Position: Facing West
July 1, 2010 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Pope Benedict XVI has announced the establishment of a new Vatican department dedicated to tackling what he called 'a grave crisis in the sense of the Christian faith and the role of the Church." The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelisation will (per Archbishop Vincent Nichols,) focus on countries "in which, even though the Christian Gospel has shaped an entire culture," secularism now reigns, in what the Pope termed an "eclipse of a sense of God."

Editorial: "Catholicism, the religion that gave the world the idea of the missionary, is struggling on its historic home turf."

This council is part of a larger reshuffling of the Vatican hierarchy, which may support the Pope's ongoing anti- abortion and gay marriage efforts:

The first President of the new Evangelical Council will be Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, a Vatican bioethics official, whose controversial front page statement in the L’Osservatore Romano newspaper last year condoned the abortion of twins in a nine year-old Brazilian rape victim. At the time, Fisichella headed the institution that helps frame the Catholic church's "pro-life" doctrines, The Pontifical Academy for Life.

A Canadian theologian and anti-abortion hardliner, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, will now head the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for Bishops, which evaluates the nomination of bishops and sets the tone for the Catholic Church hierarchy worldwide.
“The head of the Congregation of Bishops is a very important nomination; it determines the ruling class of the Catholic Church for the next 20 years,” said Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican expert with the Italian daily newspaper Il Giornale.

The appointment is particularly important in light of the abuse scandal, which has called into question the actions of bishops around the world. Victims have accused bishops of covering up abuse or not acting swiftly to discipline priests who have abused minors.
Ouellet has been outspoken against abortion (calling it a 'moral crime', unjustified even in cases of rape) and gay marriage.
posted by zarq (165 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good luck with that boys. At least the Pope seems to recognize the Catholic Church is going the way of newspapers and rotary phones.
posted by MattMangels at 8:55 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good luck with that boys.

I see what you did there.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:56 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


They lost this battle when Gutenberg invented movable type. It's a little late to start fighting.
posted by dortmunder at 8:57 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Deck chairs, Titanic, etc.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:58 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


When the Pope announces a fire sale of all of the priceless artifacts and valuable real estate that the Church holds to help the poor (the Church was the single largest private holder of wealth in the world -- not sure if they still are), then I will go back to being a practicing Catholic.
posted by flarbuse at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2010 [24 favorites]


I'm sure all the child-raping hasn't helped.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Yeah, like several comments above, I can't help but feel hopeful that this is a last-ditched, useless effort to make the Catholic Church relevant.
posted by papercake at 9:00 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


When the Pope announces a fire sale of all of the priceless artifacts and valuable real estate that the Church holds to help the poor (the Church was the single largest private holder of wealth in the world -- not sure if they still are), then I will go back to being a practicing Catholic.

I'm an economics dunce, but a curious one. What would happen to the world economy if the Catholic Church really did have a massive fire sale, all at once?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:00 AM on July 1, 2010


Really? That's the "grave crisis"? After I read those words I was expecting a new department to examine the child-raping but nope. BAH.
posted by pyrex at 9:02 AM on July 1, 2010 [17 favorites]


My dad, a lifelong Catholic, just went to Provincetown, Massachusetts for vacation and came back with two souvenirs for me. One was a black tshirt that said, "Provincetown" in rainbow letters. The other was a bumper sticker that said, "God created man in his image: intolerant, sexist, homophobic and violent." I'm not saying that he's responsible for the Vatican's new policy... but... come on...
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:02 AM on July 1, 2010 [13 favorites]


When the Pope announces a fire sale of all of the priceless artifacts and valuable real estate that the Church holds

I do have to say that whatever I may think of the Catholic Church otherwise, their collection and preservation of countless historical treasures has been a tremendous service to Western civilization. If they ever do fall apart, I hope they divy it up among museums, not sell it off to the highest bidder.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:03 AM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's mostly real estate, I think, so I would guess a collapse in housing prices.

I'm a little disappointed that he didn't start a new Vatican department dedicated to chasing child rapists out of the priesthood. That would probably do more good than whatever the hell this is.
posted by empath at 9:03 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, like several comments above, I can't help but feel hopeful that this is a last-ditched, useless effort to make the Catholic Church relevant.

An organization of 1.2 billion people isn't just going to up and go away.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:04 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


And, btw, I think it's a bullshit attack on the Church to complain about them owning property. Lots of charitable institutions have large asset bases that they use to fund ongoing operations.
posted by empath at 9:05 AM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


Men and women today want "an authentic and full life, they need truth, profound freedom, unconditional love. Even in the deserts of the secularized world, the human soul thirsts for God,"

Okay, I'm with you, sounds good, mhmm -- oh, wait, uh, huh? I mean, I think that people do want an authentic and full life and if belief in God (or whomever) supports that great, but I think this statement could use revising.

I think there IS an interesting point here, that people do want to connect with something beyond themselves, and if you want to use "God" as a label for that, I guess it's okay, but I'm guessing the Pope is not using God as shorthand for "family, friends, personal satisfaction -- you know, whatever does it for you". Just because people are searching for something doesn't mean it has to be what you want to tell them it is. Educating people and telling them about something that works for you is great, and if you think that it will bring people solace and happiness that has a lot of value, but I really dislike the characterization of the "secularized world" as a "desert" as if there weren't any solace to be had there.

I do happen to believe in God but I also try to believe six impossible things before breakfast, so I would take what I say with a grain of salt.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:05 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Certainly not a boring time to be Christian-watching, though even as I type it I realize that it's an inane sentiment. The Church(es) have always been in flux, it's what makes their history so fascinating.
posted by everichon at 9:05 AM on July 1, 2010


So... what, then? They're going to roll out some really edgy cartoon characters to draw those kids of today back to the cross? That could be kind of funny, I guess.
posted by gurple at 9:06 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


No doubt they were the biggest private wealth-holder at some point, but I'm doubtful that that's still the case... seems likely that, aside from the art, most of it is real estate and large, impractical buildings, almost none of which have wi-fi, I'm guessing.
posted by a small part of the world at 9:06 AM on July 1, 2010


You are all Pope, now.
posted by Catblack at 9:07 AM on July 1, 2010


I'm a Christian. To me, the Catholic Church represents nearly everything Jesus taught against. There are of course pockets of good within the mostly evil institution. It wasn't always that way. But we're dealing with the aftermath of two millennia of human fallibility, dangerous dogma, and good old-fashioned corruption. Just look how far the United States has fallen with the same ingredients after only one tenth of that length of time. I can't, knowing human nature, say any of this is surprising.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:07 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


an "eclipse of a sense of God."

Add this right before "Obama is a socialist" on my list of Hysterically Denunciating Descriptions I Wish Were True.
posted by DU at 9:08 AM on July 1, 2010 [19 favorites]


I'm a Christian. To me, the Catholic Church represents nearly everything Jesus taught against. There are of course pockets of good within the mostly evil institution.

Oh please. Pick your Christian church. They're all full of hypocrites.
posted by empath at 9:08 AM on July 1, 2010 [14 favorites]


I'm an economics dunce, but a curious one. What would happen to the world economy if the Catholic Church really did have a massive fire sale, all at once?

A quick Google search suggested the Vatican's assets are somewhere in the range of $1-2 billion. That's a lot of money, but Enron had $60+ billion in assets when they went through bankruptcy, so it wouldn't exactly be a world-shattering event from an economic standpoint.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose just creating a department of "just trying to leave everybody the hell alone" was out of the question.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:12 AM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


If the Catholic Church really did want to help the poor but (justifiably) didn't want to put cultural treasures into private hands, they could stop opposing birth control.
posted by DU at 9:13 AM on July 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


Two thoughts:

• Is the Pope concerned about secularization, or the fact that the Catholic Church is gaining greater influence in the Latin world than it does in the US and the EU? What will it mean for the Church if this trend continues?
• John Paul II's main strength was his ability to keep the Church relevant. After the fall of Communism and the passing of JPII, the Church has been left with a dour, academic, conservative Pope who hasn't exactly won many friends.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:13 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lots of charitable institutions have large asset bases that they use to fund ongoing operations.

It would probably look better if so much of the Church's assets weren't covered in gilt and precious stones.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:14 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


an "eclipse of a sense of God."

But do you think the Pope is Team Jacob or Team Edward?
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:14 AM on July 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


Now that's what I call a well-constructed post [I haven't dipped into the links yet, but I will]. It would have been easy (and for many, too tempting) to really overdo the editorialising here. Good one zarq!
posted by peacay at 9:15 AM on July 1, 2010


Just look how far the United States has fallen with the same ingredients after only one tenth of [2,000 years].

Wait, what? You're comparing the US of today with the US of 1810 and finding it lacking? Getting rid of slavery, integrating public institutions, giving women the vote, these things are "falling"?

Man, everything is a fall from grace with you guys, isn't it?
posted by gurple at 9:15 AM on July 1, 2010 [35 favorites]


2 billion in hard assets is more than Enron had. (Shh there is this other side of the balance sheet that matters)

Also in land alone the catholic church owns multiples of that. hell the land St Pat's in New York is on is probably worth 250 mil (Rock center across the street from it sold for 2 billion in 2000 - and it doesn't cost that much to built out a full city block.
posted by JPD at 9:16 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Even in the deserts of the secularized world, the human soul thirsts for God,"

And what it gets is some kind of protection racket for pedophiles that could probably be demolished under the RICO Act in the US if the constitution hadn't deliberately shielded it from most legal oversight.

Are we meant to be surprised that the natural human yearning for truth, meaning, community, and a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves isn't inevitably leading people to the Catholic Church? Of all things? Really?
posted by Naberius at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


the establishment of a new Vatican department dedicated to tackling what he called 'a grave crisis in the sense of the Christian faith and the role of the Church."

I'm going to go out on a limb here, but is possible, maybe just a little, that the reason people are questioning the role of the Church is that it hasn't really done anything to address the institutionalized child rape, or the fact that, as a matter of course, it was critical of someone who tried to protect the life of a nine year old rape victim? The problems with the Church are deep and wide, and a lot more people are coming to realize it, rather than just blindly following the organization of their parents and grandparents.

It's going to have to be one hell of a department to make a difference, and sadly, I bet it's going to focus on PR and not of fixing what is broken inside.
posted by quin at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


"When the Pope announces a fire sale of all of the priceless artifacts and valuable real estate that the Church holds to help the poor (the Church was the single largest private holder of wealth in the world -- not sure if they still are), then I will go back to being a practicing Catholic."

Assuming the Church's mission at any level is even reducing poverty that would be incredibly short sighted. Once they've given away all of that money then what do they do? The world will still be creating poor people.
posted by Mitheral at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is the Pope concerned about secularization, or the fact that the Catholic Church is gaining greater influence in the Latin world than it does in the US and the EU? What will it mean for the Church if this trend continues?

He's probably worried about both. It is interesting to consider what the Catholic Church (and its hierarchy) will look like in fifty years if present trends continue. Christianity had to adapt after the loss of its Middle Eastern/Eastern Mediterranean heartlands to Islam, after all, to the point where today people generally see it as quintessentially a "Western" and "European" faith. What happens when the Church is primarily a Third World, global South religious organization?
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Really? That's the "grave crisis"? After I read those words I was expecting a new department to examine the child-raping but nope. BAH.

Yeah, I had the same thought. It really does seem that the conservative wing of the Republican party and the Vatican are sharing the same playbook: "Whenever you start to lose cultural or political currency, try to convince people that women and gays are destroying the world, and that you are the last line of defense against complete social disorder."

Unfortunately, the second play in the playbook is "Start an unjustified war", so look forward to that.
posted by muddgirl at 9:22 AM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


An organization of 1.2 billion people isn't just going to up and go away.

Following the link, these figures are based on the church's own data which I suspect aren't great at deleting those who are no longer practicing.
posted by biffa at 9:24 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a Christian...

But not a Catholic, I am guessing.

I'm not a Christian, but I know enough Catholics who are decent, moral, fine people that your comment rubs me the wrong way. Many of these friends have liberal political positions on major issues, and are of course disgusted by the child abuse revelations. The thing is, statements like yours (even with the tepid "pockets of good" allowance) sound a lot like what some of my anti-Catholic Protestant relatives go on about (you didn't add any "idol worshipers" silliness, though) and in this context smacks of piling on.

The corruption is inherent in all self-policing, powerful, hierarchical institutions -- no matter what the religion, nation, corporation, political party, or fan base. You'll find "evil" somewhere in your own Church, if you look there, too. (I certainly see it in institutionalized Buddhism despite by admiration for the core philosophies.)
posted by aught at 9:24 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


AdamCSnider: "What happens when the Church is primarily a Third World, global South religious organization?"

Can you say "liberation theology"? Too bad I'll probably be dead by then to see it.
posted by charred husk at 9:26 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


But do you think the Pope is Team Jacob or Team Edward?

Well, Edward fucked somebody only a fraction of his own age, soooooooo
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:26 AM on July 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


Can you say "liberation theology"? Too bad I'll probably be dead by then to see it.

That would require the Church to be in any way a democratic institution. Given that the current Pope was, earlier in his life, personally responsible for the vicious suppression of liberation theology, I wouldn't anticipate this happening, well, ever.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:27 AM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


(the Church was the single largest private holder of wealth in the world -- not sure if they still are)

Well here in the states, the catholics are pleading bankruptcy.
See also this.

Time for that fire sale to begin!
posted by Max Power at 9:32 AM on July 1, 2010


Hmm borked my first link.
posted by Max Power at 9:33 AM on July 1, 2010


Pope Guilty: "That would require the Church to be in any way a democratic institution. Given that the current Pope was, earlier in his life, personally responsible for the vicious suppression of liberation theology, I wouldn't anticipate this happening, well, ever."

I've got a good 30-60 years left, PG. Pope Palpatine will be long gone by then along with a bunch of these other crusty old European cardinals and bishops. If the current demographic trends continue, then there will be a change in leadership in the Church. The Church does change, just at a snail's pace. We will probably never see justice from them in our lifetimes.

I'll laugh my ass off if by then all these new liberal-theology-leaning cardinals and bishops find themselves in a darkly conservative world.
posted by charred husk at 9:35 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


But do you think the Pope is Team Jacob or Team Edward?

Let's see: no premarital sex, oppression of women's rights, longstanding enmity towards those of other supernatural origins (religions).... yeah, I think old Benny is quite clearly Team Edward.
posted by elizardbits at 9:41 AM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


The catholic church doesn't own the land, the individual parishes do. I've always wondered what would happen if you infiltrated the church and drove away all the local practitioners. How does a non-profit go about selling their land, and what do they do with the cash if they cease to exist?
posted by Crash at 9:41 AM on July 1, 2010


papercake wrote Yeah, like several comments above, I can't help but feel hopeful that this is a last-ditched, useless effort to make the Catholic Church relevant.

Actually, its worse than that. This isn't a last ditch effort to make the RCC relevant, its a recognition that it is impossible to make the RCC relevant in today's world and a doubling down on the stuff that makes it irrelevant.

This is the petulant shriek of a group of deluded old men saying "you people out there are doing it all wrong, we're right, stop all that fun having and sex without pregnancy, and start living like 14th century peasants again! We, er, God demands it so hop to it wippersnappers!"

If the RCC were trying to be relevant it would reassess its stance on contraception, its stance on poverty (ie: that poverty is fantastic and it wishes to spread poverty as far and wide as possible), its stance on protecting people who rape children, etc.

This is a declaration of dedication to irrelevance. A declaration that the RCC is still mainly, centrally, concerned with trying to encourage a rigidly hierarchical society in which the powerful can quite literally get away with raping small children, while the plebes are forbidden contraception in order to keep them poor, dumb, and frustrated.

And, ultimately, a declaration that the RCC is interested primarily in how you have sex, and whether or not you're having sex the way they approve.

I, for one, strongly encourage the RCC to continue doing things of this nature as I can think of little that will hasten its demise more.

charred husk wrote Pope Palpatine will be long gone by then along with a bunch of these other crusty old European cardinals and bishops. If the current demographic trends continue, then there will be a change in leadership in the Church.

How? The current bishops choose the next bishops, there are always going to be a few in the younger generation who are rabidly reactionary and the current bishops will choose them as their successors. Self perpetuating, yes? I fail to see how change will ever come to the RCC.
posted by sotonohito at 9:42 AM on July 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm a liberal secularist and I'm trying real hard to think of a way the RC church could make itself relevant to my life but I'm coming up blank.

I have a feeling that it will be more of the same: telling everyone that the RC church has all the important answers by definition and railing against gays, unchaste women and science. Basically what they've been doing since 1517.
posted by Avenger at 9:46 AM on July 1, 2010


What happens when the Church is primarily a Third World, global South religious organization?

Very astute question. And a very interesting one to ponder, even if some uncomfortable considerations have to be entertained.

If one looks at product branding, a tendency exists that as the product becomes associated with consumers at a lower socio-economic station, it loses prestige. Unquestionably, there is also a racial aspect to it, though how to disentangle it from the economic one, I'm not sure. This loss of prestige occurs first of course among consumers who are at the higher socio-economic station, but that is often then followed by a gradual loss of prestige even among the lower socio-economic strata as the product becomes stigmatized.

More relevantly, a similar movement can sometimes be observed in churches. It can be blatantly racist - as more minority worshippers join, some people leave and the complexion of the church changes. It's not a uniform trend - thankfully greater integration can be observed in many churches, as racial discrimination lessens in the society at large.

I don't have any statistics, though I have heard anecdotally, that for example a new Catholic priest who is a minority and who arrives at a church that has a clear (white) ethnic profile, can be in for a period of adjustment, where some members elect to change churches.

It's interesting how this would play out, if Catholics in Europe see more and more priests of color and more and more association with the third world. Will that accelerate a loss of identification for most Europeans with the RCC? Or will increasing familiarity and comfort with racial and ethnic differences trump this? I don't know, but it seems to me it's a kind of interesting time. Had this racial shift taken place in the 50's when racial attitudes were more rigid, it may have been a disaster for the CC. If it happens in more enlightened times, perhaps it can even be a boost. The question is if they lose identification now, will it be too late by the time attitudes are more enlightened?

In the end, I think secularization is the bigger factor compared to changing of the complexion of the RCC.
posted by VikingSword at 9:49 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pope Palpatine will be long gone by then along with a bunch of these other crusty old European cardinals and bishops. If the current demographic trends continue, then there will be a change in leadership in the Church.

That has some kind of assumption in it that demographics have anything to do with the makeup of the hierarchy, which I can find no evidence of.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:51 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, btw, I think it's a bullshit attack on the Church to complain about them owning property. Lots of charitable institutions have large asset bases that they use to fund ongoing operations.

When your 'large asset base' is mountains of golden artifacts, art objects, and multi-billion dollar land plots, all acquired using wealth that was extracted from a population you kept deliberately ignorant for milennia so that your methodology of extraction by way of 'give us your valuables or burn in hell forever' seemed viable... well, that's fairly evil. We're not talking about Doctors Sans Frontiers here, we're talking about an ancient empire that collected it's power base through ruthless expansion, grotesque corruption, political blackmail, and the occasional mass murder or war. To claim that any group that sits upon literal GOLDEN FUCKING THRONES is equivalent to a non-profit charity is ridiculous.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:52 AM on July 1, 2010 [21 favorites]


On a serious note, I don't think this Pope is actually long for the world. There have been a couple of news items lately that make me think we're getting ready to play another round of "Black Smoke/White Smoke" in St. Peter's Square.

This seems to be the extension of the issues that he raised in his recent "Letter to Irish Catholics." (Which was pretty disgusting, laying the blame for the sex abuse scandal on the faithful's lack of faith rather than on sick criminals and those who protected them.) When read with the recent news that seemed to provide some insight into who had a chance to succeed Benedict in the papacy, this sounds like a short-lived papacy that is attempting to solidify as many things as possible before shuffling off this mortal coil.

Really, I'm just posting this so that I can say, "I told you so" when he announces he has something awful and incurable and will be dying momentarily. And if he doesn't, big deal. You wont remember this comment anyway.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:55 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the RCC's increasing relative popularity in the Latin world:

What happens when the Church is primarily a Third World, global South religious organization?

Funny article to see in my other open tab, on the economic surge forward in Latin America.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:55 AM on July 1, 2010


Actually, its worse than that. This isn't a last ditch effort to make the RCC relevant, its a recognition that it is impossible to make the RCC relevant in today's world and a doubling down on the stuff that makes it irrelevant.

That's even better! Thanks for brightening my day!
posted by papercake at 9:59 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Replacing Ratzinger with Sinead O'Connor would be a good start.
posted by kozad at 9:59 AM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


I suppose just creating a department of "just trying to leave everybody the hell alone" was out of the question.

Unfortunately, Christianity is intended to grow, spreading the Word of God to everyone. Maybe they'll leave you alone if you claim to already be Christian, but even then, some Christians want you to be born again, as if once wasn't enough.

I'm looking forward to attempts for this to go viral, starting with Total Eclipse of My God. To help them towards this ill-fated attempt at becoming modern, I'll offer some lyrics:

(Turn around)
Every now and then
I get a little bit lonely
and my friends never come around
(There's always God)
Every now and then
I get a little bit tired
of listening snarky podcasts
(Don't forget God)
Every now and then
I get a little bit nervous
that science doesn't have all the answers I want
(There's Jesus, too)
Every now and then
I get a little bit terrified
and then I see the lights in a church
(Come back to the church)
Every now and then I fall apart
(Come back to the Catholic Church)
Every now and then I fall apart
(We've got punch)
Every now and then I get a little
bit restless and I dream of something safe
(And some snacks)
Every now and then I get a little bit
helpless and I'm lying like a child in God's arms
(And brochures)
Every now and then I get a little bit angry
and I know I have to get out and cry
(No need to do that)
Every now and then I get a little bit terrified
but then I see the look in your eyes
(Come back to the church)
Every now and then I fall apart
(Come back to the Catholic Church)
Every now and then I fall apart
...

It's a work in progress, and the least I can do to make PCP-Next Edition a reality. PCP-NE's the cool thing, kids! Come on into your local Catholic Church to find out more!
posted by filthy light thief at 10:00 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Okay, I'm with you, sounds good, mhmm -- oh, wait, uh, huh? I mean, I think that people do want an authentic and full life and if belief in God (or whomever) supports that great, but I think this statement could use revising.

You should probably start by reading the remarks in their full context, rather than just the excerpts. The link to the full text of the homily is in the original post, but it's somewhat buried amidst all the other stuff.

Flarbuse's and Joe Beese's comments are at this point just boring rehashing.

The Winsome Parker Lewis hasn't bothered to explain what his objections to the Catholic Church are, just to assert that he has them, which makes it basically impossible to respond to him.
• Is the Pope concerned about secularization, or the fact that the Catholic Church is gaining greater influence in the Latin world than it does in the US and the EU? What will it mean for the Church if this trend continues?
Huh? Is there a point to this question other than to imply that the Pope is a racist (or perhaps just a nationalist/imperialist)? Obviously the Pope wants the Church to be influential everywhere. Growing influence (though it's not clear that the Catholic Church is growing in proportional influence in Latin America) is never a problem under that metric.
• John Paul II's main strength was his ability to keep the Church relevant. After the fall of Communism and the passing of JPII, the Church has been left with a dour, academic, conservative Pope who hasn't exactly won many friends.
Oft asserted by the media, but not backed up by the evidence. John Paul II was also an academic and a conservative remember! The Papal audiences have continued to draw record crowds.

I've got a good 30-60 years left, PG. Pope Palpatine will be long gone by then along with a bunch of these other crusty old European cardinals and bishops. If the current demographic trends continue, then there will be a change in leadership in the Church. The Church does change, just at a snail's pace. We will probably never see justice from them in our lifetimes.

Yeah, you're missing the point. The "liberal" Bishops appointed by John XXIII and early on in Pope John Paul II's papacy are the ones dying off. Many of those in the "global south" are more conservative than those in the West and North. The Bishops around the world are progressively getting more conservative, not less conservative. The younger Bishops are more conservative than the older ones. Oullett's appointment is confirmation that this trend will continue. This is why Oullett's appointment is really the big news, despite the media appeal of the controversy over Fisichella. Conservative/Traditionlist blogger Father John Zuhlsdorf has a post up giving his thumbs up to Oullet and noting that despite the flap over Fisichella's L'Osservatore article, he's "been the Holy See’s strongest spokesman on Italian TV when there were public debates about matters of bioethics and he knows how to drive projects forward."

the Vatican are sharing the same playbook: "Whenever you start to lose cultural or political currency, try to convince people that women and gays are destroying the world, and that you are the last line of defense against complete social disorder."

That reaction, I think, comes somewhat from the slightly unfortunate framing of this post. This is explicitly not the Pope's point. It's not being against gay marriage and abortion that makes Oullett a conservative in church terms, those are baseline positions for a Catholic Bishop of any sort. Any Bishop who isn't opposed to them isn't a liberal, he's a wierd outlier that isn't representative of any "party" in the Church.
posted by Jahaza at 10:01 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Telegraph article:
The Pope made an official visit to Portugal last month, but barely 20 per cent of the population in the formerly staunchly Catholic country regularly attends church [...]

The Austrian Church has estimated that up to 80,000 of the country's 5.5 million Catholics could leave the church this year a new record. [...]

In Britain there are about six million Catholics – one in ten of the population – but only around a million say they go to Mass every Sunday.
Etc. Is the problem that people are leaving the church spiritually (declaring that they are no longer Catholic and no longer listening to what the church has to say) or are they still Catholic at heart and just not showing up physically on Sunday to drop money in the plate? If it's the latter, maybe all the church needs is an online mass system with an "Amen" button, karaoke hymns, Skype confessions, and a PayPriest account.
posted by pracowity at 10:02 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


its stance on poverty (ie: that poverty is fantastic and it wishes to spread poverty as far and wide as possible)

Oooh... libel. That's always a constructive form of discussion.
posted by Jahaza at 10:03 AM on July 1, 2010


FatherDagon sez: "To claim that any group that sits upon literal GOLDEN FUCKING THRONES..."

Link for this? Or some other reference?
posted by MustardTent at 10:04 AM on July 1, 2010


This seems to be the extension of the issues that he raised in his recent "Letter to Irish Catholics." (Which was pretty disgusting, laying the blame for the sex abuse scandal on the faithful's lack of faith rather than on sick criminals and those who protected them.)

It was also fun how the "grievous wound" in that letter referred to the damage the sex abuse scandal had inflicted upon the Church. Beyond tone deaf. It's as if he hasn't spoken to anyone other than a sycophant in a very long time.

[On the RCC's increased relative popularity in Latin America]

Huh? Is there a point to this question other than to imply that the Pope is a racist (or perhaps just a nationalist/imperialist)? Obviously the Pope wants the Church to be influential everywhere. Growing influence (though it's not clear that the Catholic Church is growing in proportional influence in Latin America) is never a problem under that metric.

I can honestly say that my question was not accusing the Pope of any racism/nationalism/etc. I just find it interesting that it appears the base of the faithful is perhaps moving outside of the EU/US area.

[On JPII's perceived dynamic nature vs. the current Pope's perceived dour nature]

Oft asserted by the media, but not backed up by the evidence.

YOU FORGOT POLAND

John Paul II was also an academic and a conservative remember! The Papal audiences have continued to draw record crowds.

JPII was also academic and conservative, but those were not his primary identifying characteristics. He had a remarkable command over his and the Church's presence in the world media.

I don't doubt that the current Pope draws good crowds when he shows up, but I take him at his word that he's genuinely concerned about the RCC's precipitous decline in power.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:09 AM on July 1, 2010


Jesus taught that the loving they neighbor was more important that following rules to the letter of the law. The church still doesn't get that... almost 2000 years later?

Caring about boys should mean you get rid of pedophiles... not curse those who dare speak about it.

Loving everyone should be more important than casting them out because of their sexual preferences.

Doing the right thing should be more important that punishing dissent.
posted by MikeWarot at 10:10 AM on July 1, 2010


MustardTent: The Throne of St. Peter. Dig the image hits!
posted by SirNovember at 10:12 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm actually very optimistic about the decline of the RCC. If anyone was worried about the RCC doing something that would stem the decline - you can relax. Instead, the RCC seems to double down on gay and women hatred and conservatism in general. Yep, that'll make it relevant - not!

Like it or not, the world is moving to greater tolerance and acceptance of gays (even if it's agonizingly slow in most parts of the world). So too wrt. abortion rights and women's rights in general. That means the RCC is putting itself in direct opposition to these powerful secular(!) trends. It can only lose. Gay rights and women's rights are the weakest in countries where the RCC has least power (Islamic countries and many parts of Africa) - therefore, the RCC finds itself in an unfortunate situation of being exactly where its positions are the least relevant.

I look forward to the continuing decline of the RCC first in the developed world, then eventually in the developing world. Because development is incompatible with conservatism in the long run.

The ultimate fate of the RCC is a demographic shift to older and older people, and then hopefully complete irrelevancy along the lines of the KKK. It won't be anytime soon (centuries), but the trend is all in the right direction - down. And the idiot pope is doing all he can to accelerate that trend, to which I say - bravo!
posted by VikingSword at 10:15 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It was also fun how the "grievous wound" in that letter referred to the damage the sex abuse scandal had inflicted upon the Church. Beyond tone deaf. It's as if he hasn't spoken to anyone other than a sycophant in a very long time.

It's actually quite reminiscent of how a narcissist behaves, actually.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:16 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


empath: “Oh please. Pick your Christian church. They're all full of hypocrites.”

This is true. Of course, to be fair, if we didn't allow hypocrites, the number of human beings allowed to join churches would approach zero rapidly.

The Winsome Parker Lewis: “I'm a Christian. To me, the Catholic Church represents nearly everything Jesus taught against. There are of course pockets of good within the mostly evil institution. It wasn't always that way. But we're dealing with the aftermath of two millennia of human fallibility, dangerous dogma, and good old-fashioned corruption. Just look how far the United States has fallen with the same ingredients after only one tenth of that length of time. I can't, knowing human nature, say any of this is surprising.”

aught: “I'm not a Christian, but I know enough Catholics who are decent, moral, fine people that your comment rubs me the wrong way. Many of these friends have liberal political positions on major issues, and are of course disgusted by the child abuse revelations. The thing is, statements like yours (even with the tepid "pockets of good" allowance) sound a lot like what some of my anti-Catholic Protestant relatives go on about (you didn't add any "idol worshipers" silliness, though) and in this context smacks of piling on.”

I can see that perspective. In fact, I frankly agree. And even though I think there are plenty of very good indictments against the Catholic system (which many of us have been voicing for a long, long time) I don't think now is the time for them.

Regardless of any criticisms to the contrary, Catholicism is an expression of the universality of the Christ's message. That fact is not changed by the extraordinarily painful instances of abuse in the recent past by people in which the Church put its faith. In the end, I also don't think it's significant that many people nowadays have seized on this as an excuse to claim that Christianity is a religion for wealthy, hateful pedophiles. The Church will remain, despite dwindling parishes, smaller attendance, empty coffers, mainstream hatred, etc. It's funny to me that anybody would think this is an attempt by the temporal leaders of the Church to "stay relevant" when it's pretty clear that something as pointless as relevance has never been part of the Church's aim.
posted by koeselitz at 10:17 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


MustardTent: The Throne of St. Peter. Dig the image hits!

The Pope hasn't had a special chair since 1978. Hence the "Popemobile". I'm not sure what your complaint is: that the Catholic Church has a lot of goodies in its museum?

It's interesting how often atheism is a byword for scarcely concealed antipapism.
posted by shii at 10:22 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


And even though I think there are plenty of very good indictments against the Catholic system (which many of us have been voicing for a long, long time) I don't think now is the time for them.

When is the time for them? When is it acceptable and proper to bring grievances against one of the most powerful and wealthy private organizations in the world?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:22 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


That reaction, I think, comes somewhat from the slightly unfortunate framing of this post.

What about it was inaccurate, please?
posted by zarq at 10:23 AM on July 1, 2010


It's interesting how often atheism is a byword for scarcely concealed antipapism.

And the Catholic persecution complex rears its head once again.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:23 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's mostly real estate, I think, so I would guess a collapse in housing prices.

On the other hand, there would be a bump in revenue for the jurisdictions where that land is, since people would actually have to pay taxes on it.
posted by inigo2 at 10:24 AM on July 1, 2010


VikingSword: “The ultimate fate of the RCC is a demographic shift to older and older people, and then hopefully complete irrelevancy along the lines of the KKK. It won't be anytime soon (centuries), but the trend is all in the right direction - down.”

Indeed. This is clearly the case, since the greatest and most incisive prophet ever to walk the earth, a person able to foretell the fates of billions hundreds of years hence and to presage the many multifarious cataclysmic turns which lead to the rise and fall of world religions, has now appeared among us. And that prophet, apparently, is you. We can only stand and awe and wonder at the mystical gifts which enable you to tell us what will happen to two-millennia-old faiths centuries ahead of time.
posted by koeselitz at 10:24 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


sotonohito: "How? The current bishops choose the next bishops, there are always going to be a few in the younger generation who are rabidly reactionary and the current bishops will choose them as their successors. Self perpetuating, yes? I fail to see how change will ever come to the RCC."

Pope Guilty: "
That has some kind of assumption in it that demographics have anything to do with the makeup of the hierarchy, which I can find no evidence of.
"

The hierarchy still has to draw from its base of priests. While according to the rules the current set of bishops can keep picking the most conservative members it can, there are internal political issues that need to be considered. Remember that its the churchgoers who provide the Church with most of its funding and the local priests who act as the major fundraisers. Piss them off too much and money stops flowing.

An example of that: Consider two of the liberal-leaning parishes in my neck of the woods. Both had vibrant communities of church-goers and were good at bringing the cash in to the diocese. We got a new, hard liner bishop who came and did some house cleaning at one of the parishes. That parish saw an exodus of churchgoers and it ceased to be the cash cow it used to be.

Now at the other parish, the long-time priest there is about to retire. He had built this parish of from nothing, enduring long golf outings and dinners with wealthy, left leaning doctors and lawyers to get an actual church built. He supported married and female priests, openness to gays & lesbians and all other sorts of lefty stuff. Perfect time to do some house cleaning and get the parish on the right track, right? No, because the bishop understood that he didn't want to kill the cash cow. There's another left-leaning priest coming in.

In the U.S., this isn't as important - people are just leaving and it is becoming more and more composed of hard-liners. It is also dying, I believe, though its a big monster so it'll take a long while.

However, translate this money/political scenario to a region that is growing and where theologies that are not currently mainstream in Rome are dominant. (Note - I'm not suggesting that, say, South American Catholics are necessarily more liberal, but liberation theory is stronger there.) The Church is still a money-hungry monster and that will have an effect over time. As income from the northern hemisphere dries up, the Church's options will diminish. First priests, then bishops, then cardinals. It will take a LONG time.

So yes, change will come to the Church. It doesn't seem possible, but it has happened and it will happen. It just won't happen fast enough to satisfy anyone with any sense of human decency. Right now I think we're seeing the mad thrashings of a beast that sees the writing on the wall - it's going to become a southern hemisphere institution full of brown and black people. I'd bet on a third Vatican Council before the century is out, God knows what will come from it.
posted by charred husk at 10:25 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regardless of any criticisms to the contrary, Catholicism is an expression of the universality of the Christ's message.

Then it's a pretty poor expression of that. I don't recall Jesus ever saying anything on the record about contraception or homosexuality, or about the virtues of committing criminal conspiracy to cover up child sexual abuse.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:26 AM on July 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Tell you what though, them Catholics build the hell out of a church. Ever seen St. Pete's Basilica? phreeeoow
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 10:27 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, like several comments above, I can't help but feel hopeful that this is a last-ditched, useless effort to make the Catholic Church relevant.

Perhaps, as the tide of secularisation refuses to be turned back, the Catholic Church and other conservative religions will put aside their differences and join forces to fight against liberalism and humanism. We've already seen (Saudi Wahhabi-led) Islamic states and Catholics join forces to try and derail the UN charter on the rights of children. Perhaps, in a few years, we'll see the Pope of the day give as press conference in Mecca announcing a merger between Catholicism and Wahhabi Islam, and a new crusade-jihad against godlessness everywhere?
posted by acb at 10:31 AM on July 1, 2010


zarq: “What about it was inaccurate, please?”

I think it's unfair to call your meticulous, careful, and frankly excellent post "unfortunately framed." However, in reading it, I think I had the same feeling Jahaza had. Namely, it seems ephemeral to me that you brought in abortion and gay marriage. Honestly, those things have nothing whatsoever to do with pedophilia, which is (and should be) the issue at hand. Moreover while they are important to me, and I do have strong opinions about them, I genuinely don't believe that a person's stance on abortion or gay marriage has anything whatsoever to do with her or his stance on pedophilia. I don't think that it's necessarily "unfortunate," but it's not helpful to play to the misconception that human beings are either "liberal" or "conservative," and thus predisposed to act only according to those categories.

In any case, I really like the post. Thanks. I think there are probably ways in which these things constitute disagreements about the material, but I couldn't hope for it to be presented any better.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


peacay, thanks. :)
posted by zarq at 10:31 AM on July 1, 2010


me: “Regardless of any criticisms to the contrary, Catholicism is an expression of the universality of the Christ's message.”

fairytale of los angeles: “Then it's a pretty poor expression of that. I don't recall Jesus ever saying anything on the record about contraception or homosexuality, or about the virtues of committing criminal conspiracy to cover up child sexual abuse.”

If you think those things are central issues in the faith of most Catholics around the world, then I suggest you get to know some Catholics.
posted by koeselitz at 10:34 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Nobody expects The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelisation" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:40 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'd just like to point out that the RCC has outlasted pretty much every other organization on earth (there are some exceptions, but they, too, seem to be religions). If I had to bet, I'd say that the RCC will be around long after the USA is gone.
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:43 AM on July 1, 2010


"Hello, yes, good evening. My name is Pope Benedict XVI. I'm the Pope. A previous Pope, Pope John XXIII, wrote the Crimen Sollicitationis on 16 March 1962. I endorsed it in 2001, back when I was just Cardinal Jozeph Ratzinger. The Crimen Sollicitationis [PDF] makes it the official policy of the Roman Catholic Church to shush up the boys and shelter the clergy who rape. It wasn't just some bad apples here and there, it was official policy from the top down for about four decades. Hmmm. Yes. Sorry. No more Crimen Sollicitationis. So, please be Catholics again."

That might be a start.
posted by eccnineten at 10:47 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stupid progress!
posted by gallois at 10:48 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you think those things are central issues in the faith of most Catholics around the world, then I suggest you get to know some Catholics.

Conflating 'Catholics' with 'The Catholic Church' has some interesting parallels between conflating 'Judaism' with 'The State of Israel'. One can very easily point out how the organizational structure is monstrous while still being fully aware of the individual adherents as human beings.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:48 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


YOU FORGOT POLAND

Um, pretty sure Lech Walesa, Gorbachev, and the crumbling Soviet economy and COMINTERN trade network had more to do with whatever point you're tying to make about Poland than JP2.
posted by a small part of the world at 10:53 AM on July 1, 2010


Ah, church. The last refuge for deniers of statistics. ;)
posted by wierdo at 10:54 AM on July 1, 2010


COMECON, not COMINTERN... drat!
posted by a small part of the world at 10:54 AM on July 1, 2010


This is clearly the case, since the greatest and most incisive prophet ever to walk the earth, a person able to foretell the fates of billions hundreds of years hence and to presage the many multifarious cataclysmic turns which lead to the rise and fall of world religions, has now appeared among us. And that prophet, apparently, is you. We can only stand and awe and wonder at the mystical gifts which enable you to tell us what will happen to two-millennia-old faiths centuries ahead of time.

Typical koeselitz attack, an ad-hominem special. Fortunately, the trends I remarked upon don't derive their validity from it being me who reports them. Either the trends I reported are accurate, or they are not. Me saying it is not relevant - except to someone who engages in ad-hominem attacks, i.e. koeselitz.

charred husk pretty much covered that in his remarks above, but to emphasize, it's undeniable that the trends in developed countries are as described - the population is overall becoming more secularized, and those who continue to identify as Catholics are becoming older and older. And other factors are only making this trend stronger - as Europe diversifies in every way, there is a greater influx of Muslims and other faiths, further diluting the future growth potential of the RCC. To me, particularly interesting are the cases of formerly strongly Catholic countries - the identification in Spain, Italy and Portugal is declining rapidly. It's taken a body blow in Ireland because of the relentless scandals. In Poland there was a special situation where the RCC rose as a result of its opposition to Communism and the selection of a Polish pope. But even there, it's remarkable how it's been declining - recent surveys peg CC adherents as growing older (and the selection of a former Hitler Youth German pope was a masterstroke in neutralizing the pope-was-a-Pole factor). In the U.S. the demographic shift to older adherents is also observable.

That leaves the third world. Yes, Latin America is dynamic, but the RCC has seen a lot of successful competition from Protestants. But more importantly, the reality is that the growth of the RCC is to a great degree aspirational in those countries - they see the RCC as coming from economically/culturally successful countries (a very similar effect has been at play with the growth of Mormonism in those countries). As time goes on, and it dawns on them that the developed world has been dropping the RCC like a dirty handkerchief, the bloom will be off the rose, and the RCC will decline there too. Also, the trends are: greater development, greater secularization. So as long as the developing world keeps joining the developed world, the fate of the RCC will follow the trends in the developed world.

Those are the trends I'm reporting, and I leave koeselitz to his clumsy ah-hominems.
posted by VikingSword at 10:56 AM on July 1, 2010


Everyone is sidestepping the real issue here:

What humanity thirst for in these trying times is Ahura Mazda. In the name of Zoraster I hope you all get right with the lord.
posted by fuq at 10:56 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jahaza wrote Oooh... libel. That's always a constructive form of discussion.

No, honesty. I think that's pretty essential to a constructive form of discussion. I'm not engaging in the standard pretense that there are some areas which it is somehow improper to address.

The policies of the RCC are directly increasing poverty in the world. This is not libel, nor even an opinion, but simple fact. That may not be the intent, but it is the outcome.

Further, there is evidence in the form of the writings and beliefs of Mother Theresa that poverty qua poverty is viewed as a good thing. She certainly believed that, and worked to increase poverty worldwide, and the Church never once repudiated her for that belief.

It may be uncomfortable to honestly discuss the outcome of RCC policy, but I for one refuse to tiptoe around on eggshells and lie rather than speak the plain truth.

The Church is increasing poverty worldwide. That is a fact, it is beyond any and all dispute. The only question is whether the increase of poverty is, as Mother Theresa's acceptance and lack of repudiation seems to indicate, the actual goal of the RCC, or if the RCC "merely" views the increase of poverty worldwide to be an acceptable price to pay in the pursuit of other goals. But it is indisputable that the RCC is spreading poverty worldwide.
posted by sotonohito at 10:58 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


FatherDagon: “Conflating 'Catholics' with 'The Catholic Church' has some interesting parallels between conflating 'Judaism' with 'The State of Israel'. One can very easily point out how the organizational structure is monstrous while still being fully aware of the individual adherents as human beings.”

'Human beings' – heh. Yes, you can point out that an organization is monstrous whilst being aware that its members are human beings. But the only rational conclusion is that those human beings are either monstrous themselves or just stupid.

Besides, this wasn't about that. This was about how I say that the Catholic Church is an expression of the Christ's teachings as universal. And I stand by that statement. I think your objection concerning the conflation of "the church" and "members of the church" is a misunderstanding of the subject (common though it is) but if you'd like to remove the bit you have disagreements with, I'll restate it:

If you think that those things – contraception, homosexuality, and criminal conspiracy to cover up pedophilia – are central issues in the teachings of Catholic priests around the world, then I think you aren't acquainted with what Catholic priests actually tend to teach Catholics.
posted by koeselitz at 11:02 AM on July 1, 2010


If you think those things are central issues in the faith of most Catholics around the world, then I suggest you get to know some Catholics.

I was not speaking of individual Catholics. Neither were you, since you specifically said "Catholicism" and not "the spiritual lives of individual Catholics."

I was, in fact, educated in the Catholic school system for thirteen years of my life, parallel to being raised Episcopalian, and I do know a lot of Catholics who are quite committed to social justice and the like. I also understand that the Church system has systematically concealed the widespread sexual abuse of children, opposed contraception to the point of absurdity, and condemned homosexual.relations-- and I don't believe that the Church, as an entity, is really expressing any kind of universal message set forth by Jesus.

When a faith system can't even reasonably handle "don't hurt kids" when their prophet demands it, it's not an expression of his message.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:03 AM on July 1, 2010


Um, pretty sure Lech Walesa, Gorbachev, and the crumbling Soviet economy and COMINTERN trade network had more to do with whatever point you're tying to make about Poland than JP2.

JP2 was part of it, too.

COMECON, not COMINTERN... drat!

Heh. It happens. Well, COMINTERN had a part in it, too, just not the part they had intended...
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:04 AM on July 1, 2010


VikingSword: “Typical koeselitz attack, an ad-hominem special.”

Well, I don't know if a typical koeselitz attack is really ad hominem. It's more like: "he tries to be witty, but then ends up just making a wildly pointless personal attack." Which is technically ad hominem, but "wildly pointless personal attack" just catches it more vividly.

Anyway, I probably just should have said: there's no way to know what will happen hundreds of years from now. Yes, societies are becoming more secularized; there are those of us Christians who think that's a good thing both for societies and for Christianity. We've certainly been in the minority before. I guess I just mean: we're talking about the beliefs of human beings. Those things are very, very hard to predict. In 1500, it would have been impossible to say where human society would be today. And I would say that it's even harder now to predict the future on this count than it was then.

But, yes: I agree that Christianity will probably not see itself as a relevant political force in the center of the governments of many nations of the world for very long. I just don't think that has much to do with the central mission and teachings of Christianity.

Sorry about the stupid insult, though.
posted by koeselitz at 11:12 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Namely, it seems ephemeral to me that you brought in abortion and gay marriage. Honestly, those things have nothing whatsoever to do with pedophilia, which is (and should be) the issue at hand. Moreover while they are important to me, and I do have strong opinions about them, I genuinely don't believe that a person's stance on abortion or gay marriage has anything whatsoever to do with her or his stance on pedophilia.

Yeah, I minimized the pedophilia scandal on purpose in the FPP -- left the only mention of it in the quote from a NY Times article. I was concerned that if I focused too heavily on it, that would cause the ensuing thread to flame out. But I do see what you mean.

Once that choice had been made, I tried to focus solely on what I as an outsider see the Church saying are its primary goals: curbing attrition from the spread of secularism amongst the Catholic faithful, and eliminating abortion and gay marriage in modern-day culture. The Pope's been giving speeches on all three subjects since his election. Some of the articles I linked to mentioned that it's uncharacteristic for a Cardinal of the Church to be as outspoken about abortion and gay marriage as Ouellet has been. Others, like the Times article, mentioned that he's a traditionalist about doctrine and liturgy.

I guess I didn't think of what I was doing in terms of me steering the post. But yeah, that's what I was doing. I tried not to editorialize... and totally did anyway. Ugh.

I don't think that it's necessarily "unfortunate," but it's not helpful to play to the misconception that human beings are either "liberal" or "conservative," and thus predisposed to act only according to those categories.

OK. I can see that. It wasn't really what I intended by quoting the article that called him a "hardliner," though.

Thanks for your kind compliment about the post. Truly appreciated.
posted by zarq at 11:19 AM on July 1, 2010


Well, koeselitz, I admit I'm pleasantly surprised - I totally didn't expect that. Therefore, all's well, and let us move past that.

On topic, the future is necessarily unpredictable, and the future of the RCC is no different. I didn't think that this truism is something that needed to be reiterated. It's obvious and a given. That said, with that as context and background, insofar as one can predict anything at all, one attempts to extend trend lines and looks for factors which may alter or reverse the trends. Extending the trend lines, it's uncontroversial that the RCC will experience a demographic shift to older adherents and a decline with time.

The easy way out would be to say it's incumbent on those who predict a reversal to indicate which factors will do that, but since it was I who extended those trend lines, I did do some thinking about it, and admit that I couldn't find any factors that would work to reverse the broad trends, though short-term, of course it's not hard. For example, the RCC will most likely actually grow numerically in the U.S. (a developed country), thus being a counter factor to the trend. But upon closer examination, we see that all of that growth is in a straight line from immigration (Latin America, Mexico, etc.). And we know that with time, adherence to the original religion declines and secularization sets in (this is true of all religions, for example Muslims in Europe are less Muslim and more secular with succeeding generations). So in time, this wave will crest, and the broad trend of secularization and demographically older will continue. And so on.

Now that doesn't mean that there can't be some kind of unforeseen event that completely upends this, but that's inherent in the unpredictability of the future period. That's a problem we face in all walks of life and in making any plans - what if something unforeseen happens and the sun doesn't rise tomorrow? The government makes plans and projections. And so do we about the RCC. In the end it's not about certainty, but probability - I say my scenario is more plausible, but it's just a scenario. And I'm still planing my day tomorrow as if the sun is going to rise - I'm wild that way.
posted by VikingSword at 11:32 AM on July 1, 2010


SirNovember:


From the Wiki:

This wooden chair is enclosed in a gilt bronze casing designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and executed 1647–53.

This is not a golden throne. I just love how the original comment has favorites and nobody cares if it's true.
posted by MustardTent at 11:40 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, because the golden throne bit is the entirety of the comment.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:45 AM on July 1, 2010


One thing to observe, is that some things are easier to predict than others. The development of technology is notoriously hard to predict, because it is dependent on scientific discovery and since we don't know what will be discovered or when, it's extremely difficult to predict - throw in economic and cultural factors and it's super hard. In contrast, actually religious adherence is relatively easier to predict. It's not as if the doctrine of the RCC will undergo any dramatic change. No CC theologian will make a remarkable discovery that will change the appeal of their product. And the lessons of the past are much more readily applicable than in the case of technology. Since we are trying to predict something very, very broad, our job is also relatively easier. For example, even in technology it is easier to predict that technology will become a bigger and bigger factor in world economy - compared to which specific technology will prevail or become dominant. So too with the RCC - it's easier yet to do demographic projections based on past sociological experiences and present demographic realities.
posted by VikingSword at 11:45 AM on July 1, 2010


This is not a golden throne. I just love how the original comment has favorites and nobody cares if it's true.

I favorited it for this part, myself:
We're not talking about Doctors Sans Frontiers here, we're talking about an ancient empire that collected it's power base through ruthless expansion, grotesque corruption, political blackmail, and the occasional mass murder or war.
Which I do believe is entirely true.
posted by zarq at 11:51 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Benedict announced the new office during a vespers' service Monday... before the pope goes on summer holiday."

I find the thought of a pope on summer holiday very amusing. Where does he go? What does he do? I like to think of him sitting on a beach in his robes making little sand cathedrals.
posted by binturong at 11:57 AM on July 1, 2010 [10 favorites]


"Benedict announced the new office during a vespers' service Monday... before the pope goes on summer holiday."

I find the thought of a pope on summer holiday very amusing. Where does he go? What does he do? I like to think of him sitting on a beach in his robes making little sand cathedrals.


Nothing like Fire Island beaches to get away from all that praying, yet keep on kneeling.
posted by VikingSword at 12:01 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Physician, heal thyself".
posted by TheDonF at 12:02 PM on July 1, 2010


Where does he go? What does he do? I like to think of him sitting on a beach in his robes making little sand cathedrals.

Ibiza. He's a big fan of house music.
posted by empath at 12:05 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Given the pope's job description, it's fun to think what it is exactly that he's getting away from on vacation. Jesus? Incense? Other robed guys? Religious statues? Annoying worshippers? Holy water?Liturgical wine?
posted by VikingSword at 12:10 PM on July 1, 2010


There's always this throne, which is more what I was thinking of, seeing as it actually saw use recently. Or this one, in Armenia. Or this one, in California. Or, you know, you could try looking yourself! Examples abound.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:11 PM on July 1, 2010


it's fun to think what it is exactly that he's getting away from on vacation

Exactly. Surely fighting secularism is a 24/7 job.
posted by binturong at 12:14 PM on July 1, 2010


VikingSword: "Liturgical wine?"

Hans: "Velkom home mein Pope! Vould you like some Jesus? Incense? Statues? Choir Boys?"
Pope Palpatine: "Ach, Hans, I'm home on vacation! None of that for me."
Hand: "You mean?"
PP: "Yes. Fetch the Liturgical Jagermeister!"
posted by charred husk at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


maybe all the church needs is an online mass system with an "Amen" button, karaoke hymns, Skype confessions, and a PayPriest account.

"His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the office workers shook and became like dead men. But the giant Windows Logo said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are searching for Clippy who had been deleted. He is not here; for he is being recovered from a backup, as he said."

And Clippy did appear, and said unto them:

"You seem to be worshiping. Can I help you with that?"
posted by chambers at 12:22 PM on July 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm a liberal secularist and I'm trying real hard to think of a way the RC church could make itself relevant to my life but I'm coming up blank.

Well, for much of the last couple of thousand of years it's tended to involve jailing or killing people who won't fall into line. It's not like you need to look back to, say, the Reconquista or the genocide of the Cathars, just look to the enthusiastic support of Franco.

Once that choice had been made, I tried to focus solely on what I as an outsider see the Church saying are its primary goals: curbing attrition from the spread of secularism amongst the Catholic faithful, and eliminating abortion and gay marriage in modern-day culture.

That's a reasonable choice, considering they, along with opposition to contraception, are probably some of the most powerful drivers of alienation in the secular West. How many Catholics are interested in families of a dozen? Or barring their gay or lesbian friends from public life? Or watch reports of communities in Africa with 30% HIV infection rates while their church suggesst condoms are worse?

And that's believers, never mind anyone not predisposed to pay attention to the Pope.

As far as wealth goes, I find it very hard to believe the Church has only a few billion; the Papal Residence here in New Zealand, which is about as big, perhaps bigger, than the Vice Regal residence or the entire US embassy compound, and has been used by a Pope once since World War II, is on land that would be worth million on the open market.

Instead it has a few empty buildings, kept for a representative of God who never comes.
posted by rodgerd at 12:42 PM on July 1, 2010


This is not a golden throne. I just love how the original comment has favorites and nobody cares if it's true.

Oh, right. Gilt bronze. Well, that's not ostentatious at all. Carry on, then!
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:49 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Obviously, the Church is also saying that its primary goal is to spread the Catholic religion and the Gospel of Christ. We all know this, of course. But I don't want to give the impression that fighting secularism, abortion and gay marriage is all the Church is currently concerned with.
posted by zarq at 12:53 PM on July 1, 2010


Gospel..... Gospels? Um... should that be plural or singular?
posted by zarq at 12:54 PM on July 1, 2010


Gilt bronze.

catholic gilt
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:57 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pope slams cardinal who exposed abuse cover-up
posted by homunculus at 1:04 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, right. Gilt bronze. Well, that's not ostentatious at all. Carry on, then!

Right, since it's only constructed in a way that makes it look like it's made of gold, using actual gold to achieve the effect.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:05 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm a liberal secularist and I'm trying real hard to think of a way the RC church could make itself relevant to my life but I'm coming up blank.

Art, man. A holy fuckload of some of the greatest art and architecture ever produced. The Church is the biggest (and possibly the best, though not the most accessible, certainly) museum on Earth.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:08 PM on July 1, 2010


Seriously, why isn't every single comment in this thread just

bahahahahahahahahahahhaahahahhahahhah

over and over
posted by tehloki at 1:10 PM on July 1, 2010


charred husk: PP: "Yes. Fetch the Liturgical Jagermeister!"

I figured Papa Ratzi to be more of a Goldschläger pontiff, but whatevs.
posted by hangashore at 1:18 PM on July 1, 2010


The one downside I see to the decline of the RCC is that for many of the world's poor, in the first and the third, they are basically the only social safety net there is. Shelters, food banks, clothing, literacy programs - all put up by the church in places where "secular" aid is either lacking or non-existent.

This is not to say, of course, that it's totally cool to prop up an organization this blatantly corrupt and living in the Middle Ages for the sake of the world's poor, but just that I hope that real aid and help for the world's poor can fill in the gaps when the Catholic church does breathe its last.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:20 PM on July 1, 2010


rodgerd: "As far as wealth goes, I find it very hard to believe the Church has only a few billion;"

That's because most of those elaborate works of art that people think are worth so much are valued at 1 euro each. In many cases it might be better to think of the Vatican as the world's largest museum network - they are heavy into restoration. Talking about how much wealth the Vatican has in these terms is like complaining about how much wealth the Louvre has.

Now in terms of wealth from collections and land, that's another story.
posted by charred husk at 1:26 PM on July 1, 2010


tehloki: "Seriously, why isn't every single comment in this thread just

bahahahahahahahahahahhaahahahhahahhah

over and over
"

Because no matter how much of a hate-on you might have for the Catholic Church, it's still fucking interesting from a variety of angles. Plate of beans and all that.
posted by charred husk at 1:28 PM on July 1, 2010


Alright, so they want to evangelize and be relevant. I think that's redonk, but whatever. If they would like me personally to join their ranks, there are certain demands that must be met first.

Before I join the Catholic Church, they must...
- Stop it with the child abuse.
- Allow priests to get it on, for the love of Dog. Might or might not help with #1.
- Marry all of the gays. All of them. Whether or not they want to be married.
- Start distributing condoms around the world.
- Staff counselors in abortion clinics.
- Replace those dry communion wafers (being non-Catholic, I've only *heard* that they're bland) with Doritos.
- Give me a pony.

You want members, guys? Well, get on it.

Nice title.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:39 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I figured Papa Ratzi

Oh man. Talk about relevance. They should totally redo Lady GaGa's "Papparazzi" to be about Benny. I mean, hell, if you want to evangelize: "I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love, Papa, Papa Ratzi!"

If they could get some Cardinals to put on Bad-Romance esque hats and dance around, that'd be awesome.

I HEREBY ADD THIS TO MY LIST OF DEMANDS.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:43 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


The one downside I see to the decline of the RCC is that for many of the world's poor, in the first and the third, they are basically the only social safety net there is. Shelters, food banks, clothing, literacy programs - all put up by the church in places where "secular" aid is either lacking or non-existent.

That's because when people advocate for secular advancement of such programs, they instantly become COMMIE SOCIALISTS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE GRAHHHHHH.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:44 PM on July 1, 2010


Unfortunately, the second play in the playbook is "Start an unjustified war", so look forward to that.

"And how many legions does the Pope have?" - Stalin
posted by joe lisboa at 1:46 PM on July 1, 2010


- Replace those dry communion wafers

I haven't had a communion wafer in the better part of two and a half decades, but my secret shame is that I remember them being kinda tasty. Every once in a while, I'll be eating some vinegar or mustard or something, and think about how great it would be to have a big bag of them to dip with, so I could sit back and munch them while watching TV.

Of course, it would suck to find out that they weren't as good before the transubstantiation, and that you really needed that body of Christ to make the horseradish zing properly.
posted by quin at 1:47 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


FatherDagon wrote: "That's because when people advocate for secular advancement of such programs, they instantly become COMMIE SOCIALISTS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE GRAHHHHHH."

To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church is also derided as commie socialists.

The only good poor relief comes from homegrown evangelical churches, dontchaknow? Even that is suspect.
posted by wierdo at 1:49 PM on July 1, 2010


That's because when people advocate for secular advancement of such programs, they instantly become COMMIE SOCIALISTS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE GRAHHHHHH.

Yes, totally. That's why it's my hope that the decline of the church/rise of secularism goes hand in hand with the realization that caring for the least well of among us is a given.

I haven't had a communion wafer in the better part of two and a half decades, but my secret shame is that I remember them being kinda tasty. Every once in a while, I'll be eating some vinegar or mustard or something, and think about how great it would be to have a big bag of them to dip with, so I could sit back and munch them while watching TV.

If you lived in Québec, you wouldn't have to worry about this. They literally sell the cut-out portions of the communion wafer sheets in supermarkets, in the snackage section. You can also buy bags of the wafers themselves for the same purpose.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:51 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: "They literally sell the cut-out portions of the communion wafer sheets in supermarkets, in the snackage section."

Just ask for Jees-its!
posted by charred husk at 1:53 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can also buy bags of the wafers themselves for the same purpose.

My taste-buds feel weirdly vindicated, like they weren't crazy this whole time.
posted by quin at 2:10 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I figured Papa Ratzi to be more of a Goldschläger pontiff, but whatevs.

Wouldn't this be accounted among his favourites?
posted by mikelieman at 2:18 PM on July 1, 2010


gak... s/counted/accounted/
posted by mikelieman at 2:20 PM on July 1, 2010


It's really disheartening that the OP put together a really good post, jam-packed with links, and the comments read as though the post contained only the words "Catholic Church: go!"
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:22 PM on July 1, 2010


I like to think of him sitting on a beach in his robes making little sand cathedrals.

I cannot express how much I want this on a T-shirt. Which I can wear on the beach.
posted by bearwife at 3:08 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]



Time for that fire sale to begin!


Regardless of your opinion of the Catholic Church, you have to admit the Vatican garage sale would be, like, the best one ever. Dibs on the box of indulgences.
posted by thivaia at 3:20 PM on July 1, 2010


What humanity thirst for in these trying times is Ahura Mazda. In the name of Zoraster I hope you all get right with the lord.

Wise Lord Ahura Mazda, hear my prayer!
posted by homunculus at 4:09 PM on July 1, 2010


i know you guys are joking, but I know a real zoroastran IRL. it's still a thing in Iran, and a lot of Persians that left still follow it.
posted by empath at 4:19 PM on July 1, 2010


I pity the fool who mocks the upholder of truth, the ancient enemy of Angra Mainyu.
posted by elizardbits at 4:52 PM on July 1, 2010


Not sure but did the church get the patents on the pear, thunb screws and the rack and all the fun torture devices they invented to "correct" the Jews? Or ever say "Sorry about killing all you slowly in fire?" Or anything? Jus' askin'

And if they liquidated the assets and created a trust fund I bet they could do a lot for many starving nations.........but that would be silly, more people means more converts means more dollars means more people,.......... talk about a ponzie scheme, they invented it.

Dibs on the gold candle stick vault
posted by Freedomboy at 4:53 PM on July 1, 2010


Yeah, the cracks about Ahura Mazda are all fine and dandy, but nobody seems to care that there are a few things in this thread that would probably be really offensive to Zoroastrians.

(Specifically all this business about a "fire sale.")would be really
posted by koeselitz at 4:58 PM on July 1, 2010


(minus "would be really," ugh)
posted by koeselitz at 4:59 PM on July 1, 2010


quin:"Of course, it would suck to find out that they weren't as good before the transubstantiation, and that you really needed that body of Christ to make the horseradish zing properly."

Oh, trust me, they're tasty pre-blessing. We used to steal bags of 'em. Come to think of it, they'd be great with hummus.
posted by notsnot at 5:13 PM on July 1, 2010


1. Is there a way to favorite an FPP's title? Ah... I'll just favorite the post.

2. Echoing Flarbuse. Several. Times. Over.

Long live the St. Alexis of Ypsilanti I have heard stories about as I was too young to truly experience it!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 5:40 PM on July 1, 2010


I too, enjoy hosts, but tend to get my fix with matzoh.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:43 PM on July 1, 2010


Oh, trust me, they're tasty pre-blessing.

Mmmmhh... Sacrilicious....
posted by Ghidorah at 6:05 PM on July 1, 2010


Given the new shit that's come to light, I amend my request to simply "Serve communion wafers with hummus." That is all.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:14 PM on July 1, 2010


Now, I know some people are bound to take issue with this, on a culinary level, but Orthodox hosts are even tastier. Rather than thin little wafers, it's actually this golf ball-sized biscuit that has a layered look to it. Granted, I've not seen them sold in the chips aisle, and the prefered method of serving them is to have them broken into little pieces, dropped into a chalice of wine and then literally spoonfed to you - which is also delicious, don't get me wrong - but I'm sure they'd also be great dunked in salsa or cheese dip.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:16 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Personally, I will celebrate the day the entire world moves past the idea of organized religion. A moral and ethical code of behavior can exist without manufactured deities, the promise of eternal bliss or threat of eternal damnation, and the realization that, truly, "thou art God."
posted by FormlessOne at 8:16 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Society continues to exist solely because human beings have opinions in common which hold them together. But unfortunately, truth is not an easy thing to know; only very few humans, if any, ever seem to discover the truth about most things. Because of this, those who know the truth, or even who simply want to know the truth, and thus are skeptical about the commonly accepted opinions, will always naturally be seen as enemies by human society as it is. The opinions which society holds in common shift and change, without any relation to truth whatsoever; they move from relatively innocuous (but wholly false) to terribly vicious and evil (and still wholly false). Organized religion – the holding of systematic and carefully-thought opinions in common, and a focus on those opinions – is the only hope human society has for justice and for general happiness. This is one of the chief reasons for the religious project; it is a project undertaken by wise people to try to save society.
posted by koeselitz at 8:55 PM on July 1, 2010


As much as I would love to believe differently, I kind of agree with you, koeselitz. There are social mores, there is the concept of ethics, but without the framework to hold it together, well, human beings are pretty nasty.

In a way, it's why, I believe, communism and anarchy are always doomed to failure. People can't avoid being human, they can't avoid taking advantage of others, or harming others to get what they want if there aren't solid ethical structures in place. Even with the church and religion around, people are still vile towards each other, but with the framework in place, the vileness (up until now?) has been small enough that society can still function. Take away the constraints (such as teaching children from an early age that stealing and murder are wrong, and backing that up with an allseeing boogeyman who will know everything you do) and people act with impunity. In organizations like communist governments, or in, say the RCC, we call it corruption. After a time, the corruption brings down that system, no matter how good it might be, mostly because the people in power can't resist the temptation power brings, and at some point, the excesses of corruption bring about enough anger from those without power.

And this is why we can't have nice things.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:35 PM on July 1, 2010


St. Peter's Basilica is gigantic and every fucking square inch is covered in marble, jewels and gold. There's absolutely no excuse but I know I shouldn't cast stones so I won't expect the Pope to sell his '93 Civic either.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:17 PM on July 1, 2010


I haven't had a communion wafer in the better part of two and a half decades, but my secret shame is that I remember them being kinda tasty. Every once in a while, I'll be eating some vinegar or mustard or something, and think about how great it would be to have a big bag of them to dip with, so I could sit back and munch them while watching TV.

I grew up going to a Presbyterian church, and communion (once a month for Protestants, not every week) consisted of grape juice and little squares of salty, unleavened bread. It was kind of like a crunchy pita bread. The taste would linger in my mouth for the rest of the service and the overwhelming boredom I felt was relieved somewhat by that salty goodness.

At some point, the preacher decided to switch from the little unleavened squares to a loaf of real bread. That was a disappointment. All the more reason to not go.
posted by zardoz at 10:18 PM on July 1, 2010


Because of this, those who know the truth, or even who simply want to know the truth, and thus are skeptical about the commonly accepted opinions, will always naturally be seen as enemies by human society as it is. The opinions which society holds in common shift and change, without any relation to truth whatsoever; they move from relatively innocuous (but wholly false) to terribly vicious and evil (and still wholly false). Organized religion – the holding of systematic and carefully-thought opinions in common, and a focus on those opinions – is the only hope human society has for justice and for general happiness. This is one of the chief reasons for the religious project; it is a project undertaken by wise people to try to save society.

Sure, because organized religions have always been "skeptical about the commonly accepted opinions" and "seen as enemies by human society as it is". Not to mention their well-known synonymity with "the truth"!

This simultaneous combination of persecution-complex and god-complex would be bizarre enough if it bore any resemblance to history; as it is, it's way beyond the pale. Organized religion of one kind or another has almost always held pride of place in human society, and has very often been a primary driver of the same opinion shifts and witch hunts you're denouncing. This should be especially obvious in a discussion of the Roman Catholic Church. How can religion be "the only hope human society has for justice and for general happiness" in the face of shifting social opinion, when religion was an integral part of the vast majority of those societies' opinions? And when many extremely religious societies fell beyond justice and general happiness, despite (and sometimes even because of) centuries of "systematic and carefully-thought opinions in common, and a focus on those opinions"?

To cast organized religion as the plucky little underdog which is the only thing keeping society from degradation is akin to casting the Sacred Rock as the only thing keeping cancer from overwhelming the village. It could be true -- or the Rock could be uranium. Looks like there's only one way to find out...
posted by vorfeed at 10:27 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like the fact that societies where priests once put pressure on families to have lots of children (Ireland, Italy and Quebec) have swung away from the church in the last few decades and now have some of the lowest birthrates in the world.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:32 PM on July 1, 2010


vorfeed: “This simultaneous combination of persecution-complex and god-complex would be bizarre enough if it bore any resemblance to history; as it is, it's way beyond the pale.”

I get the feeling you didn't read what I wrote – which, by the way, is just a restatement of Plato's position on this, so it's hardly new.

What I said was that religion is the natural state of human beings, and unless human beings become something completely other than the limited creatures they are (which is not likely) it always will be.

The only hope is organizing that natural religious state and trying to turn it into a force for good.

Yes, there have been hideous organized religions. Yes, all of the major world religions have been used for evil at certain points. But that doesn't change the fact that, at their foundation, the major religions of the world were founded by people who saw this natural state of humankind and wanted to do good by organizing and focusing the religious character of human beings.

I would really, really like to imagine that this beautiful utopia where people all know the truth and don't have any arbitrary opinions (religions) is possible. But as it is, since every society that I know of that's ever existed on the face of the earth has been driven by random opinions and beliefs arrived at through no process of reason whatsoever – that is, religion – the problem calls for a different answer than the mindless utopianism that demands of human beings what almost none of them will be able to achieve.
posted by koeselitz at 11:13 PM on July 1, 2010


What I said was that religion is the natural state of human beings, and unless human beings become something completely other than the limited creatures they are (which is not likely) it always will be.

The only hope is organizing that natural religious state and trying to turn it into a force for good.


Your distinction between religion and organized-religion makes little sense. What, exactly, distinguishes a "natural" religion held for generations and supported by ritual and a system of morality, from an "organized" religion held for generations and supported by ritual and a system of morality? This seems like an extremely convenient distinction to me -- some ancient religions were highly organized (the Aztecs and the Egyptians, for example), yet arguably had little or nothing to do with "people who saw this natural state of humankind and wanted to do good by organizing and focusing the religious character of human beings".

Besides, your argument is entirely circular: organized religion is good because humanity without organized religion is bad, because organized religion is good (excuse me, "true" and "carefully-thought"). There is no reason to assume that organization is inherently good, though, nor randomness inherently bad, nor even that value judgments like "good", "evil", "true", or "false" are objectively correct -- all of this reeks of organized religion, which is unsurprisingly biased toward itself.

since every society that I know of that's ever existed on the face of the earth has been driven by random opinions and beliefs arrived at through no process of reason whatsoever – that is, religion – the problem calls for a different answer than the mindless utopianism that demands of human beings what almost none of them will be able to achieve.

The major religions of the world have been in place for 2,000 years, and according to you, are "the holding of systematic and carefully-thought opinions in common, and a focus on those opinions". So if the problem calls for a different answer, then maybe you should start by admitting that organized religion has been tried once or twice in "societies that you know of" since the age of Plato...
posted by vorfeed at 12:54 AM on July 2, 2010


. A moral and ethical code of behavior can exist without manufactured deities

It's called Sesame Street. Unless you count Snuffleupagus.
posted by rodgerd at 1:14 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


vorfeed: “Your distinction between religion and organized-religion makes little sense.”

That was my entire point – that there's no real distinction there, and that when people kvetch about "organized religion" they're generally chasing shadows. The real distinction is between religion and the order imposed on it.


“What, exactly, distinguishes a "natural" religion held for generations and supported by ritual and a system of morality, from an "organized" religion held for generations and supported by ritual and a system of morality? This seems like an extremely convenient distinction to me -- some ancient religions were highly organized (the Aztecs and the Egyptians, for example), yet arguably had little or nothing to do with ‘people who saw this natural state of humankind and wanted to do good by organizing and focusing the religious character of human beings’.”

On the contrary, that is what I'm arguing: that the Aztecs and the Egyptians, insofar as they had religious structures geared toward the preservation and betterment of their societies, were indeed led or at least founded by intelligent and thoughtful human beings who instituted their religions to try to do them good.

“Besides, your argument is entirely circular: organized religion is good because humanity without organized religion is bad, because organized religion is good (excuse me, "true" and "carefully-thought").”

I would've thought we could at least agree on this starting-point – in fact, I thought we already had, that's why I started with it: irrationality and superstition is the cause of most human miseries, and emotional, illogical, impulsive action is what leads to most injustice. That's the chief problem with humankind: they do stupid things without thinking about them, they act on emotion rather than reason, they give in to vindictiveness and cruelty rather than being intelligently selfish as they ought to be. I guess maybe you disagree with me on this, and believe that irrationality and superstition are good things. I don't know.

“There is no reason to assume that organization is inherently good, though, nor randomness inherently bad, nor even that value judgments like "good", "evil", "true", or "false" are objectively correct -- all of this reeks of organized religion, which is unsurprisingly biased toward itself.”

“The major religions of the world have been in place for 2,000 years, and according to you, are "the holding of systematic and carefully-thought opinions in common, and a focus on those opinions". So if the problem calls for a different answer, then maybe you should start by admitting that organized religion has been tried once or twice in "societies that you know of" since the age of Plato...”

Sorry, I think I was unclear. When I say that "every society that I know of that's ever existed on the face of the earth has been driven by random opinions and beliefs arrived at through no process of reason whatsoever," I mean the ones which are ruled by organized religion, too. All of them. Every single one. What I'm arguing is that the principle of order and organization sometimes comes from intelligent and thoughtful human beings who are trying to introduce some worthwhile things into those random opinions that are religion. This doesn't meant that those random opinions actually become reasonable, any more than it would be reasonable for me to believe that the sky is blue (true fact) because God is a gigantic blueberry (stupid, false reason.)

To take an example which I hope isn't too personal for people reading this, but which illustrates the case with a whole slew of other religious things which we're talking about in this thread:

Mormons are told that Jesus not only came back to life, but went over to America, where he found a lost tribe of Israel which had miraculously built boats and sailed across the ocean. These Jews, who were later mistaken for (or blended with, or something) the natives, received him and heard his prophecies and stories, writing them all down in a holy book which was lost for centuries and then rediscovered when an angel appeared to a scam artist living in New England in the nineteenth century. This is an exceedingly silly story, and I'm not going to waste space here saying why. Yet it's a beneficial story for a number of reasons; it is, for one thing, a story which inspires some deep pride in the people that believe it, and makes them feel as though they're part of some grand historical movement. It makes them feel as though the peoples of the earth that they think are strangest might have some kinship to them. It makes them feel as though they are the rebirth of an ancient and everlasting tribe. All of these beliefs are beneficial beliefs for human beings to have; and we observe that most Mormons are extremely nice and pleasant people.

Now, it's clear that these stories have been used for some stupid things, as well, and that they've led to some really unfortunate things. But even so, I think it's clear that these stories were told over and over again, and they were instilled in a community, initially and continually by intelligent, thoughtful human beings who knew it would do them good. Namely, Brigham Young.

I'm arguing one angle on religion which I think is interesting and compelling; it's really just a religious development of the idea of a noble lie. I think religion can be a noble lie, and I sometimes wonder why people don't see how common it is in that guise. Moreover, I think it's interesting that the supposedly more practical philosophies which have arisen in the last few centuries – Hobbesianism, Machavellianism, Spinozism, etc – have actually ended up breeding an excessive amount of utopianism where rational societies are concerned.

Really, the central point of what I'm saying is that it's impossible for a rational society to exist. It has never happened, and it will never happen. The best anyone can do is hope to give a society solicitous opinions – to tell it a noble lie. But a noble lie isn't rationality, and I don't think you can make most human beings unsuperstitious.
posted by koeselitz at 1:23 AM on July 2, 2010


Yet it's a beneficial story for a number of reasons; it is, for one thing, a story which inspires some deep pride in the people that believe it, and makes them feel as though they're part of some grand historical movement. It makes them feel as though the peoples of the earth that they think are strangest might have some kinship to them. It makes them feel as though they are the rebirth of an ancient and everlasting tribe. All of these beliefs are beneficial beliefs for human beings to have; and we observe that most Mormons are extremely nice and pleasant people.

Now, it's clear that these stories have been used for some stupid things, as well, and that they've led to some really unfortunate things. But even so, I think it's clear that these stories were told over and over again, and they were instilled in a community, initially and continually by intelligent, thoughtful human beings who knew it would do them good. Namely, Brigham Young.


I agree with you that there are beneficial aspects to ethnocentrism and other various forms of political, ethnic or religious nationalism. We all have a need to self-identify, and attaching one's identity to that of a larger group is a common human trait. Not only is there is power in numbers, but we also tend to form simple and advanced cultural group structures that help ease our lives.

But at the risk of stating the obvious, (and I realize you allude to this,) there are serious, damaging disadvantages, too. The moment you establish a distinct "us" and "them" mentality in a population, certain basic mammalian sociopsychological drives manifest. Competition. Aggression. Control. Fear of the unknown. Etc., etc. Unless additional safeguards towards tolerance are enforced, the results can be disastrous.

Since we're discussing Mormons, we can use their efforts against Proposition 8 as a very simplistic example: "We Mormons Good. Gays are Bad Others. Gay marriage is a threat. Must be prevented." So one population of human beings tries to deny something to another, based on a subset of their identity within our American culture.

Most (all?) religions promote that sort of "fear of the other" mentality in one way or another. Cultural diffusion isn't really compatible with religion and superstition. I suspect it's an insurmountable, inherent problem.
posted by zarq at 7:12 AM on July 2, 2010


and they were instilled in a community, initially and continually by intelligent, thoughtful human beings who knew it would do them good. Namely, Brigham Young

This is not at all meant as a slur on Mormons or Mormonism in general, but Brigham Young is not necessarily a man I would have characterized as intelligent or thoughtful. Fierce and (at times) brutally protective of his people, yes, brave (as evidenced by his willingness to take on the United States Army), yes, but I honestly don't see much evidence of any real introspection either in regards to his personal life or the policies of his Church. Rather he chose to simply allow his own prejudices and those of his people to act as a guide for behavior, under the cloak of doctrine (for example, the exclusion of black clergy).

I'll cheerfully posit that he believed that what he was instilling in the community would do them good. Knew is a bit strong.

I think religion can be a noble lie, and I sometimes wonder why people don't see how common it is in that guise.

If people in general see religion as a noble lie, it will cease to function as such. A noble lie is only of any use when it is believed by those who are its targets.

the supposedly more practical philosophies which have arisen in the last few centuries – Hobbesianism, Machavellianism, Spinozism, etc – have actually ended up breeding an excessive amount of utopianism where rational societies are concerned.

This is true also of new religious movements - everyone's an optimist when the latest Great Idea is brand new and unencumbered by the messy needs of reality. On the other hand, after all the utopianism has fallen by the wayside, Spinozism (I'm not sure why you throw Hobbes and Machiavelli in there, because neither of those theorists were in any way utopian, in my opinion - perhaps Locke and Voltaire might have been better examples) nevertheless helped lay the foundations of modern political democracy, freedom of thought, speech, and conscience, and many other valuable and quite real benefits to modern society. Turns out that aiming higher than "noble lies" can garner benefits, even if perfection is never achieved.

the central point of what I'm saying is that it's impossible for a rational society to exist. It has never happened, and it will never happen.

The former doesn't imply the latter. You could have said the same thing at various times in the past about democracies with universal sufferage, or states which grant full freedom of conscience to its members. I don't know precisely what "rational society" entails in your eyes, but certainly a system which allows people to pursue rationality, and insists that rational debate and reason be the ultimate criteria in the design of (for example) law, or legislation, or the settlement of conflicts generally - that can be achieved, if imperfectly.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:33 AM on July 2, 2010


That was my entire point – that there's no real distinction there, and that when people kvetch about "organized religion" they're generally chasing shadows. The real distinction is between religion and the order imposed on it.
[...]
On the contrary, that is what I'm arguing: that the Aztecs and the Egyptians, insofar as they had religious structures geared toward the preservation and betterment of their societies, were indeed led or at least founded by intelligent and thoughtful human beings who instituted their religions to try to do them good.


Again, this is a distinction which makes little sense. All human religion has "order imposed on it" -- the local shaman or speaker is order on a small scale, just as much as the Church is order on a large scale. Where's this so-called "natural" religion which involves making up three impossible things since breakfast every day? And if it exists, what about it prevents justice and general happiness?

I would've thought we could at least agree on this starting-point – in fact, I thought we already had, that's why I started with it: irrationality and superstition is the cause of most human miseries, and emotional, illogical, impulsive action is what leads to most injustice.

In short: I find this trope to be one of the chief "commonly accepted opinions" it pays to be skeptical about, at least when it comes to comparative religion. The idea that one religion is more "rational" than another is questionable, especially when it comes more-or-less straight out of that religion itself. Most of the religions on Earth have this same just-so story, with something they didn't like substituted for "irrationality and superstition"... and while I'm no huge fan of irrationality and superstition, calling them "the cause of most human miseries" while insisting that "it's impossible for a rational society to exist" is just a convenient setup for the same old circular logic in defense of the Sacred Rock. We have to keep the irrationality away, or else everything will fall apart -- but not our irrationality, because everything would fall apart!

The best anyone can do is hope to give a society solicitous opinions – to tell it a noble lie.

Value judgments like "solicitous opinions" and "nobility" are a matter of opinion. There's very little reason to view Mormonism as a "noble lie", but refuse to do the same for Hobbesianism, Machavellianism, or Spinozism (or utopianism, for that matter -- if it's a lie, what does it matter if it's impossible for it to exist so long as believing in it brings about "solicitous opinions"?)
posted by vorfeed at 9:28 AM on July 2, 2010


Pope Failed to Act on Sex Abuse Allegations, Despite Having Authority to Do So
posted by homunculus at 10:41 AM on July 2, 2010


Vatican makes attempted ordination of women a grave crime: Revised Catholic rules put female ordination in same category of crime under church law as clerical sex abuse of minors
posted by homunculus at 8:09 PM on July 15, 2010


Many Catholics in the UK seem none too happy about it, either.
posted by zarq at 8:47 AM on July 16, 2010


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