Saturday, April 02, 2005

April Foolishness

As if waiting for nothing more than to wrap up Easter services and for Terri Schiavo to pass, the Pope lurches headlong into his own homestretch. And lordy, the networks trip all over themselves with the up-to-the-minute pre-emptive encomia. As the saying goes, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. So this morning's CNN Headline News "coverage" begins with sober pronunciamentos at John Paul II's "modern" touch, and immediately careens over the precipice with descriptions of his actual policies and writings.

Apparently the "modern" part was being intractably anti-communist. Okay, fine, we're with him on that, with the possible caveat that some post-colonial governments, especially some in Africa and Latin America, might actually have gained some long-term societal benefit from some short-term redistributive policies. In other words, Guatemala and El Salvador might not have been such child-torturing, nun-raping charnel houses if more than a dozen families had had a stake in ownership in those places. To be sure, Castro's a shit, but Cuba has higher literacy rates and lower infant mortality rates than the giant under whose thumb it chafes. But that was then, and this is now, and it's all just blood under the bridge, n'est-ce pas?

So what other "modern" touches did we get from the last quarter-century of Karol Wojtyla? Well, we got the usual 12th century nonsense about the ordination of women, priests having sex with someone besides hapless altar boys, homosexuality (presumably outside the confines of seminary and priesthood) being part of an "ideology of evil", etc., etc. We'd expect nothing less from the philosophical trend-setters that took 500 years to apologize for the Inquisition and imprisoning Galileo, but still.

So much for modern. A truly "modern" spiritual leader would recognize that doctrine is generally formed as a response to political and social climate and environment. Preserving doctrine based on the social mores of the 12th century lies at the nexus of needless, asinine, and a little dangerous, especially in yet another era of rampant religious extremism. A modern man understands that change is the only true constant, that the old makes way for the new, whether it likes it or not.

(Politically, the US is going through a similar misunderstanding, and will probably only get the message pounded home when oil hits $80 or so a barrel. The dinosaur thrashes its tail, and the God-fearing Cro-Magnons just do their best to get out of the way. That's the Jesusland dynamic.)

Rules can be -- and are -- updated to reflect further contemplation on First Principles. There is no cognitive or theological dissonance in saying so; indeed, the rules currently in place are generally not the original ones. This is universally considered a good thing, at least by people who naively prefer doctrine to enlighten, rather than merely control.

A spiritual leader who truly wanted to reconcile faith with modern realities would have found a way to speak to all the people in the Information Age, the people in industrialized and post-industrial societies who find their lives, jobs, and culture increasingly commodified. Instead, the Church went where the demographics were, and pressed on into the jungle, showing the wogs a more centralized and lucrative brand of mumbo-jumbo.

Had John Paul II spent half as much time encouraging people to get up on their hind legs and think for themselves, as he did canonizing every third Venetian horse whisperer, we'd be a little more deferential. As it stands, it seems that he mainly proved adept at using modern technological advances to continue making people feel guilty about their pee-pees.

Interspersed with all the requisite hagiography on CNN was a clip with someone named John Allen, who was billed as something called a "Vatican analyst". Honest to God, up to now, I had no idea such a thing was a paying job. I wonder how these self-described "cultural commentators" manage to find their way in front of a camera. I assume that, like professional athletes in the old days, they have to sell insurance and real estate in the off-season.

Just as everyone's supposedly Irish on Saint Patrick's Day (a rather silly notion to this actual person of fairly recent Irish descent), apparently everyone's Catholic every single time the Pope does or says something. Yes, there's a lot of 'em, 'cause they'll take you soon as you're warm, but most Western Catholics seem to be of the "cafeteria" variety, which essentially means that catechism hard-wired them when they were young, so even though they're old enough now to know better, it's hard to just walk away from all the florid trappings of guilt and shame. So they muddle through with a Chinese menu of a spiritual outlook, taking some from Column A and some from Column B.

The Church makes it quite clear that there are no substitutions, though, so are we headed for a schism between "cafeteria" and "orthodox"? I can hardly muster up the energy to care, to tell the truth. People who haven't got the courage to tell themselves the truth about what they think and do are always going to waste everyone else's time. Telling them to shit or get off the pot is like trying to tell George W. Bush to learn how to use pronouns or read a book without pictures in it.

But whatever. People should be allowed to run or mis-run their lives as they see fit. That's the essence of democracy, and that's the real point of why the pope is really just the CEO of an enormous buggy-whip factory. Reason has worked well enough for most sensible individuals to realize that the question of the existence of God -- despite the entreaties of extremists on either side -- is fairly moot. If He does not exist, then that's easily enough answered. And if He does exist, then He is everywhere at all times, and thus does not require special interpretation from special buildings populated by special eunuchs making special pronunciamentos from special books.

Offering spiritual guidance is one thing; running a celestial casino, with special rules for high-rollers, and no accountability to the law or to parishioners, is quite another. Bottom line: any institution which spends more effort collecting money to pay off victims of its sanctioned crimes -- horrific crimes at that -- than acknowledging and being held accountable for said crimes, has ceased to serve its members properly. Period.

You have common sense, and that's really all you need. You do not need the corrupted institutions of priests or politicians, propped up by the money and good will of hundreds of millions of decent people. You can do just as much good without institutionalized lecturing on sexual proclivities and such. Just let people live, and have some humility, dammit. That's why it's the Fisherman's Ring.

Upon the pope's death, the first thing that will happen is that the faithful will proceed with some form of condescending fake ecumenicism, attempting to equate all faiths in as patronizing a fashion as possible, all the while smirking at the notion of, say, the Dalai Lama being anything more than a distraction from Richard Gere's gerbil-related publicity. We're all God's children, they'll say; what they'll think is that some are the fair-haired apple of His eye, while others are red-headed stepchildren.

Next, as already happened at Faux News' false alarm last night (April Fools!), the usual suspects will trot out the new Bush marketing phrase, forged in the fires of Terri Schiavo's excruciatingly public agony -- "the culture of life". See, presumably those of us who felt that this Hobson's choice should legally be decided by her spouse, and understood that her life (and its quality) had ended some 15 years ago, are locked in a "culture of death". You saw that one coming up the road, didn't you? They're cravenly attempting to make lemonade out of Tom DeLay's growing political lemon, and they can go straight to hell for it, too.

It's amazing to watch their ever more cynical rhetorical flourishes, lecturing the rest of us on our depravity and indifference, even as they prepare the next form letter to shuttle off to the check-writing mouth-breathers on their mailing lists. It's yet another shove to the Democrats' collective chest, and don't hold your breath for the Dems to grow a pair and push back. Probably they'll send Holy Joe over to Faux to try to smooth things over, which is the exact wrong thing to do.

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