"Preach the gospel and when necessary use words." – St. Francis of Assisi
I am bad. I am sinful. I am utter, degraded moral filth*. I also exaggerate when I blog and haven’t been to confession lately. I am a living, breathing part of what could be termed as Christianity’s massive free rider problem. I have benefitted tremendously from everything that Christianity has given to the world and not given back even a tithing in return.
To make wretched matters worse; I’m not even Catholic but intend to blog about the new Pontifex Maximus anyhow. To mitigate this somewhat, I intend to accentuate the positive. My initial impression is that he is the absolutely perfect choice to deliver a critical tandem of moral messages. Simple does not equal stupid, complex and modern do not automatically equal good.
So Francis has been Pope a wee bit less than a day now. As a temperate man, he probably spent a significant portion of that asleep.** How is it possible that he can already be having a positive impact? That brings in the quote I minded from St. Francis. A lot of how you are perceived, and how your message is heard comes from who you are. A lot of who you are is determined by what you do. To go around acting the role of a moral leader, you have to lead a moral life.
Pope Francis has long emulated his new namesake by living simply and eschewing many of the trappings of ecclesiastical high office, relying on public transportation, for example, and forgoing the luxury of the official residence of the archbishop of Buenos Aires in favor of a small apartment. His advocacy for the poor is of a piece with his orthodox Christian firmness on social issues relating to marriage and the family, the social institutions that are the primary support for children, the aged, and the vulnerable in general. Cardinal Bergoglio sparred with the Argentine government over same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples. His counting poverty as a social ill should not be misconstrued as sympathy for statist solutions to it or, indeed, as support for any determinate political program.
In that sense, my initial perception of Francis is not that he espouses a modern political philosophy at all. He is, in a sense, a Reactionary Christian. By that, I mean he wants to return the church he now heads to it’s time-honored role as the repository of both Christian and Western tradition, evangelism for the faith and hope for the poor - or as Jesus is said to have told Peter “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
So should Conservatives gloat over Liberal anti-Christian Hate-Porn? I wouldn’t. The PM, if he’s doing his job, is neither Right nor Left in the Modern political lexicon. He is far beyond and high above such trite characterizations. His mission in the Modern Age is to provide a living, breathing riposte to an infamous, yet pertinent question posed by Friedrich Nietzsche in The Gay Science..
"Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers....How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? "
What Pope Francis will need to accomplish is to demonstrate, through his works and through the even more powerful megaphone of who he is and how he lives; that there is a better way than the sterile, flaccid path of barren Scientism and hard philosophical materialism that Nietzsche attacked our Modern Society for promoting to philosophical preeminence over traditional morality. This isn’t done through combative argumentation with Atheistkult or any of the assorted A+s or Brights.
It’s done by living the higher life. It’s done by living life correctly and in a balanced manner. Be scientific when the question involves hard, technical facts. Be mystical when the matter at hand won’t be rendered explicable through calculus or modern algebra. Live an example. Live a humble example. Don’t get caught up in the bling. Don’t get sucked down by the undertow when the speculative bubble encompassing all the bling explodes with a bang.
Believe in your heads and in your hearts that “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.” LeBron James didn’t win an NBA title until he figured out that he was supposed to make his teammates around him better. The Cardinals that the betting houses favored to be elected PM didn’t make it to the finish line. It was Francis, from Argentina; who rode the city bus to work every day instead. I can think of a few recent Nobel Peace Prize Winners who could learn abundantly from just that sort of an example.
A humble Pope who follows in the path of St. Francis could be precisely the object lesson that our materially blessed and spiritually impoverished Modern Age could learn from to our eternal benefit. In this Non-Catholic’s opinion; the Council of Cardinals couldn’t have done better than to choose a simple man as an antidote to a toxically complex time.
*-And the two guys with the pictures to prove it haven’t been seen for a couple of years now…
**-If a person could sleep after just getting elected PM.