The white biretta
Pope Francis is no revolutionary. He doesn’t rant and roar, in fact he speaks quite softly. He makes no wild promises, uses no inflammatory language, doesn’t seem to have taken a course in media handling. And yet he is having an amazing impact on the world. At a time when belief in the supernatural is – and, in a sense, ought to be – waning, Pope Francis is quietly reinventing not just Catholicism but religion itself.
He might deny this. The credo of the Roman Catholic Church is clearly stated and recited every time someone attends Mass. Passionate, even fiery, belief is still seen as a grail for which all should aim. Superstitions, the detritus of religion, still abound. Extreme faith is either touching or frightening depending on your own circumstance at the time you see it. Like aggressive anti-biotics, religion has its side effects, many of them not good.
Something is working for Good Pope Francis, however. The pace of change, the explosion of so many myths so suddenly, the terrifying consequences of democracy, all leave us with a sense of bewilderment, of uncertainty. The old religious tenets have been largely swept away. Humanism, for all its logic, has not satisfactorily replaced them. If it had, our standards would be improving not deteriorating.
Withering standards are a good reason to ask what can make us sit up and address prudent and decent behaviour. Scrapping the TPP won’t do it. Isolationism in any form will have the opposite effect to what we now need. When machinery threatened the jobs of labourers they broke it up. We call them Luddites. We are behaving like Luddites all over again.
The more we learn about our universe, the more we wonder what started the whole journey – and, in turn, who started that. You don’t have to be a creationist to ask ‘quo vadis?’
Change can only be handled by the secure. That security has to come from within. Certainly, a measure of material security is a prerequisite to emotional security. The world can now afford this for everyone. However generous, that won’t replace the emotional insecurity of being jobless. A life of unbridled leisure is OK for about ten days. It palls after that. So mankind’s original purpose, survival and procreation, has really been accomplished.
Maybe progress over time will enable us to understand much more than we do now. Perhaps we are at that difficult stage of knowledge when we have to change our mind-set completely. Are we seeing only through a glass, darkly? Whether or not, we should try to recognise where we are on the journey and understand what tools we need to take the next steps. One of those tools may be faith, irrational as that seems. To believe in something irrational but inspiring is better than to know the rational if all it does is degrade us.
It is not a matter of going back. We couldn’t do that even if we wanted, we have come too far along the road. Maybe, just maybe, religious faith, in the merciful and peaceful form Pope Francis displays it, can be a useful support, not necessarily forever but just while the sea is choppy. And maybe the Pope’s mission is not to reform Catholicism but to demonstrate the existence of a much wider support than other supports which are failing.
There’s a lot of ‘maybe’ there. Maybe it is worth pondering about?