Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shock: Pope Francis Preaches Gospel and Media Reports It... Enthusiastically?

With all of the media abuzz over the recent interview given by pope Francis at the conclusion of World Youth Day, I cannot help but to feel a sense of relief. Perhaps I am a bit naive, but as I read the transcript in search of something controversial, I found myself waiting for something that never came. I thought maybe I missed something, so I read it again. Nothing! And it was at that moment I realized just how brainwashed and credulous the media is. What else could explain their amazement at the mere affirmation of Church teaching? No doubt some will be rattled by the pope's words simply because they have been told by the headlines that they should be. Me? I am truly heartened by the exchange.

It reminds me of the polemics of the late journalist and renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens. The fact is I agreed with just about everything Mr. Hitchens had to say about God. Indeed, I was as much of an atheist and enemy of the God that he described as anyone. Truly, if God was as horrible and vengeful as he seemed to think, I too would have renounced Him. The only problem with his description of God was that he wasn't describing God at all. He was describing something more akin to the devil. He would say things like "Heaven is like a celestial North Korea, where God is the ever watchful all-seeing dictator. But at least in North Korea when you die you can get out. For Christians death is when the fun really begins!" That type of soaring rhetoric made me want to get up and applaud because I thought he was right on the money. If heaven were as dreadful as the conditions in North Korea, who could honestly say that they would want to be there? The major problem with Mr. Hitchens' assessment (and it's a biggy), is that is that he used the wrong noun in his description. When he described the conditions of hell, he opted to use the word heaven. And for those in the media who have never really understood what the Church teaches or why, I think we are looking at the same problem. They criticize the Church for positions that she herself condemns.  

And so we return to the interview that Francis gave on the flight back from World Youth Day. Did pope Francis catch them with their guard down? It is difficult to say, but what we can say is that before the interview the Church "hated homosexuals," and afterwards "our beloved brothers and sisters". Here we experience this surprising shaft of light, an epiphany, but not coming from the pope, but from- of all places- the media. This just in: Catholics believe in (I know it's shocking) grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption, "and if a man seeks the Lord, and is trying to do God's will and has homosexual inclinations, who am I to judge?" Disturbing I know. The pope then goes on to reveal something more shocking still; that those who have homosexual tendencies are not only our "beloved brothers and sisters", but should not be- hold your breath now- "marginalized by the rest of society". I mean the next thing you know he's going to be talking about how every man is in need of forgiveness (not just homosexuals), and that we should reach out to those who are the most vulnerable and on the margins of society. Wait. That is exactly what he is saying, and what the Church has always said. All he is really doing here is restating an old Christian adage- which compels the Christian to separate the sin from the sinner. Apparently some in the media have never heard this expression. In any case, what we are witnessing here is the media actually lauding (as opposed to mocking) the underlying teaching of the Church, a teaching that goes something like this; 'we all fall short of the glory of God, and the last thing anyone should say is that a man is irredeemable or unworthy of love.'

Perhaps the only thing that the media could find objectionable in such a statement is the notion that man needs to be redeemed at all (much less that a homosexual does). Understandably, the pope chose not to wade any deeper into those those tricky waters, choosing instead to place a greater emphasis on every man's need for redemption and forgiveness rather than discuss the finer points of moral theology. He then went on to point out that true evil is less about "tendencies", and more about the connivances that take place in the name of those tendencies (i.e. "the so called gay lobby, a lobby of the greedy, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of the Masons). But in all of this what may have impressed the media more than anything else was Francis' choice of words; "Who am I to judge?" Well your Holiness, with all due respect, is that not what you do every day? Once again, this is where the pope's style is disarming, for he speaks not only as one might expect a prelate to speak, but also as a humble Christian. Yes, he is charged with upholding and teaching the doctrines of the Catholic Faith, but he likewise acknowledges in his simple way that he too requires the selfsame mercy.

In fairness to the media, it is highly possible that they themselves have never heard what the Church actually teaches on these matters. Indeed, considering the type of social circles that many in the media run in, it is hardly surprising that they have never heard this position intelligently articulated. If this is the case, then what a joy it must be for them to finally hear an eloquent explanation of it. It is only a mild jest to suggest that some hearts may have even changed as a result of this interview. I cannot say for certain what stars must have aligned (or what magic potions must have been consumed) to make reporters provide such a nuanced and detailed explanation of the Catholic position on homosexuals, but whatever the reason it gladdens my heart. Is it because they like this pope and what he represents that they seem to be giving him the benefit of the doubt? Maybe. Is it because they are trying to steer his message in such a way in order to ultimately corrupt it? I think there are probably far better ways to do so (see media coverage for the entire Benedict pontificate). At any rate, a larger discussion surrounding what the Church teaches concerning sexuality can only benefit our society as a whole. It can hardly get any worse than it is.

Consequently, let me be the first to express my gratitude to the media for reporting positively on what the Church teaches regarding homosexuality. And while I do not expect the same enthusiasm and accuracy each time the subject comes up, I do hope that as the pope continues to preach the Gospel (viz. talking about things like mercy and redemption), the media will continue to express shock and awe at what the Church has been saying all along.