Godly politics

Godly politics
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Though the TIME people swear up and down that being named Man of the Year “isn’t supposed to be an honor,” it’s clear they’re perfectly happy to allow it to be misinterpreted that way if it moves more magazines. Such is the case with this year’s pick.

In his 40 weeks on the Throne of St. Peter, Pope Francis has proven himself to be that most exotic of creatures, long-anticipated but rarely delivered: a liberal pope. From his famous shrug on the morality of homosexuals (“who am I to judge?” he nonchalantly quipped; a quip TIME’s Brandon Ambrosino speculates “might go down as the expression of public humility that singlehandedly saved the church”) to his fiery denunciation of 21st century capitalism (“a new tyranny“) to his common and humble style (including the selfie seen round-the-world), Francis’ rejection of the staid, uptight conservatism of the Vatican — both stylistically and ideologically — has provoked a renaissance of interest in the church, including an observable spike in attendance, and a notable softening of rhetoric from even the harshest of critics. For anyone under 35, who has known only conservative, status quo-hugging popes, Francis has proven that another approach to the job is indeed possible.

Distractify has a charming list of the top 19 liberal, or just decent and affecting things Francis has done since his election in March. I’d defy anyone to not be moved by at least one of them.

For me, it was #3, Francis’ tender hug of Vinicio Riva, a horribly, almost impossibly disfigured man from northern Italy. Mr. Riva’s face is so nightmarishly grotesque it’s the sort of thing that will haunt your thoughts for a long time, especially the thoughts of someone as squeamish as me. Imagine a life where that is the default reaction of everyone you will ever meet. And then imagine someone, a pope, whose first instinct upon seeing such a person is to embrace him. “I thought he wouldn’t give him back to me, he held him so tightly,” said his aunt, who was there.

That one gesture is such a heroic act of tolerance of the sort very few of us will ever muster. True tolerance, after all, is not measured by the low bar many of us conveniently set for ourselves, which is to say, merely being more comfortable than a bigot around people who are obviously non-threatening and ordinary — a gay uncle, for instance, or an Indian cab driver — but rather consciously choosing to endure and empathize with those who actually frighten or upset you.

I don’t doubt there are many people in this world who care for men as disfigured as Mr. Riva every day, and they are heroes too. But the respect and fearlessness that’s so ordinary to them is a value that deserves to be spread, and modelled publicly and visibly as an achievable standard for others. And that’s what Francis has done.

Now, the world has Francis skeptics, to be sure. The most virulent, far-left critics of Catholicism, for instance, will never allow themselves to muster kind words for a pope who does anything less than abolish Catholicism itself. To that end, even though Francis has criticized his church’s “obsession” with same-sex marriage and abortion, accepted the premise that atheists can go to heaven, and encouraged a shift back to issues of inequality and charity as the central tenants of his brand of Christianity, the fact that he has not yet gone all the way, and — in the only-slightly-facetious words of one of my liberal friends — “instituted an all-lesbian clergy” guarantees some will always remain unsatisfied.

On the right, meanwhile, critics have blasted the Pope’s economic philosophy (Francisonomics?) as a simplistic and dated anti-capitalist critique — “pure Marxism,” in the words of Rush Limbaugh. The National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru (one of the few non-Catholics working at that magazine, it seems) penned a long rebuttal in Bloomberg the other day complaining that Francis’ supposedly high-minded criticisms of the dangers of an unrestrained free-market are really just straw man arguments against a “caricature” of capitalist society that neither exists nor is being proposed.

Then there are those, on both right and left alike, who simply consider the man overrated. Pope Benedict XVI denounced homophobic bigotry too, but got little credit from the left. Despite his famous anti-Communist activism, Jon Paul II was also a strong critic of capitalism, but that’s conveniently forgotten by the right. All popes, similarly, do humble photo-ops now and then as part of their job — the effacing feet-washing that earned Francis a flurry of positive press is actually a very longstanding papal tradition, for instance — and Francis certainly did not invent the idea of smiling and hugging children, though you can sometimes be excused for thinking so.

It would be a mistake however, to merely evaluate Francis’ worth on his willingness to make a couple “historic” gestures or break this-or-that precedent. It is the consistent theme of his habits, the entirety of that Distractify list, that makes this new pope such a relevant figure for our time. Unlike many of his predecessors, he appears to be a man with a genuine desire to serve as a spiritual leader for all of mankind, rather than the insular, retreating boss of a single denomination. His messages of humility and respect are universally compelling, and convey a message of truth that’s accessible and powerful even if you haven’t done the Church’s required reading. His is a return to the universality of Christianity that stems from the universality of Christ’s own simple message of decency and love — a message that has slowly been forgotten as maintenance of Christianity’s public brand has fallen into the dirty hands of politicians, charlatans, and bigots.

Man of the Year is not supposed to be an honor, they say. But that’s a shame. Pope Francis deserves one.



  1. Sam

    Now, all we need is for the leaders of Evangelical and Protestant Christianity to follow suit and we may be getting somewhere…

  2. heartright

    I'd rather see them becoming loyal members of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    Obviously, I'm dead pleased with the turn of events in Rome.
    Imagine that your own parish priest has a homosexual orientation but simply follows the ecclesiastical rule of chastity – which applies regardless of orientation.
    And imagine that you're well-aware that there are too many rumours that the orientation itself – as opposed to activities – are talked about inter non nullos as sinful.

    I wasn't thrilled. I'm very fond of my parish priest
    I attend that chuch, rather than the one nearer by, because of the parish priest.

    Papa Francis is setting the record straight.
    Politicians, charlatans, and bigots – taken off the stage,and good riddance too..

  3. r00fles

    Many of them were going down this route far before the Catholic Church started trudging back down it. Others are still and will certainly continue breathing fire down from the pulpit. 'Protestant' is such a large umbrella term for so many differently headed organizations that you can't paint it with a broad brush.

  4. Bill Stephens

    I'm proud to be a Marxist. I follow the teachings of Groucho! ;)

  5. AlexanderZ

    “Far left”. aka people who still remember that Catholicism is a major factor in the spread of HIV (despite a few weasel words from Popes), is endangering women and ruining people’s lives with its anti-abortionist stance, and there is still the little matter of unpunished child-rapists.

    But only a far leftist wouldn’t be excited by Pope Francis.


    Look, the new Pope is exactly like the new Iranian president: He is definitely better than his predecessor, it’s better to have him in that position than someone else, he may even be the best man to take that position ever. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that there isn’t anything good about the entity he’s leading.

  6. heartright


    The major factor in the sprad of HIV is extramarital sex.

  7. Marc Forrester

    Unprotected extramarital sex, yes. Guess who's encouraging that aspect of it? And there is still the little matter of unpunished child-rapists.

  8. Guest

    I think it is hilarious that some people believe that all these obedient Catholics will strictly obey the rule about contraception but conveniently ignore the rule about extra-curricular coitus.
    It seems much more likely to me that if they are going to ignore the Church about sex they will ignore it about protection too.
    The fact is that men generally find sex with condoms less pleasurable – its no more complicated than that.

  9. Jake_Ackers

    It's not the men. It's the women. They could take pills but use the Catholic doctrine as an excuse to not take that either. Heck women are only ovulating for like what 6 days out of the month? Don't do it then. It's just people being irresponsible and using the Church doctrine as an excuse.

  10. heartright

    BS.Outlaw each and every form of extramarital sex. Problem solved.

  11. Nikki Andrews

    It seems he may sold out some priests to the Argentina junta in the past.

  12. Jake_Ackers

    He isn't liberal, nor a conservative. He is a populist. He says what the public wants to hear. If he was a proper Pope he would slam down anyone who isn't being a good Catholic or simply say its okay to be gay or use condoms due to some revelation from God. The "stop talking about it" is just a cop out to gain higher attendance, because he views it as a institution and not a church. The point of being Catholic is to have the top down approach. Otherwise go be Protestant.

    He is turning the Catholic Church into a New Age church. "It's technically a sin but it's okay anyway". As opposed to using some theological method to redefine or reach a "revelation." As the church has done on other issues in the past.

  13. Monte

    Question; in the past when the church used some theological method to reach a new revelation and changes the churches course; did they do it within the first couple of months of a new pope; or was it more like something that was actually YEARS in the making. I would imagine that the church and its past changes reflected what we see today… The rest of the world was going against the church and there were many members of the church that felt the same; The Church is not just made up of one type of person, but a wide variety of people with varying opinions and stance. When public opinion was turning away from the church, the church would turn towards public opinion. The more liberal members of the chruch would grow as the conservative members diminished and the church would eventually come to adopt the liberal point of view on religion. Its not a change that happens overnight, but a very gradual change over decades

    Also, the Church can't change its doctrine drastically overnight; it would cause far too much backlash amongst the olderset who do not want to change. I mean even this pope has been receiving backlash and he hasn't changed the doctrine. You got to give people time to adapt; that's why it makes sense to take a softhand approach… First you make them think its only a minor sin or that there is far more important things to focus on, so that people will gradually care less about the issue… Its only when people aren't so heavily deadset against an issue that you can hit them with the idea that the issue is not a sin at all. The less they care and/or are against an issue the less backlash you'll get when you change the doctrine.

    Heck the church used to be deadset against homosexuals, but over the years churches have grown more tolerant of their homosexual members. They may still be against same-sex marriage; but their gorwing tolerance is a sign of change that has been gradually occurring for years. Basically "who am I to judge" is a big first step towards greater tolerance

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  15. Jeanetta

    Just like the old saying goes, within the pro’s head there are few options, however , for a person with the beginner’s brain, the world is open up.