Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope Francis and Nietzsche

I'll be quoting Pope Francis quite a bit today, starting with this bit from the news:
"...Speaking on Sunday (Sept. 13) to the Argentine radio station, FM Milenium, Francis lamented those who posed as his friends to exploit him, and decried religious fundamentalism.

"And speaking to Portugal's Radio Renascenca in an interview that aired on Monday, Francis put his own popularity into perspective: 'Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out.'..."
("Pope Francis: 'Jesus was popular and look how that turned out'," David Gibson, Religion News Service (September 14, 2015))
David Gibson apparently paid attention to what Pope Francis said.

Some other headlines, from derivative stories, are — imaginative. Others perhaps show a better understanding of the Pope than remarks made by the occasional outraged Catholic:
I'm mildly surprised that another Francis quote hasn't morphed into 'Francis is a fundamentalist/worships Baal' yet. Maybe it has, and I missed it.
"...On religious fundamentalism: 'In any confession there will be a small group of fundamentalists whose work is to destroy in the interests of an idea, not of a reality. Reality is superior to an idea. ... Fundamentalists push God away from the companionship of his people; they dis-incarnate him, they transform him into an ideology. ... Practically, they transform this God into a Baal, into an idol.'..."
("Pope Francis: 'Jesus was popular and look how that turned out'," David Gibson, Religion News Service (September 14, 2015))
I put more of that excerpt near the end of this post.1

About the Pope and news coverage: I figure the Vatican knows more about what the Pope said, and what it means, than the editor of my favorite newspaper or magazine. (October 19, 2014; July 19, 2015)

Plus, the Catholic Church has an increasingly-broad selection of Papal statements and other documents from the last two millennia online, in several languages, including: العربية; 中文; Deutsche; Español; français; italiano; and my native language, English.

Good, Evil, and Being Human


I can see why Pope Francis has shocked so many folks.
"...But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners...."1
("Visit to the Congress of the United States of America," Pope Francis (September 24, 2015))
I suspect that many Catholics in America have 'gone native,' adopting this nation's traditional version of Christianity.

Hearing the Pope say that humanity isn't divided into 'the righteous and the sinners' might deeply offend and dismay folks who ardently believe that they are 'the righteous' — unlike the spawn of Satan who aren't.

I've discussed predestination, Holy Willie, going native, and getting a grip, before. (August 30, 2015; March 15, 2015; July 27, 2014)

Original Sin: Not a Design Flaw


I'm against sin, and think I'm a sinner: which may not mean what you think it does.

I'm not convinced that God hates me, and will gleefully throw me into Hell if I like the 'wrong' music or drink beer. (September 6, 2015; July 20, 2014)

I think sin is what happens when I decide that I'll do something I know is bad for myself, or others, and do it anyway: or decide to not do something I should. It's an offense against reason, and truth — and God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1849-1864)

Thinking I'm a sinner doesn't mean believing God made a horrible mistake when creating this world and us. The universe is basically good, and so are we — basically. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism, 31, 299, 355)

Something went wrong, obviously. But it wasn't a design flaw.

We are rational creatures who can decide what we do, like angles. Unlike angels, we are also material creatures: spiritual beings with a body made from the stuff of this world. (Catechism, 311, 325-348, 1704, 1730-1731)

Having a body isn't the problem, by the way. Satan, like all angels, has no body. That didn't stop Satan and other angels from saying "no" to God. (Catechism, 385-395)

Since I'm a Catholic, I see original sin as the lasting consequences of a really bad decision.2

Genesis 1:26-27 says that we're made "in the image of God." That hasn't changed. As Psalms 8:6 says, we're still "little less than a god." But "little less than a god" isn't God. We're pretty hot stuff, but we're not omnipotent. (March 29, 2015; February 20, 2015)

Getting back to Eden and all that: in Genesis 3:5, the serpent tells Eve3 that after eating the fruit "...you will be like gods..." — and we forgot that we already were made "in the image of God."

You know the rest. Eve listened to Satan. Adam, like a dummkopf, did the same — and then tried blaming his wife and God. That did not end well. (February 1, 2015; August 31, 2014)

We've been living with the disastrous consequences of that bad decision ever since. (Catechism, 396-412)

Now, a brief digression on reductionism and a mechanical duck.

Reductionism is the "attempt or tendency to explain a complex set of facts, entities, phenomena, or structures by another, simpler set." (TheFreeDictionary)

I don't think there's a problem with that — as long as we remember that we've replaced a complex reality with a simpler model.
"...Science requires some degree of reductionism, some picking apart and focusing on one or two variables at a time...."
("The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science," p. 178, Natalie Angier (2007); via Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Google Books)
The cutaway picture shows how Vaucanson's digesting duck worked: or, more accurately, how someone thought it worked. Oddly enough, it didn't actually digest anything: and that's another topic. (August 22, 2014)

"...To Imitate the Hatred of Tyrants and Murderers..."


Another quote from the Pope's speech:
"...We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place...."
("Visit to the Congress of the United States of America," Pope Francis (September 24, 2015))
This isn't exactly a new idea:
"...He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster...."
("Beyond Good and Evil," Friedrich Nietzsche, via Wikiquotes)
No, I do not think Pope Francis is a nihilist.

I do suspect Nietzsche reacted to 'decent, upright,' folks who emulated the scribes and Pharisees our Lord discussed in Matthew 23:25-28.

I'm too self-aware to think that the Pope's warning about cherishing hate doesn't apply to me.

I must love God, my neighbor, and myself: more accurately, I must try. It is not easy. My 'neighborhood' includes everybody — friends, folks I'll never meet, and enemies. Everybody. (Matthew 5:21-22, 44; Luke 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789, 2302-2306)

That sounds simple, and it is: in a way. But books have been written about what those simple principles mean, how they work in everyday life: and how we don't apply them consistently.

Hope and Healing, Peace and Justice


Theft was a capital crime in the Code of Hammurabi. Some nations have 'gone soft' these days, and no longer execute thieves.

The United States still kills some prisoners, though: mostly those who were convicted of particularly unpleasant crimes, like murder.

I think murder isn't nice, and we shouldn't do it. I'll get back to that, after another 'Pope Francis' quote:
"...Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. ... We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good...."

("Visit to the Congress of the United States of America," Pope Francis (September 24, 2015))
A bit later, after talking about "a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War," and reminding Congress of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), Pope Francis said:
"... This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. ... In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

"This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation...."
("Visit to the Congress of the United States of America," Pope Francis (September 24, 2015))
What I think about life, death, and people, makes no sense without some background. If you remember what I've said about humans being people and murder being wrong before, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs. Or take a walk, get some coffee, read the funnies, whatever.

All humans are people, with equal dignity: no matter where we are, who we are, or how we act. (Catechism, 360, 1700-1706, 1932-1933, 1935)

Murder, deliberately killing an innocent person, is wrong because human life is sacred. No matter how young, or how sick, someone is, that person's life is precious. (Catechism, 2258, 2268-2283)

Like I said last week, killing innocent people is legal in my country: provided the victim is young and/or sick enough. That's a bad idea, and we should stop doing it. (August 30, 2015)

But what about killing not-innocent people?

Killing an innocent person is wrong. Knee-jerk gut reaction — mine, anyway — says that killing the killer would feel good.

Killing the person who killed a member of my family would, I gather, be my duty in some societies — or my son's duty, since I'm between middle aged and elderly. That's how we got the Hatfield-McCoy feud. The last I heard, the June 14, 2003 truce is still holding. That's good news.

In many societies, including mine, state and national governments have assumed responsibility for that sort of personal retribution. It's less messy, on the whole, and arguably less likely to result in mass casualties.

As a Catholic, I must recognize the right — and responsibility — of defending the innocent. Although I respect pacifists, I think they will flourish only as long as there are non-pacifists to protect them. It would be nice if folks didn't need military force, and I'll get back to that.

This is not the most tightly-organized of my posts: and that's saying something.

Interestingly, the conditions for a just war are very similar to conditions which allow capital punishment.4

In each case, the need for self-defense is recognized. If someone attacked me, for example, I'm allowed to avoid or resist the attack; using the least force necessary. The same principle applies to groups of people. (2263-2267, -2317)
"Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.66"
(Catechism, 2264)
Like I said, the basics are simple: I must love God, my neighbor, and myself. Applying those simple principles: that's where it gets complicated.

Maybe, If We Keep Working - - -


This is not going to happen in my lifetime:
"...Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world....


"...And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law...."
("Locksley Hall," Tennyson (1842, rev. 1865) via gutenberg.org)
I don't trust the United Nations any more than I trust the American Congress. But at the moment, it's the closest we've come to a "competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level"4 which can resolve conflicts without war.

Maybe, if we continue working with all people of good will, keeping what is good and just in our societies, changing what is not, and learning from our mistakes, we'll solve some of today's social ills.

And maybe, if we keep working, when the Code of Ur-Nammu, United Nations Charter, and whatever we try next, seem roughly contemporary, war will be something familiar only to historians.

I think we can do it, and know we must try.

Posts that are vaguely related to this one:

1 More from that speech:
"...On religious fundamentalism: 'In any confession there will be a small group of fundamentalists whose work is to destroy in the interests of an idea, not of a reality. Reality is superior to an idea. God, whether in Judaism, in Christianity, or in Islam, in the faith of those three peoples, accompanies God's people with his presence. In the Bible we see it, Muslims in the Quran. Our God is a God of nearness, which accompanies. Fundamentalists push God away from the companionship of his people; they dis-incarnate him, they transform him into an ideology. Therefore, in the name of this ideological God, they kill, attack, destroy, and calumniate. Practically, they transform this God into a Baal, into an idol.'..."
("Pope Francis: 'Jesus was popular and look how that turned out'," David Gibson, Religion News Service (September 14, 2015))

"...Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners...."
("Visit to the Congress of the United States of America," Pope Francis (September 24, 2015))
I recommend reading the entire address:
2 Definitions:
"CONCUPISCENCE: Human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism, and which produce an inclination to sin (1264, 1426, 2515).

"ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God’s will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the 'new Adam,' came to redeem us (396-412).

"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, C, O, S)
3 Adam and Eve? I take Sacred Scripture, the Bible, very seriously. That does not mean I assume it was written by an American with no poetic sense. (Catechism, 101-133, 375)

As I keep saying: I think the universe is billions, not thousands, of years old; Earth isn't flat; Adam and Eve weren't German; poetry isn't science; and thinking is not a sin:
4 Criteria for:
  • Just war
    • Damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be
      • Lasting
      • Grave
      • Certain
    • All other means of putting an end to it must be obviously impractical or ineffective
    • There must be serious prospects of success
    • Using arms must not produce evils and disorders greater than the evil to be eliminated
      (Catechism, 2309)
  • Capital punishment
    • The accused
      • Demonstrably guilty
      • A clear threat to others
    • Killing the accused is the only way to protect others
      (Catechism, 2267)
My take on legitimate defense, in part:
4 I think the implied hope of a "competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level" makes sense. My guess is that some don't see it that way. It's from one of the Vatican II documents:
"...Certainly, war has not been rooted out of human affairs. As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted. State authorities and others who share public responsibility have the duty to conduct such grave matters soberly and to protect the welfare of the people entrusted to their care. But it is one thing to undertake military action for the just defense of the people, and something else again to seek the subjugation of other nations...."
("Gaudium et spes," Second Vatican Council December 7, 1965) (From www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html (September 26, 2015))
I think something like Tennyson's 'Federation of the world' makes sense:

2 comments:

Brigid said...

The punctuation feels odd here: "I know is bad for myself, or others; and do it anyway: or decide to not do something I should. It's an offense against reason and truth: and God."

Is a colon really the best choice here? "obviously: but it wasn't a design flaw."

I think a comma would work better. "No matter how young, or how sick, someone is; that person's life is precious."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid, thanks. I considered developing attitude about the "that person's life" thing, but figured you were probably right.

Found, and fixed. Or changed, anyway. :)

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