When the Pope Met America

Pope Francis

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September 29, 2015 21:03 EDT

Pope Francis missed a great opportunity to explain in detail how his god figures into the messaging process, says Larry Beck.

By all accounts, Pope Francis is a pleasant fellow who somewhat to his surprise became the pope. I am gratified that he chose to bring his blessed self to America and give the people here a few days free of breathless media coverage of the Donald, Ben and Carly Show. This does not mean that breathless coverage ceased for a few days; it just means that breathless coverage shifted to the Pope Show.

Maybe never has so little substance been said by so many about so few. If fawning were a sport, the American media could retire the trophy on nothing more than their coverage of the Pope Show. The usual patter of everyday “experts” was replaced by a gaggle of theologians, wannabee theologians and charlatans posing as theologians—all trying to sanctify themselves by kissing whatever ring was thrust in their faces.

So what did it all amount to? Not much really. Some of the message from the pope got lost in translation whenever he read in English that which had been prepared by others. When he tried to deliver a strong message in English, his lack of linguistic command often left the message awash in platitudes and emotionally flat. I expect he got more nuance and emotion across when he spoke in Spanish to those who could understand him.

Nonetheless, the message to the US Congress, despite its glaring constitutional inappropriateness, was worth the price of admission because the pope actually had a thing or two to say that even the troglodytes in that audience should have been able to understand. He raised the possibility that the pope’s god is unequivocally opposed to the death penalty, has finally figured out that humans are responsible for climate change and has a special place in his hell for arms merchants. This latter point hopefully was not lost on those in America who continue to champion this nation’s frantic rush to arm itself and the rest of the world.

To the United Nations, Pope Francis placed little new on the table that others before him have not put there. Prayers for peace and imploring the nations of the world to confront poverty, disease and ignorance are all stock papal platitudes. As such, they have had little impact in the past and are unlikely to have any increased impact this time around.

For those of us who live free of the constraints of religious faith, this pope offered some new thoughts that hadn’t been offered by others before him—most notably with respect to protecting the planet from the ravages of human excess. But these new thoughts, as with the old ones, were conclusory homilies that standing alone will have little or no impact on human behavior.

Unfortunately, this pope missed a great opportunity—the opportunity to explain in detail how his god figures into the messaging process, and why that god has left it up to his latest messenger to clean up the mess that messengers before him both contributed to and failed to do anything about. This is a critical point if this pope or any pope is to be perceived as anything more than a temporary steward of the mysteries that the rest of us must be too dull to understand.

In essence, is this pope telling us that his god has recently changed the message, or is this pope simply the latest messenger trying to figure it out for himself? If it is the former, it would be powerful news to believers. If it is the latter, then believers who don’t like the message will simply wait for a new messenger without changing their conduct one iota.

Change is Hard to Come By

Pope Francis has now left the blessed American shores. While here, he repeatedly added his voice to the “god bless America” chorus that rings out all over the land. Before the next time he comes, I expect the US Congress to pass a resolution calling for a second resurrection of Jesus to take place on hallowed US soil—maybe at some 9/11 memorial, maybe at the Alamo, maybe even in Hollywood. I am sure Jesus will get it right this time and do it in America. The Holy Land was simply a bad choice that can be written off to inexperience.

So what do we do now that Pope Francis has gone? I believe this nation will continue to do what we were doing before he came: ignore the poor among us, enshrine income inequality as a national icon, try to deport everyone, manufacture bigger refrigerators and air conditioners to counter global warming, and put a gun in every hand that can buy or steal one. Nothing in the pope’s message is likely to alter present realities.

At the least, the pope’s visit served to sweeten the opiate of the people and further fog the minds of the faithful. In the dysfunctional America of today, this will only add to the delay in designing and implementing secular solutions that might actually relieve some suffering and protect our fragile planet.

*[A version of this article was also featured on Larry Beck’s blog, Hard-Left Turn.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Ivan Cholakov /

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