Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A more godless Pontiff or a more guilty one?

Thumbs up for Atheism????

In March of this year, Pope Francis looked at a bunch of apostate media hacks and said he would bless them even though “many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers".
Later that week, while delivering a homily, the former Jesuit, Pope Francis said:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!  'Father, the atheists?'  Even the atheists.  Everyone! ... We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all … We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: We will meet one another there.”
After that surprising olive branch, the Vatican officials ran around retracting it but the tolerance cat was out of the bag.  Atheists can be redeemed.  Not that many of us care. 
This approach seems to be informed by the concept of “the Anonymous Christian” promoted by another Jesuit, Karl Rahner.  This notion is that people who have never heard of the Christian Gospels might be saved if "in [their] basic orientation and fundamental decision," Rahner wrote, "accepted the grace of God, through Christ, although [they] may never have heard of the Christian revelation." Now we atheists actually have heard of, and maybe even read, the Gospels but have failed to be persuaded. So the atheistic olive branch offered by Pope Francis is a dramatic escalation of the Anonymous  Christian doctrine. 
The Rahner doctrine and the Francis overture taken together are extraordinary.  They are examples of the Jesuits in the Catholic Church dealing with the plausibility problems of faith in a modern world.  The Jesuits were supposed to be the hard line soldiers of Christ and look at them now! The plausibility crisis has been present in an increasing for centuries with the boom in science post The Enlightenment but now seems to be cutting a swathe in the European faith communities.  What do the churches’ leaderships do in Europe when the flocks have lost their creeds?  One could become more truculent and fundamentalist.  Or one could become more inclusive and modern.  Pope Francis seems to have embraced the latter.  
This is a marvellous development.  There is no knocking tolerance.  Since March, however, such overtures seem to have evaporated but the record cannot be denied.
Two issues therefore are opened by this event: why did he do this? And will he do it for other appalling beliefs of Catholicism?  Next time, I look at Pope Francis and the gay and lesbian issue but I want to spend some words speculating on why Francis may be concerned with redemption and therefore reach out to those(like atheists and gays) whom other Popes thought were beyond redemption.
Pope Francis, with his emphasis on redemption of even apostates, is a person who reminds me of John Newton.  “John who?”, I hear you cry.  John Newton was a slave trader who was redeemed by faith and became a leader of the anti Slavery movement.  He celebrated the role of redemption in his life by penning the most popular hymn of all time on the subject – Amazing Grace.  Francis too embraces redemption and, like Newton, needs to redeem himself.
Francis, as the Cardinal Jorge Borgoglio, was in Argentina during the so called “Dirty War” where up to 30,000 dissidents were killed and/or tortured.  It is difficult in these scary situations to emerge both with clean hands and alive.  Cardinal Borgoglio was the subject of allegations as leader of the Jesuits.  There were clearly disagreements within the Jesuit community about how to deal with this brutal regime.  At the end of it all, Borgoglio was accused of collaboration and even betrayal but the betrayal allegations appear to be without substance.  However, I ask myself that in the aftermath, whether Borgoglio felt some remorse for his lack of opposition.  He was supine – not a rogue but also not a hero.  Thus, repentance would, I imagine, like John Newton, figure in his internal narrative about his behavior in the Dirty War and his faith.
I speculate that this insight into his own fragility and humanity must inform this Papacy.  Thus redemption of atheists is comprehensible to him.  John Newton was an unbeliever who was redeemed.  Francis has never lost his belief in God but he may have in the post Dirty War time lost some belief in himself.  Hence he embraces ostentatious modesty.  Thus he can deal with atheists and contemplate that we could be bound for glory. 
This is all, of course, speculative.  But the perestroika displayed by Francis is extraordinary.  We must now observe the Papacy of Francis through this lens.  He is open in ways that no Pope has been open since John XXIII.  Paul V, JP II and Benedict XVI were reactionary duds and the Church has plummeted in Europe and elsewhere as a result. Francis may not be such a dud. 
What is your view?
Is the overture from Francis to the world of unbelief an unprecedented opportunity to converse with the godless or a momentary slip?
Is the emphasis on redemption guided by the Dirty War guilt or just another Catholic with redemption as a principal marketing tool?  It is pretty good that a few Hail Mary’s can get you out of trouble.  Just ask the priestly paedophiles.
Is a more rational Catholicism bad for atheism as we have lost our favourite whipping boy or is it good for those of us who want to work with reasonable people of faith?
Over to you….

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Commemorating the Death of a Woman

In the gloaming of a perishing evening, candles added a flickering luminescence trying to defy the descending darkness.  An idiosyncratic community had gathered in St Kilda to commemorate the unspeakably violent end of street sex worker, Tracy Connelly from stab wounds to the face and chest.  Hundreds of us from the neighbourhood, the sex work industry, the welfare industry, the Parliament, the council and the media made for a motley but united crew.  Well not entirely united for I stood there in the twilight seething with anger at the hypocrisy and cant of our Parliamentary and Mayoral speakers.  More of that later.
The candle lit vigil for murdered street sex worker Tracy Connelly (Photo Fairfax Media. Wayne Taylor)

The ceremony was very Post Modern Australia, a pastiche of secular and sacred, the non verbal and the verbose.  The power of ceremony and ritual fascinates me.  At the heart of great ceremony is the use of non verbal community symbols.  Whilst verbosity is a turn off, symbols will overpower words when a group of people gathers to share feelings.  For Tracy’s ceremony the non verbal included a sea of candles, a choir with a Christian repertoire, a minute of silence holding the candles aloft, contemporary secular singers and finally a plaintive rendition of Amazing Grace with its plea for the power of redemption.  But the most powerful symbol was the night itself.  Night is evocative. The danger of the dark and the inhospitable cold of midwinter were potent icons of the perils of street sex work. Modern Australians seldom gather together at night in the frigidity of winter.  Just standing there together was instructive and moving.  We held our candles aloft in unity. The wind held off and the flames struggled on against the night.  When a brother’s tears and palpable love for his dead sister stirred the crowd, the rite of commemoration was potent. It transfixed us.  We were shamed for the societal negligence that bought about Tracy’s murder.  We were left in no doubt that we could not dismiss this as the killing of the unwanted and unloved. This part of the ceremony, for those like me interested in ritual, was stunning.
But then the speeches started. My blood boiled in anger. You may recall from the last blog how a decade ago the Victorian Parliament failed to (partially) decriminalise street sex work so that the prostitutes would not regard the police as the enemy and the police could focus on protecting prostitutes not controlling them.  The Parliament, both sides of the fence included, in the face of community reluctance and the moralistic legacy of our religious past, failed to embrace law reform when it was offered.  Parliament has blood on its metaphorical hands.  So too do the reform critics including Leslie Cannold, a Senate Candidate for the Wikileaks Party in Victoria. 
Tracy with long term partner Tony Melissovas
Violence against women is most stark in two situations – when marriages breakdown and against sex workers.  60 Australian women were murdered last year.  The street sex worker component can be diminished if the prohibition is modified as it is for brothels. Prohibition in social acts from alcohol to abortion fails.  Indeed prohibition exacerbates the harms.
Tracy was murdered in her home which she used to take clients. Because she was homeless, her panel van was her home.  This is a story of poverty as much as anything.  She wouldn’t have been murdered if she operated from a lawful safe house. She wouldn’t have been murdered if her vocation was not illegal and the police could make her work place safe.  This was an avoidable killing. 
And so the piety of the politicians who opined on the scourge of the violence against women and said they would do anything to stop it, were dishonest hypocrites.  They claimed they would do anything but no one who spoke mentioned the simple law reform of partial decriminalisation.  It was disgusting.
Sex is often confronting. Paid sex is very confronting and morally ambiguous. Religions stuff up sex and their legacy in the secular world is to add a layer of moralistic inhibition that prevents good policy.  Tracy’s death was avoidable.  Unfortunately good policy is avoidable when cowardice grips our politicians.  Their blather diminished a beautiful ceremony.
What is your view?
How do we craft good ceremony?
How do we get parliamentarians with the spine to oppose stupid prohibitions?
Do the opponents of reform have blood on their hands, capitulating to noisy opponents or are they merely reflecting the community?
Over to you