It is typically American to fawn over the ritual pageantry of crowning a new Pope. For though, as a nation of immigrants and usurpers, we have thrown off the yoke of royalty, aristocracy, monarchy and most of the spectacle that attends such elitism, it is as if we continually yearn for that lost part of ourselves that we excised like a cancer in the war for independence.
Like the melancholy Edmund Burke, we crow in eternal sorrow, “The age of chivalry is dead!”
I do not share the obsession. I prefer the theatre of realism, the comedy of the absurd, and the drama of existentialism to the spectacular illusions of the Royal Court. I am no fan of the grand musicals of a forgotten time. I do not yearn for the age of romance or chivalry or heroism for I recognize that the very concepts were not only lies but malevolent lies employed in the exploitation of human kind. I am frankly embarrassed by the idolatry of the people for all things royal.
In an age when a growing number of common men and women will be called upon to sacrifice all for the virtues of democracy, how is it that we can express such passionate admiration and sympathy for the antithesis of democracy?
It is not the person of the Pope that elicits my concerns but the papacy itself. For while the pageant gave the illusion of democracy (very much like the events in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan), the new Pope was elected by an elite group of Cardinals who were in turn selected by the former Pope. It is a process that utterly disregards the will of the people who claim the Catholic faith. Believers may argue that the Pope and his chosen are closer to God but history is filled with monarchs and dictators who claimed the same distinction.
At a time when religions of all cloth are demanding representation in government, perhaps people of faith should demand greater representation in religion. Should the church oppose the most basic forms of birth control and prevention of communicable disease? In the third millennium, should any institution be allowed to deny women full and equal representation?
The church is an antiquated institution and one that is destined for practical extinction. When we no longer require the threat of burning hell to regard our fellow beings with dignity and honor, we will no longer need any crutch of anointed authority.
In the early stages of the French Revolution, Tom Paine expressed sympathy for the person of the King of France who answered America’s call in her time of need. It was a position that resulted in his imprisonment and nearly cost his life during the Reign of Terror. Maximilian Robespierre failed to appreciate that one can condemn the monarchy without condemning the monarch.
Similarly, while I admired the former Pope for his opposition to war and despite his regressive social policies, I nevertheless oppose the institution he represented. Like the communist politburo, it is an organizational structure that deliberately isolates the elite from the people it pretends to serve. One can believe in a God without believing in the church. One can believe in spiritual guidance without belonging to an organized religion. Indeed, if one is capable of tapping that sacred part of the self that gives testament to a higher being, adherence to any external authority is both unnecessary and spiritually arresting.
If the church has a role in modern society, it is because we have not yet achieved a higher level of consciousness. It is unfortunate that we have not directed more of our collective effort toward that end. Our politicians like nothing more than to employ education as the whipping post for all our social woes. From time to time, the call goes out for values education but the only programs that are funded are ineffectual anti-drug programs and lessons in deference to authority.
We seem incapable of teaching our children how to function as responsible and conscientious beings in society without reliance on the formal dictums of the church. As any worthy teacher will attest, children do not learn by decree. They learn by observation and example. They learn by gradually lifting themselves out of their own skin to view the consequences of behavior through the eyes of another. When they are taught that our nation’s crimes against humanity (genocide, wars of aggression, abuse of power, interference in the affairs of others) can be qualified, rationalized or discarded as the prerogative of the powerful, they learn to apply the principle to themselves. When children observe that the wealthy are subject to the laws of privilege and lenience while the rest are subject to the laws of survival, they learn to value greed and self-interest.
When parents, bogged down by the necessities of modern economy, and schools, inundated by the unfunded mandates of accountability, have neither the time nor the freedom to teach their children what must be taught, we turn to the church and the children learn that morality begins and ends at the holy gate. When the church teaches dictums that run contrary to human nature and common sense, children learn that there is no hope.
If you would pray, pray for a time when the church is nothing more than ritual pageantry or a museum where the nostalgic go to remember a primitive society in an age when the church may have served some useful but forgotten service.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II. The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, FirstPeoplesCentury, Trinicenter, Global Research and other notable sites. The Jazzman Chronicles are available at City Lights Bookstore in SF. Visit his website: www.jackrandom.com.
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