The Roman Catholic Church: Gotterdammerung?
VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Those who regularly read my articles and essays are aware, perhaps too aware, that I am a committed and vocal anti-religionist. I don’t like to use the word atheist, although that accurately describes my lack of acceptance of any god or religion, because it carries too much social and historical baggage; I reject the word agnostic, because it is used as a way of softening the impact of the more honest description, atheist. I say I’m an anti-religionist because I’m not someone who rejects religion and is merely indifferent to the existence of religion in society; I vocally oppose and decry religion as a poisonous influence in society generally and see it as profoundly harmful to individuals who buy into the concept.
Nevertheless, I recognise that the religious impulse is not likely to be defeated or go away on its own any time soon. The human inclination to avoid thinking and to replace critical analysis with ready-made rote memorised answers is endemic. Moreover, there are far too many people enjoying too much power and money through people’s adherence to their pre-packaged mythologies for many religious leaders to ‘fess up and admit to the con they’ve been running. There isn’t much likelihood of a sea change in the existing structure as long as the sheep love being herded and shorn, and the wolves have a fondness for fleece and a taste for mutton.
A case in point is the current papal conclave. Pope Benedict XVI has just abdicated the papacy, the first pope to leave office while still drawing breath in some 600 years. The speculation is going full steam; there is no question that he was up to his neck in the scandal that swirls around the child molesting that is rampant within the Catholic priesthood. He was aware of, and probably complicit, if not in charge of the systematic cover up. He certainly participated in if he didn’t actually mastermind the dodging of the laws of dozens of countries where his priests had repeatedly and systematically raped hundreds of children for decades, even centuries with impunity.
Nevertheless, he’s out of there…going to retire to a life of prayer and contemplation. He’ll retain his honorifics, he’ll keep his major domo, he’ll keep his white cassock, and he’ll continue to live in the Vatican with servants and all the respect due to the man who had God on a speed dial. He’ll give up his red shoes, though, and there will be a new guy in charge, so he’ll hand over the keys to the palace and the cellphone with God’s personal number in it. But before he’s even slunk off into the monastic sunset, the level of conjecture about the new guy is reaching heights previously only achieved by the interest in new girlfriends of British Royalty.
Will the College of Cardinals elect a Pope of colour? Will they bring in an African to wear the Fisherman’s ring? How about the first new World Pope? That French Canadian cardinal?
All these are possibilities but the smart money is on another European, quite likely an Italian pope. We’ve had a Polish pope and a German pope, but now the inclination seems to be to retreat to the conservative, tried and true paradigm…pick an Italian, a Vatican insider. Moreover, in the face of the growing demand for sweeping reform in the Church, the likelihood is that the old boys in the conclave will once again go for the most hardline conservative they can stuff into the red shoes. So, when the white smoke billows from the conclave’s chimney, there will be a new old guy with his hands on the keys to the kingdom; meet the new pope, same as the old pope.
And from my perspective, that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because it will hasten the inevitable extinction of the Catholic Church…the spiritual mother of all Christian sects. The Church is already in decline; as if they weren’t already scraping the bottom of the barrel, they are having one hell of a time recruiting new aspirants to the priesthood. The obsolete notion of celibacy for priests, the prohibition against marriage, the inclination to exclusion and judgmentalism, and the need to defend ancient absurdities with sophistry meant to impress medieval peasants; all these serve to dissuade intelligent, sexually mainstream, and compassionate candidates.
Among the Catholics who still cleave to the old ways, progress has occurred despite the moribund nature of theocratic dogma. While the Church still tells its children that contraception is a mortal sin, the rate of use of birth control among Catholic women is roughly the same as that of the general population, well over 90% at some point in their lives. While the official Church position is that only men may be ordained, the majority of Catholics support the notion of female priests. The majority of Catholics are also tolerant of homosexuality and support marriage equality, while the Vatican takes the view that any sexual contact outside of that which occurs between a married man and his wife for the sole purpose of procreation is sinful.
I have always taken the position that you can’t genuinely call yourself Catholic unless you
buy the whole enchilada; you can’t cherry pick your doctrinal points and blithely disregard those you find objectionable. However, that sort of absolutism, although encouraged by the church hierarchy, is far from being mainstream. Christians have a remarkable capacity for claiming to buy the whole bill of goods while studiously ignoring some of the bits that aren’t much fun.
How many Christians, even Christians who claim that the Bible is literally true and accurate in every respect actually follow the rules laid down in its pages? Oh, we’re not talking about the number of times the average Christian contravenes one of the Ten Commandments; that’s sin. A transgression, even a repeated, routine transgression, doesn’t necessarily mean that the sinner has chosen to pretend the rule simply doesn’t exist. It means the sinner has broken a commandment. No, we’re talking about some really specific, pointed, unequivocal regulations given to God’s chosen people. Pull out a Bible and look up Leviticus and just look through Chapter 11 and keep on reading. If you’re not already familiar with it, you’ll be amazed at the dietary and hygiene laws that are clearly and explicitly laid out there. Best of all, those rules are also laid out in similar specificity in Deuteronomy; God really meant it this time.
All that having been said, the thing about the Roman Catholic Church that is most salient both to thinking adherent (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and to interested objective observers is how very little the dogma that serves as the Church’s exoskeleton has to do with the teachings of a certain carpenter’s son and friend to fisherman in the Eastern outskirts of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. The magnificent opulence that defines the Holy See would have that advocate for the poor hauling out a whip and chasing the bejeweled and effete pampered old men out into the streets.
But that ain’t gonna change, brothers and sisters. Oh, there’ll be something cosmetic…you might possibly see a non-European Pope or something else intended to show that the Church isn’t hidebound. But here’s predicting that what you’ll get is an old guard, very conservative, and even reactionary old fart who will continue to steer the ship of the state of grace directly at the iceberg.
And that’s the best thing that can happen. That way more people will come to realise that the Catholic Church is an anachronistic, evil empire that has no relevance today, no genuine historical authenticity, and does no good for anyone except the few wealthy potentates at the top of the ecclesiastical food chain, but, on the contrary, does inestimable harm to millions of people the world over.
We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again