An SCB News Special Report. SCB News: "Aequum et Libratum."
It is not all that unusual for a foreign head of state to address a joint meeting of Congress. To pick just a few examples, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, did on March 3, 2015. Prime Minister Winston Churchill did in 1941 and 1943. Nelson Mandela did in 1994, when he was deputy president of the African National Congress.
What is unusual -- in fact, unprecedented -- is for a religious leader to do so. While the Dalai Lama got to be guest chaplain for Congress, he has not addressed a joint meeting. Pope Francis is the first pope ever to do so, so today presents an historic event.
The Bear invites you to think about that for a moment. No matter what you think of Pope Francis, that's our guy, recognized by the United States of America, given the unprecedented privilege of addressing Congress as a religious leader.
Call the Bear a papist if you want, but he thinks that's cool.
The address itself, delivered in poignantly painful English, was not too bad, in the Bear's opinion, We know the Pope's a lefty, so we must factor than in. But he made a subtle reference to abortion and included encouraging language on the family.
Let's take a look at what the Bear found interesting. According to his new policy of "Aequum et Libratum," the Bear hasn't read any other commentary before writing this. He doesn't want to be influenced by others. This is a longish piece, but the Bear covers everything he found worth talking about.
We know the things Pope Francis cares about. He's the Social Justice Warrior Pope. So economic opportunity, immigration, the death penalty, and climate change were all featured. He quoted liberally from Laudato Si. Liberals are going to find many supportive sound bytes. Conservatives are going to have sift for a few nuggets. Like his previous speeches on this trip, there are no surprises that should make anyone think differently about this Pope.
"Abraham, Martin and John"
Cue Dion for Pope Francis' tribute to four Americans. Actually, the only Catholic President John F. Kennedy didn't make the cut. But, in addition to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Pope included two names guaranteed to make heads spin. Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
Day was a lefty social justice worker who will one day be the patron saint of socialists. Maybe anarchists. Day began her messy young adult life as an avid supporter of radical causes. She started the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933. After her conversion, Day continued to be associated with radical causes, but in a Catholic sort of way. She was a Benedictine Oblate.
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk whose interest in incorporating eastern spirituality into Christianity led to his electrocution by a fan in Bangkok, Thailand while attending an interfaith congress. No doubt the Bear does not do justice to Merton's work, but he feels safe in saying it was unconventional toward the end.
Now, imagine you're the Pope. You're in America, so you want to pick some American heroes to pay tribute to. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. are obvious. But what Catholics contributed to American history? The Bear might have gone with Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Fr. John Hardon. Okay, maybe not Fr. Hardon, but surely our first American saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton would have been a non-controversial and wonderful choice.
Unfortunately, the Pope could not have picked more polarizing examples than Day and Merton.
This is Pope Francis. He is not going to pass up the opportunity to promote a radical social justice worker, even though he has to know it is going to alienate many people. And Merton's oddball mix of Christianity and Buddhism is so encountery, and dialoguey, it makes him the model for interfaith love.
But what's wrong with mainstream Catholicism? "Plain ol' Roman Catholicism" is the Bear's new ideal, and here the Pope goes spoiling it with "Social Justice Catholicism."
There is more to cover, so the Bear must leave this sad exercise. Like he said before, unfortunately we can't be surprised. In the great scheme of things, however, it's just a speech.
The Bear thought this was interesting.
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.Here we get a clue about what the Pope means when he frequently talks about "fundamentalism." He notes the increase of violence "committed in the name of God and of religion." Of course then he goes on to say that "no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism."
That is polite nonsense, and the Pope knows it. We all know what religion he is really talking about, and he knows we know. He's saying it without saying it. But fundamentalism is not only religious. It can be an ideology or economic system.
"Fundamentalism" seems to be the Pope's word for a violent mind-set in the name of some cause. An us vs. them attitude. The Bear suspects the violence need not be open, but it is enough if it is latent, and expressed in hatred of others. Communism has certainly exhibited the Pope's kind of fundamentalism. It thrives on class warfare and hate.
The Pope also condemned "black and white" thinking: "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."
Sometimes people state the obvious while pretending they're being profound. Is there any normal person in this country who really sees the world as black and white? Maybe Dorothy Day did. (Probably "red and not-red.") The Bear does, in some matters. You're either in the Ark of salvation, or you're not. But mostly he's capable of detecting nuances where they exist.
Is it troubling to hear the Pope say it is wrong to see the world around you in terms of "good and evil?" The Bear will have to think about this. On the one hand he sort of gets it, but on the other, we live in a time when the very message we need is to recognize good from evil and choose the former.
In any event, the Bear has learned that the people who most want to dialogue are least interested in what he has to say, and in the same spirit, the people who insist the world isn't black and white are the ones who divide the world into the enlightened and the fundamentalists.
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.Religious diversity is America's thing. The Pope is not going to stand before Congress and demand that everyone convert to the One True Faith. The Bear reads in this something positive: the government should recognize the value of religion and respect it. A timely reminder.
The Golden Rule
The Pope says we have to let anyone who wants a better life into our country. Thank you, Holy Father. We'll take that under advisement. We can see how that's working out in Europe.
But here is one of the nuggets the Bear said you have to sift for: "The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development."
Get that? The Pope just told a joint meeting of Congress to get rid of abortion. Imagine that! So, he didn't use the word, and seemed to conflate it with illegal immigration, but for "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time" Pope Francis, it's welcome, and surprising.
The Pope expressed a welcome concern for the family. If he is telegraphing anything, the Bear would find this encouraging:
Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.This is actually profound. Economic pressure discourages young couples, while the seemingly infinite possibilities provided by our materialistic culture provide a different kind of counter-incentive. The Bear wonders how many of his readers find themselves waiting for grandchildren that never seem to arrive?
These are the points the Bear found interesting. Perhaps the biggest, and most revelatory, disappointment was the selection of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. But, then again, who else would Pope Francis pick?
The Bear was encouraged by Pope Francis' words on the family, and also by his veiled, but clear reference to abortion.
You can read the text of the Pope's address here.