Pope Francis Reformation Interview II

Prior to his Swedish photo-op for Reformation Day, Pope Francis sat down for an interview with the Jesuit Father Ulf Jonsson (PDF here). After several pleasantries, Jonsson asked the pope a serious question, unlike the usual softballs that are served up to him: “Religions can be a blessing, but also a curse. The media often report news of conflicts between religious groups in the world. Some state that the world would be more peaceful if there were no religions. How do you respond to this criticism?”

The usual platitudes won’t do. But Pope Francis was up to the task, delivering a performance that Alan Greenspan might envy. (For those too young to remember, Greenspan is the legendary chairman of the Federal Reserve who abhorred transparency, and was famous for statements that were not only highly ambiguous but often meaningless doubletalk.) Francis’ response:

“Idolatries that are at the base of a religion, not the religion itself! There are idolatries connected to religion: the idolatry of money, of enmities, of space greater than time, the greed of the territoriality of space. There is an idolatry of the conquest of space, of dominion, that attacks religions like a malignant virus. And idolatry is a false religion, it is wrong religiosity. I call religion an immanent transcendence, namely a contradiction. But the true religions are the development of the capacity that humanity has to transcend itself towards the absolute. The religious phenomenon is transcendent and it has to do with truth, beauty, goodness and unity.”

Religion is “an immanent transcendence, namely a contradiction.” In logic, all things follow from a contradiction. But in Pope Francis’ divine scheme of things, nothing follows from this contradiction. Religion is limited to “truth, beauty, goodness and unity.” It has nothing to do with those cursed evils that Jonsson asked about. Instead, Francis maintains that evil is the result of “idolatries that are at the base of a religion, not the religion itself!” Again, in normal usage, saying that something is at the base of a system means that it is fundamental to it, like voting is at the base of democracies. But Pope Francis maintains that the opposite is true of religion.

Note that this contradicts standard Judeo-Christian doctrine. God rails against idolatry, often calling it harlotry or worse. This is one of the central messages of the prophets. Never is idolatry considered to be at the base of God’s religious system. The Ten Commandments forbids it; the second commandment states “Thou shall bring no false idols before me.” God punished idolatry in the harshest manner, even wiping out the Canaanite tribes simply to prevent them from tempting the children of Israel into idolatry.

Moreover, the “idolatries” that Pope Francis mentions – “the idolatry of money, of enmities, of space greater than time, the greed of the territoriality of space. There is an idolatry of the conquest of space, of dominion” – none of these involves graven images or anything that is normally called idolatry. They are just various sins. Francis uses “idolatry” as an umbrella term of condemnation. (I don’t know what the idolatry “of space greater than time” even means, much less why it is a sin, much less why it is idolatry.)

In any case, rather than address the question of why religion results in so much evil, Pope Francis simply creates his own definition of religion, which is limited to “truth, beauty, goodness and unity.” Evil is the result of idolatry that doesn’t even involve idols – not religion.

While congress, the media, and the public generally accepted the doubletalk of Alan Greenspan, at least some of them noted that it was doubletalk and even poked fun at it. But the media and the public simply accept Pope Francis’s doubletalk as divinely inspired wisdom.

I’ll discuss some of his other words of wisdom later. It gets worse than doubletalk.