Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Dreams ...

Just watched the CNN coverage of the naming of Pope Benedict XVI. Not sure what I was expecting, but instead of my usual feeling of quiet regret at having opted out of the believer's club, the absurdity -- the surrealism of it all overcame the regret and cynicism raised its flag of victory, yet another time.

The paradox of sitting in my apartment with a remote control in hand viewing live coverage of the faraway Vatican Palace -- an ocean and a continent away in southern Europe(!!!) was the epitome of scientific achievement, right? How then did the voices of a youngish Norbertine priest combined with CNN's Wolfe Blitzer's in any way fit into this reality? Blitzer was asking (quite seriously) just how the new Pope would rule the world of Catholicism in this new era following the reign of one who'd left such huge shoes to fill? The priest's answer: "The hordes of pilgrims who've gathered here over the past few days have been heard to shout, "sainthood now!," indicating how deeply and universally his predecessor was revered." Then he added with great solemnity, "The Chief Exorcisor here in Rome is already in touch with the fallen pope and knows that he -- together with Jesus -- will be providing strong support to the Pope Benedict XVI in the days to come."

Suddenly the whole scene took on (for me) all of the aspects of theater and magic and the mysteries of the occult. Shades of Harry Potter! All of it; from watching the faithful so mesmerized by endless hours of watching that chimney for the tell-tale sign of white smoke, to the celebratory announcement that came after a relatively short period of negotiation and consensus.

The elaborate vestments (and one can hardly consider them other than costumes) scarlet splashed everywhere -- the lavishly beautiful interior images of the Papal Palace and the Sistine Chapel in a world reeling from "wars and rumors of wars," continuing genocide, devastating bombings; out of control AIDS epidemics ravaging already long suffering and exploited Third World populations; unprecedented natural disasters involving tragic loss of life and property; no longer deniable effects of global warming; economies on the edge of collapse; and corporatism that threatens the sovereignty of all nations on the planet. What can account for the world's ability to compartmentalize all of that so effectively -- and to pinpoint all of our attention on 171 elegantly red-robed and blessed-beanied Catholic Cardinals in the process of naming a new Pope? He is, after all, only one leader of a single denomination in a world with multiple belief systems with multiple dieties and/or avatars charged with the responsibility of saving souls (or not) or guiding their flocks through the endless privileges and pitfalls of reincarnation.

If ever there was proof of the dominance of European religious systems (both Catholic and Protestant), this past month of observances has provided it. That organized religions should be playing such a prominent role in our daily lives should come as no surprise given the decline in the educational system in this country. By default we're falling into the same kinds of religious fundamentalism that so marks current Mideastern internal political unrest. Given another generation or two, one might well expect that those small nations will discover the freedoms inherent when church and state are held separate. Allowing them to --- without interference -- evolve toward the obvious may be the secret to achieving world peace.

There are among our elected officials a number who might be quite comfortable in the roles of the Mullahs and Imams of the Mideast. There seems little difference between those scenes of all males sitting in worship on their prayer rugs in temples of Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan -- and the images of those Cardinals marching off into their Holy Conclave with nary a woman in sight. It's all a matter of degree. One might suspect that -- given their wont -- if the church had not been challenged over the decades here in this country and in much of the developed world, women would still not have the vote, been allowed to own property, or, even themselves! Even the control of our own bodies has again fallen into question of late, and may well be soon lost to those proclaiming a reverence for life (only not ours).

Find myself wishing that I had enough time left to spend a few years living in either the Far or the Middle East, just to learn something about life under other systems. I'd love to know how the women in those countries have survived with their religious beliefs intact. If they have, that is. I've never really known whether my atheism is a simple rejection of the religion of my own experience, and, whether under some other system I might have been a believer, too. Don't know. But I suspect not. I've never had much difficulty separating reality from belief. That may be where the rubber meets the road for this pilgrim. I've always felt that what I believe is far too important to be left in the hands of others. But I know deep down that reality is something best arrived at in concert with others, and can rarely be accomplished alone. But even as I type the words, the statement falls apart. Isn't it probable that reality is really no more than agreed-upon "truth," and ever open to interpretation? Could that "truth" be little more than curiosity satisfied?

So much to learn and to know ... and to never really be quite certain of...

But then I've never been too comfortable with certainty, anyway.

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