14. Is the Pope Catholic?

February 19, 2016

In an on-line discussion group to which I belong, a participant asked:

” Is the pope promoting a world without borders?”

The pope, maneuvered by a reporter into intruding on the current  primary election campaign, had said that a candidate who wanted to build walls rather than bridges was “not a Christian”.  The candidate himself, loudmouth, intemperate narcissist bully Donald Trump, had actually said only that he would bar immigration from Syria until we could be assured that we actually had a way to investigate whether applicants for refugee or immigrant status were who they claimed to be, rather than terrorists bent on murder of Americans.

But my interpretation of the intent of the pope was, “Of course he is!”

The Catholic church has always offered sanctuary and support to illegal entrants, because, it seems to me, it considers their Catholicism more important than the sovereign laws and boundaries of the United States.  And the larger the Catholic fraction of the population, the more likely it is that Catholic dogma will once again influence the formation of the laws of a powerful nation.   Ahhh, just like the old days when King Philip of Spain, a creature of the papacy, was the dominant political power in Europe!

According to my understanding of history, not many centuries ago the Catholic church put kings on the thrones of many important Western countries, and ruled through ecclesiastical and political control of those same monarchs.  Within living memory church control still dominated the laws in Ireland and Italy:  for example laws pertaining to divorce and abortion.

Doesn’t the pope himself live in a theocratic city-state, Vatican City, where he is the high priest and head of state?  As Bishop of Rome he is regarded as the Catholic Christ’s “vicar on earth”. He is regarded as appointed or deputized directly, not merely metaphorically, by their god.

As I learned it, the concept of national sovereignty and the legitimacy and  inviolability of national borders was formalized by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.  As it happened, one of the sovereignties defined by the treaty was Holland, then a secular republic and not dominated by the Catholic church. Whether there were other such antecedents I do not know offhand, but that example set up conditions for a power struggle that persists down to the present day, between the Establishmentarians, who favor linkage between the state and the church, and the Disestablishmentarians, who favor separation between ecclesiastical and secular powers.  (Remember those simpler days when antidisestablishmentarianism was regarded as the longest word in the English language?)

When this country was formed, although by people who were generally religious, a separation of church doctrine from the laws of the state, and the toleration of disparate religious beliefs were chosen as guiding principles, following the persuasive philosophies of John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers.

Logically, the pope’s position, that the religion that unites people is more important than the sovereign boundaries that separate them, supports the “one world” idea, but inevitably at the expense of the ability of a secular government to rule by its own laws, enforceable and enforced within its own boundaries.

It has seemed to me that there are basically two ways to unite disparate territories into larger, more global, entities:  1) by consensus and agreement among the parties, or by 2) the imposition of a stronger, larger authority and power from outside or above.

Another of our discussants pointed out that the European Union (EU) is an example of the voluntary dissolution of internal borders, with the result that, to the consternation of its member nations, it has recently become apparent that the EU has no way left of controlling its outer borders and has essentially permitted invasion of its territories in the name of immigration and sanctuary for refugees.

Since it seems unlikely that far-flung countries with different languages, economies, cultures and values will be getting together by agreement any time soon, and we do have examples of forced aggregation, like the welding of Serbian, Croatian and christian elements by Marshall Tito to found Yugoslavia, it seems to me that the One World idea must appear to the pope to be an opportunity for Catholicism once again to become the overarching power and authority.

But for now he’ll settle for eroding the critically important idea of the sovereignty of national borders, ours included.


[Ed. When the above post was later published on a Mensa blog it elicited two comments from readers. One said, “I don’t know if you wrote anything worth reading because your lack of objectivity reflected by your adjectives early in your writing instantly made me think taking out the garbage was more constructive use of my time.”

Another was from a reader called Patrick, to whom I responded in some detail in a letter to the editor of that blog. That editor responded that she had received my response, and was treating it as a potential contribution, while “trying to give other folks the opportunity to participate as well”.

I understand and respect the role of an editor, having written for editors since 1957, and am comforted that my responsibility and authority end with the submission of a piece. However, it happens that I am the editor of this blog, and it is my editorial choice to include the follow-up discussion here, in continuity with the original piece.

So here it is:

October 2, 2016

This is awkward. So awkward that when a letter first appeared a month or more ago I decided not to respond to it. But the format of this on-line Mensa blog is that a letter personally critical of me by name will remain in the archive forever, and a lack of response on my part would probably be slightly more awkward than this response will be.

First the letter, identified only as from “Patrick”, went as follows:

“In response to your request about the [attraction of the Mensa newsletter in blog format], I did read the recent [on-line Mensa] Blog. That said, doubt I will do so in the future if screeds like the one from Dr. [TheOldDoc] will be the norm. Rather than using the blog as a bully pulpit, if these sort of things are going to be posted then please enable comments from the readership to be posted in response.”

Taking last things first: the letter was published on the Blog among “Responses From Readers”. So presumably, any comment Patrick had wanted to make could have been done in the very letter in which he complained that he hadn’t been afforded the chance to make a comment. But perhaps he may not have guessed that.

Next, the reason I delayed responding is this: I write opinion pieces nearly every day. I had submitted more than one to the Mensa blog, and couldn’t recall which particular “screed” [Definition: long and tedious] might have exceeded Patrick’s interest or attention span. 😉 Some people find everything I write long and tedious. But I grant that by some definitions, “screeds” are also often accusatory or complaining.

So it was a mystery. Curious, I looked back through the blog archive and found that it included an essay based upon a then current news item, which I had called, “Is the Pope Catholic?”, after the famous rhetorical question. In it I had ruminated about the separation of church and state, and the desire for globalization versus the importance of sovereign boundaries. I had mentioned Ireland and Italy as examples of countries in which, until recently, church doctrine still dictated secular law.

Seizing upon the only clue I had, I realized that the writer was named after the Catholic patron saint of Ireland, Patrick.

Thus it was my speculation that Patrick was referring to that particular contribution of mine. Well there was one other half-clue. Patrick had characterized the publication of my opinion as, “using the Blog as a bully pulpit”. This again suggested that an essay about religion might have been involved, the more so if one infers that Patrick misunderstands the concept of a “bully pulpit”, which refers to neither bullying nor religion.

Wikipedia offers this, which is the definition I have always understood as coming from Theodore Roosevelt:

“A bully pulpit is a conspicuous position that provides an opportunity to speak out and be listened to.

“This term was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to the White House as a “bully pulpit”, by which he meant a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda.

“Roosevelt used the word bully as an adjective meaning “superb” or “wonderful”, a more common usage in his time than it is today. Another expression which survives from this era is “bully for you”, synonymous with “good for you”.”

Because of which I can only point out that calling the Mensa Blog a “bully pulpit” is a bite without venom. More of a kiss, really.

Again, and finally, to Patrick’s message. Here is how I read it. Others may differ. He didn’t like something unspecified that I wrote and wouldn’t read the Mensa Blog if things like it became the norm.

Well, I’m fine with his decision regarding what he would and would not read. Who else could decide that?

To the extent, however, that it may imply that the Mensa Blog should be a “safe place”, in the context of the “snowflake generation” as described in Wikipedia and elsewhere, I feel otherwise:

“Generation Snowflake, or Snowflake Generation, is a term that refers to young people, typically university or college students, who seek to avoid emotionally charged topics, or dissenting ideas and opinions. This may involve support of safe spaces and trigger warnings in the university setting. It has also been used by The Daily Telegraph and GQ writers to refer to Millennials.”

To that extent I would respond with a letter reported recently to have been sent to students entering my Alma Mater, the University of Chicago, this fall, which said in part

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

”Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related University priority — building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds. Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.”

When that letter appeared I was especially proud of my old university.

With respect,