It's just business as usual in the Vatican
by: John Tyrrell
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Pope Francis made the news twice this week. First of all, he came out in favour of evolution and the Big Bang, though he did indicate the necessity of God being involved in the process. And secondly he told the Catholic exorcists conference that they were doing a great job.
His comments on science were greeted in the various atheist and agnostic forums* as if he'd overturned basic Catholic teachings and finally brought the Church into the twenty-first century. And his remarks on exorcism - well it was if he'd dragged Catholicism back into the Middle Ages.
Let's be real. Pope Francis changed nothing.
With respect to evolution and the Big Bang, he only reiterated a Catholic position on science which at least the last four Popes have taken publicly. And we must remember - Mendel - a key figure in our current understanding of evolution - did his work as a Catholic monk; Georges Lemaître was a Catholic priest as well as a scientist when he proposed the Big Bang theory; and the Vatican Observatory continues to contribute to our scientific understanding of the universe. There was no reason for the shock and awe which accompanied Francis's endorsement of science. The real shock would have been if he did not - if he had endorsed creationism.
As for the exorcism issue, well the Pope believes in it - as the church has for centuries. Exorcism may have disappeared into the background in the last half of the twentieth century, but the practice was still going on until Benedict revitalized it. It would have been more genuinely newsworthy if Francis had killed the whole thing. But he did not. And Pope Francis changed nothing.
I think the point I really want to make here is that we non-Christians tend to regard Christianity as monolithic - and we take the beliefs of the loudest Christians - the most evangelical of the fundamentalists - and assume all Christians follow the same beliefs. But creationism and bible literalism are not the teachings of the old line Protestant denominations nor the Catholic Church; an Apocalypse and a Judgement Day in the immediate future are not the teachings of the old line Protestant denominations nor the Catholic Church; Rapture is a fringe teaching, not even held by all the fundies. We should not credit all Christians with the beliefs of a segment. Nor Muslims nor Jews, nor Hindus for that matter - they all have their internal differences. And some members of all religions are more open to secular values than others. We should work on our relationships with those rather than go out of our way to offend them by regarding them as automatically closed-minded.
As for the Catholic Church - in terms of science, with some exceptions,** they are our allies. And we should remember that. It is not science OR religion. The Catholics along with certain Protestant denominations show that science can co-exist reasonably well with religion.
In terms of something like exorcism - as long as it is kept internal to the Church, we probably should not give a damn - except as something to be gently mocked.
With respect to morality - I expect we will always have to look on the Catholic Church as an enemy as it feels some kind of compulsion to force its morality on the rest of us, to make its morality the law of the land. And yet, from a moral perspective, the Church remains such a very poor example.
* It's not just atheist and agnostic forums. Some of the fundie forums are announcing the Pope's rejection of the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 & 2 as a sign of the Apocalypse.
** Simplifying Catholic teachings, they require as a minimum the hand of God to operate at the Big Bang to initiate it; at the origin of life to get it started; and at the point in evolution our ancestors became human to give them souls. It's really a God of the Gaps - as science currently has no answers to these questions. Indeed the soul issue is outside of science and the equivalent scientific question would be the point at which higher animals achieved self-awareness.
One other issue would be the beginning of a human life which Catholics claim that science proves begins at conception. It is extremely questionable that science actually proves that - or even suggests it on a balance of probabilities.
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