I've never been particularly religious despite having grown up going to church on Sundays, singing in the choir, and doing a short gig as an altar boy; though in the Episcopal Church we were called acolytes. I understood the concept of God as an idea, a presence, and even a greatness. The idea of an old guy with a beard, punishing people for not believing or not being good eluded me, even as a little kid, as it does today. It was easier to believe in Santa Claus than it was a fierce and punishing God, much like today.
I generally have the news running on TV or next to me at my desk most of the time. Thankfully, this week we were spared from all Trump all day while the Pope was here. Instead, it was all Pope all day as he traveled from city to city and spoke. He spoke to world leaders and local politicians. More than anything though, he spoke to people. He spoke to us.
We watched, my wife and I, as he delivered his sermons and speeches, touched people in the crowd and those of us watching at home. My wife welled up regularly every time she saw him. She's not particularly weepy, not particularly religious, but there was something about this pope that brought out the best in people. You could hear it in their voices when they were interviewed. There was a calm, a peace, a joy, and maybe, just maybe, some hope. Hard core politicians, who we are used to hearing berate and chastise one another seemed to be looking to the future. Speaker of the House John Boehner wasn't just crying as he sat behind the pope. It wasn't his usual display of tears. Boehner looked contorted and in pain, as he bawled and wiped away the tears as the pope delivered his speech to Congress, and speaking about the true message of Catholicism, and the obligations that an American politician has as a "servant."
The next day, Boehner, a devout Catholic, after meeting with Pope Francis, abruptly and unexpectedly stepped down as Speaker of the House and made the following statements:
The pope, he comes up the steps right there. ...When he gets here, there are all of these kids he is going to bless. ... So the pope put his arm around my left arm... and he says to me, 'Please pray for me.' Please pray for me. He said, 'Please pray for me.'
Just yesterday we witnessed the awesome sight of Pope Francis addressing the greatest legislative body in the world. And I hope we will all heed his call to live by the golden rule. But last night, I started to think about this. And this morning, I woke up and I said my prayers, as I always do, and I decided, you know, today's the day I'm going to do this. [I'm going to quit politics].
Maybe Boehner grew tired of serving the right-wing fanatics who have taken over the GOP. Maybe he saw the hypocrisy of the office and the job that had been looming in the back of his mind. Maybe Pope Francis' message was the final convincing moment (a moment of clarity if you will) in Boehner's internal conflict continuing to represent the current hate-filled GOP. The Tea Party mentality has taken over the GOP and he no longer can pretend to believe their racist and bigoted message, especially after hearing and being so obviously moved be the words of the pontiff.
Here are just a few from the transcript:
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. 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. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice...
Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money - money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade...
We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our "neighbors" and everything around us...
And this one in particular, that too many seem to have forgotten:
Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.
Boehner will leave and he leaves the hate behind him. A festering pool of right-wing hate for the rest of us to endure. And there's a lot of hate left for them to spew. After all, when the head of the Catholic Church, a peaceful man, a humble man, who preaches love and compassion, as you would expect a religious leader to do - as you would expect a Christian to do, starts causing you to question your own values, what else should you do? Particularly when that Christian has a better understanding of the religion, its guide book, and its teachings than you do. The same religion and the same book that you've been shoving in people's faces to get your way for decades. And what do you do when this little old man declares money the root of all evil, calls on people to "safeguard creation" against climate change, and works to comfort the afflicted, and repeatedly afflicts the comfortable? What you do, of course, is attack. And that's exactly what they're doing.
Media Matters put this mash-up together of how the folks over at FOX saw fit to welcome the pope:
The one seemingly sane newscaster on the network, Shep Smith, who seems to be the token voice of reason over there, broke with their typical narrative during coverage of ceremonies, saying:
"I don't know. I think we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I'm going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on his and our president's agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor -- that's now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that's political?"
What else, he asked, do people expect to hear from a Catholic pope "other than protect those who need help, bring in refugees who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don't have it." Smith even went so far as to question the morality of people somehow in conflict with those ideas, even invoking the great Bill O'Reilly:
"I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus. They're the words of the pope, they're the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that's what we're supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion. I mean, it seems to me and I think to probably, as Bill O'Reilly would put it, most clear-thinking Americans -- that that's how we're supposed to roll."
How we're supposed to roll, indeed.
One congressman, Catholic Congressman Rep. Paul Grosar (R-AZ), Tea Party darling and anti-climate science crusader boycotted the pope's address to Congress. He railed against the pope's message in a public complaint, saying, "this climate change talk has adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false science and ideology into 'climate justice' and is being presented to guilt people into leftist policies." He then declared open season on the pope and his progressive ideas: "When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one."
It's typical of how the Republican Party manipulates religion to their own whim. As soon as the leader of the worldwide Catholic congregation spoke of ideas that don't fit with the GOP's plan for America, he was denounced as an ideological threat and promptly dismissed by his politically convenient "faithful". Grosar even went so far as to say, "It is my hope that Pope Francis realizes his time is better spent focusing on matters like religious tolerance and the sanctity of all life." Which probably means "repressing gays and abortion rights."
It's not long before we hear from the rest of the lunatic fringe calling Francis a doddering old fool in a dress, much like the recent comments from Cruz and his ilk referring to the Supreme Court as unelected lawyers in robes. Cruz, who clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, questioned a "crazy system" where "unelected lawyers" decide the most important issues.
For his part, Francis responded to the vitriol, as one might expect from a holy man. As the New York Times put it:
Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, challenged Congress and by extension the mightiest nation in the world on Thursday to break out of its cycle of paralysis and use its power to heal the "open wounds" of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution.
As for Democrats, after hearing Pope Francis' speech, a coalition of eighteen Democratic Mayors wrote a letter to Obama, telling him that they'll accept more refugees, saying, "We will welcome the Syrian families to make homes and new lives in our cities. Indeed, we are writing to say that we stand ready to work with your administration to do much more and increase still further the number of Syrian refugees the United States will accept for resettlement."
The right is showing their stripes and they are stripes of fear. The prospect of practicing what they claim to preach has been masterfully elaborated upon and interpreted by someone whom many consider to be the last word in Christian doctrine. Neither liberal nor conservative, nor Marxist, nor Socialist, nor is he the antichrist as some have charged, but a priest. A humble, kind, loving priest.