I've been watching the events in Rome this week, as well as observing how others have been making their observations. I haven't seen as much of the disrespect as I might have expected. Of course, I work in a strange place that is a combination of higher education and corporation--why would I have expected that anyone would be paying any attention at all?
It's an interesting question: why should we care about the election of a Pope, if we're not Catholic? Or, to be even blunter, why should atheists and agnostics care? I've written this blog post at my theology blog that explores why Christians who aren't Catholic might care. E. J. Dionne has written an eloquent essay in The Washington Post.
But back to my question: why should the rest of us care? Here are some of my thoughts.
Like it or not, the Pope is a world leader. That leadership can be the reclusive kind or it can be the kind of leadership that calls the world to be a better version of itself. I could make a case that Pope John Paul II was a powerful voice that led the world away from Communism.
There will always be social justice issues that go ignored, and that saddens me. But I also understand that the Pope is just one human. The needs are gaping, the work is vast. My harsher friends will point out that the Pope has a whole army of resources that the rest of us can't muster. I would point out how often those sources do go to the causes of social justice. Imagine how much darker the world would be without those efforts.
For those of us who are intellectuals and academics, we often find much to challenge our brains coming out of papal offices. I remember various letters and papers published in the 1980's, my undergraduate and grad school years, works that both challenged and supported my views of various social issues. Cardinal Bernadin's work on the consistent ethic of life has become more important to me in my later years, as I've watched my sister's pregnancy and my mother-in-law's end of life in the same time period. When I was 18, it was easy to be a know-it-all about end of life issues and abortion issues. Now, I'm a bit more shaken. It's been good to have some of that theology to turn to as I've rethought the things I would have sworn to be true.
And for us creative types? What does the selection of a Pope have to do with us?
I was talking to a friend and colleague the other day about what the Holy Spirit may be unleashing in the world. She believes that we're on the cusp of a new Jesus movement, and that this one will involve the arts. What a powerful thing that could be.
I'd argue that the last Reformation, the one which Martin Luther helped lead way back in 1517, was not rooted in the arts. It was rooted in rational thought, at least rational for its time, and often suspicious of the arts. It was a reaction to what had come before, but in the rejection of the arts that so many strains of the Reformation adopted, much has been lost.
I know, you may be saying that you're not Catholic, you're not religious, you're not even spiritual--so why would an arts-based Reformation have anything to do with you?
Imagine what might happen if one of the largest religious institutions, the Catholic church, fully embraced the arts--what kind of ripple effects might that have?
You might want to bring me back to earth and remind me that we haven't seen that this Pope is particularly arts-focused. He's the pope who rides the bus, not the pope who paints large murals. This blog post is already getting long, so I'll save my happiness at this pope's view of social justice and his defense of the poor and dispossessed for another day.
I would leave you with this thought: a social justice outlook can mesh nicely with support for the arts. Imagine how artistic visions might be used to call forth a more just world. Wouldn't that be a wondrous thing?
You might scoff and say it could never happen. I might argue that the most successful social justice movements have a strong artistic component. Think about how the social justice movements of the 60's and 70's were made stronger because of the music, for example.
And when you get a social justice movement that's grounded in a spiritual discipline and has a strong artistic component? The world will never be the same!
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