Monday, January 12, 2015

Bill Maher And Pope Francis- (Almost) Perfect Together

It's another week, and another opportunity to defend Bill Maher, though this time not over Islam but over the head of the Roman Catholic Church.  Charles Pierce, in the colorful way only he can, explains

While I think the process of Making Saints is rife with corruption and medievalism, it does occasionally serve to remind us who the real heroes were, and who the real monsters were.

Archbishop Romero was assassinated while serving Mass in El Salvador in 1980 by Right-wing death squads. His murder came a day after he had said in a homily that soldiers should obey God's commands and put down their guns. Archbishop Romero's Cause was opened at the Vatican two decades ago but was delayed for years as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied his writings, amid debate over whether he had been killed for his faith or for political reasons. In 2013 Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family and official promoter of Archbishop Romero's Cause, said the process had been "unblocked."Last year Robert Mickens of Global Pulse said that Archbishop Romero will "almost certainly" be beatified in 2015, and that Francis may skip the beatification and canonise him in San Salvador.

Gee. It was "blocked" for two decades and suddenly, it became "unblocked." Wonder who could have been "blocking" it.

This is more than a vindication for Romero. It is a vindication for the entire roiling, revolutionary Christianity that sprung up all over the Western-sponsored oligarchies in Central and South America, including liberation theology, with which Papa Francesco has more than a passing acquaintance and in which he has evinced more than a passing interest. Moreover, it is an overdue kick to the nuts directed at all those cafeteria Catholics who signed on to the criminal savagery that the Reagan Administration subcontracted in that same region. Romero was killed primarily on the orders of Roberto D'Aubuisson, a real prize of a war criminal.

The ordering of the murder was blamed on the bogeyman of the story, a military intelligence officer called Major Roberto D'Aubuisson who had, conveniently for Washington, recently left the army. In the weeks before the murder, he was repeatedly on television using military intelligence files to denounce "guerrillas". Those he accused were often murdered. Romero was near the top of the list. But US promises to bring justice came to nothing. With no trigger-man, gun or witnesses, officials claimed lack of evidence. D'Aubuisson went on to become one of El Salvador's most successful politicians before throat cancer killed him at the end of the civil war 12 years later - the revenge of God, many concluded.

D'Aubuisson was trained at the notorious School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Georgia. He was noted for his use of blowtorches in his interrogations, which is something that somehow slipped by Dick Cheney. Romero's murder kicked off a horrible wave of extrajudicial violence, including the El Mozote massacre, which was covered up by, among other people, Elliott Abrams, who is out there now screaming about the persecution of Christians, but remains strangely silent on the murder of a bishop in the middle of Mass. 

But then Pierce goes off the rails, remarking

But people like D'Aubuisson and Abrams don't matter now. Oscar Romero, who was a bishop in what Bill Maher assures us is a stupid and dangerous institution, now is fast-tracked to sainthood because his life is finally being recognized as the blessing it was to the people of El Salvador.

"What Bill Maher assures us is a stupid and dangerous institution," Pierce sarcastically observes. Whether the Roman Catholic Church is a stupid and dangerous institution is a matter of opinion, but nothing Pierce writes suggests that he disagrees with Maher that it is a stupid and dangerous institution.

"The process of Making Saints,"  Pierce argues, "is rife with corruption and medievalism." It is also for most of us Protestants (which would not include the nominally Catholic Pierce) based on a false premise. No matter. Pierce recognizes the process of declaring saints is corrupt and medieval. Further, given the Church's practice of proclaiming sainthood, denying sainthood to Archbishop Romer appears- as Pierce strongly implies- to have been done on a largely untenable political basis.

Moreover, Pierce infers Pope Francis is primarily, and ultimately, responsible for the Church's welcome change of heart.   And with that, he snidely notes that Maher believes the RC Church "is a stupid and dangerous institution."

It then is ironic- nay, perverse- that the blogger would criticize Bill Maher when the latter is a big fan of Pope Francis. He is, it ought to be observed, also someone peculiarly qualified to be a booster of His Holiness.

Arguing (persuasively) that Pope Francis and Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders are ideological blood-brothers, Time's Elizabeth Dias recently quoted the Pope as having, at some time since his ascension, remarked

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

Inequality is the root of social evil.

We must say ‘We want a just system! A system that enables everyone to get on.’ We must say: ‘We don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm!’

We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to states, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.

While it is unlikely that the progressive and libertine Maher would as much as Sanders agree with the populist pontiff, the comedian would applaud most of that (and far more than would any Repub politician). Additionally, asked about in July, 2013 about the possibility of gay priests, Francis famously replied "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?

Though cautious by the standards of western societies, "who am I to judge" someone who is gay "and searches for the Lord" is fairly radical by Vatican standards. Maher, who supports same-sex marriage and, heartily, sex between any consenting adult, has lauded the Pope's statement.

In this video (from June 2013, but "embedding disabled by request;" inadequate substitute below), Maher maintains "I think the Pope might be an atheist- there, I've said it... He said this  week, Pope Frank, uh, said 'The Lord  has redeemed all of us, not just the Catholics, even the atheists.'"

Whether redemption of individuals (including atheists) leads inexorably to their salvation is a matter of theological interpretation of the concept of redemption. Stephen Kokx of Catholic Vote believes it does not (some disagree) and therefore concluded logically that the Pope did not definitively state that atheists can be saved.

He wrote too soon, for a few months later the Pope, upon being asked whether "the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith," would respond "given that God's mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience."

Do good and go to heaven, this religious leader contends.  Agree with him or choose not to. But for an atheist like Bill Maher, a Pope who does not think that someone necessarily has to believe in God to go to heaven is truly heartening. For that and other reasons, he likes and respects this pontiff a lot. Consequently, ridiculing Maher in a post favorable to Pope Francis for the latter's extension of mercy (and justice) is off-base nearly to the point of bizarre.

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