It was just announced that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down, due to health concerns. And while he’s certainly no John Paul II, he’s a decent guy (although he didn’t resolve the molestation issue to anyone’s satisfaction, to say the least) and I hope he isn’t suffering too much from his arthritis and whatever other afflictions he may have. However, in thinking about his tenure as Pope, I couldn’t help but think about how involved in politics he and the Catholic Church have become (again) lately.
The Catholic Church was, for centuries, the beginning, the middle, and the end of the political story in Europe. But in more recent times, the church had actually settled in to look more like, well, a church. But during the term (as it turn out) with Pope Benedict XVI (formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) as the leader of the Church, politics have again come to the forefront, even if to a lesser degree than in the Middle Ages.
Of course,the Catholic Church is far from the only large, religious organization playing politics (while enjoying tax-exempt status) – the Southern Baptist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) are also well known in the political arena.
What these groups (and many others) share, is the desire to impose their brand of morality on others. For example, it’s not enough that Catholics and Southern Baptists and Mormons be prevented from entering into a same-sex marriage, they don’t want anyone in a same-sex marriage. These same groups often work for the suppression of science, also.
As I write this, as usual, I can’t help but think, “Well, how am I different?” I want people to follow certain rules of society. I want people to be polite and considerate. I want them to make tiny sacrifices in order to grease the wheels of a pleasant community. I’d sure like it if, when a driver sees a car in the next lane on the freeway put her turn signal on, he would let her merge into the lane unobstructed instead of speeding up to make it more difficult. I think I’ve uncovered the reason nobody uses their turn signal, anymore.
I’d also like it if, when someone goes through a door, he or she would make sure it’s not going to slam right in another person’s face. Life would be nicer if people were just nice to each other. And what if no country or group waged war on another? We could do away with the military altogether, and either keep our tax dollars or spend them on constructive things instead of things whose purpose is to blow up and disappear.
It would be great if owners of businesses paid their employees a fair, living wage instead of concentrating on making enough money to buy a new yacht. It would be great if nobody polluted our air and waterways in order to save the money it would take to clean up their messes the right way. It would be great if everyone just stopped whining and paid their fair share of the taxes that are needed (if sometimes abused) to keep our country running. It would be great if nobody littered the streets with their cigarette butts or Starbucks cups.
But these principles won’t really work (especially the war part) if only a part of the population adhere to them. It would be much better if everyone did.
So there it is.
I think my way is right or better, just like the various Christian groups think their impositions are perfectly reasonable, while the same phenomenon in Islamic nations is so terrible. But I wish people would ask themselves one thing before taking a political stand based on any kind of morality… Is this a principle that will improve our lives, or just some ancient custom that we superstitiously cling to as a proxy for actually understanding the world around us?
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.