|  February 26, 2013

The Pope is alive. Long live the Pope!

I had to change one word there from my May 2005 editorial opening sentence, excerpts of which I shall simply transfer here, being still relevant nearly eight years later.

Not being Catholic, or religious, I did, to a certain extent, mourn the passing of Pope John Paul II. I didn’t know much about him, but I felt him; he was a presence. Like an avuncular Santa, his beaming face was adored by devoted billions and while he was no saint (well, not yet anyway) especially in how he failed to handle the outbreak of HIV and its association with homosexuality in the 80s, as well as his lethargy in facing the horrors of sexual abuse cases that emerged during his years in the Vatican, most of us still felt a certain warmth from and towards him; he was special. As to Benedict the…well, whatever, my associations with him are less endearing. I remember him pontificating about how some teachings of Muhammad were ‘evil and inhuman’, that he was mean to hard-working U.S. nuns, calling them politicised and radical, how he associated the use of condoms with the – seriously!? –  increase of AIDS in Africa, something about insulting the Jews, equating homosexuality to global warming as a threat to mankind, some personal scandal with his butler, and don’t even start on the ongoing saga of the church’s myriad cases of sexual abuse.

And now he has resigned. Personally, I am relieved, but only temporarily, because all indications show that Benedict XVI’s successor will be no more in touch with the realities and moral dilemmas that seven billion of us are facing today.

Whatever religion, cult or creed, it is hard to dismiss the significance and the wider implications of this modern version of such an ancient rite and tradition – the Apostolic Succession – where over one hundred cardinals, through the divine guidance of God, select the next successor to the Apostle Peter who was chosen by Jesus as the rock on which the entire Christian church was to be built. Pretty weighty stuff, if you believe in it.

But how can you help but be fascinated by the election process which chooses a man –  pftt, of course – who will control not only vast riches and wield great power and influence, but also give so-called moral guidance to over a sixth of the world’s population?

In this age of supposed enlightenment, when the rights of each individual are being extolled like never before, when pressure groups and human rights organisations throughout the world are fighting for individual self-expression and choice in fields of religion, culture, sex, politics and business, and when democracy has almost become a goal unto itself (instead of just a method), this extraordinarily undemocratic institution, which commands such respect, appears to me frighteningly autocratic and flies in the face of humanity’s struggles towards equality of the past few centuries.

The major Catholic support base now comes from rapidly developing third world countries, whose many citizens still unquestioningly conform to the more rigid dogmas of religion. Liberal Europe’s Catholics are fleeing the church in droves. There is therefore no hope that a more practically-minded pope will be installed in the Vatican any time soon. One point two billion people’s moral beacon will still be held in the wobbly hand of an old man who is anti-contraception, anti-abortion, anti-women, anti-homosexual and pretty much anti issues with more shades of grey than any future pope will have on his head.

Who guides the guide? Who guides any of the guides? Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu leaders are similarly undemocratically chosen.

The answer, of course, is God. And if you believe in Him then there is no argument and this is therefore a moot point. Most of us who claim to be enlightened are way off mark, because rights and equality are unimportant when all is controlled by predestined divine design. One can only hope that He doesn’t read my editorials.

No religious leader in the world is democratically elected. All claim some form of divine guidance. For those who believe, fine, but those of us who don’t find it very hard to grapple with the fact that our moral path is being laid down for us by people who have no tangible rights to do so. On the other hand, I suppose I would rather have my morals dictated by a theologian, a person who has studied morality, who meditates upon it, who has spent his or her life in pursuit of it, than by a politician with no credentials (and in many cases, even fewer morals). But I have talked about that often enough…and am sure I will again.

So, lots to mull over.

Citylife this month:

We are moving! Our new office will be in the Wat Kate area; please see the map on page 54. It is an exciting new chapter in our business and once we are settled in we are hoping to start making other positive changes to our media. As to content this month, we have great interns contributing stories ranging from a look at expat team sports in Chiang Mai to the perils and joys of riding a motorbike in Thailand. I went to the Irrawaddy Literary Festival in Rangoon recently and share some of my experiences, while Hilary Cadigan takes a look at a wonderful new initiative to help empower women at risk of sexual abuse and trafficking.