Thursday, April 21, 2005

The race for first impressions: Just who is this new Pope?

Since I am not a rabid news-watcher or newspaper reader, it took a little bit for the identity of the new Pope to reach me. About 18 hours it seems. And true to the way news really travels on earth, I heard it not through a newswire, through a commercially successful mega-media news dispensary, not even through "the new media" of the blogosphere. No, I heard it second or third hand from somebody, who said something like, "have you heard about the new Pope? He's a nazi!" And that was about all they knew. And already the die was set in my own mind. However much I wanted to reserve judgment about the new Holy See, the word "nazi" just bore too much coloration to allow it to remain neutral. So much for first impressions.

Apparently, the sensationalist strategies employed by various counter-institutions against the Roman Catholic church made their indelible mark on the world's public opinion of the new Pope. It was a very early volley of propaganda echoing moments after his announcement by disappointed Cardinals. And it was their statement more than any other that had reached my ears first. Out of curiosity, I poked around on the internet and came across a very interesting article from the Chicago Tribune:

It was on TV and all over the Internet and printed in newspapers around the world, phrases like "Hitler Youth" and "God's Rottweiler" and "The Panzer Cardinal" and the "Pope's Hitman." These were mentioned--in the ostentatiously neutral and therefore ostentatiously objective voice--to express the dissenting views of his critics.

This is fact. He was a member of the Hitler Youth during Hitler's time. He has been called these names. They had to be reported.

But what must be understood is that Ratzinger was a child then, that service in the Hitler Youth was compulsory, that though he was forced into the German army, he deserted.

Yet first impressions are vital in political wars. The first impression offered of this pope was in the negative. Invoking Hitler allows for the easy argument of the Catholic Church as fascist because this new pope, like the last one, opposed homosexual marriage and women in the priesthood and abortion and has the temerity to believe that Jesus Christ should be accepted as the Messiah.

Again, I'm not Catholic. And I'm no theologian, just a serial sinner too often truant from church. But I figure political labels such as left and right are imperfect characterizations when applied to religious institutions thousands of years old.

These are labels employed by those with an agenda, expecting religion to be about popularity, compromise and the bending of principles, as malleable as our politicians.

I'm not qualified to discuss theology. But I do understand something about politics and dissent. Opposition and dissent should be acceptable anywhere, especially here, welcomed, even demanded.

Even so, political tactics should be understood. The Jerusalem Post understood and exposed this in an editorial. The newspaper ridiculed those who would suggest that Pope Benedict is some "closet Nazi" or that he was a "theological anti-Semite for believing in Jesus so strongly that--gasp!--he thinks everyone, even Jews, should accept him as the messiah. To all this we should say, `This is news?'"

I wonder just how much our perception of the world is composed of second and third hand tidbits like "the new Pope is a nazi" and form into a collective worldview that is badly, badly mistaken. Context is everything, and it can be hard and time consuming to learn the truth. Other times, "the truth" is very hard to discern through a morass of historical amnesia and ideological bias. Just how does one discern what ought to be taken on faith, what ought to be explored to its core, and what role exploration plays in the act of faith?


Gunslinger said...

Hey man, I call em as I see em. I have to be totally honest. I could give a big huge steamy crap about the pope. I am not catholic, not interested in being catholic, and see him as a snazzy little figure head for a religion I could care less about. Nazi, Yankee, Pol, Muslim, whatever. Let the new pope news die. Faster than the old pope. Get back to the real news, like how evil the Americans are for being in Iraq, or something else equally uninteresting.

Gunslinger said...

Of course, my own mother called me a cold hearted bastard for my views on the Terry Schaivo thing, so why should I care about the pope? Maybe Puff Daddy should have been the next pope. They could have had a reality show about it, making the papacy.


ted said...

I just heard a sound bite of him on the radio. It sounded like the old Bela Lugosi Dracula. He said only, "you better run, Jew Boy."

Dwayne Hilty said...

Good question to much of what we know comes from second or third hand information. Sounds like a good epistemic question that would lead into a discussion about the nature of reality or how we know reality from non-reality. Another day perhaps.