I had a thought today that was sparked by something I overheard somewhere. [ed: that's a pretty vague beginning...better be a little more specific] [me: ok] What follows is a very rambling meditation of the relationship between Faith and Democracy.
There is much natural speculation following the death of the Holy Father as to who his replacement will be; more specifically, [ed: thanks!] [me: stop that!] the speculation revolves around what kind of policies the new Pope would enact: whether or not he'd allow women to become priests; or priests to marry; or gay priests to marry lesbians; and whether he'd "soften" the Catholic Church's stance on contraception and abortion.
These enumerated speculations seem pretty much like a wish-list made up by the DNC, and aren't particularly important to me; talking heads discussing what they don't understand is standard fare for TV and radio. Heck, talking head discussing what I don't understand is even more common!
But, as I said, it sparked a thought: where, exactly, do these people get the idea that the Church would change some of these long-held ideas?
Some of these things have a long tradition (an exclusively male celibate priesthood, for example) and it isn't likely that the new guy would overturn a policy of such duration on a whim. There is much debate about this world wide within the Church, but it isn't something that the new Pope is going to abolish with the stroke of a pen: ; this isn't "casual Fridays" sort of stuff.
The Church's opposition to abortion are even more problematic; leaving aside the whole "Culture of Death" thing -- on second thought, you simply can't leave that out! This is a central tenet of the the faith, and to abandon it would demolish the Church. Don't even think about it.
But the talking heads act as if points of dogma are subject to popular will, that since "most Catholics" believe one way or another, that this should have some effect upon the decisions of the Church. That simply isn't so. One of the enduring joys of the Church is the way it "Expresses Faith through the Ages" not "Expresses the Age through the Faith." At least, that's the way it's supposed to work; there are numerous historical examples where they got it wrong, usually with disastrous results.
What I'm trying to get to is the idea that some people act as if they can apply democratic principles to articles of faith.
I don't think that anywhere this is more apparent than in the United States, where the love of democracy and public polling is probably greater then anywhere else in the world; and where so many citizens are self-identified as religious people.
In our country, people are free to switch churches at will to find one that fits their ideas of faith. For the most part, this is a good thing, but in another way, it's a very easy thing and that can be bad.
Faith, at it's best, challenges a believer to be a better person, to reform their life and find salvation. There are plenty of folks who respond to the challenge offered by a church by...changing churches. That's a personal choice and I wouldn't question any particular person about it, but we all know it's a reality. The pot-smoking free-love churches that spring up from time to time get lots of parishioners, until someone smokes up the treasury and runs off with the pastor's wife.
As a Catholic, I know that the only influence I have over the Papal church is through my prayers. I am challenged to follow their teachings and for the most part they are not onerous. I may switch from parish to parish, but I don't leave the Church.
This is at odds with my traditions as an American, where I believe in my heart of hearts that I have a right to speak out on a host of issues and argue my point and if I am persuasive enough I can eventually see my policies accepted and enacted.
I have no such hopes in my faith life, and really, that's fine with me. Others disagree, and that's fine with me as well. But I don't want to belong to a church that is inconstant and subject to politicking. (Whether I actually have such a sturdy rock is another question, but allow me my illusions.)
So, these talking heads on TV are postulating that the Church will change drastically or otherwise under the leadership of a new Pope. They are drawn to discuss this because the only model most TV commentators have for something like this is the inauguration of a new president, with the concomitant speculation about what policies he would enact for domestic and foreign policy.
Or, they are considering that this is like hiring a new pastor for their community church, where a vote by the church council will determine who gets the job.
It's not like either of these things.
I think that this idea that democracy should influence faith, and the resultant push-back from many faithful is reflected in several ways in this country.
One way is when people desire that Creationism / Intelligent Design be inserted into classroom Science curriculum. In this case, the people who believe democracy should influence faith are the ID supporters themselves, while the faithful who push back are Scientists, whose faith is in the theory of evolution (or, more accurately, their faith is that ID is not Science and does not belong in a science classroom).
[This is something I personally agree with: ID has no place in the classroom. It is not a theory, in the sense that this word is used in a scientific context. It has no predictive power, and as such is more accurately described as a hypothesis. The objection to evolution as "just a theory" belittles the distinction between a theory and a hypothesis. I may have a hypothesis that little elves make pancakes every morning for the Dean of Harvard Medical School -- this is not the same as a theory.]
I find this interesting. It is proper to have faith in science and technology. If we did not have such faith, no one would ever pick up a phone and make a reservation to make a plane trip, then drive to Starbucks to use their WiFi to surf the net to read this drivel.
But the faith in science is similar to religious faith (I'm hardly the first to articulate this) in that once a threshold of evidence has been reached, a person begins to believe. The nature of the evidence is different, that is all.
Can, or should, democracy influence faith? I don't think so. A person shouldn't believe based on what a plurality of their fellow citizens believe, whether it be in the Immaculate Conception, or Intelligent Design or Punctuated Equilibrium.