Stop Applauding the Pope: A Word on the Misguided Praise from Progressives

By Matt Cerami | 22 June 2015
The Humanist

One day I’ll wake up and the liberal love fest with Pope Francis will be over—but until that day comes, I want to make something clear: Pope Francis is not a good person. He might not look so bad cloaked in the shadow of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, but I urge you to look at him in the light. Gauged on his own, and gauged against other more progressive, tolerant, and intelligent social leaders, Francis is revealed to be little but the latest and shiniest vehicle through which the Vatican can push its oldest and dustiest doctrines. He should not be praised by progressives; he should not be adored by them; and in light of the recent publication of his encyclical on climate change (among other things), I say that he should not, under any circumstance, be taken as a credible or relevant source on anything that’s happening anywhere outside the high and gilded walls of his ancient Roman castle.

By some sorcery of PR, the Catholic Church has convinced a frightening number of progressives, humanists, and otherwise rational thinkers that Francis is one of their own—but this is a man who rejects gay marriage in fear of its potential to destroy the “traditional” family; a man who passionately supports, on theological grounds, and much like his predecessors, an international prohibition on birth control, even in poor and AIDS-ravaged countries; a man who has compared transgender people to nuclear weapons in their ability to wreak havoc on the “natural order of creation”; and a man who, in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, victim-blamed the dead writers with the suggestion that free speech must end where criticism of religion begins. He is a man who, in the tradition of all popes before him, and through either indifference or intention, continues to incubate the epidemic of pedophilia that so plagues the ranks of his subordinates. I’ll say it again: Pope Francis is not a good person.

In the wake of the encyclical officially released last Thursday—an apparently profound document that has conservatives frothing at the mouth and liberals swooning with anime-hearts in their eyes—we should ask ourselves, why do we care? Why does anybody care what the pope has to say about anything? And more specifically, why do humanists, progressives, and secularists care what the pope has to say about science?

As you well know the Vatican didn’t apologize to Galileo until 1992—and to that point, I believe that any praise given to the pope’s scientific declarations does a grave disservice both to the scientific method and to those who genuinely employ it. In other words, Francis, that’s not how this works; you don’t get to cherry-pick scientific consensus when it suits your ideological agenda; you don’t get to uphold the veracity of scientific discoveries while still believing in virgin births and demonic possessions; you don’t get to refer to the data to prove one point while ignoring the data that proves others—say, like, that homosexuality is natural and harmless, or that birth control provides extraordinary benefits to the women of the poor—a community of people that this religious royalty, it seems, is only really concerned with as his rhetorical tool of choice.

Above all, Francis, you don’t get a pat on the back for finally observing and acknowledging something that rational people have already known about for decades; a lag in information that is especially embarrassing considering the pontifical claims about direct communication with the creator of the universe.

What, exactly, has Pope Francis said that hasn’t been said better, before and elsewhere? Which phrase caused this sudden liberal amnesia in regards to the Vatican’s 2000-year history of getting everything wrong in the worst possible ways? Which word was it that has somehow legitimized, in the eyes of a previously critical audience, the musings of out-of-touch old men clinging to even more irrelevant old books?

Maybe I missed it. Maybe it’s the degree to which this “scientific” encyclical is painted in religious rhetoric and bigoted jabs at humanistic values—a point that progressives again seem to be willingly glossing over—ignoring the part where Francis condemns abortion as a form of “population control,” and the part where, thrusting a cloaked dagger into the back of the LGBTQ community, he explains that in order to most fully accept “the entire world as a gift from the Father,” we must embrace our “femininity or masculinity,” accept “our bodies as God’s gift,” and stop trying to “cancel out sexual differences.”

Yes—what a modern, sophisticated, and tolerant man. Let us praise his courage.

Or rather, let’s ignore him—the more deserved response—and let’s, as a community, stop aiding in the perpetuation of the cultural myth that the Catholic Church is to be taken seriously. It’s true that, given his social and political clout, Francis’ proclamations can inspire otherwise indifferent people to action. But it’s also true that the only reason he has this clout—social, political, or otherwise—is because people continue to revere the intellectual output of the Vatican as if it were meaningful or relevant in any way. From a religious person this is expected—from a secularist, skeptic, atheist, or a humanist I see it as something morally indefensible; you bolster the power and credibility of an institution that has historically been and still currently is antagonistic to our every goal.

Matt Cerami was a summer 2015 editorial intern for TheHumanist.com and the Humanist magazine. He has BA degrees in English and philosophy, and an MA in bioethics from Stony Brook University. He also studied religion as a graduate student at the University of Missouri.

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40 COMMENTS

  1. Are you a good person Matt? Why do you twist everything? Regarding Charlie Hebdo he said that those in that position needed to use common sense. He did not blame the writers nor said that religion shouldn't be criticized. Do you want him to change the Catholic religion according to the flavor of the month? At least he doesn't call for the mass slaughter of transgenderes like other religions do but you probably won't write about that doctrine.

  2. To me one of the worst thing is that people can't realize that
    The popes are false prophets.
    The sad thing is they have lead astray so many million of people from the true word of our savior.
    By telling people and making people believe their doctrine.
    And so sad that people don't read the word of God and know God plan of salvation.
    That they think by receiving the so called sacraments that they have a ticket to Heaven.
    So sad because God said u are saved by Grace .
    No other way.
    Where does it say anything about a Pope in the Bible where do these men get the authority to make some one a saint ? Doesn't make sense to me.
    Why would any human put there life into the hands of some man to get them to Heaven? And why would anyone trust someone with there soul? We are responsible for our own decisions about Our God to accept him into our hearts or reject him it is our decision no one can make that for u.
    Yet they tell u in the catholic religion that u don't need to read the Bible we will tell u everything u need to know about your salvation . How can anyone with any reasonable
    Knowledge figure out that pedophiles priests Bishop popes can save a person soul doing the things they do against God teaching please tell me as I would like to know.
    How do u think our God is going to react to these Popes Bishop Priests Nuns who have rape our little children. What do u suppose our Heavenly Father is going to say
    Doe any of u Catholic people ever think about this ? we are talking about our soul for
    Ever and ever or don't u know about the lake of fire that God talks about in the book of Revlation.

  3. The Catholic Church says that Jesus is the head of the Church. But Jesus said in John 8 that it was okay to stone a woman to death for adultery as long as those who stoned her were sinless themselves. He gave out to the Jews for not killing men who cursed their parents. I would be concerned about a faith like that getting too much power. It did heinous things when it was able in the past. The pope saying capital punishment is a sin is lying. The Bible endorses it strongly in the name of God.

    If pregnancy killed 999 out of every 1000 women the pope would still ban abortion. His policies kill women in the Third World in particular who are denied the right to abortion in Catholic medical centres.

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