THE news that Jesus would have supported gay marriage among the
clergy came to us from Sir Elton John, a man with excellent
celebrity contacts. It made the front page of Metro. The
singer also had kind words for the Pope: "He has stripped
Christianity down to the bare bones and said it's basicallyall
about love and inclusiveness. That has to be encouraged by the
Church of England, too."
Of course, none of this is actually true, but it's a very
interesting glimpse of the impression that Pope Francis has made. I
think that many people inside the Church underestimate the appeal
of love and inclusiveness, not just because they're difficult.
(Forgiveness is a different matter. "What is Sweetest? Sweetest is
to see your enemies repent and their women acknowledge your
headship," as I'm sure that Genghis Khan would have said.) But
there is a kind of religious temperament which relishes the
consciousness of sin and awkwardness.
I was talking earlier this week with someone who has been doing
research into conservative Evangelical churches, and they pointed
out that the sheer weirdness of the doctrine of substitutionary
atonement makes it seem credible in today's society: anyone who
believes in something so out of kilter with the moral sense of the
world around them will tend to feel a little ashamed, if not
guilty, all the time, and this in turn will lend a feeling of
credibility to the doctrine that we are all intrinsically rotten. A
loving and inclusive Church wouldn't do that job at all.
THIS brings us once more to the curious case of Pope Francis and
his bifurcated reputation. The Economist's excellent blog
on religion, Erasmus - which is the consistently best source of
thoughtful and thought-provoking angles on the world's religious
scene - had picked over the Pope's recent interview with a
Spanish-speaking paper, and concluded that he was a Leninist in his
view of war.
This is a much more nuanced and interesting point than the
theropod harrumphings of American blowhards such as Glen Beck. "By
positing a link between capitalism and war, [Francis] seems to be
taking an ultra-radical line: one that consciously or unconsciously
follows Vladimir Lenin in his diagnosis of capitalism and
imperialism as the main reason why world war broke out a century
ago," The Economist wrote.
This conclusion was backed up with a long and fair quote -
"After denouncing the 'atrocity' of youth unemployment, Francis
observed that: 'We are discarding an entire generation to maintain
an economic system that can't hold up any more, a system that to
survive must make war, as all great empires have done. But as a
third world war can't be waged, they make regional wars. . . they
produce and sell weapons, and with this, the balance sheets of the
idolatrous economies, the great world economies that sacrificeman
at the feet of the idol of money, are resolved.'"
So you can see where the charge of "Leninism" came from. The
Economist, naturally, believes that capitalism is not a
particularly warlike form of social organisation, and certainly not
a uniquely warlike one. But that isn't quite the argument that the
Pope was making, nor, I think, the one that Lenin made. That was
about a link between capitalism and imperialism rather than
capitalism and war in all its forms. Again, it is possible to make
counter-arguments, though they would have to deal with the
existence of American military bases in almost every country of the
world today. At the risk of sounding like a proper Communist, I
suggest that it is not a coincidence that the largest capitalist
power in history is also the largest military one.
But, in any case, it was an interesting hare to start; and the
story came back to life when the Pope himself responded to the blog
post, asked about it by an Italian newspaper. According to The
Independent's report, "The 77-year-old pontiff. . . said: 'I
can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of
the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel.'
"He made the comments after being asked about a blog post in
The Economist magazine that said he sounded like a
Leninist when he criticised capitalism and called for radical
"Citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the
sick and the needy, the Pope said: 'Communists say that all this is
communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one
can say to them: "but then you are Christian".'"
IT WOULD be fascinating to know what The Daily Telegraph
had to say about this - but, as part of its recent sackings, it got
rid of Damian Thompson; so the reasoned defence of war and
imperialism as consistent with all the best liturgies will have to
appear somewhere else.