Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Pope, the Atheist, the Real, and the Good

A marvelous, heartening recent interview between Pope Francis and the editor of Italian newsmagazine La Repubblica has been making the rounds lately, and a full reading of it does nothing to diminish the smittenness many open-hearted Christians feel towards il Papa.

I had initial concerns, I'll admit.  Twitter wasn't the best format for Cardinal Bergoglio.  But he has, as they say, exceeded expectations.  Kind.  Humble.  Gracious.   He has the intellectual curiosity of a Jesuit, the personal discipline of an Ignatian, and the joyous grace of a Franciscan.

Reading through the English version of that interview is worth your time, particularly because it is an exchange between a committed atheist and a Pope that manages to be both mutually respectful and playful.

One of the dynamics that struck me in their exchange was the degree to which the Pope cares about what is real.  Meaning, he grounds the conversation in a gracious, practical mysticism.  It's an approach that views the actual and physical manifestation of mercy, kindness, and forbearance into the world as of far more importance than ideology or doctrinal purity.

This stance seems to charm the atheistic editor, as the Pope chooses not to lecture or convert, but to seek commonality of understanding.  Together, they explore the concept of the Good, with the Pope defining it...clearly and that which spiritually and materially expresses self-giving love for all.

The case the Pope makes, while clearly grounded in his tradition, is also one that his atheistic conversation partner is able to engage.   It's not the in-group babeling of a particular worldview.  It's a case, clear and cogent, for the material and tangible benefits of what is most fundamental about Christian faith.

What is remarkable about this is twofold.  One, how simple and self-evident this approach seems.  Of course this is what is essential.  Well, duh.

Two, how effective it is for spreading Good News.  I mean, gracious, it's so obviously good, by the wild and crazy standard that it makes the world discernably better.  The measure of the good, after all, is not that you think it's good, or that those who share your worldview think it's good, or how aggressively you proclaim it.

It's about the impacts your "good" has on your relationships with others.  If your defense of your "good" cause anger, frustration, pain, and anxiety in all those around you, chances are the thing you describe as "good" is not grounded in the Deep Reality of existence.

It is not Good with a capital Gee.