I want to return today to what Pope Francis (pictured here) said earlier this week about how he views gay priests: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
I do this not to reopen the question of how either Christianity in general or the Catholic Church in particular has stood on the question of homosexuality. For my views on that, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page for an essay on what the Bible says about homosexuality.
Rather, I return to the pope's words because they represent one of two broad ways to approach, think about and live out religion.
The first way is dogmatic, didactic and mostly closed. It's full of rules against this or that. It sees a world plagued by evil. It focuses on trying to keep people out of hell. It always takes itself seriously.
The second way does not dismiss dogma or tradition but, rather, seeks to be open to what Christians call the movement of the Holy Spirit, whom I sometimes refer to as the God of possibilities. This way acknowledges there are rules and often good reasons for them but its focus is on the vibrancy and contingency of life. It sees a world created good and humankind created "very good," as one of the Genesis creation stories tells us. It focuses not on evil and hell but on joy and grace and -- maybe above all -- on the Benedictine virtue of humility. And it knows the value of humor.
Pope Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, clearly came out of the first camp. It's increasingly clear that Francis represents the second and, thus, is far more pastoral than B-16 or John Paul II usually were.
Now, I understand that this description is oversimplified and that there are elements of both approaches (plus approaches I haven't even mentioned) in all three popes. And no doubt in all people of faith there should be a healthy balance of both paths.
But what seems to be making Francis so appealing to most (not all) Catholics and certainly to the wider world is that by his words and deeds he is placing himself in the second camp. Which is also where I tend to reside. No wonder I find Francis appealing. Finally, I think this New Yorker piece is intriguing but may be a bit premature in crediting Francis already with redefining the papacy.
* * *
MORE BIGOTRY FROM IRAN'S LEADERS
Speaking of being dogmatic and didactic, we now have further proof that the theological thugs who run Iran are on the wrong side of history. They're now going after people of the Baha'i faith again. You have to lack a lot of self-confidence to attack other religions.