Pope Francis’s Recent Comments Make the Faith Seem Implausible

By John Zmirak Published on June 30, 2017

The Catholic News Service released a story on Thursday in which Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in Rome. His talk was a mix of uplifting sentiments and unbalanced, misleading statements. Half-truths, which out of context might suggest that some atheists’ objections to Christianity have merit. Atheists on the right, for instance, often accuse Christians of embracing naive pacifism and poverty.

Never With Violence

Let’s start with the headline — which no, the Pope didn’t write. But the official Catholic News Service released it, and I’ve seen no correction from Rome. The story is titled: “Pope: Christians fight evil with love, sacrifice, never with violence.”  

Here’s how the story unpacked that:

In the Gospel of Matthew (10:16-22), Jesus warned his disciples that he was sending them “like sheep in the midst of wolves.” They could be shrewd and prudent, the pope said, but never violent because evil can never be defeated with evil.

That is why Jesus sent his people into the world like himself, as sheep — without sharp teeth, without claws, without weapons — Pope Francis said. In fact, “true defeat” for a Christian is to succumb to the temptation of responding to the world’s resistance and hatred with violence, revenge and evil.

The only weapons Christians possess are the Gospel and the hopeful assurance that God is always by their side, especially in the worst of times.

Reading that, I spattered coffee on the screen. My father got on a troop ship in 1945 as part of the U.S. Army. He went to “fight evil.” With violence. So does courageous a Kurdish sniper in the video below. She’s part of a women’s self-defense militia that duels with the rapists and killers of ISIS.

 


 

These Christians Fight

As The Stream has reported, thousands of Syrian Christians fight alongside the Kurds. Are they being un-Christian? Would the editors of CNS care to fly over to Raqqa, disdaining any military protection, and explain that to those Christians — whose sisters and daughters face kidnapping and sale to sex-trafficking gangs?

At this point, defenders of squishy, quasi-pacifism might say, “Of course, there are certain exceptions. Like the Holocaust.” To which the proper answer is: “What part of ‘never’ don’t you understand? Never means NEVER.”

Drip by drip, the incessant stream of such unbalanced, one-sided assertions makes the faith itself less plausible. If Christian morality were in fact that absurd, how could we go on defending it? Why should we?

And full-on, consistent pacifists are making inroads under Pope Francis. They held a conference at the Vatican last year. The Church is mulling whether to make a saint of the political crank Dorothy Day, who opposed fighting the Nazis in Europe, the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, or the North Korean regime that invaded then-helpless South Korea. Pope Francis himself in 2015 denounced all weapons manufacturers as “un-Christian.” In the same speech, he complained that the Allies had not bombed the train tracks leading to Auschwitz. Which would have required… hold your breath… weapons.

Making Converts for the Alt-Right

Such sloppy, lazy rhetoric has consequences. It makes some Christians squeamish or cowardly about the just use of prudent force against evil. But it also does something worse.

Drip by drip, the incessant stream of such unbalanced, one-sided assertions about Christian morality makes the faith itself less plausible. If the implications or consequences of Christian morality were in fact that absurd, how could we go on defending it? Why should we?

Are we really to believe that Christian morality requires open borders to Islam (as Pope Francis has suggested)? That it considers the use of violence against ISIS somehow a compromise of “pure” Christian principles? That the Church wishes everyone on earth to be as materially poor as Jesus and His apostles?

Loving Poverty Rather than the Poor

The pope said that almost explicitly in the same address. As CNS reports:

The Christian lifestyle must be marked by “poverty,” he said, noting how Jesus talks to his disciples more about “stripping” themselves than about “getting dressed.”

“Indeed, a Christian who is not humble and poor, detached from wealth and power and, above all, detached from him- or herself, does not resemble Jesus,” he said.

Again, these are half-truths. Put baldly, without the proper context that explains the good uses of wealth or the need for wise stewardship, they encourage extreme positions that preen as “pure” and “prophetic.” Positions like that of David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox theologian who wrote in First Things that it is intrinsically evil to acquire investment capital — full stop.

Qualifying extreme statements like these does not amount to “watering down” Christianity — unless you think that Christianity is poison. Pacifism and hatred of private property are not elements of the “pure” Christianity, which we compromise because we live in a fallen world. Or because we are worldly. They are falsehoods. They’re little pieces of the truth torn away from its body and cloned in a lab — like monstrous toes or giant prostates.

It’s the task of our pastors to present the full truth of Christ in the bright light of reason. Not to pose as other-worldly prophets, at the cost of replacing Christian truth with a Gnostic caricature incompatible with life. Christ came to give us life, and that more abundantly.

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  • john appleseed

    Leftists like Francis usually take the Bible’s commands for individuals (such as the need for generosity & forgiveness) & try to apply them to governments.

  • Patmos

    Why did Jesus tell his disciples to acquire swords then? Maybe to put some tasty jam on some bread and offer it to their enemy?

    • howe

      Thanks for beating me to it. Yes, Jesus did recommend a sword. No .38s in those days.

      • Dean Bruckner

        Or .45s or .223s or .3006s or .50s or 00s.

        • howe

          Or bear spray.

  • ArthurMcGowan

    “Investment capital” is immoral? Like First Things’s office space, computers, printing presses, ink, paper? Seems as though the cranks are taking over.

    • Zmirak

      Help them by not giving them more filthy lucre to tempt their delicate souls.

      • Dean Bruckner

        David Bentley Hart, however brilliant he may be (and he is), is still somewhat of a crank, and always seems to have been. For example, when he was writing with relish about older family members offering woodcock sacrifices to Greek gods while naked in the garden. I don’t think First Things has stripped off their clothes, so to speak, to frolic with him. I would give them a break.

  • Charles Burge

    Here’s a quote from the Encyclopedia of Bible difficulties by Gleason L. Archer:

    “In the New Testament itself, the calling of a soldier is considered an honorable one, if carried out in a lawful and responsible fashion (Matt. 8:5; Luke 3:14; Acts 10:1-6,34-35). Paul even uses the analogy of faithful service in the army as a model for Christian commitment (2 Tim 2:4), without the slightest suggestion of reproach for military service. In a similar vein is the description in Ephesians 6:11-17 of the spiritual armor to be put on by a Christian warrior in the service of his Lord. There does not appear to be anywhere in Scripture, either in the Old Testament or the New, for the concept of a “good” God who enjoins pacifism on His followers.”

    • Charles E Flynn

      Thank you.

      If there were something inherently immoral about military service, I doubt that Catholics would be quoting at every mass the words of a Roman Centurion whose faith impressed Christ himself.

  • Dean Bruckner

    Are we supposed to be taking the Pope’s counsel seriously but not literally?

    The Vatican owns a thing or two, I guess, and I expect there is at least someone there with a gun. At least I hope so. Maybe he could be saying let the state handle the violence, but that doesn’t seem to be it either.

    My best guess is that he’s believed the Big Lie of Marxism far more than he should, and is passively watching the train of civilization hurtle down the tracks to the mile-deep canyon without a trestle. We don’t know what he is doing in his prayer closet, to be sure, but the outward signs of wisdom appear to be rather missing.

    • RebelwithaCause

      The Vatican hires mercenaries, the Swiss Guard to defend the city. They are weaponised with the either the halberd and small firearms

  • Janet Baker

    We ourselves need to be very scrupulous in usage of vocabulary. In Catholic moral theology, “violence” is defined as “the unjust use of force”. All violence is force, but the converse doesn’t hold. The two words are not interchangeable. A few times in this otherwise-fine article I did see the word “violence” used when the context indicated usage of “force”. Specific words have specific meanings. We will undermine ourselves if we aren’t very careful.

    • Charles Burge

      I think this is an excellent point. I wonder if the Catholic leadership regrets electing a pope who isn’t a scholar. I’m not suggesting that Pope Francis is a dimwit, but if I recall correctly, he himself highlighted his more humble background as a positive contrast from his predecessors. I’m also not denigrating a life spent working in the metaphorical trenches, but I think a position which serves as a de facto spokesperson demands someone who is articulate, who knows the power of words and which words to choose in certain situations, and who has given a lot of thought to the intricacies and nuances of the matters he chooses to comment on.

  • mr. producer

    Its interesting that J. Zmirak brings up Gnosticism, because that is what Bergoglio and “Francis Mercy” is all about. Gnostics believe that the physical is so corrupt that it is unredeemable, so it doesn’t really matter how much we sin. Its the spirit that matters. Hence, why not divorce and remarriage if it leads you to a higher level of spiritualty? Same goes for sodomy. The Jews and Freemasons in Argentina saw this in Bergoglio, and how he helped to destroy the Catholic faith in that country, and knew he was their man. So they orchestrated with the other traitors to the faith (Marx, Kasper, et al) to get him elected to the papacy. Bergoglio is an anti-Christ, just like them. We cannot be rid of this evil man soon enough.

  • Jason Baker

    I often wonder if religious leaders actually read the Bible.

  • Vincent J.

    “… like monstrous toes or giant prostates.”

    Giant prostates? No need to clone them; I have one, and I got the natural way. 🙁

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