A Great Disturbance in the Force

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi had to sit down. He sensed the destruction of the planet Alderaan, even if it was halfway across the universe. He somehow knew a whole world had just been wiped out – a Jedi Master can sense such things. Those guys can sense what’s really going on – that’s the central conceit in those Star Wars movies – but you don’t have to be a Jedi Master to sense, in real time, when a whole world has just been wiped out. Just watch the news. Pope Francis flew into Andrews and was driven is his little Fiat – he’s a man of the people – to the White House. He spoke. People cheered. And the whole world of angry American conservatism had just been wiped out. Angry American conservatives didn’t cry out in terror. They weren’t suddenly silenced. But somehow that world seemed to be ending.

Darth Vader, all in black, had his Death Star. Pope Francis, all in white, just talked:

Welcomed with a fanfare of trumpets and a chorus of amens, Pope Francis introduced himself to the United States on Wednesday with a bracing message on climate change, immigration and poverty that ranged from the pastoral to the political.

On a day that blended the splendor of an ancient church with the frenzy of a modern rock star tour, Francis waded quietly but forcefully into some of the most polarizing issues of American civic life. Along the way, he underscored just how much he has upended the agenda of the Roman Catholic Church and reordered its priorities.

Perhaps no one was more pleased than President Obama, who greeted him with an elaborate arrival ceremony at the White House, where the pope explicitly embraced the administration’s efforts to combat climate change. At a later speech to American bishops, Francis, the first pope from Latin America, pressed for openness to immigrants, marking a signal day for Hispanics in the United States.

No Republicans said much of anything. They were suddenly silenced. The pope wasn’t on their side any longer:

While the last two popes focused on traditional moral issues like abortion and homosexuality, Francis left those to the side in Mr. Obama’s presence. With the bishops, he spoke about the “innocent victim of abortion” but mentioned the issue as only one of a long list of concerns, including children who die of hunger or in bombings, immigrants who “drown in the search for a better tomorrow” and an environment “devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.”

“Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home,” the pope told a crowd of thousands on the South Lawn of the White House in his first major speech in English. “As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”

On climate change and immigration and income inequality he’s with Obama, except for this:

In a low-key but evident break with Mr. Obama, Francis at the end of the day made a previously unannounced stop to see the nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor to underscore his support for religious freedom, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said. The Little Sisters religious order sued the federal government over the birth control mandate in Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

But that was it:

Mr. Obama thanked the pope for his help in restoring American diplomatic relations with Cuba and hailed him for speaking out for the world’s most- impoverished. “You shake our conscience from slumber,” he said. “You call on us to rejoice in good news and give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free.”

In his own remarks, the pope noted the country’s origins at a time when critics of illegal immigration were pushing to build a wall at the southern border. “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families,” Francis said.

Oh, snap! But that wasn’t the main issue:

He devoted more of his address to climate change than any other topic. “Mr. President,” Francis said, “I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.” He added that there was still time to heal the planet for its children. “To use a telling phrase of the Rev. Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note, and now is the time to honor it,” he said.

This was a disturbance in the Force. It was noted at the Republican Death Star, the Fox News studios on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan:

After Pope Francis addressed climate change while speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Fox Business host Stuart Varney, who has called global warming “nonsense” in the past, expressed “shock” for nearly the next 20 minutes over what he said were “political” remarks. … Although the pontiff was expected to address climate issues, Varney immediately reacted with shock.

“I believe the pope just walked right into the politics of climate change with a full-throated statement,” Varney told his panel. “It was politics, was it not?” … Fox News judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano asserted that the president had been tipped off about the pope’s remarks because the EPA director was seated in the first row. “In most civilized countries of the world, these environmental regulations are enacted by elected representatives,” he noted. “In the United States of America, they’re being enacted by executive fiat through the president and the EPA!”

“It is extraordinary that right from the get-go, a papal visit to the United States, the first time this pope has been in America, we go right into climate change,” Varney opined. “One would have thought that maybe there are things to talk about, like the persecution and slaughter of tens of thousands of Christians in North Africa.”

This went on for twenty minutes, these voices crying out in terror:

“Where’s the statement about saving my soul?” he asked. “The holy father is in the United States of America, a minister to my soul, the soul of all Catholics, all Christians. Come on!”

“I want to know how to get into heaven,” someone on Varney’s panel said.

Hey, the pope already told you. Save the planet. But there was this in an adjacent Fox News studio:

As many conservatives fret over Pope Francis’ views on climate change and income inequality ahead of his Thursday speech before Congress, Fox News host Shepard Smith chided those individuals who have criticized the pope for talking about “political” issues.

During Fox News coverage of Pope Francis’ arrival at the White House on Wednesday morning, host Bill Hemmer mentioned that the pontiff may discuss issues that both Democrats and Republicans may disagree with during his address on Thursday.

Smith was having none of that:

Smith responded to Hemmer by saying that “we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political.” Smith then listed five issues both Pope Francis and President Obama have focused on.

“Caring for the marginalized and the poor – that’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment,” he said. “Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming and … integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political?”

Then Smith really let loose:

“I don’t know what we expect to hear from an organization’s leader like the pope of the Catholic Church, other than protect those who need help, bring in refugees who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don’t have it,” he said. “They’re the words of the pope; they’re the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion.”

Some people won’t look in that mirror:

Amidst reports that Pope Francis would discuss issues like immigration, climate change, and income inequality, numerous conservative lawmakers have called on the pontiff to focus less on those issues. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) urged the pope to steer clear of the “politics” surrounding climate change and capitalism, and instead focus on abortion and marriage. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said he would boycott the pope’s speech to Congress, nothing that when Pope Francis “chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.”

The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson has more:

The pope addresses Congress Thursday and conservatives are fearing the worst. Their belief systems can tolerate a lot – laissez-faire economics, xenophobia – but Pope Francis’s emphasis on the Roman Catholic Church’s historic antipathy to capitalism has them in a dither.

The Wall Street Journal laments his overt embrace of the “progressive political agenda of income redistribution.” My Post colleague George Will writes that, “Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.”

It’s not clear, however, whether the Journal and Will’s argument is with the pope or with the Christianity of the saint whose name he took, or even more fundamentally, with the Nazareth carpenter whom Christians believe was the son of God.

Suppose, for instance, that the pope elects, in his address to Congress, to repeat one of that carpenter’s most famous quotes: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Yeah, suppose that:

Based on past performance, can we expect some Republican congressman to leap to his feet and shout, “You lie,” or Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to shake his head in dissent? Both occurrences greeted addresses to Congress by President Obama, speeches that were nowhere remotely as inflammatory as those in a recent papal encyclical, much less the Sermon on the Mount.

In that encyclical, Francis wrote that “saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises.”

In place of our current system, Francis has recommended giving workers more power – in particular, promoting worker-owned and -run cooperatives. Speaking to delegates from Italian cooperatives, he extolled “an authentic, true cooperative… where capital does not have command over men, but men over capital.” As Nathan Schneider has pointed out in an article in the Nation, the church has a rich history of supporting worker co-ops, including the Mondragon Corporation in Spain, which is the world’s largest co-op and which was founded by a priest. The U.S. Conference of Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a major funder of worker co-ops.

Capital should not have command over men? Men should have power over capital? No one thinks that way, or almost no one:

The primary author of legislation that would promote worker co-ops if Congress ever sought fit to pass it is one Bernie Sanders.

He’s Jewish, by the way. Meyerson simply points out no one should be surprised by any of this:

Francis’s critiques of capitalism aren’t peculiar to the left wing of the church. On the contrary, they echo the encyclicals of his predecessor popes – Benedict, John Paul II, all the way back to Pope Leo XIII in the 1890s – in favor of unions and against the sway that capital holds over nations and peoples.

Where Francis has departed from his predecessors is that he has moved from talking the talk to walking the walk. The simplicity of his lifestyle, his emphasis on spending time among the poor and giving workers more control of economies where the deck, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has said, is stacked against them, are all radical departures from past papal practice. So, too, is the tolerance he has shown to gays, lesbians and divorcees — a tolerance that has roused the ire of church conservatives, for whom intolerance to these and kindred groups seems to express the essence of their Catholicism.

These conservatives lament that Francis has de-emphasized the church’s traditional fear and loathing of women and sex. How a church governed by male celibates should have come to view its areas of core competency as gender relations and reproduction is a good question. By returning to the kind of issues that St. Francis and the Nazarene focused on – stewardship of the Earth, championing of the have-nots – Francis has been a great disappointment to those Catholics nostalgic for the spirit, if not the letter, of the Inquisition.

And millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror. There won’t be another Inquisition! How will we rid the world of heretics and perverts? There has been a disturbance in the Force, and Matt Taibbi has a bit of fun with that:

It’s been a long time since the left and right in America have had had a real fight for primacy in the religious space. For almost a generation now liberals have mostly conceded the very word faith, letting Republicans smother and monopolize the term like overprotective parents.

Overt religiosity is the norm on the GOP side, with God-stalking nutballs like Michele Bachmann or Ben Carson perennially front and center. Meanwhile, the closest thing to a famed religious liberal that America has seen over the span of many decades was probably Susan Sarandon’s nun character in Dead Man Walking, an anti-capital punishment parable whose religious message wasn’t believable even though it was a true story.

But now the script has flipped. The Republican frontrunner is Donald Trump, a man who is worse at naming Bible verses than Sarah Palin is at naming Supreme Court cases.

So the right has Donald Trump and left finally has its God Guy now:

Pope Francis won over urban liberals through writings like his 184-page encyclical on climate change, which described the earth as an “immense pile of filth.” Raised in Peronist Argentina, he also talks with varying degrees of vagueness about the “perverse” inequities of global capitalism, complaining for instance that a two-point drop in the stock market makes the news, while nobody notices when a homeless person dies of exposure.

This past weekend’s column by George Will perfectly expresses the sense of abject betrayal conservatives feel at a pope allowing himself to be appropriated by the global left, when he could be just railing against abortion and moral relativism like his recent predecessors.

You can always tell how mad George Will is by how much alliteration he uses. “Pope Francis’s Fact-Free Flamboyance” predictably seethes from the start:

“Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary. They would devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak…”

The notion that Will is upset with this pope on behalf of the poor is hilarious, but understandable. Conservatives loved the pre-Francis Catholic strategy for dealing with the poor. First, you create lots of cheap third-world factory labor by discouraging contraception. Then you give lip service to alleviating poverty by pushing a program of strictly voluntary charitable donations.

But there’s more:

Conservatives feel betrayed on another level. Much in the way Mormons believe Jesus will ultimately return to earth and settle in Missouri, conservatives have long accepted that the pope should be a secret American who believes in free enterprise, cries during Band of Brothers and would build his home in the United States if he had it to do all over again.

Thus a lot of the criticism from the right this week implies that this pope is insufficiently worshipful of America and Americans. They think his lack of reverence, for God’s chosen symbol of the miracle of capitalist production, traitorous, and moreover they’re offended that he doesn’t seem to think Americans are the best and most generous people on earth. Pollution and greed aside, doesn’t this pope know that some of us claim hundreds of dollars a year in charitable deductions?

“Does this pope understand America?” moaned Brian Kilmeade on Fox and Friends. “He’s talking about the greed of America, but does he understand what the capital of America has done for charitable causes?”

Will put it best, noting that what the pope fails to recognize about us Americans is that our greed and selfishness are actually our best qualities.

“He stands against… the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources,” Will wrote. “Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.”

Greed is good, isn’t it? The conservative right thinks so:

For his offenses, Pope Francis has earned himself a ticket onto the ever-expanding enemies list of the American political right, joining Black Lives Matter, Mexican immigrants, Muslims, feminists, Hollywood actors, college lit professors, Occupy Wall Street, whales, the French, Bill Maher, Canada, Sesame Street and other such undesirables. “Pure Marxism,” cried Rush Limbaugh about the pope’s ideas. “Hand-selected by the New World Order… The same people who gave us Obama gave us this pope,” cried Michael Savage. “Part of the globalist plan to destroy the world,” chimed in Alex Jones.

They think this guy is Darth Vader, but the left may have it wrong too:

A spate of articles in traditionally liberal newspapers and websites has appeared, each praising the pope and appropriating him as one of their own. Should you, the progressive, embrace the head of one of the most socially conservative organizations on earth? “Yes. Yes, you should,” says Jack Jenkins at ThinkProgress – “Especially if you want legislative action on immigration reform, climate change, or income inequality.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon took particular issue with George Will’s broadside against Francis, which I get. But beyond that she went after Will for misrepresenting Catholic values, which may tilt blue-state:

“I find it interesting when conservative guys like Will lose their minds over the idea of someone with a fair degree of authority on the subject of Catholicism – like, say, a pope – pointing out the actual stated values of one of the richest and most powerful religions in the world – values that include, uh oh, charity, humility and non-materialism.”

Taibbi isn’t buying it:

All this stuff is a drag. The American left is always at its most unlikeable when it’s being pious. And that’s just the secular, hey-that-joke-isn’t-funny kind of piety. If we have to add actual religious piety to the equation, we’re suddenly taking a lot of the charm out of not being a Republican. Watching progressives fawn over a pope is depressing and makes me want to go watch a Cheech and Chong movie.

I was raised Catholic. To me the Church is just a giant evil transnational corporation operating on a dreary business model, one that nurtures debilitating guilt feelings in its followers and then offers to make them go away temporarily in exchange for donations. I realize the Church does some nice things with the money it raises and that other people have a different opinion, but this is my experience. …

Meanwhile Francis chugs along as the head of one of the most socially regressive organizations on earth, doing nothing to take on the Church’s indefensible stances on things like birth control, gay rights, and discrimination against women, celibacy and countless other issues. He claims the moral authority to reform global capitalism, but he’s somehow not ready to tell teenagers that it’s okay to masturbate, which seems bizarre.

We may be taking all this far too seriously:

People have such impassioned political fights over the pope because everyone wants the endorsement of the guy closest to God. But what if he’s not closer to God, and is just a guy in a funny hat? Doesn’t that make all this fuss and controversy ridiculous? It seems strange that it’s the year 2015, and we still can’t say that out loud.

No, we can say that out loud, but Darth Vader was just a guy in a funny hat too, and there’s this:

Mike Huckabee suggested President Barack Obama “pretends to be” a Christian in knocking the President’s handling of Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S. … “I’m less concerned about what faith the person has. I’m more concerned about the authenticity of their faith and how that plays out in their politics … I’m also concerned about a guy that believes he’s a Christian and pretends to be and then says he is, but then does things that makes it very difficult for people to practice their Christian faith,” Huckabee said.

“I’m disappointed if someone says, ‘I’m a Christian,’ but you invite the pope into your home and then you invite a whole bunch of people who are at odds with the Catholic Church policy. I think there’s something very unseemly about that,” he added.

Obama invited some gay folks to the big ceremony welcoming Pope Francis. Case closed. And then there’s the man who is running away with the Republican nomination:

In an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network’s “The Brody File” at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, the Republican presidential front-runner was asked to describe what God means to him.

“Well I say God is the ultimate. You know you look at this?” Trump said, motioning toward an oceanfront golf course that bears his name. “Here we are on the Pacific Ocean. How did I ever own this? I bought it 15 years ago. I made one of the great deals they say ever. I have no more mortgage on it as I will certify and represent to you. And I was able to buy this and make a great deal. That’s what I want to do for the country. Make great deals. We have to, we have to bring it back, but God is the ultimate. I mean God created this, and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So nobody, no thing, no, there’s nothing like God.”

Well, that is a nice golf course – surrounded by million dollar homes on the cliffs just north of San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. But that’s Portuguese Bend. Read the big sign – it could all slip into to Pacific in an instant. God could do that. The geology is shaky. Donald Trump’s theology, such as it is, is also shaky. It is, however, the current theology of the American conservative right. George Will just put it more elegantly.

That may not matter now. One wonders, if when Donald Trump was chatting with the Christian Broadcast Network, he felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of conservative voices were suddenly silenced. Darth Vader didn’t blow up a planet. Pope Francis came to America.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to A Great Disturbance in the Force

  1. Dick Bernard says:

    I’m lifelong Catholic, and was in college when Pope John XXIII opened the windows during his term, beginning in the late 1950s. In my own blog, Sep 21 (click on my name to access it), I describe Pope Francis as a transformative figure, setting a new tone for the conversation, not only among Catholics. What is remarkable to me is that his colleague Cardinals elected him in the first place. The Church is not really a democracy after all. I’m sure not all the Cardinals like the winner; but enough of them did, apparently, to vote him in, and so do I. He is a positive leader.

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