Thoughts On The Papal Visit And Catholicism

The Pope has come and gone and the United States is still reeling from his visit. Speculation and debates have sprung up in the last few days concerning many of the things that Pope Francis has said or done. We thought we’d take this opportunity in the aftermath of the Papal visit to share some of our thoughts here at Geeks Under Grace. In this article you will read contributions from both GUG writer Silas Green and I. We offer our own insights, criticisms, and overall opinions concerning the matter. Please read on and if you have any thoughts of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

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Silas’ Take

According to CNN, in his speech to congress “Pope Francis fundamentally rearranged the political priorities for American Catholics in public life.” It says something about the current state of religion and politics that priorities would need to be rearranged in the first place, but as important as the papal visit was to many, believers and non-believers alike, I don’t think much is actually going to change.
I’m an Evangelical Christian, not a Catholic, so I don’t believe in the authority or infallibility of the Pope’s office when it comes to spiritual matters. But since many regard him as the highest Christian authority this side of Heaven, when he visits our country to talk to our leaders, it has the potential to rock the boat. I just don’t think it has rocked it that much.
I actually love a great deal of what the Pope has to say. We might disagree about a lot of doctrine, but I’m glad he’s using his authority to address things like how we treat the poor in this country, immigrants, the death penalty, and rampant racism. It’s unfortunate that his message is going to be appropriated by both sides of the Culture War that is raging in this country, and not really have the chance to affect much positive change.
One of the highlights of the Pope’s message—one the media has certainly run with—has been his statement about atheists being redeemed. According to the Huffington Post’s headline, “Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics.” This is the kind of statement that is sure to make the hairs on the back of the necks of Evengelicals stand up. After all, the Bible is pretty clear about the good things we do not being enough to save us. That’s why we needed a Savior in the first place. But this is actually a case of media sensationalism. The Pope isn’t quite as liberal in his doctrine as Internet memes and fake quotes would have us believe.  His actual words were, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter  that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” And most Catholics get that what he is doing here is trying to reach out to atheists and find common moral ground, not promising them salvation if they die an atheist.
The Pope also took some symbolically powerful action, such as hanging out with the homeless for a day instead of politicians. It’s not the kind of thing that will change the world on its own, but it’s a nice gesture. Hopefully it inspires people.
And he seems to have had a private meeting with Kim Davis, the Clerk who is famously refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, in spite of the Supreme Court ruling. This has come as a bit of a shock to many on the liberal side of the political aisle, since the Pope has previously said some positive (not to be confused with condoning) things about gays. Unfortunately this meeting is one more symptom of the primacy of the Culture War in the U.S., which is a divide that seeks to pull everyone in the country to one side or the other. And the Pope has done an admirable job of trying to stand above all that—when FOX News pundits are not likening him to “the most dangerous person on the planet”—or at least not making it his focus. But it’s clear that he is taking sides, whether against capitalism or gay marriage. Everyone wants a piece of him, and everyone is wary of him.
So what does this all mean for us? For Christianity and America? In the end I think not much. The Pope came and said a lot of things. A few waves will be felt, but in the end Catholic doctrine about salvation hasn’t changed at all, Evangelicals will continue to ignore it, politicians won’t behave any differently, the homeless will remain homeless (except for the thirty or so that the Vatican is opening a shelter for), and the Pope’s stance on the issue of gay marriage—which hasn’t changed—will be a little more clear to the media. I could be wrong. Maybe the boat really has been rocked. Maybe CNN is right and the Pope’s speech has completely changed Catholic priorities in the U.S. Time will tell.

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Nestor’s Take

I would have to agree with much of what Silas wrote and I would also agree that Pope Francis’ visit to the United States has had much of an impact in the ongoing culture war. He did a lot of things, some biblical, some not. I am, however, a bit disappointed as to how some Christians approached the subject matter at hand. Again, as Silas mentioned in his thoughts, I had a few issues concerning some of the things allegedly stated by the Pope that were sensationalized by the media.
I believe that many of the things that were stated by some believers seemed to be taken out of context in order to have some sort of “ammunition” against the Pope and Catholicism as a whole, and I truly get it. I am an ex-Catholic-turned-Protestant Christian. I realize that there are errors in Catholicism from a biblical standpoint. I do not believe that Pope Francis is the “vicar of Christ”, nor do I believe that he, nor any priests in the Catholic church have the power to forgive us of our sin (1 Timothy 2:5, John 14:6, 1 John 1:9). Ironically enough, one of my main issues with the Papal visit wasn’t only with the Pope and the doctrinal errors brought about from the Catholic church, but with how Christians engaged the culture and other Catholics.
Let’s be clear here: we are not doing ourselves (and Christ) any favors by attacking Catholics and taking Papal quotes out of context. It just makes us as Christians look bad, uneducated, willing to jump the gun on subjects that can easily be explained through meaningful dialogue. If we want to expose the errors brought about by Catholicism and its doctrines and history, let us focus on exactly that, its doctrines and history.
A few days ago I had a chat with a Catholic member of our Geeks Under Grace community page who began to educate me on the doctrine of Ex cathedra. I, admittedly, have never heard of this doctrine, so I decided to do some quick research and found Google giving the following definition as it is quoted by Dictionary.com:
“Ex cathedra is Latin for “from the chair.” Roman Catholics believe that the pope speaks infallibly when speaking ex cathedra on questions of faith or morals, such as when Pope Pius XII declared in 1950 that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was physically taken up to heaven after her death.”
I especially took some issue with the last part, where the definition stated that Pope Pius XII supposedly declared through his “infallible” (or “perfect”) state that Mary was physically taken up to heaven after her physical death (also know as the Catholic doctrine of “The Assumption of Mary”). The first question I asked the individual I was having a dialogue with was, “Where is that written in the Bible?”
The answer? It’s not.
Second question I asked was, “If the Pope is infallible (without error) in the state of Ex cathedra, then why would he declare something that completely contradicts the Scriptures?” The Catholic fellow I was having the discussion with was not able to directly answer this question, but instead assumed that this particular doctrine was true because we can see other examples of other prophets being taken up to heaven (the individual used 2 Kings 2:11 to make their point). Again, this statement in itself brought about a number of other questions: Was Mary a prophet? Why would God assume a dead body? Is Mary’s spirit not already with the Lord? Safe to say that the red herrings thrown by the individual were no match for my overtly curious questions and they soon backed off and wished me a good night and a “God bless you” before thanking them for the discussion as well.
Why do I recount this story? Is it to prop myself up on my biblical prowess and belittle the other for not standing firm with my hard-hitting questions? Absolutely not. I simply use this example to show us how we as Christians need to engage those who, although may love Jesus and recognize him as Lord and Savior, are being deceived by other doctrines (and I do realize that there are a majority of Catholic readers who visit our site and will take issue with my stance).
We need to engage the culture and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through educating ourselves about issues, lining them up with biblical truth, and educating those who need to hear the Good News, a process known as Biblical (or Christian) apologetics. What I have seen from a lot of Christians was a failure in Christian apologetics. By taking phrases out of context and using it to bash the Pope and Catholics in general, we only make Christ (and ourselves) look bad. As I stated in near the beginning of my piece, if one wants to rightly divide the Word and educate another, our efforts need to be on the doctrines and history of the religion or ideology we are looking to engage and not on the individual’s person.
Not only do we need to approach Catholics in this manner, but also Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and anyone who has yet to hear the amazing news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ, and no one on earth (not even the Pope himself) can offer that (Romans 3:9-20).

Nestor Arce

Nestor Arce is the editor for the Christian Living section of Geeks Under Grace and periodically contributes to the Movies section. He is currently busy trying to watch "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" 37 more times.

2 Comments

  1. na on October 18, 2015 at 4:33 am

    Warning: I sound really rough in this post. I’m not trying to be hurtful or aggressive, it’s just my personality makes me a very blunt individual.

    As a Catholic, I suppose I could find your article amusing, but as a philosopher, I find it simply naive.

    To attempt to relate everything back the scripture is like trying to relate all medical practices to a set of textbooks published by Hippocrates. Exemplary as the work may be, knowledge on the subjects has progressed far beyond his works, and knowledge of the world at large extends far beyond Scriptural accounts. Ironically, you’re believing in a collection of books (yes, the Bible is a collection of books, not a single book, despite it being bound by one cover) whose authenticity was determined by who? – The Catholics. And when? Many many years AFTER the actual events. One could argue that the truth of these books extends beyond the Catholic boundaries (i.e. the Catholics aren’t necessarily the “correct” interpreters of these books), but at the same time, you’re relying on this group’s opinions on the credibility of these documents. One could argue that the source is irrelevant by attempting to prove the historicity of the Bible (though, pardon, but I doubt you’re a historian who has looked deeply into this stuff), but like a good atheist would ask, Where’s the evidence? Not to be offensive, but I find most popular “Christian science” sources to be laughable, and it’s no wonder atheists and agnostics with any sense aren’t being converted this way.

    I want to see people converted to Christianity as much as you do (or at least, I assume we’re on the same page here), but IMO “solo scriptura” is one of the biggest running philosophical jokes of the past 500 years since it’s conception. My bag is this: It’s basically asking you to ignore thousands of years of research, thousands of years of sharing ideas, thousands of years of studying logic and reasoning and telling you that theological truth rests in a single book. Many suggest this book confirms itself – it speaks about truth, so therefore, it must be true – but we know that’s the Bootstrap Fallacy. I’m not saying the Bible is wrong, but I am saying that the Bible is NOT self-sufficient as a source of truth. It must be interpreted and understood within the entire context of human knowledge, not just within itself (oh, and some supplementary Bible-study material by Dr. Bymybook).

    Now, philosophically, I find it incredibly depressing that people make judgments on the truth of something based on personal encounters with others. This seems to be a natural thing for most people (and it’s where we get “first impressions count” sort of thing), so I can’t do much about it but inform. However, I’d like to point out that if you really, truly want truth, you need to go digging. Yes, it’s tiring, yes, it’s long. Yes, you’ll go down all sorts of bunny trails to get there. Yes, you will probably have to read hundreds if not thousands of documents to get there (unless you, by luck, read the best ones… not likely), but you do this in your life anyways, so it shouldn’t sound like the monumental task that you may think it is. I think in the Information Age, as we are in now, people are spoiled by having answers at their finger tips. Truth is, Google doesn’t have all the answers, and it doesn’t know which answers are truth, it just knows where to find tons of answers, right or wrong.

    How is this relevant? I was reminded of it primarily because of your statements about this Catholic you encountered and spoke with about the Assumption of Mary. I’ve heard of that and decided to read alittle about it. The story I get is that some bishop was asked about the body of Mary, but when they went to go look for her in the place she had died, her body was gone. Voila ~ a doctrine was born. I can’t say that’s the true story, but it wasn’t written about in the Bible. Why should it have been? It doesn’t need to be in there. In fact, most of what Jesus actually did wasn’t even in the Bible, as John says at the end of his gospel. Does that mean Jesus didn’t do those things? No. Seriously, it’s just plain not using one’s head to assume events not mentioned in Scripture never happened.

    Here’s a rather ironic example, actually: The Maccabees – a set of books about guys by that name – happens to contain information about a specific Jewish holiday that occurred because of what the Maccabees did. Since the Maccabees allied with the Romans, it’s quite likely those books were removed from the cannon of Scriptures and histories by Jesus time, since those books would have obviously fallen out of favor now that the Romans ruled Judea. As the story goes, since the books were missing at that time, Martin Luther decided to throw them out, esp. since they had been re-included by the Catholic St. Jerome in his Latin translation of the Bible. Without those books, however, an important and HUGE piece of Jewish history is missing, namely, how all the Jews got back from exile, survived the period of Alexander the great, and were back in Judea at the time of Christ.
    But don’t take my word for it: Go look it up for yourself. Read the history books and find out for yourself what happened. I’m not citing sources – I want you to do the work, and that way, it’s confirmed to you by you, not by me (some internet nobody).

    Ex Cathedra is another interesting issue. I myself take issue with it (so you’re not alone). However, there are two ways of looking at it that make sense. From in insider perspective, it comes from Jesus giving Peter the keys to the kingdom (that IS in the Bible), and Jesus establishes what the Jews see as an authority setup: 12 disciples (like the 12 tribes of Israel), whom He gives the loaves and fish to distribute. 12 disciples, whom he designates “Apostles”. Jesus had more that 12 disciples – he had thousands – but He only had 12 Apostles. This doesn’t mean infallibility for the pope, it just means authority – an authority that, as Catholics would say, has lasted throughout the centuries in the form of successors. (There’s a list of popes online going back to Peter in case you’re interested.) Second point: The pope’s infallibility doctrine is something best understood in the context in which it was declared. You have to understand the political situation at that time, but for that, you’re going to have to do some research on your own.

    Now, looking at the doctrine from an outsider perspective, one can say this: that the pope is the best “student”, so-to-speak, of the Catholic Church, and thus everything He has been trained to say is simply in line with his training. And that is why every legitimate pope says only what is orthodox. I note a number haven’t practiced orthodoxy, but that’s like pointing out that you’re average Christian isn’t a perfect person.

    I’m not arguing for you to return to Catholicism. You left for your own reasons, and I can respect that inasmuch as I may be sad about it. I am, however, arguing against the rationale you’re using in this article. It’s a rationale I see frequently, and frankly, I’m a bit tired of seeing it. I’m not saying I don’t make similar mistakes – We all do, that’s part of being human. But if you want to know the truth, there’s no substitute for doing the work to find it.

    Again, sorry if I’m too blunt for you. I speak what’s on my mind.

    ========
    Concerning the pope’s visit:

    I was actually very pleased to here the liberal media touting praises for the Pope. It’s sad that they completely miss his message: He isn’t partisan at all – he’s Catholic. He wants to remove partisan lines and create unified action for the better, esp. for the poor. Will it cause some changes in the country? I hope so. It has certainly caused a big stir. But at the very least, his presence has left a sort of aura over Washington that can’t be ignored. “He was here, and he spoke face-to-face with us”, and that’s going to be hanging in people’s minds.

    God bless!
    I’ll get off my soap-box now.

  2. Danica on October 5, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    Always enjoy reading these GUG posts about topics like this, always interesting and insightful. Keep up the great work guys.

    –Although, one note, “when FOX News pundits are not likening him to “the most dangerous person on the planet”” I watched that actual episode of The Five in context and that article overlooks it. Greg Gutfield, while a news commentator, is a /comedian/, he’s often super sarcastic and jokes around with intentionally over-the-top examples/exaggerations, that was not serious at all. Seems unnecessary to be pointing fingers at FOX (and citing Huffpost that has several times taken thing out-of-context in effort to make things far overblown isn’t the best source..?) in an otherwise well done article.

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