Well, this is big news:
Pope Benedict XVI told shocked cardinals on Monday that he would step down from the pontificate at the end of this month, citing his age and infirmity to explain the decision to become the first man to relinquish the role voluntarily since 1294.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” the 85-year old said in a message to cardinals.
He added that in the modern world “both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me”.
The Vatican said that the papacy would remain vacant between February 28 and whenever the College of Cardinals elected his successor. The conclave for the election will not begin until the pope’s abdication at 8pm in Rome (7pm GMT) on February 28.
Antonio Socci, a conservative columnist who wrote last year about the possibility of the pope’s resignation, said it would be “like playing tombola” – an Italian form of bingo – to predict the next pope. The main decision facing the 120 cardinal electors at the conclave next month would be whether to opt for “continuity or change”, he told the Financial Times.
If you're interested in gaming out who will be the next Pope, click over to Paul Musgrave's excellent summary of the literature over at Duck of Minerva.
I'm more interested in a simpler question -- why do we care? As Stathys Kalyvas tweeted this am:
Lots of attention lavished on a man who didn't command any divisions— Stathis Kalyvas (@SKalyvas) February 11, 2013
Riffing on Stalin's oft-quoted line, what is it about the Catholic Pope that means attention must be paid? What is the source of the Pope's power?
Well, one obvious reason is that Catholicism still commands a fair number of adherents. According to the CIA World Factbook, close to 17% of the world's population is Catholic. It's the largest denomination in Christendom. Only Muslims have more adherents, but that's deceptive since the CIA combines Shi'a and Sunni Muslims. From an international relations perspective, if power equals numbers, there appears to be a tripolar distribution of religious adherents between Catholics, Hindus, and Sunni Muslims.
Another source of influence is the Catholic Church's long tradition and legacy. If the Church is merely one of many now, back in its prime it was Europe's religious and secular superpower, which leads to all kinds of legacy effects. Britain and France are still on the U.N. Security Council because they were great powers back in the day, for example. The same applies to the Catholic Church. Benedict XVI's resignation was noteworthy in that only four other popes have resigned in the past millennium -- and each of those cases comes with quite a story. So tradition can create lasting legacies of power as well.
Still, I'd argue that the biggest reason the Pope matters from a power perspective is that, simply put, the Catholic Church is the most centralized religious organization in human history. -- hell, save the Communist Party, it might be the most centralized organization period. With such a structure, it matters cruicially who heads it. In contrast, the other major religions do not have anything close to the church bureaucracy or organizational resoirces.
This is a banal point, but it's worth remembering in a century where the emphasis is on "networked" structures and the flattening of hierarchies and what-not. There are very good reasons for these kinds of organizational changes. If one cares about power, however, then centralization is still a crucial quality. Which is why non-Catholics are still interested in who the next Pope will be.
[Burned a lot of white smoke to write this post, didn't you?--ed. I see what you're doing here...]
I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending.
An interesting hypothesis!! So, there are three possibilities here. The first is that Bachmann was joking -- in which case, wow, that's a really tasteless joke given the loss of life and probably warrants a pretty big apology.
The second is that Bachmann is simply
nuts wrong. Doug Mataconis points out,
I’m not sure how this computes given the fact that the storm largely spared Washington, D.C. and New York, while hammering a red states like North Carolina and a heavily Republican area like Virginia’s Tidewater region.
Well, socialist-supporting Vermont got hit pretty hard too, but still, this is a fair point, and "Bachmann being wrong" seems like another safe bet.
The third possibility is the one I want to explore, however -- what if Bachmann is right? What if God really is using wrath to coerce humanity into implementing a particular set of policy preferences?
A God-fearing person would naturally decide to obey. However, this kind of coercive demand strikes me as a pretty massive intrusion into human sovereignty. The point of a democracy is for majorities of citizens and their elected representatives to decide matters of policy. Recent history suggests that neither sovereign governments nor their populations take kindly to coercive threats from other men. If we acquiesce to Divine demands now, don't we just let God win?
Bachmann's response suggests an obvious bandwagoning approach to the awesome power of deities: When God says jump, you should say, how high? And, indeed, if the Almighty really is omnipotent, this strategy has much to recommend it. Bandwagoning is generally recommended when the targeted actor is comparatively weak, has few natural allies, and believes that the targeting actor can be appeased with concessions. This seems to fit the Old Testament, monotheistic God to a tee.
On the other hand, however, might a balancing approach yield better long-term results? After all, God has a disturbing track record of making demands like this. We know from
Genesis the Old Testament that the Almighty has a tendency to, well, you know, smite humans on a semi-regular basis. There's the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, an awful lot of Egyptians, etc. This doesn't even include the number of times God demanded death (the sacrifice of Isaac, Ninevah) only to relent at the last minute. Sure, God has some good reasons in some of these instances, but from a threat assessment perspective, it's veeeeery disturbing.
Maybe the bandwagoning criteria don't apply. If one operates along the monotheistic assumption*, humans should ask if there is a possible ally out there to help resist God's will [Don't go there --ed.], an entity who is God's enduring rival [You're really going there, aren't you?! --ed.] , one who might have the necessary power to make God think twice about all that smiting?
It's time to wonder … would a temporary alliance with Satan really be that bad? [Yes it world!! --ed.] Winston Churchill once said, "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." Now I'm not sure I would even go that far … the whole selling souls thing sounds like a pretty big demand too. That said, a sober, realpolitik perspective would demand that making a deal with the devil has to be a policy option that stays on the table.
[How about a nice buck-passing strategy instead?--ed. Hey, I'd love to just force other creatures like, say, apes to go toe-to-toe with God, but I just don't see it happening.]
Readers are warmly encouraged to puzzle this out for themselves -- or, instead, to buy the very entertaining Biblical Games by Steven Brams.
*The monotheism assumption is important when thinking about how to cope with a venegeful god. If the universe turns out to be polytheistic, then the question becomes whether us mortals can sow dissension among the gods before someone releases a Kraken.
I have a secret confession: I've occasionally aspired to found my own offshoot of Judaism. Let's call it the Dreznerian variant. In my synagogue, all of Judaism's teaching would be preserved, except for a Very Important Eleventh Commandment:
Thou shalt acknowledge that everything tastes better wrapped in bacon. Everything.
I mean, it's not a deep theological insight or anything, but we have to take these nuggets of divine truth where we find them.
I haven't made too much of an effort to create this religious offshoot. After seeing everyone and their President lambast this
group of ignorant jackasses small church that wants to barbeque Qurans, I'm beginning to see the appeal of organizing a small religious movement. In some ways, the public reaction to this is the flip side of Captain Underpants and the Times Square bomber. All it takes is a few crazy people to command public debate. Which, if you think about it, is pretty nuts. When, exactly, did U.S. leaders become obligated to comment on the actions of a few nutballs?
So, just for the record, my take on this is pretty much the same take I had with respect to Park51 (see also this exchange with Heather Hurlburt)-- which largely consistent with what Michael Bloomberg, Adam Serwer, and Isaac Chotiner have been saying.
1) Of course it's offensive to burn Qurans. I'm not even going to dignify this speech act with a response, because it should be obvious why it's so offensive.
2) Quit using the national security argument to persuade these idiots to stop. A lot of public officials, including uniformed members of the U.S. military, have made a lot of public statements about this act undercutting national security. As I said before, I really don't like this tactic being used in this way. If my choice is between these people exercising their freedom of speech or being barred or bullied from doing so because of national security concerns, I'll take the former every time.
First, as previously noted, I don't think the specter of Al Qaeda is a terribly persuasive argument at the moment. The United States has repeatedly overrreacted to a small group of extremists that has not done much of anything over the past few years. Here's a thought: maybe the entire world should stop overreacting.
Second, to repeat something that Aaron Sorkin said once, "America isn't easy; America is advanced citizenship." I really don't like what the Dove World jackasses have to say -- but I'm not going to accept the logic that they can't say it because of national security concerns. The lesson of this episode is that as abhorrent as 99% of Americans might find this particular speech act, it can't be stopped through force of arms or the state. This does not mean that Americans condone the burning of Qurans; it means that Americans will not permit the state to infringe on the people to make political statements, no matter how inane, offensive, or vacuous they may be.
Hopefully, the world will stop paying attention to what a small, select group of jackasses intend to do. Or I'm going to have no choice but to suggest that the Dreznerian church will rub 50 Torahs in pork fat -- unless either Salma Hayek or Christina Hendricks is willing to talk me out of it.
And let us say,
more bacon amen.
Is it just me, or is this less-than-exquisite timing for this particular roll-out?
Europe’s first Christian equity index was launched on Monday in response to increasing demand by investors for so-called ethical stocks in the wake of the financial crisis.
The Stoxx Europe Christian Index comprises 533 European companies that only derive revenues from sources approved “according to the values and principles of the Christian religion”.
BP, HSBC, Nestlé, Vodafone, Royal Dutch Shell and GlaxoSmithKline are among the companies in the index. Only groups that do not make money from pornography, weapons, tobacco, birth control and gambling are allowed to be listed.
A committee, which Stoxx says includes representatives of the Vatican, screens shares, which are drawn from the Stoxx Europe 600 Index (emphasis added).
Umm...... to state the obvious, I'm not sure this is the right moment for the Catholic Church to present itself as the arbiter of all things ethical. But hey, I'm a nonbeliever.
That said, I do wonder if there's an index fund that could be created that would be the inverse of this fund -- one that did nothing but profit from the seven deadly sins.
already doomed to eternal damnation in hell with a mischevious streak are encouraged to suggest the appropriate companies to put into that fund in the comments.
VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
Newly released data from a major survey finds that most U.S. adults range far from knowing or caring about the distinctive teachings of their professed faith.
They believe overwhelmingly (92%) in God and 58% say they pray at least once a day. But when it comes to specific religions — the teachings of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Roman Catholic Church or scores of other denominations — they're all over the map, finds the latest data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Pew's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey survey questioned 35,000 Americans, nearly three in 10 of whom profess no religious identity, but sometimes go to church. Most evangelicals, whose denominations teach that Jesus is the sole route to salvation, instead say people who have "led good lives" go to heaven. Only one in three Catholics say their church should preserve its traditional beliefs rather than change with the times or adopt modern practices....
This analysis, based on a questionnaire that never mentions Jesus, portrays a nation of "free-flowing spirituality," says Pew Forum director Luis Lugo, who finds the declining adherence to dogma "stunning."
"You no longer have an alignment of affiliation, belief and behavior. Instead we find complexity, and diversity not only between religious communities but within them, as well. We find a high level of comfort with this diversity," says political scientist John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum.
You can look at the complete survey results by clicking here.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.