Pope Francis’ tour of the United States has ended, and commentators and social media are divided into two camps. There’s the Love This Guy camp full of gushing praise with examples too numerous to name, and The Don’t You Dare Trust Francis camp full of anger and fear.
Maureen Dowd calls Francis the “perfect 19th century pope” for his attitude and policies toward women. Olivia Goldhill writes that Francis is not progressive in the least, but merely the beneficiary of an effective PR campaign led by a former Fox News correspondent. Francis’ policies and many of his statements on women, abortion, birth control, and the family easily make Dowd and Goldhill’s case. I agree with their criticisms.
And yet, there is something about this guy. I love him. What’s an atheist to do?
Maybe it’s the Pope’s personality. Maybe it’s just the PR. But maybe what resonates with so many of us – even us heretics – is the fact this Pope seems to at least attempt to walk Jesus’ talk. Isn’t that what most of us want from religious leaders? Even if we don’t agree with their theology and have no use for their God, we expect the people who preach the Golden Rule to try to live by it. If priests are supposed to be representing Jesus Christ on Earth the least they could do was pay attention to what he allegedly said. What I like about Pope Francis is that he approaches people with love. He doesn’t seem to be as concerned about tallying a long list of judgments against us as much as he is about embracing us.
What should shock us about Pope Francis is not his actions or even our reaction to him, but the fact that he seems unique. Whether the reality of this Pope matches his public image may not matter as much as the fact that all of us – even nonbelievers – hunger for religious leaders who love first and punish second.
I disagree with Pope Francis about a host of things, but for his refusal to beat up people who disagree with him and his willingness to approach people with love, I salute and admire him. I can disagree with the Pope and argue and organize against his positions while still admiring him. Maybe we all could learn something from the way Pope Francis acts.
For more perspective on the Pope’s politics, check out Emma Green’s thoughtful piece on how Pope Francis doesn’t fit into American ideas about liberal and conservative.
IMAGE: Interestingly enough this photo is connected to a Huffington Post article about the Pope and atheists. I picked it because I liked the photo and then saw the story.