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Pope Francis: a skilled abuser of rhetoric

More on Pope Francis:

Of the three Popes that I’ve lived through so far, Pope Francis is, I’d argue, by far the worst of the bunch (yes, I think that he’s even worse than Benedict, and that’s saying something).

Here’s the thing: if someone is a malicious ideologue, I much prefer that they be open about their maliciousness and their unwavering commitment to a rigid and regressive ideology. Francis doesn’t do that, though. He couches his callousness in pseudo-tolerant and pseudo-progressive rhetoric and hides his dangerous attitudes and beliefs behind a facade of avuncular populist everyman friendliness. And people (not just Catholics) are eating it up, buying into it, proclaiming that Francis is A Different Kind of Pope, one who will change the Church, modernize the Church, make the Church into a progressive entity (needless to say (I hope), none of these proclamations hold up under even the mildest of scrutiny).

If you buy into Pope Francis’s pseudo-tolerant & pseudo-progressive rhetoric, you’re gullible (it happens. It’s a very human trait and a trap we all fall into from time to time, no matter how smart and/or skeptical we are), wilfully ignorant (a form of maliciousness that I have no sympathy for (see the ‘willful’ part)), or committed to the same rigid and backwards ideology that Francis is.

Francis is manipulative. He’s a skilled abuser of rhetoric who knows how to say the “right” things at the “right” time. He’s good PR for the Church. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he’s neither an intellectual nor extremely intelligent. But he’s sly like a fox. He’s a gift to the Church, a perfect Pope for the Catholic Church of 2013.

Two examples of what I’m talking about:


The pseudo-progressive rhetoric: Francis claims to be a friend to the poor. People believe this (partly because much of the mainstream media disseminates this claim without question). They fawn over him, declare him to be A Different Kind of Pope who is ushering in A New Kind of Church.

The reality: Francis’s previously-stated opinions on and actions taken against contraceptive use and access to abortion cancel out his proclaimed desire to remedy poverty and economic inequality (providing easy access to contraception is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce poverty). He has a history of actively opposing the free distribution of contraceptives and he opposes a woman’s right to an abortion, even in cases of rape.


The pseudo-tolerant rhetoric: Francis claims that he doesn’t judge gay individuals who “accept the Lord and have good will“. The news media is currently eating this up. People are swooning over it.

The reality: Francis’s previously-stated opinions on, vehement opposition to, and actions taken against extending equal legal rights to gays and lesbians cancel out his newfound pseudo-tolerant rhetoric.

And, well, if I have to choose between two powerful individuals who hold the same dangerous opinions and adhere to the same rigid and bigoted ideology, I’ll take an openly intolerant ideologue over a phony and manipulative abuser of rhetoric any day.

  1. Scott Gates #

    1. Can’t do anything legal about any Pope the Catholic Church has.
    2. Might as well let Pope Francis put his money where his mouth is
    3. And if he doesn’t significantly change the Church, ignore the whole bunch immediately.

    July 29, 2013
  2. This, from the onion, and your post were next to each other in my newsfeed,33292/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_campaign=LinkPreview:1:Default

    I guess timing really is everything.

    Also your post points out I should learn more of this pope

    July 29, 2013
  3. I disagree with your assessment.

    On the issue of the poor. Catholic dogma has an explicit prohibition against contraceptives. While contraceptive use is a very effective way to reduce the financial burden of child bearing it is not the only way to elevate a group out of poverty (indeed, many live today in greater poverty than some populations lived before the invention of modern, effective, contraception). The fact that he is unwilling to support contraceptives does not cancel out all of the positions that he takes on poverty. The only exception would be if he were taking that position on contraceptives specifically to keep the poor poor. You are making a claim that only stands up if you assume the worst possible motive, and that motive stands in stark contrast to a long history of a different motive.

    On the issue of homosexuals. His assessment of homosexuals as being tolerable is a step in the right direction, even if he doesn’t take it all the way. No doubt the notion that gay marriage is going to hurt anyone is steeped in backwards thinking. However, that doesn’t mean that giving up other backwards ideas isn’t progress.

    Cardinals and popes are really church politicians. They can only lead so far before they lose power, even if they want to go further (conversely they are sometimes dragged along where they don’t want to go, like every politician who supports corn based ethanol fuel). Francis is more progressive than the church as a whole, the fact that he isn’t as progressive as he might possibly be does not mean that he is a closeted regressive. Politicians respond to incentives, if we incentivise his move to the left others will see profit in it and the whole organization can shift. If we withhold incentives because they are unable to deliver fully on what we fantasize about the positions that they could theoretically take, then they will not deliver anything.

    Think about the fable of the mouse and the peas.

    July 29, 2013
    • Motivations are far less important than effects. Reducing poverty is hard, and easy access to contraception is one known, empirically proven, well-documented way to do it. To ignore such a powerful tool for reducing poverty based on an ideology that is rooted in Bronze Age notions on the nature of life.

      Back in the day, I think a few socialists were sincere in their belief that one-party rule would lead to more efficient production and less poverty. After a couple of decades of the Soviet experiment that argument ceased being viable, and people who advocated socialist solutions to human problems were clearly less interested in solving those problems than promoting their agenda of power and control.

      So it is with the Church: by letting Bronze Age ideology trump modern reality, they have given up any plausible claim to caring about the poor. Well, I guess perhaps they do care a tiny little bit: they just care a great deal more about maintaining their hegemony based on their Bronze Age ideology.

      July 29, 2013
      • Imagine that Jane Goodall, unknowingly, caught a benign (to her) virus while at a party raising money for ape conservation. Then when she went out to the apes the virus escaped into the chimp population and proceeded to cause massive ape die off. Her motivation would be to save the apes, but in the way that you propose judging people, her outcome would be driving the apes to extinction. If we apply your standard the outcome (dead apes) makes everything that Jane Goodall ever said about how much she loved apes a lie. I don’t think that would make Goodall a liar.

        Imagine fruit trees. We have two fruit trees, gay rights, and ending poverty. The pope says “we should eat this fruit”. He proceeds to say “we shouldn’t eat the fruit on the marriage branch of the gay rights tree” and “We shouldn’t pick the low hanging fruit on the poverty tree”. He is still encouraging us to pick fruit, just not all of it. The second and third statement don’t make the first statement a lie.

        Another way to look at it. You are against sexual assault (I feel like we can safely make that assumption with most people). I would imagine that you would be willing to stand up and say that you were. If we instituted an automatic death penalty without trial for anyone accused of sexual assault the rate of sexual assault would plummet. But you would be against that I would imagine. I want you to think for a moment about why you would be against that proposal.

        I would imagine that it’s because of the cost of such a measure. Even if killing a bunch of innocent people, and a bunch more guilty people whose crimes don’t justify their deaths, would be a step towards the goal that you stated the cost would be too high. That is because you have other, competing priorities with the desire to not have sexual assault, one of those competing priorities is the desire not to have lots of excess death. Well the pope has competing priorities too. One of his competing priorities is the desire to save immortal souls, and it is right up there with your desire not to see people die, indeed it’s probably higher. You probably, like me, think that immortal souls are fictitious. However, our not sharing his apriori ideas does not mean that he doesn’t hold them.

        Had he come out and said “ending poverty is more important than saving souls” and then proceeded to do something that let poverty happen but saved souls like disallowing condoms, that would be a lie. You are using a first order approximation of theory of mind, you are thinking ‘If I said those things would they be a lie?’ What you need to do is think from his perspective, “if he said those things was he lying?’ And the answer to that is no.

        July 30, 2013
        • Igor #

          This is an excellent post. Sound logic trumps all. The author of the original article should learn to exercise it before spewing emotional but irrational ideas.

          July 30, 2013
        • John Gentel #

          What an excellent way to explain this to me.You notice I didn’t say everyone,only because I do not know much about this subject.By using acknowledged parallels,I was able to understand things that may have taken me a long time to even process.Thank you so much for the message and as well to the messenger.

          August 21, 2013
  4. Liam #

    While I agree with the conclusion, I think the evidence presented was a bit sparse.

    I think bringing up his history in relation to the military Junta and his opposition to liberation theology would do you well in convincing people of your conclusion.

    July 29, 2013
  5. I agree with your implicit premise that no one pope can turn the battle carrier of the church around on a dime. you give a lot of context for how everyone is jumping the gun thinking that the church can change its fundamentals quickly- it can’t.

    but I am not surprised that since he has leveled up to sovereign status he is extending his populist image as into as many ”policy areas” as he can. read: more gay acceptance– in general– presumably on a global level. he asks for more acceptance by the chuch and more acceptance by folks who challenge themselves to “love the sinner”. [that’s the current policy. homosexual acts are sins.] yes, there is some irony in condemning someone so you can then forgive them, but I want to set that aside for now. such a growing acceptance is to be distinguished from a 2010 law extending gay marriage rights to Argentinians.

    what has he done to reduce or impede *access* to contraception or abortion services? he may morally oppose them, but did he get someone to defund something?? how does this invalidate any claims of actions toward being an advocate for the poor?

    “a cancels out b” is the lamest argumentative device I have heard in a while. that is, presuming you really mean to tackle seriously the subjects at hand.

    can you name one or two things that you liked better about benedict?

    last thing- call me crazy- are you a catholic?

    July 30, 2013
  6. JLew #

    Personally, I prefer the false rhetoric.
    Napolean crowned himself Emperor of France AFTER the French Constitution. The language of the Constitution lasted longer than Napolean.
    The U.S. President and his Branch of government are trying to argue that kidnapping and murder without due process are Legal – instead of just lying about the ongoing rendition and assassination campaigns.
    I must say, I’d prefer false rhetoric over bald-faced, ugly honesty – any day!

    July 30, 2013
  7. Thomas #

    So the progressive plan to reduce poverty for the poor is by killing the unborn children of the poor?
    So poor women will gain wealth if they do not have children, either by using contraception or using abortion?

    “(providing easy access to contraception is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce poverty). He has a history of actively opposing the free distribution of contraceptives and he opposes a woman’s right to an abortion, even in cases of rape.”

    July 30, 2013
  8. Functional Atheist #

    He seems better than JP 2 or Benny to me. Deeply flawed, of course, but better than his predecessors. Gullible of me? Perhaps.

    Maybe its just my personal aesthetic–I prefer the friendlier rhetoric, and the comparative humility. Eschewing the red Prada slippers seems like both canny public relations as well as a sincere desire to present a more humble image. Your aesthetic differ from mine, I guess–to each her own.

    I might call you unduly harsh and cynical, Miranda, but then I’d be engaging in name-calling, and I don’t want to stoop to the level of someone who offered “gullible” as the most flattering available characterization of my opinion.

    July 31, 2013
  9. DR #

    Very few seem to understand the second statement.

    “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

    Saying that this is somehow a changed attitude of the church is idiocy. It even says it’s not a change, right in front of your eyes.

    The magical formula is “accept the Lord and have good will”. This entails: you have to repent your sin(s) and can’t live out your homosexuality. And then you won’t be judged by the pope.

    “The tendency […] is not the problem.” But guess what is? When they ‘live in sin’. That’s Catholic Theology 101. You’re good as long as you don’t commit sins, repent those you commit and don’t repeat them.

    How is this any different from the previous stance towards homosexuals? Should we be glad that they’re not asking for them to be thrown into prison or burned at the stake?

    August 1, 2013
    • I don’t feel like you were raised Catholic. It’s not “you’re good until you commit sins” so much as “you’re evil and you are going to commit sins, repeatedly, here set up a weekly meeting with your priest to discuss the sins that we know that you are committing.”

      August 2, 2013
      • DR #

        I’ve not only been raised catholic, I’ve actually studied Catholic theology for a bit.
        Repenting sins you haven’t commited would be lying in confession, which is a mortal sin. So you’re really good until you commit sins. Which will happen, sure. But since this statement is about priests and homosexuality, especially homosexual acts, we’re really only talking about a small subset.

        August 2, 2013
  10. Just Saying #

    Your argument is laughable. Just because the Pope said he is against contraceptives, as the whole Catholic Church is, he is already anti-poor? What kind of reasoning is that? On being anti-gay, the Pope is against it as is stated in the Bible, if you do read the book, but he is rights in saying that only God can judge gays. Only God can judge when the time comes. That is very crystal clear. And Francis is not doing any pseudo-shit. You’re just imagining things.

    August 21, 2013

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