Diary

Pope Francis tried (and failed) to preach a heart into Men without Chests

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Pope Francis addressed Congress, and in so doing he reminded the American political class that our connection to the sublime and divine is more than a simple emotional reaction.

But they won’t get the message.  They don’t have a heart for it.

Why? C.S. Lewis told us why in The Abolition of Man—his critique of what he called The Green Book and the pseudonyms he used for its authors, Gaius and Titius.

Divorcing feelings from objective reality, and delegitimizing emotion in favor of Reason makes things like “the poor” and “the terrorist” into mere abstractions—we react with pity upon the poor only because we are not in fact poor, and we have ill will toward the terrorist because we oppose his cause, not because in truth he is evil.  This is the Zeitgeist in American government and scholarly circles.

Whether you agree with Catholic theology or not, the pope has brought something onto Capitol Hill that much of America has forgotten, although Lewis predicted it decades ago.

The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Most of the politicians in Congress are Men without Chests—produced by schools who bought into The Green Book without a single objection.  Most of the leaders of our government, of both parties, are cerebral slaves of Reason without control of their visceral impulse—this also, and especially, applies to the White House and its current occupant.

What progressives and liberals take away from Pope Francis’ remarks is the rational intellectual message that men are imperfect and noble self-interest is not enough to overcome their defects.

“I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty,” he said. “They too need to be given hope.” He added that “it goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.” While “business is a noble vocation,” he said, it must be “an essential part of its service to the common good.”

The liberal sees this as a Papal Bull to engineer society in ever tightening spirals, taking from the wealthy and spending on the needy—or rather those who pass the needs test.

Political conservatives will use the pope’s remarks on the sanctity of life to support their positions.

He cited the do-unto-others Golden Rule. “The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us,” Francis said. “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

And he closed with a paragraph that can only be considered in the soft light of the seminary library or the monastery study.  In the garish hues of politics, its meaning is totally obscured.

“A nation can be considered great,” Francis said, “when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to dream of full rights for all their brothers and sisters as Martin Luther King sought to do, when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”

Invoking the socialist Day and the gnostic syncretist Merton gives ammunition to secular humanists who see all religions as inwardly the same but different only in practice.  In fact, the opposite is true: most of the rituals are similar between religions, but they are completely different in their basic premise.

But they all miss the point.

The pope is not moved by bare Reason separated from discredited emotion.  “Pontiff” means bridge-builder, and in Francis’ case he is trying to build the bridge between the head and the heart—to see an obligation to help the poor as an objective truth, to see the need for justice as man’s mandate upon the Earth by a beneficent and merciful Creator.

What the message lacked is the essential expectation of a Christian leader’s motivation: to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Francis assumes that and moves beyond it.  But the message of the cross and eternal life is not given for Christ’s sake, it’s given for ours–how the head of the world’s largest Christian denomination missed that point is baffling.

Sadly, the bridge that the pope seeks to build is across an unbridgeable chasm, because it is predicated upon a reality that the heart and the head are truly connected.  But with the political class in Washington, and increasingly, the polarized and divided citizens in our nation, he is speaking to an audience of Men without Chests who need a heart transplant, not a polemic against their intellectual enemies or a mandate for their own self-aggrandizing plans.

It would have been better had Pope Francis stood upon the greatest political dias in the world and uttered this instead, which would have put everything in proper context.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.