Odds on the Next Pope

Mark Steyn has some interesting comments in this interview. His central point is that the papal selection process is closed to outsiders, which means that none of the people who are speculating in the press knows any more than the rest of us do.

For market odds, which I suspect are much more accurate than the press, see our Intrade quote board or here.

50 thoughts on “Odds on the Next Pope”

  1. Note that there is not even a real front-runner. Cardinal Arinze is now at 7/2, and that is the best odds given. A day or so ago, he was at 3/1. His odds are declining as we get closer, not better. The race isn’t even tightening. Instead, confidence in even a supposedly likely candidate is diminishing. Steyn is right. The College of Cardinals is a closed shop, they don’t do much talking, and nobody knows what will happen.

    Interestingly, after JPII was elected, to public astonishment, it came out that many of the Cardinals had long considered him as a possible choice. He was well known, in that closed-off world, largely due to his work on Vatican II. We will probably find out after the next “surprise” election that there was no surprise to the small community of men who make the decisions.

  2. Sulaiman, thanks. I could not possibly get through all the math. But the overall thrust of the article seems to be that the Cardinals arrive with a bunch of ideas about who should be Pope, they have meetings, then they, in most cases, give up their initial idea and coalesce around someone who gains a majority and wins. The authors define the initial candidate as the “sincere” choice, then adopt a rather mocking tone that the “will of God” could be worked out by a political process of negotiation and coalition building. This is pejorative and wrong. It is an election, it is called an election, and it is meant to be an election. It is conducted by human beings. They pray and try to decide what to do. They try to make the right decision. In the Catholic conception of things, God works through human instruments and tangible things. It is no scandal that God uses fallible, ordinary men operating a set of procedures to elect a Pope. The idea is not that God does some magic trick to get a pope selected. Rather, these men rely on God’s guidance in and through the process to get the right person. They try their best to pick the right person, than in humility rely on God to give the person selected the strength to carry out the task.

  3. Lex – with all due respect, I think injecting God in human affairs only ridicules and diminishes the importance of Almighty. In the cosmic clock, our existence is not even a fraction of a second. And physically, we are not even a particle of dust in the eternal kingdom. I sincerely think that God could care less about humanity given where we stand in this universe.

    Ten years ago my grandfather gave me a Persian poem that ridicules the notion that God’s ultimate word to humanity was in Arabic (or Latin in case of Catholicism though Jesus perhaps spoke Aramaic).

    Persian nationalism you might say though I originally come from Afghanistan. So everytime I hear God invoked in human affairs I am reminded of that poem. One of these days I will try to translate it… the poem essentially rejects Islamic fundamentalism’s claim to know the word of God.

  4. The Smart Money By JOHN TIERNEY, April 12, 2005

    “Do not be fooled by the talking heads in Rome. The journalists handicapping the papal election may sound as confident as ever, authoritatively quoting anonymous cardinals and exclusive sources deep in Opus Dei. But our profession is in trouble. A specter is haunting the punditocracy – the specter of Intrade. …

    “For now, the Intrade speculators are expecting the white smoke to signal an Italian pope. …

    The sheep’s money also offers a temptation for those with inside knowledge to cash in, even though that’s against the rules of Intrade – not to mention a 1591 papal bull forbidding Catholics from betting on a conclave. The bull was prompted by rampant betting during previous conclaves. In 1549, the Venetian ambassador tracked the odds with Roman bookies and reported that “the cardinals’ attendants in Conclave” were going partners with local merchants “in wagers which thus causes many tens of thousands of scudi to change hands.” …

    “But suppose a venal Vatican bureaucrat, or a secular friend of some official, hears a piece of useful gossip before or even during the conclave. Is he going to give it free of charge to a journalist, knowing this risks compromising himself as well as his source? …

    “The journalist in me hopes he leaks it to us, or at least stays away from Intrade, thereby keeping everyone in the dark and allowing us to pontificate unencumbered by actual information. We can theorize that the Italian delegation is following Karl Rove’s strategy of “solidifying the base.” We can ruminate on a third world cardinal following the Bob Shrum strategy of building a coalition of “the people against the powerful.” Columnists have built careers on less.

    “So I’m praying, for purely selfish reasons, that Intrade gets this election wrong. When I consider those thousands of traders working around the clock, without salaries or health benefits, I hate to think I’m starting a column just as the job is being outsourced.”

  5. Sulaiman “injecting God in human affairs” is what Christianity is all about. Jesus Christ became a human being. He injected Himself into human affairs. This, the incarnation, is the core of Christianity. The crucifixion is the answer to your belief that “God could care less about humanity”. He loves each one of us individually, and humbled himself to be with us and share our suffering and give us the means to overcome it. He joined us in the world as, in your apt phrase, “a particle of dust”. And by rising from the dead, He showed us that we are more than that, that we are not only specks of dust but immortal souls with a destiny which goes far beyond this life and its joys and hardships.

    I don’t ask you to believe all this.

    (Well, actually, I do. But not right this minute, necessarily.)

    All I do ask is that you understand that Catholics do operate on these assumptions. To understand what they are doing and thinking requires being aware of that. Also, I hope you will see that not all the people who believe in these things and live by them are fools or charlatans, as your earlier post seems to suggest, which I found disappointing.

    I am thinking that maybe you and I could conduct a conversation on this topic on the blog in the form of a series of written questions to each other. We could post the questions and answers. Just a thought.

    I would very much like to see you translate and post the poem, with commentary about its source and meaning and what it has meant to you.

    I think the historical consensus is that Jesus spoke Aramaic.

  6. Lex – why would God send Jesus 2000 years ago? Why punish all the humans that came before Jesus? Why not at the dawn of humanity? And my question to Muslims is that why he would stop with Prophet Muhammed?

    Believe me, I have spent a LOT of time with Catholics. I prayed (yes, recited the words) every morning in high school for four years and I still exchange Christmas cards with some of my high school teachers from 20 years ago. I respect their faith but I don’t believe the church is what Jesus had in mind. In fact, as Mark Twain once noted, if Jesus came back he would be anything but Christian. And I am also fond of telling Muslims who can bear to hear it that if Muhammed came back to visit the Quorish tribe (Arabs in Mecca from the prophet’s time), he would break the same false idols that Muslims are worshipping today.

  7. “Why punish all the humans that came before Jesus?” He didn’t. The Creed contains the line
    “descendit ad inferos” — he descended to the dead, and while he was there he brought to Heaven all those who had lived good and holy lives prior to his coming. His death and resurrection are not bound by linear time in their effect. God exists outside of time. Time itself is a created thing.

    “Why would God send Jesus 2000 years ago?” I don’t know. I don’t know why He does most of what He does. He chose to become a person. To be a person he had to be born in a particular time and place. I have no reason to second-guess his choice. Still, even on a human level, the organized community of the Roman Empire was perceived by the Church Fathers in the earliest times as a Providential development which allowed the rapid diffusion of Christianity around the Mediterranean world. That may be as good an answer as any: Jesus came to the Jews, while they were governed by Rome, because that was an opportune time to firmly root his Church and its message in a large area of the world. That was what was thought in the very early days of the Church and it is as good an answer as any I have seen.

    As to the Mark Twain quote: I suppose that when Jesus comes back he will find that many in his Church have failed Him. Many in authority, and many ordinary people. He will find others who have devoted their lives to His service, some in a public capacity, most known only to God. The fact that the Chuch is composed of weak human beings who fall short most of the time from the standard Jesus calls us to — “be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect” — is not a source of much worry. If I look at it honestly, I see some of people who are phony or going through the motions. I also see lots of people who live lives of sincere devotion to God in the midst of work and family life, making the space around them better for everybody, with no fuss or show about it. I see lots of people who struggle along doing their poor best. So, if we understand the Church, correctly, to be the community of believers, and not just the “management layer” of Bishops and Cardinals, I think it is apparent that it is much as Jesus wanted it to be. He’d like to see us all doing better, of course. And we need to persevere and try harder. And as to whether he meant to found a hierarchic church to work as an institution, that is a much-disputed point between Catholics and Protestants, among others. I am fully satisfied that he meant to do that both from a reading of the New Testament and from the fact that the Church was an organized community from the earliest days as a historical matter. So, I think Mark Twain was wrong. About this, at least.

    I do not feel qualified to say anything about what Mohammad would think if were to revisit Mecca today.

  8. Robert, thanks for the link to the NYT article. It sounds like Tierney understands the new information environment.

  9. Jonathan – this new columnist at NYT (former boyfriend of Maureen Dowd if you care) is a libertarian. I have a feeling that he will bring a more market-oriented opinion to NYT editorial page.

  10. Sulaiman, thanks. Now I remember him. I think Virginia Postrel wrote favorably about him, some time ago.

  11. I just deleted a comment which was gratuitously insulting to the Catholic Church and added nothing to the conversation. If someone despises Catholicism, they can express themselves in a civil fashion, in which case I will leave it up, or express it somewhere else. I would have deleted similar comments about any religion or most non-religious points of view. There is no need to insult the bearer of those beliefs unless they are essentially despicable. If you believe that about any of the major religions, feel free to express that view elsewhere.

  12. I posted a civil and impersonal comment last night that challenged the monotheist meme. It asked folks to look past the pomp and disproportionate power of the papacy, and was completely appropriate given all the attention that JPII’s contentious succession is getting in this post.

    Lex purged it because his monotheistic bias was directly challenged.

    So much for mind-opening debate.

  13. Re the Christian religion:

    Sulaiman, I think, in another post’s comments recently mentioned that the teachings in the Old Testament finds violence acceptable. I think it’s also true that between the New and Old Testaments one can find examples of and justification for just about anything.

    What I believe is that both Testaments provide my moral underpinnings but, being Christian I place more emphasis and am more generally guided by the New Testament. In a similar way we value the gospels (the teachings and example of Christ) more than the New Testament as a whole. My view is that one could be a Christian simply by believing in and being guided by Christ.

    It is the “Christ” in the word “Christian” that is the nugget. This core of the religion gives it strength and the secondary voluminous teachings gives it flexibility.

  14. Well, nothing and nobody is perfect Steve.

    I for one would like to know what you had to say.

    Please post it again. Ratchet down the rhetoric a tad, and perhaps it will make it.

  15. Tyouth – I am not a Buddhist but you might find this real-life story as told by a Jewish friend of mine (a New Yorker who lives in the Phillippines and Japan) interesting.

    Some Christian missionary was trying to convert a bunch of Japanese into Christianity (most probably a Mormon, a sect that is extremely active in the country). Among those listening to his sermon was some wise Buddhist guy. After the missionary finished explaining how great Jesus was, the wise guy turned to the missionary and told him: Jesus must have been a good Buddha!

    My own personal beliefs resemble those of Tom Paine. I find most of these religions man-made and I am incredibly suspicious of anyone claiming to have spoken to God (and/or are “self-appointed ambassadors of Allah” as Irash Manji put it in “The Trouble with Islam”). Christians claim they know the truth for Christ/Bible told them so and Muslims say exactly the same for Mohammed/Koran told them so. Who am I supposed to believe? Both? That would be impossible for neither would accept me! All religions are full of contradictions, exclusive and therefore antagonistic to every other belief system, and have been used throughout ages for some ugly political gains. As for Catholicism, I view it as a Roman institution created to consolidate the vast Roman Empire of 4th century together through other means than standing armies — its claim, like Islam’s claim, to universalism is bogus for I have lived in a society (Japan) where people live peacefully with a moral code but without believing in religious mythologies. Christianity’s claim to being a civilizing force is not believable either: Greece and Rome thrived for centuries without an organized church. And it was only Greco-Roman revival that brought Europe back from Christian tyranny of mind.

    Steve – re-post but please use a civilized language.

  16. Steve, your tone is much better today. Views I disagree with are fine, including yours. But don’t be insulting. That’s how it came across. You didn’t “challenge monotheism” you mocked monotheists. Be alert to the distinction and you will continue to be welcome here.

  17. Sulaiman, a “good Buddah”, indeed!

    The different religions more or less attempt the same thing (to describe the godhead and his will for us), don’t they?

    You do have to give the “tyrannical” Catholic church credit….it survived.

  18. “As for Catholicism, I view it as a Roman institution created to consolidate the vast Roman Empire of 4th century together through other means than standing armies …” You may view it as that, but the historical facts view it otherwise. There is no basis to say that Christianity was “created” as a Roman institution. Constantine adopted Christianity, which was already a massive force in public life. It was a popular movement that became so powerful that it engulfed the state. Take a look at The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. Stark, not a Christian, shows how Christianity spread throughout the Empire for centuries in the face of persecution — by attracting people who to a community where people loved and cared for each other. In addition to being a mass movement, Christianity was an intellectual movement which was found compelling by people at the time. This is well described in Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine by Charles Norris Cochrane, a book I keep promising myself I will re-read. Reading St. Augustine’s Confessions — I confess I have only picked at it — would in itself be more than enough to rebut Sulaiman’s imputation that Christianity was some kind of political front put up by the Roman Government.

    “Christianity’s claim to being a civilizing force is not believable either …” Again, incorrect. The conversion of the Germanic tribes, the introduction of literacy, the reduction of their laws to writing, the imposition of, at least, disapproval for random violence, all these were a consequence of the adoption of Christianity. I find it very odd that you make any contrary assertion. Even the Enlightenment writers who hated Catholicism saw that it had a major impact as a civilizing force in these centuries. I have it on good recommendation that The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity by Richard Fletcher is a good, recent book on the topic. Peter Brown’s book The World of Late Antiquity which I read in college is good on this topic, too.

    I will leave the other points, most of which I disagree with, aside for now.

  19. Lex – I think you are confusing the history you would like to believe with actual facts.

    Greeks and Romans had already achieved a very high civilization. The reign of Christianity in the Western world was not exactly the height of the Western civilization. Every wonder why the Middle Ages is also called the Dark Ages? Again, it was the discovery of the pre-Christian Greco-Roman individualistic heritage that saved the West from 1000 years of decay.

  20. Suleiman,

    Just whom do you think rediscovered the “pre-Christian Greco-Roman individualistic heritage” (whatever precisely that means)? At the beginning of the second millenium, Europe rediscovered the the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome because of the Catholic Church, starting with the work of the Archbishop of Toledo, Spain. I suggest you read ARISTOTLE’S CHILDREN by Richard E. Rubenstein. (BTW, it was people like Thomas Paine who highjacked the classical tradition and got us into the mess we are in today.)

  21. Suleiman, we Deists are in a distinct minority. I generally don’t care if people believe in and worship a diety. This is (so far) a free country and each has the right to worship or not worship as one pleases. When I am at a family gathering and one asks a blessing from god on the meal I bow my head. Not out of respect for their deity but out of respect for them. All I ask from those of other beliefs is the same respect and tolerance from them for my beliefs. I cannot disprove that any religion is false nor can anyone prove that their religion is the one and only true one although many do try to do so. All beliefs, mine included, are based on faith. I prefer to think that my belief is based on logic but basically is is based on the faith that my logic is not faulty.

    I do have problems sometimes accepting arguments that Christianity and Islam were not spread by the sword and through fear. There is just to much documentation of murder of those who refused to convert as well as the burning of heritics and so called witches by the catholics and later by protestants. Of course we all tend to judge hostorical events by our current day morality. By my ogic such events were morally unacceptable and I cannot accept any religion that has condoned these actions in their history. But, that is their right and althouigh I disagree with what they believe I fully support their right to believe it.

  22. GUYK/Scotus/Lex – let me put it this way: Most people are confusing clerical dictatorship with faith. This is particularly true of people who are dedicated members of their particular sect/denomination. But my broader point is that the Church (or Mosque) has never been, and will probably never be, the bastion of FREE THOUGHT. John Stuart Mill would have been crucified by the Church had he lived earlier.

    And I do not see advocating free thought as “judging history by current day morality” and/or putting your faith in reason. Civilizations that were either launched with freedom of thought (and I thank Allah for America) or accepted freedom of thought were the ones that prospered in every aspect of human endeavor, including religion itself. Religious diversity in America, although I do not follow any of them, still amazes me … no society is this conflict free from religious dogmas living side by side (Ireland, India, Israel/Palestine, and most of the non-Israel Middle East just to name a few).

    As for Aristotle’s Children – I read some excerpts from the book. It is not very complimentary either to Catholicism (of then) or to Islam (of today). And the Catholic Church was not exactly a proponent of Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin, three of the most important children of Aristotle. Yes, I do welcome JP2’s half-hearted embrace of scientific observation after 20 centuries of hostility but I am not jumping with joy either. The Church, despite all its PR and its fondess for the comforts that science brings (electricity, cell phones, cars, etc.), continues to oppose stem cell research [social conservatives: do not jump your guns … I am not advocating Federal financing of R&D].

  23. Suleiman,

    Copernicus was a priest, and Galileo’s daughter was a nun. As Lex has repeatedly stated, while She is a divine institution, the Church is also made up of failable human beings. One must not identify the mistakes and failings of some Church leaders with the Church herself. (BTW, while he was a scientific genius, Galileo had an often, to say the least, abrasive personality. Had he known how to be a little more politic, he probably wouldn’t have had the trouble he had.) Finally, while Rubenstein does offer some criticism of the actions of certain Church leaders, I believe he admires more Catholics than not, and, on balance, admires the Church as a whole.

  24. “I think you are confusing the history you would like to believe with actual facts.”

    I think the same of you. You make specific allegations of fact, e.g. that the Church was a political front put up by the Roman government. This is baseless. I point to disinterested scholars who provide evidence that your assertions is wrong. In this forum I don’t see what more I can do. I point to scholars who rebut your allegations. That is not a matter of me believing what I want to believe. Anyway, I don’t have anything I particularly want to believe. I try to go where the evidence takes me. What I would like to believe is the truth. What I try to discover is the truth. I frequently find things I don’t like. I live with that. The truth about a very ancient institution composed of human beings, the RC Church contains many bad episodes. But any individuals life contains bad or evil deeds, as does any group of people. The truth is the whole picture, not just the evil deeds.

    Anyway, a comment like “ever wonder why …” is so condescending that it barely merits a response. Duh, because civilization was destroyed by military invasion by barbarians, maybe?

  25. Lex/Scotus – what about “because civilization was destroyed by military invasion by barbarians” and the advent of Christianity?

    Actually, I recommend you go cato.org and do a search for the fall of Roman Empire. There is an article in one of their past quarterly publication that explains how it was overtaxation and loosening of property rights in general that destroyed Rome. Otherwise a bunch of barbarians could hardly advance on an empire that fielded and sustained large standing armies thousands of miles away from its center in an age when cost of transportation was incredibly high. Rome, in other words, destroyed itself by destroying its own secular institutions. The barbarians and the Church, the latter which had previously been created and used by Rome, were like scavengers that feasted on the carcass of unguarded wealth. Europe had to wait 1000 years for Roman institutions to be revived under city- and nation-states that had to fight the Catholic Church for their right to make their own laws.

    Also, you have remind yourself that Aristotle was NOT Christian. And neither were his children for had they accepted Church’s dogma – faith without empirical observation – they would have never made their discoveries and we would still be living with a Ptolemic view of the universe. Crediting the Church for Galileo’s and Copernicus’ achievement is almost laughable. The Church did all it could to kill the rebirth of scientific method in Western Europe. It is perhaps for this reason that the Church was offended by the character of people like Galileo for he exposed them for what they were: Simplicio.

  26. I would concede that the crusades were a start of bringing Europe out of the dark ages. I view the crusades as more of an economic effort than anything although as in all holy wars the ones who bear the brunt of the fighting no doubt believed it was all for the church.

  27. Suleiman,

    I think Copernicus, Galileo, Keppler, Pasteur, and Curie (and throw in two other of Aristotle’s children — Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas — to boot) would be very suprised to find out they were not Christians. Now who’s confusing the history he would like to believe with the actual facts? Finally, it’s not suprising Aristotle was not a Christian, since he died over 300 years before Christ was born. An interesting question is whether Aristotle would have been a Christian had he lived at the time of Christ. Since Thomas Aquinas did a magnificent job of melding Aristotle’s thought with Christianity, it’s not unreasonable to believe that the answer could be yes.

  28. Scotus – do you classify Averros (Ibn-Rushd) and Avicenna (Ibn-Sina) as Christians too? Are you aware of latter’s influence on Thomas Aquinas? What about Maimonides? Was he Christian too? And Ibn-Tufail? By your standard, all ancient Greek philosphers – whom the Church has traditionally treated as pagans/infidels – were all Christians too! This is preposterous.

    And applying your logic to today’s world, do you classify Natan Sharansky and Andrei Sakharov as Soviet communists?

    Copernicus, Galileo, Keppler, Pasteur, and Curie — these people challenged Church’s distorted view of the world despite the physical threat that some of them faced from the Church! JP2 called Galileo’s case closed but he did not admit that the Church was wrong on his case. Unfortunately, Church’s hostility towards scientific inquiry continues to this day. Unlike dogmatic faith, the essence of scientific inquiry is to test your theories and discard those that are no supported by facts. It is a democratic, honest, and self-correcting mechanism. The Church has never accepted questioning their revealed truth.

  29. Sulaiman, you have just described my Church as a scavenger feasting on a corpse. You have also repeated the groundless falsehood that the Church was a front created by the Roman government.

    What do you hope to achieve by these comments, these insults, these obvious falsehoods? What is motivating all this? People like you who already hate my religion will like hearing this stuff, so maybe you are writing to entertain them. Those like me who love my religion will be offended by them. Maybe you are writing in the hope of wounding them. But is it really a conversation? Is there any common basis for us to have a conversation if you express yourself in this way? Do you think you can talk people out of being religious believers with this kind of thing? Do you hope to provoke an angry response for some reason? I just don’t get what you are trying to do.

  30. Lex, Amen, brother!


    I am well aware of the influence of Ibn-Rushd, Ibn-Sina, and Maimonides on Aquinas, and I have studied them all. Since they are all children of Aristotle, I suppose you bring them up in response to my suggestion that, had he had the opportunity, Aristotle might have been a Christian. Remember, I never said that he would definitely have been a Christian. I merely claimed it is not absurd to suggest he might have been. I readily concede it’s also not absurd to suggest that, had he had the opportunity, Aristotle might have been a Jew or a Muslim.

    I must point out, however, that your bringing up Ibn-Rushd, Ibn-Sina, and Maimonides does NOT really help make your overall point, i.e. that organized religion is not compatible with the rationalistic tradition that comes from the Greeks. It doesn’t help your overall point because, when combined with Aquinas, Abelard, et. al, these three demonstrated that, numbered among Aristotle’s most brilliant children, are devout adherents to all three of the West’s great organized religions. I think that would be unlikely, if organized religion really were incompatible with the rationalistic tradition of which Aristotle is a main protogenitor.

    Finally, to expand on Lex’s sentiments, I find your analogy between, on the one hand, Copernicus, Galileo, Keppler, Pasteur, and Curie and, on the other hand, Natan Sharansky and Andrei Sakharov the most inept analogy I’ve seen someone make in my entire life (and, since I teach a freshman level philosophy class, that’s saying something). While Sharansky (who, BTW, I understand, is a devout Jew) and Sakharaov are like the others when it comes to integrity and intellect, the the five scientists I named are totally unlike Sharansky and Sakharoav when it comes to being dissentients because none of the scientists (yes, to anyone who knows the real story, even Galileo) where dissentients from Christianity as Sharansky and Sakharoav were from Soviet tyranny. (Also, as Lex indicates, comparing the Christian Church — in any of its forms — to Soviet tyranny is nothing but pure libel.) The fact that you make this analogy proves to me, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you confuse the history you would like to believe with the actual facts.

  31. Scotus – which Catholic Church are you referring to? The Inquisition or today’s Vatican? Please note that the Church is a HUMAN institution and it changes like any other human institution.

    And finally I would like to reiterate: Please do not confuse the interest of the clergy with faith. God does not discriminate against her children by revealing the truth to the clergy and not to others. As for the Church’s spiritual beliefs, I have no quarrels with any religions. I judge the Church as it pertains to human history and human life. Nobody, and particularly the clergy who have peddled superstition since ancient Egypt, has monopoly over the truth. In a free society, we all have the right to interpret history and facts.

  32. Anonymous,

    The Church is neither the Church of the Inquisition of yesterday nor the Vatican of today. The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yes, in Her human elements, the Church changes, but insofar as She is the Body of Christ, like Christ, She remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. (What’s more, I frankly can’t understand how anything I said could have motivated your question or comment.)

    It is true that neither the clergy nor anyone else has a monopoly on the truth, but claiming that the clergy has peddled superstition since ancient Egypt indicates an ignorance of, rather than a knowledge of, the truth.

    Finally, in a free society we are left at liberty to interpret history and facts, but that does not mean everyone’s interpretation of history and facts is a true one or equally worthwhile.

  33. Scotus – bringing all this Church mythology to this discussion (body of Christ, etc.) will not get us anywhere in terms of discussing historical facts. I think you are mixing your own religious beliefs with disinterested/secular observation. Not only I but other Christians as well won’t agree with this kind of intrepretation of history.

  34. Suleiman,

    Using such prejudicial terms as “mythology” won’t get us anywhere either. Also, how can we discuss this subject without talking about “religious beliefs?” As a matter of faith, Catholics believe the Church is the Body of Christ, and that faith will, perforce, be essential to how they interpret and understand history. Of course, the same is true of everybody else. Your trenchant libertarian – rationalistic world view, to say the least, colors your interpretation of history no less that a Catholic’s faith in his Church colors his. (Just a guess, but you must be a great fan of Ayn Rand.)

    You don’t have to agree with Catholic belief, but you can’t invalidate it by, almost tautologically, pointing out it’s religious belief. Nor does the fact that there are Christians who do not accept the Catholic Church’s interpretation of history invalidate that interpretion, anymore than Pasteur’s theory about the cause of infectious diseases was invalidated because, at one time, it was disbelieved by many other scientists.

    Catholics maintain that, while faith goes beyond reason, it is not contrary to it. What’s more they maintain one can adduce historical evidence in support of the claims of faith. Lex and I have both tried to do this with you, but, frankly, you seem totally unwilling to entertain any argument that disagrees with your preconceived notions about history.

  35. On a lighter note, Sullivan links to Medienkritik :

    Hard to beat the idiocy of this wacko conspiracy theory: A top member of the German Green party – Antje Vollmer, the highest ranking woman in Germany’s parliament (and a real beauty by any definition) – accuses the U.S. government of an underhanded campaign against pedophile Catholic priests aimed at punishing Pope John Paul II for his opposition to the Iraq war.

    I am not sure if she sides with Suleiman/Rationalist or Lex/Scotus/Catholic, though I doubt either side really wants her. (George Bush really does drive some people crazy; German greens don’t strike me as originally working to defend pedophile priests.) (Well, light if one isn’t being represented by Ms. Vollmer.)

  36. Scotus – yes I am a fan of Ayn Rand but not a great fan because I do not agree with her idea that being selfish is a virtue. I also leave that up to the individual.

    I am surprised by how you view history … it sounds very Marxist in its methodology. My approach to understanding history is just looking at plain facts, devoid of any ideology. God gave us reasoning ability and whether you like it or not, it is our only guide in navigating the natural world. Any other approach, whether Catholic or Marxist-Lenninst, only brings disaster.

    Just a guess from my side: do you also believe in the fantasy (fantasy being going beyond rationalism and empiricism) of creationism? Do you believe the world was created as the Book of Gensis explains it?

    P.S. I do not disagree with your idea of “faith going beyond reason”. However, in understanding human affairs, your approach is totally irrelvant. Your approach is the realm of the supernatural, not natural. It is you and Lex who have chosen to inject God in human affairs … not God herself.

  37. Still proud of your comparison between the Church and Communism, eh Suleiman? I guess Yuri Andropov was just confused when he tried to have Pope John Paul murdered. The Pope wasn’t Andropov’s enemy; he was his friend. (At the very least, Andropov should have made common cause with the Pope for a while in their battle against the enlightened, libertarian, “rationalistic” West, like Stalin made common cause for a while with Hitler.)

    Since Galileo was the only one of the scientists that I mentioned to face the Inquisition, I have a proposal. Since Sakharoav is dead, let me describe, accurately, the Church’s treatment of Galileo to Sharansky (for example how Galileo was allowed to live in a very nice villia with several servants), and we’ll let Sharanksy decide whether the Church’s treatment of Galileo constitutes Soviet style tyranny.

    Finally, Suleiman, if you really believe you look at history devoid of ideology, then it’s you who’s living a fantasy. You know, Suleiman, I honestly believe that, if you have already made up your mind that a certain person is a man, you would not change that belief even if the person took off her clothes and gave birth before your eyes.

    BTW, I do not believe the world was created in six days 5000 years ago, though I do believe the Genesis account is an excellent metaphorical representation of how all that exists is the creation of God and how He does choose to intervene directly into history.

    Ginny, I certainly do not claim Ms. Vollmer. With people like Suleiman around, the Church doesn’t need “friends” like her.

  38. A point that should be mentioned re the (Christian) church’s role in history is the relative effects of that history with respect to the present and when the events happened. Recent events are many times more relevant to the current state of affairs than are events that happened in earlier times.

    The generally (classical) liberal outlook held by almost everyone in this country stems from the (especially Protestant) Christian religion. Christianity, in Sunday sermons in towns all over this country has, for the last two and a half centuries, preached a message of tolerance and acceptance. This history of sermons has shaped the moral climate and outlook (for people of all beliefs, even you Sulaiman) of this country.

    (As the country prospered this tolerance and prosperity has manifested itself to the point of acceptance of decadence….tolerance run amok. But that’s another story.)

    The point is, that when analyzing the present, one must discount the past to some extent. The further in the past an occurance is, the more it must be discounted, the less readily it’s influence directly has on the present state of affairs. Thus the influence of the crusades, etc. is inconsequential compared to the “recent” Sunday sermons when considering the present conditions with respect to the church (JPII’s influence in the last century must be examined with this in mind also). If one is “living in the past” one may take issue with that statement….

  39. Sulaiman wrote:

    Scotus – which Catholic Church are you referring to? The Inquisition or today’s Vatican? Please note that the Church is a HUMAN institution and it changes like any other human institution.

    Scotus replied:

    The Church is neither the Church of the Inquisition of yesterday nor the Vatican of today. The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yes, in Her human elements, the Church changes, but insofar as She is the Body of Christ, like Christ, She remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. (What’s more, I frankly can’t understand how anything I said could have motivated your question or comment.)
    It is true that neither the clergy nor anyone else has a monopoly on the truth, but claiming that the clergy has peddled superstition since ancient Egypt indicates an ignorance of, rather than a knowledge of, the truth.


    Your assertions about the eternal nature of the Church are unconvincing to someone who does not share your particular religious faith. From an outsider’s perspective the Church must be exclusively a human institution. While I reject historical guilt, guilt by association and collective guilt, I think that Sulaiman raises a valid question about institutional accountability. Surely some clergy have peddled superstition and surely some depredations — the Inquisition and Crusades are obvious examples — have been committed in the name of the Church. You appear to be arguing that the Church’s good is inherent while its bad is exceptional. Perhaps you are right. However, I do not think it is reasonable to expect outsiders to see the situation as anything other than a set of good and bad behaviors by the same institution, to be taken together and weighed against each other.

    I think that JP2 understood this point, and that that is one of the reasons for his popularity with non-Catholics.

  40. Jonathan – Amen, brother!

    On one of your previous points … I agree that JP2 was good to Jews and he even extended his hand to Muslims (and Muslims’ current attitudes towards Christianity and Judaism is not something to be proud of, but that is the subject of another discussion). However, unlike Chinese history, we can NOT put all our eggs in one basket of a good emperor. The West has prospered when it has had institutional accountability to people. It is what comes after JP2 that worries me. Liberation Theology, which is antagonistic to free enterprise system, is still well and alive within the Church. And the next Pope (or the one after next) could be someone who may see you and me as infidels and preach the message of hatred to his flock. For minorities like you and me, the best form of government is a secular one with a clear separation of church and state. And had the founding fathers lived in our time, they would have surely made the separation of church and state stronger in the Constitution.

    Honestly speaking, I get scared when I hear all this talk about Jesus/Mohammed (at least Jews have the decency of keeping their faith to themselves) in public discourses. And I have no doubt that owners of capital equally get scared when they see institutionalized religion running wild.

  41. I am not saying that separation isn’t important, but I’m quite curious where you see “institutionalized religion running wild.”

    It is ironic that in relatively post-religious countries like Germany and England the established religions remain interwoven in the government – dead weights, perhaps, but still there. I suspect that our forefathers would, indeed, be surprised at how thoroughly the US in the next two centuries moved from the common practice of their time. Not that I don’t think that is a good thing nor would they, quite probably; still, taking remarks made when national churches was a norm and applying these to the immense diversity and non-established nature of American churches today midunderstands their fears and goals.

    Religious feeling in America, even feeling as fervent and, well, partisan, as Scotus’ is still a personal feeling. It is not empowered by the state, even in the weak way that the weak Anglican church is empowered in England.

    I agree with Jonathan, as someone from another tradition I have affection and admiration for Scotus’ faith, but do not myself find it convincing. But what I cherish about our country (and I would include the last two comments here in this) is that even as we disagree, we respect that feeling in others and are willing to see it as sincere. This respect sometimes seems lost in the “tolerance” of some nations and is certainly lost in the “intolerance” of others. And it is that respect I don’t want to see lost.

  42. Jonathan,

    You correctly characterize my claims about the Church. I do not, however, expect “outsiders,” as a matter of faith, to believe the “Church’s good is inherent while its bad is exceptional.” What I do expect, however, is for outsiders not to find that faith belief of “insiders” rationally absurd without looking carefully and honestly into all the foundations — historical, philosophical, etc. — for that belief. Both Lex and I (and John Paul II too, while also, as you indicate, acknowledging the Church’s imperfections and past sins) have adduced such evidence, but Suleiman is clearly totally unwilling to entertain it, given his ideological prejudices.

    Also, I think that, as Tyouth indicates, the past is often very complex. Lots of people have formed conclusions about such things as the Inquisition and the Crusades without knowing the full story. I’m not saying that evil was not done in the name the Church during those events. What I am saying is that an honest evaluation of the evidence will show that the Church cannot be usefully or coherently compared to the Soviet Union, the evil of which was inherent and the good of which was exceptional. I also maintain that claims the Church can be so compared are founded on ideology, not on facts, and are libel pure and simple, indicating, as Ginny might say, a lack of respect and tolerance.

  43. Sulaiman,

    Just to be clear: While it appears to me as a casual observer that today’s Roman Catholic Church has some management problems, I also think that it is generally a benign and in many ways a positive institution.

  44. Jonathan – I agree that the Church is more or less benign (African Catholics do not necessarily see it this way — the AIDS case) but that is because it lives within the boundaries of a secular world where it has to compete for market share. And I wish to keep it that way.

  45. Sulaiman,

    I am trying to look at things as they are now. The Catholic church now is not high on my list of threats to peace or freedom. If the situation changes I will reconsider.

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