Rejecting Authority

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“In this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions – that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble.”

~ Pope Francis, in an August interview conducted on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica, America and several other major Jesuit journals around the world.

Francis continues to blow my mind; I never thought I’d hear a Pope say such right-on things. But the world is changing faster and faster. If Catholicism or any other religion wants to thrive, it’s going to have to embrace chaos and uncertainty rather than deny them. As technology continues to erase barriers, as the world in all its complexity crashes in on each of us more and more, anyone who claims to have absolute answers is going to be seen as irrelevant.

What humanity needs is leaders who will show us how to engage with the world as it IS. How to successfully navigate a dizzying array of voices and choices. One reason for the rise of fundamentalism and orthodoxy around the world is simple fear. Confusion and uncertainty are very threatening to the ego. Simple answers, black and white notions of good and evil, right and wrong can seem like a rock to cling to in a stormy sea. Finding an “answer” in some rigid set of beliefs is very reassuring (suddenly, we feel not just reassured, but right, and nothing feels better than that). Until, inevitably, we’re forced to confront some new fact that doesn’t fit our tidy worldview.

What the Pope is saying, in interview after interview, is that this doctrinaire reliance on rules and certainty takes us away from God, not closer to God. That as human beings we can never really know what God is, or the nature of God. That no person can claim with any degree of authority to know God, or know what God thinks or desires. This is, pardon me, some radical shit to hear from a major religious leader, much less the Pope. Read what he’s saying. It’s amazing. Time and again, he is rejecting authority for himself. The old hippie paradigm of the 60s was to reject outside authority, and that’s a start… but rejecting authority for oneself is where it’s really at (to borrow an old hippie phrase).

Because that’s how you experience real spirituality: by transcending your ego. It’s your ego that wants authority, either for yourself or from others. Or from your notion of God. It’s basically the desire to be a child again, to experience that warm feeling of protection and safety that comes from believing in your parents’ infallibility. We all eventually learn that our parents are not infallible, but many of us take the wrong lesson from this: we blame our parents for failing and go searching for some new authority figure to give us that safe feeling again.

But increasingly, the times we live in are demanding that we grow up. To grow up doesn’t mean to become an authority figure. Far from it. To grow up means to take responsibility for yourself and your own imperfections. To watch your very best intentions go totally awry. To hurt people you love, helplessly and unintentionally. To make big mistakes and to have to own the consequences. To keep trying, despite being humbled by the huge gap between the person you know you could be and the person you actually are.

And whatever God is (I surely don’t know), God is in that gap. You find your way through it haltingly, stumblingly, blindly. There is no rock to cling to. There’s only the effort, the movement toward something better and more noble, and the inevitable sliding back. And real grace is when we develop some compassion for our fellow stumblers. Francis gets this. We are not here on this earth to be certain. We’re here to be uncertain, to try to know something we can never know, to believe in something we have no hard evidence for.

It’s called faith. To hear it being preached by the Pope, to see it being lived by him, is a profoundly inspiring and hopeful thing.

Read the full text of the Pope’s interview, quoted above.

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