Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis Elected by Lefty Cardinals

The election of Pope Francis was a surprise to me. I thought that the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI meant that the Catholic Church had turned away from lefty social and political fashion.

Now the boys at Powerline have made everything clear. Pope Francis was the project of a cabal of lefty cardinals determined to reverse the conservative trend of John Paul and Benedict.
The group wanted a drastic reform of the Church, to make it “much more modern”, and for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to head it. 
OK. That explains everything. I suppose it's only natural that the Catholic Church should have factions, with one wanting to bring the church kicking and screaming into the modern age and the other wanting to reconnect with the basics of Christian faith.

But I wish that the College of Cardinals would read, learn and inwardly digest the work of Rodney Stark, sociologist of religion. In numerous books he has developed the idea that churches (and their more extreme versions in sects and cults) are faith organizations in some tension with the rest of society. The more they are in tension the more they need to establish and maintain strict rules for member behavior. The Jehovah's Witnesses are an example of a sect in strong tension with secular society and with strict rules for members. The Unitarian Church might just as well be the liberal ruling class at prayer; it is not in tension with the larger liberal society and does not enforce church discipline. This is all explained in Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke.

According to Stark, the decisions that church leaders make about tension and strictness will strongly influence the size of the church. There is a bell curve on church popularity. Both very low tension/strictness churches and very high tension/strictness churches tend to be small. The sweet spot is moderate tension and moderate strictness. Stark explains the decline of the "mainline" Protestant churches from the decision of their leaders to get more "modern" and reduce the tension with the rest of society and strictness enforced upon members. They moved out of the sweet spot of moderate tension/strictness into the less favorable low tension/strictness zone.

Now the Catholic Church used to be a moderately high tension/high strictness church. This seemed to be highly satisfying to the priests and nuns and to the loyal members. It was highly unsatisfying to the highly vocal Catholic children that experienced suffocation and domination from their Catholic childhoods. But the fact is that when the Church executed a lowering of tension and strictness in Vatican II membership fell off dramatically. And Stark shows that "vocations" -- meaning people entering the priesthood or a religious order -- is highest in the US in conservative Catholic dioceses.

So now comes another reform group anxious to liberalize the Catholic Church, reduce its tension with outside society on issues like marriage and climate change, and become more modern. What could go wrong with that?

This all dovetails with my Three Peoples theory. On my view, Christian churches are agencies that facilitate the transition from the People of the Subordinate Self to the People of the Responsible Self. Church reformers like the Vatican II chaps and the cabal that got Pope Francis elected are People of the Creative Self feeling irritated by the schlumps that want to keep on with the job of helping People of the Subordinate Self graduate into the sunny uplands of the People of the Responsible Self.

So, on my view stolen from Rodney Stark, the Pope Francis chaps are going to make the Catholic Church smaller. And that's a shame, because the Catholic Church is needed as never before helping Africans, Asians, and South Americans get out of their age-old subordinate peasant culture and become competent city dwellers and People of the Responsible Self. And that is to say nothing of demoralized underclass people in the developed West.

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