Libertine atheism

Several readers have noticed how little I’ve had to say about our current Pope, whether here or elsewhere. But you know me, always trying to avoid controversy. “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing.” Today, thanks to a correspondent in Virginia, getting at the latest Sandro Magister post before I could, I have something nice to say. It follows from the meeting last week in Rome of Pope Francis with the President of one of those unfortunate American republics, which lie to the south of us. (There is one I can get glimpses of, just across the Lake, from up here in the High Doganate.) You know the gentleman, surely. He has been on TV. He was the one with the big grin: that wide, painted, danse-macabre grin he was wearing while he stood beside our Pope for the photo-op in Rome. The Pope, for his part, was glowering.

The two faces, in juxtaposition, seemed plainly to suggest their respective positions on contraception, abortion, and the vicious attacks on religious freedom over here in the New World — most recently through the provisions of something called “Obamacare,” designed to put every faithful Christian on the spot, with fines and other punishments unless he agrees to make a public sacrifice of his own conscience, and worship at the shrine of Belial.

This is not how the matter was presented in the pages of the New York Times, however. On the other hand, elsewhere in that paper I noticed that even they begin to characterize their President and his administration as enemies of liberty — at least, liberty of the press. They are on the cusp of noticing that their President is, to put this as nicely as I can, often less than candid about his actual agenda.

Just between us, I expect politicians to lie. That is their trade, after all, and many have devoted decades to the mastery of this art of “circumlocution,” which contains many little techniques of deceit, and is in turn part of the larger art of mass suckering, or “democracy.” The master of this art can tell a very big lie, that is aggregated from small, factually checkable statements, or uncheckable statements that will pass glibly. The art is in the selection of his “talking points,” and in omitting the connectives, the reasoning, that takes him from point to point. As a student of rhetoric, I can admire a talented sophist, simply as a craftsman. He is, like an old-fashioned circus magician, able to distract his audience in key moments, to perform his tricks. He can turn even the sceptics into a cheering section. They all go off and vote for him, now he has shown that he can deliver an endless supply of rabbits, or anything else they may require.

However, the President in question lies without the slightest air of plausibility. I consider that poor workmanship. He does it again and again, with or without the help of his teleprompter; and except for the humourless types at Fox News, nobody calls him on it. He secured victory in the last election by having the tax department methodically neutralize organizations that had delivered crushing electoral rebukes to his party in the previous mid-terms. Very well, corruption goes with the territory. Any political party in a “democracy” may try that sort of thing, by way of clinging to power. The experts love a winner, and will smile on their success.

My outrage is instead directed to his public statements afterwards; about that and other matters including Benghazi, where knowing lies were told, in something of a panic, to keep the matter off the political agenda until the election was over. Once again, that is what politicians do, when they have the means to do it. And lies like that are limited, not systemic; they are only meant to serve in the absence of any more subtle deceit. Later, they can be retracted. But when later, the acts are fully exposed — and no acknowledgement is made of the fact of exposure — my rant begins.

As I say, corruption I expect. And I expect them to try to get away with it. But when they are caught, mere decency requires a little show of contrition. This did not occur.

The same comment, really, for contraception, abortion, infanticide, and innumerable other crimes — fornication, adultery, sodomy, bestiality — and whatever else Phil Robertson mentioned in the alligator swamp. I know these things happen. I am sometimes prepared to look the other way. I will allow that, in some cases, the consequences of having a law are worse than the consequences of not having a law; that we should “live and let live,” tolerate the tolerable, so long as it does not spread. But the argument that these are not wrongs, not “sins” both by revelation and reason — which, in principle, ought to be discouraged — goes beyond me.

Sin in secrecy is perfectly comprehensible. But when it ceases to be secret, and is flaunted without shame, well: “Houston, we have a problem.”

To Sandro Magister I send the curious reader for the best account yet of how the current Pope may, indeed, be Catholic. [Link.] At the most basic, viscerally intentional level, he, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis, seems to know exactly what he is dealing with, when he is meeting with men of worldly power; who have sold their souls to the devil to obtain it; whose dishonesty extends even to denying that crimes are crimes. I am relieved to learn that Francis is a “disciple” of such a thinker as Alberto Methol Ferré, whose description of contemporary “libertine atheism” is so astute. For the prospect of the Church herself making concessions to Belial is of concern to me.

Doing wrong is common enough. We’ve been doing that since Adam. But denying that wrong is wrong — that is where we pass from the human into the metaphysical realm of evil.