Pope Francis shows some promise towards nonbelievers

I wrote yesterday that I was optimistic about Pope Francis, particularly when it comes to what seems to be a shift to the left on economic issues and aid for the poor. But I also expressed some hope that he’d continue the interfaith commitments he demonstrated as a cardinal.

I was unsure, though, whether this ecumenical spirit would extend across faith lines to nonbelievers as well. It so happens, though, that yesterday, during a meeting with leaders from various religious groups, Francis assuaged a bit of my concerns. The National Catholic Review Online reports:

Ending his remarks, Francis said he also “feel[s] close to all men and women who, although not claiming to belong to any religious tradition, still feel themselves to be in search of truth, goodness and beauty.”

They, the pope said, “are our precious allies in the effort to defend human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in carefully protecting creation.”

As someone who cares about finding and promoting truth, goodness, and beauty, I’ve got to say I find these comments fairly encouraging. And the (notably secular) goals Francis mentions are well worth promoting, even if we might have some disagreements here and there about what they might actually entail. These comments echo a lot of the importance of interfaith work and religious pluralism, and I think these things are important to affect genuine and meaningful social change. So I think some of my optimism has been somewhat validated.

Religion News Services expands on Francis’s comments a bit, though, and that does give me some apprehension:

Francis echoed his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, saying that the “attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity” has often led to catastrophic violence.

So it seems that Francis doesn’t present a complete break from Benedict’s tendency to hold secularization as the culprit for many of the problems in the world. So we still might have some room to quibble, it might seem.

Ultimately, though, it’s tough to generalize broadly from so few quotes so early, and it’s true that talk is relatively cheap. So while I have some optimism—though obviously not without some reservations—I’m still waiting to see how his commitments and comments hold over time, and relate to future policy.

It also seems that I’m not the only atheist optimistic about the new papacy. Jake Wallis Simons writes for the Telegraph:

This is a man who pays his own hotel bills, travels by bus and jeep, wades out into the crowds unguarded, and makes his own telephone calls. (Yesterday, he telephoned the main number of a Jesuit residence in Rome. The receptionist, upon hearing the identity of the caller, responded “yeah, and I’m Napoleon”.) This might seem like no great shakes, but given the luxury normally showered upon his office, it takes guts.

In other words, whatever one may think of his views, the Pope has genuine humility. This is such an unusual quality these days that it is like a beacon, outshining our reservations about him. Indeed, the term “Jesuit”, formerly associated with tyrannical school regimes and sadism in the public imagination, has started to be rehabilitated.

False humility can be spotted a mile off, of course, and we are all used to doing that. But Pope Francis has proved that authentic humility can be just as immediately visible. This most straightforward of qualities has been absent from public life for so long that we have almost forgotten it were possible. If our politicians had a bit of this to offer, the world would be a very different place.

If nothing else, I can’t say I disagree.

h/t to commenter “JM” for the link.


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