The logic of Pope Francis’s claim that “God is not afraid of new things” calls for some comment, and the crossing of several pons asinori.
First, if you are a Christian, it is a statement of the obvious: God, as God, is not afraid of anything. (Christ, as a man, was apparently afraid of crucifixion — His sacrifice would have had no meaning if it had not included fear — but that is a different matter.)
While God is not afraid of new things, there are many instances in which Man should be afraid of new things, from bio-engineering to nuclear weapons. Both Nazism and Communism had claims to be new things, new orders sweeping away old dead orders.
The Australian leftist historian Manning Clark hailed communism as the “young green tree” supplanting the “old dead tree” of Parliamentary democracy — “a corrupt and doomed society,” and countless similar expressions are to be found in other leftist writings. But what matters is not whether a thing is new or old, but whether it is right or wrong, good or evil. Christianity is not a new religion: its followers hold it to be the final expression of a truth and of values that some other ancient religions saw through a glass darkly. In many ways it is held to improve on the Old Testament but not to innovate save on one sensational aspect. C. S. Lewis said: “Our faith is not pinned on a crank.”
Kipling wrote in “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” (maxims that children were once set to copying, ostensibly to improve their writing), of the eternal verities, set against innovative fashions, which appear to be new but are actually as old as Man:
We were living in trees when They met us. They showed us each in turn
That water would certainly wet us, that fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind…
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace;
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed they sold us, and delivered us bound to the foe;
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said “stick to the devil you know.”
On the first Ferminian sandstones we were promised the fuller life,
Which started by loving thy neighbour and ended by loving his wife;
Till our women had no more children, and our men lost reason and faith,
And the gods of the copybook headings said “The wages of sin is death.”
Evelyn Waugh once said “the church has a duty not to move with the times,” not only because it had a duty to minister to the spiritual needs of conservatives as well everyone else, but beyond that because it has a duty to be the ultimate adamantine rock in defense of those eternal verities.
Pope Francis has reportedly said regarding sexual behavior (though his subsequent statements may have qualified this): “Who am I to judge?” One answer might be: “You call yourself the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Christ who told the woman taken in adultery to ‘Go and sin no more.’ He did not say: ‘Who am I to judge?’ or its obvious corollary: ‘There is no such thing as sin.’ If you are not to judge, who is?” Logic suggests that the only answer, for the world’s Catholics at least, is: “Nobody.”
Tolstoy said: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” This is a closely related belief with a long and distinguished pedigree, some of its leading lights including the Marquis de Sade, Alistair Crowley, and Charles Manson, as well as its being an underpinning of atheistic Marxism. One of the greatest insights of Judeo-Christianity and the other great religions is that Man must live, or try to live, by certain rules. The Ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Norse had rules for the righteous soul, and some sort of Judgment.
What happens when the rules are wished away, we have seen all too plainly in human history. Judging is a hard task, sometimes even an irrational one, but without rules — in this case rules that have held the Church, and the West, on some sort if course since the beginning — we are left with stark chaos or worse. We fall, as George Orwell (an atheist) put it, not into a bed of roses but a cesspool full of barbed wire.
If the Pope shrinks from judging, for the Catholic World at least, there is no judge, except perhaps the individual conscience, and that conscience will have no guide or shepherd. One can hardly imagine this is what the fathers of the church, to say nothing of its Founder, intended. It points towards the moral relativism that both Benedict and John Paul the Great fought with all their intellectual energy against as the tool of the ultimate Enemy.
Kipling (a syncretist) concludes:
And after all that is accomplished, and the brave new world begins,
Where all men are paid for existing, and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return.
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