Pope Francis and the Power Myth

Have you read this interview with the newly ordained Pope Francis? I’ve noticed a great diversity in the reactions to this and other aspects of his Pope-ing style and substance.

I must make a confession: He has made me think a good deal more about spiritual matters than is typical.

Up front, I have to tell you that outside of three years at St. Bernard’s Elementary in Saranac Lake, New York, my relationship with Christianity has largely been mediated by commercial culture. Nothing but Christmas Trees and Easter Bunnies.

My view of Christianity is the same as most others; any religion that excludes people is flawed at its core. Ironically though, inside that flawed core sit principles that I wholeheartedly believe.

I don’t believe in a fixed heaven or hell. Nor do I believe in the Original Sin. I do believe that expressions of good and evil exist inside each of us and that the cultural view of the leaders in whom we trust influences the balance between good and evil more than anything.

Greek mythology dealt with these lofty issues by humanizing them in a unique way. Through the adventures and shenanigans of immortal beings, such as the god Zeus and goddess Athena, the Greeks idealized their expressions of supreme power tied to what was supposed to be benevolent stewardship

Tellingly, both Zeus and Athena (and the rest of their Mt Olympus crew) frequently fell short of these lofty expectations, thus exposing the core challenge of human imperfection and our idealized behavior around power.

King Arthur is another example of such a myth. It is best summed up with an idea we seem to be loosing faith in; Power Helps.

Expecting more from those is power is at the heart of the Power Helps mythology. Falling short of such expectations because of weak spots—dare I say Achilles heels—inherent in human character has created a multi-million-dollar market around the commercial/media indictment of our political, athletic and business heroes.

We tell stories to build them up and ensure they fall from great heights.

An extraordinary amount of time and energy is spent judging and evaluating the compliance with others to our version of what those people should be doing with their power.

Through this lens, most religious leaders fail us regularly, not because of anything as simplistic as “bad” leaders. I believe a religion that excludes anyone while trying to model the Zeus/Athena principle of power is doomed to fail from the start. It withholds help from those it judges unworthy. It is an irreconcilable conflict. Either “Power Helps” or we practice “Judgment and Exclusion.”

This is why Pope Francis is so extraordinary. He has tabled social issues based on judgment in favor of the unique power stewardship accorded to a man in his position.

The privilege and trappings of his position place him in the precarious position of having to thread a needle with a camel, to borrow a New Testament aphorism. The temptation to exclude must be extraordinary.

But this Pope seems to realize that while exclusion reduces vulnerability, it also reduces empathy and compassion. Among other effects, this can lead to reduced experimentation and abundance, which is where my decidedly non-Catholic interests are piqued.

On the flip side of the communion wafer, the Pope sees that inclusion can lead to a kind of vulnerability that ultimately strengthens the flock, producing why I call “unoffendablity” and increasing empathy and compassion. As you can likely guess, I believe such elements form pillars of courage leading to more, better experiments and increased abundance.

So power must be vulnerable in order to help. This is very, very tricky business and I cannot help but to believe we are witnessing a major world figure tapping into the energy that defines this present moment.

All humans, like Greek gods, Popes and politicians, are imperfect, but must choose a power mythology by choosing what they eat, consume and who they allow to lead.

To judge others is to consume a lifetime of fear.  Even the most perfect of those among us fail the ideal routinely.  And even the most “evil” have moments of empathy and compassion.

For me to even speak of such things as good and evil is a direct result of this Pope and his approach to this sacred position and I believe that millions of others are doing the same for the same reason.

Regardless of your religious affiliation (or non-affiliation), isn’t it a breath of fresh air to witness the emergence of someone in power who cares deeply about the gravity of his or her position?