Kenan Malik is another who is not impressed by the surface “liberalism” of the new pope, and, happily, he is not impressed by it in the NY Times, where he will reach many people.
Francis may be transforming the perception of the church and its mission, but not its core doctrines. He has called for a church more welcoming to gay people and women, but he will not challenge the idea that homosexual acts are sinful, refuses to embrace the possibility of same-sex marriage and insists that the ordination of women as priests is not “open to discussion.”
Oh oh oh but he mentions The Poor. He doesn’t wear the red shoes. He lives in a couple of rooms and goes places on the bus. Surely that’s good enough! Surely gestures are all anybody could possibly want.
Religious values are immensely flexible over time. Christian beliefs on many issues, from slavery to women, have changed enormously in the past two millenniums. Yet an institution like the Catholic Church can never be truly “modern.” The authority of the church rests on its claim to be able to interpret God’s word. Were the church to modify its teachings to meet the preferences of its flock, then its authority would inevitably weaken. But were it not to do so, the chasm between official teaching and actual practice would continue to grow.
And that is, of course, our fundamental problem with religion, those of us who have such a problem. It’s the problem I have with “God” – the fact that there’s no avenue of appeal, no way to negotiate or object. It’s an anti-human arrangement.
According to Professor Woodhead, few British believers now look to religion as the primary source of moral guidance. Most follow their own reason or intuition, or the advice of family and friends; fewer than one in 10 of believers seek guidance from God or a holy book. None look to religious leaders. The only faith that shows a substantially different pattern is, again, Islam.
It is easy to see why conservatives and traditional believers would find these figures troubling. Even for nonbelievers and social liberals, however, there may be cause for concern. The more open attitudes to social mores and the greater willingness to think for oneself are welcome. But the decay of religious authority points also to a more atomized society and a destruction of collective consensus about moral judgments.
But collective consensus about moral judgments is simply oppressive if it’s a bad consensus, as it so often is. The possibility of change and reform is the only hope of abandoning bad consensus moral judgments over time.