Is the Pope chosen by God, or not?

After day one of the Vatican series of Big Brother, before Jorge “Super” Mario Bergoglio won Pope Idol and launched his new career by taking the stage name “Francis”, I was feeling provocative:

I know what the answer would be, and even if I didn’t, a lifetime of belief has made me highly skilled at providing post hoc explanations of all sorts of things. God doesn’t speak like that, we’re only sinful, fallible mortals, speaking clearly and unmistakably would prove His existence (the Babel Fish Argument), and so on. Shame on me for betraying my ignorance and superficiality with such a slanted question.

Church Lightning

Maybe this will get your attention!

Or not. Twitter’s not an ideal forum for a detailed discussion, but those predictable stock responses are very revealing in their own way. If God doesn’t speak in a clear, unambiguous way, even over such an important issue to a group of (you’d think) the holiest men in the church, when would He ever communicate His wishes clearly?

But if God doesn’t make a clear statement, so that even a gathering restricted to the very highest reaches of the church can’t quickly form a pretty clear opinion on what His wishes might be, how come those same people are always so very sure that they know exactly what He thinks about all sorts of other things?

This isn’t a problem restricted to Catholics, either. Every church experiences the same thing, with debate and divisions at every level about what God wants to be done, but united and firm in the belief that they know what He really wants in any number of different areas where they want to preach to the rest of us. Anyone who’s ever served on a Parochial Church Council will recognise the same thing. It’s just that Rome, like Texas, seems to do everything a little bit bigger.

Looking upIf the cardinals who elect the next Pope can’t agree on who God would prefer, what are the odds that the Pope can do any better, once appointed? How is he meant to reliably (and occasionally infallibly) set out doctrine if God’s as clear and communicative as a teenager with laryngitis? Even explanations like scripture and tradition just move the question back a step, as they still ultimately rely on some form of divine revelation.

I don’t really care how they run their club – political considerations and deep divisions are par for the course in any organisation. But when God’s will is so hard to discern, even among people who believe in Him and share a common background and understanding, it would be nice if they could stop being so outspoken in using their interpretation of “God’s plan” and “God’s law” to deny others basic rights.

Images courtesy of emilbacik and mikecco, used with permission

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

5 responses to “Is the Pope chosen by God, or not?”

  1. Vini Marques (@vinimarques) says :

    Not to mention that clearly they didn’t hear well (or… something) when they chose Ratzinger.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I suppose that could be considered a matter of opinion, but it does seem odd that God would choose someone only to change His mind, or possibly choose someone who was going to quit early.

      Especially as Bergoglio was apparently second choice when Ratzi was elected.

  2. crashingintograce says :

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post! Even if the Pope is chosen by God, though (a question on which I take no position), at most that would show that in some instances, the truth can take time to discern. It would not make it any less true, though. And even if the truth is sometimes difficult to discern, it does not follow that it is always difficult. While discerning God’s will on who should be Pope might be hard, discerning His position on–say, adultery–is still comparatively easy. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed this post, and I look forward to reading more!

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I don’t think adultery helps here. It’s either something that everyone would pretty much agree on with or without God (my view), or at some point someone must have discerned that God doesn’t like it, even though that went completely against expectations. If that sort of change is possible, God could surely make any message clear.

      But let’s say for the sake of argument that adultery is a clear no-no from the divine perspective. That’s a fairly uncontroversial view, but what methodology can be applied to determine that? Does this one example say anything about how to discern God’s will beyond that particular subject?

      I don’t think it does, because there are many thousands of Christian sects, not even counting other religions. If there’s a clear way of discerning God’s will, why the disagreement? Maybe you’d say that the differences are trivial, but Christians can’t even agree on which areas of belief are significant, and which are down to personal preference.

  3. david says :

    I just can’t believe that anyone is so stupid as to actually believe that they have this invisible silent pretend friend thing they call god. Get real guys. It’s a complete and utter fantasy. Grow up. I know you love having your invisible silent pretend friend but he, she or it just ain’t there. Uh Uh !! Accept the truth instead of continually deluding yourself with this god rubbish.

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