Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Pope as PR Front-Man

In his visit to some of the earthquake-hit areas of Italy, the Pope is reminiscent of a CEO who emerges and makes himself ubiquitous to quell a public relations catastrophe ensuing from the release of sensitive customer data, toxic toy paint, or tainted cheese. Heather MacDonald puts the best face she can manage on this, well, facial presentation:

The Pope is undoubtedly a caring, generous man who has brought much-needed solace to the stricken survivors of the earthquake. Still, nonbelievers will be eternally puzzled by the logic of praising and praying to a God after a natural disaster that he could have averted. If God is sensitive enough and powerful enough to respond to prayers now, why didn’t he intervene before? And we know that he can intervene: see, e.g., the Bible and the daily priestly practice of asking for God’s protection against a whole host of human ills. The Pope may pray to God to show his mercy to the dead children of Abruzzo. Wouldn’t it have been more useful for God to have shown his mercy before they were killed? Presumably, believers see proof of God’s love in the survival of quake victims rescued from collapsed buildings, leaving unexplained why other quake victims were not so blessed.
Those are all good questions for which this pope has no better answers than the popes that came before. Still, wandering onto the scene of disasters and spreading the good news that the pain of today's crushed children is the fulfillment of tomorrow's divine plan, and otherwise issuing platitudes about the mysteriousness of god's ways, comes with the papal office. It follows that not having answers is part and parcel of being pope, which renews the question of why the pope should be taken seriously.

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