A man stands in a public place (for some reason only in the warm weather) yelling at passers-by about how we’re all doomed to imaginary torment unless we submit to an equally imaginary tyrant from mythology – we tut and hope we can continue on our way without making eye contact.
Another posts on the net about his experiences with aliens – we shake our head that such delusions exist in our society.
Still another burbles to anyone within earshot about voices in his head and demons only he can see – we pity him and hope he gets professional medicated help.
Yet when the head of a known criminal and political organisation broadcasts on Radio 4 that God often surprises us when it grants our wishes, suddenly it’s “a great opportunity to spread the Christmas message” which needs to be pondered for its depth and profundity.
Quite rightly, the broadcast has not passed without criticism from the National Secular Society:
“[…] I think it’s an extraordinarily bad choice for the BBC, and I think it’s actually a slap in the face to these tens and hundreds of thousands of child abuse victims.
“I think the problem is that the Pope, and indeed the Vatican, manages – because of its chameleon status between church and state – to kind of move to a position at any moment that accords it maximum power and the least amount of accountability.
“What we’ve been having, particularly with the Papal visit and again, indeed, with Thought For The Day, is the Pope pontificating his views and telling us everything and being totally unaccountable for the quite terrible things that the church has been responsible for.”
To be fair, Ratzinger was only doing his job. That said, I can’t think of another profession which calls for being either completely delusional or knowingly fraudulent. In any other job, if the boss truly believed in talking snakes, magic food, walking dead men etc, s/he would be a laughing stock. Certainly any decisions s/he made would be viewed as suspect by default. Imagine if our next Prime Minister not only was a huge Star Wars fan but truly believed it was all true and real and insisted on turning up for work dressed as a Jedi, trying to control his opponetns’ minds with handwaves and gestures; how long would you reckon before someone was spending more time with his family? You could measure it in minutes.
That’s why Blair didn’t “do God” while in office.
Now if that boss, instead of being a loony, was known to be a liar (hey there’s Blair again!) who stood 100% behind whatever product they were selling while knowing it was nothing but shit, sooner or later s/he’d be locked up for fraud. There’s a reason TV programmes like Watchdog exist.
So Ratboy: which is it I wonder? Liar or loony?
But maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe there’s something of value in his radio message regardless of its source:
“Germany calling… Germany calling…”
Whoops – my bad. I’ll start again:
“Dear friends from Scotland, England and Wales and indeed every part of the English speaking world, I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this holy season.”
What, even us Third-World Nazi atheists? Er… thanks, I suppose. (I knew we should have got him someting else besides socks.) Interesting as well that he should include Scotland and Wales as English speaking.
“I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time.”
Anyone else uncomfortable with this? It reads to me like the creepiest letter to Santa in history.
At the Christmas season, says Pope Benedict, our thoughts recall a moment in history when the Israelites were waiting for the Messiah whom they pictured as a great leader who would restore their freedom.
A friend of mine, possessed of a great knowledge and love of history, particularly this period, wrote a somewhat lengthy piece on one of the forae that I haunt which covered precisely that (non-)issue:
The plain fact is that at the time it [the NT] was written there was far more angst in Judaea than in the time when jesus was allegedly walking around. In the first century BC there was a serious internal struggle between the pharisees and the sadduccees under king Alexander Jannaeus. On his death a long period of dynastic infighting ensued among the Hasmonean heirs. The Nabataeans, Romans and Parthians took turns intervening in Judaean affairs by backing rival claimants. When Pompey Magnus took the city c 64 BC he clapped his boy on the back, said “You’re our guy” and left to finish his mission of making the East safe for Roman commerce! In short order the Parthians moved in but the Romans by that time were deeply involved in their own civil war and while Herod the Great was named “king” by the senate in 40 it was not until 37 that he actually took Jerusalem.
Herod, although an Idumaean and not a Judaean brought a period of relative calm which doubtless was resented by the old power structure but his engineering exploits cannot have been undertaken against a backdrop of violence. On his death (4 BC) the kingdom was divided among his sons and this touched off a revolt which brought Publius Quinctilius Varus, then governor of Syria, with his legions to suppress and restore the sons to their thrones. This fact tells us that Varus was governor of Syria when Herod died. Phillip and Herod Antipas ruled their kingdoms successfully for over 30 years but their brother, Archelaus, was not so fortunate. Apparently pissing off the priests in Jerusalem, he forced them to petition Caesar Augustus to remove Archelaus and make Judaea a Roman praefecture in 6 AD. Augustus agreed, sent Archelaus packing, and instructed the new governor of Syria, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius to conduct a census of the new territory and to add it to the province of Syria.
[ Now, somewhere between 6 BC and 6 AD, xtians claim their godboy was born. Only 2 of their 4 “sources” bother to tell the story and they disagree. One says it happened when Herod was alive….the other than it happened as a result of Quirinius’ census. Obviously, both may be but one must be wrong. I go with both…the story is total horseshit.] So now, it is 6 AD, there are some small scale riots in Judaea but these are apparently suppressed easily without the legions marching down from Syria again and Josephus describes the next 20 years of various Roman Praefects in a single paragraph which gives no notion of any upheaval in the land. In 26, Pontius Pilate becomes Praefect and his arrogance and insensitivity (and probably outright criminal behavior, as well) cause problems as both Josephus and Philo of Alexandria tell us. But it is important to remember that the actions of Roman officials later on, were far more provocative…including both the Emperors Caligula and Nero. During the reigns of Tiberius and Augustus the Judaeans had it pretty good. They were exempted from worshipping Roman gods and under the rule of a distant Praefect (Roman HQ was in Caesarea, not Jerusalem) which gave the Sanheddrin a degree of autonomy in local matters. It is really hard to find a lot of social stress in the first third of the first century AD yet this is exactly when, for whatever reason, xtians place their godboy trying to stir up some shit.
Smackdown. How many strikes before you’re considered out in this game?
Anyway, to continue:
He added that God “often surprises us” in the way he fulfils his promises.
“The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place – he was to be the saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history.”
It was not a political liberation, achieved through military means, he added, but rather “Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the cross”.
He urged people to ask Jesus Christ to expel any darkness they have in their lives and added: “Let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us, and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down; he gives us hope, he brings us life.”
Apart from this little aside I’ll throw in here:
“There is no evidence outside the Bible that Jesus was really born in Bethlehem at all … Neither John’s Gospel nor Mark’s Gospel mentions it, and St Paul does not seem to know about it either.”
– Mark Tully (Lives of Jesus, p62)
and pointing out that allowing yourself to be killed is not much of a sacrifice if you know you’re coming back to life after a few days, I’ll just say that anyone tuning in to hear some amazingly profound pontifications would have been sorely disappointed (though, as with the Emperor’s clothes, you’ll never get them to admit it). To summarise the broadcast: “Hey everyone, guess what? Shit happens. If it’s nice and fluffy shit, pretend there’s an invisible magic fairy in the clouds making it happen. But if it’s nasty shit, close your eyes and wish like really, really hard until you can pretend it’s all nice again. And while I’ve got your attention, sign up to my ‘free’ lessons on how to think yourself to be better than everyone else, like what I am. Oh and by the way – pay no attention to that suspicious-looking priest behind the curtain.”
Il Papa Ratzinger: a man standing in a public place yelling at passers-by.