Pope Francis said Friday that all of the world’s major religions are susceptible to violent radicalism and that there is no meaningful distinction between the various ideologies.
“Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist,” Francis said.
It’s easy to take this pontiff out of context and label him a leftist radical, but we believe – perhaps naively – that his heart is usually in the right place. The bulk of his message can be traced back to Jesus Christ, and it’s clear that he values sermons of inclusion and love, even if those sermons sometimes veer too far into the political realm.
A message that aims to break through our mental labels and judgements is a positive, Biblical one, and no follower of Christ should take exception to it. It’s an essential ingredient for spiritual growth. It is at the heart of the concept known as forgiveness, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see it in a Christian sermon.
So what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is that the pope – and by extension, the Catholic Church – is not seen exclusively as a spiritual messenger. His speeches are taken as political entreaties by both his supporters and his critics. So even when there is a benign way to look at Francis and his message, it gets obscured by people who wrap it up in their own preconceived opinions. And we could argue that Francis himself does not do enough to discourage this folly.
“There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions – and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia,” Francis continued.
Again, if you look at this as an individual, the message is sound. He’s telling you to drop your judgements and your hatred. And the reason is simple: You can’t possibly find the true peace of Christ if your head is constantly buzzing with thoughts of that sort. You become trapped in a prison of your own making, and you start seeing threats around every corner.
But when you take this message and you apply it to governmental policy and politics, trouble arises. And far too many of this pope’s fans are trying to do just that. They miss the spiritual message and just hear the words. They take a statement like “there is no Muslim terrorism” in the same way they would take it if it were spoken by Barack Obama. A message aimed at internal salvation becomes a nonsensical political statement, leading to nonsensical policy.
As we said, though, Francis is not free from blame. He has gone out of his way to speak to political issues. This dilutes the power of his message and merely serves to divide the world further. Whether or not he’s doing it intentionally, it ends up giving liberals (many of whom, hilariously, do not even believe in God) an illusory anchor for their misguided opinions.
At least until the reality of this world, in the form of a suicide bombing, comes crashing back down around them.