For those that do not know, I grew up in a very Catholic house. We went to church every week. I went to Catholic School through 5th grade. I was an alter boy until forever (absolutely no alter boy jokes will be appreciated in response to this posting). I even helped my dad teach his Confirmation CCD class (Confirmation is like being born again in the Catholic church, everyone does it in their early teens). I did this for 3 years while I was in high school.
I never particularly liked going to church. In fact, I down-right disliked it, but sometimes, it made me feel OK, on the rare occasion, there was a good story and there almost always was either a hot chick or a cute baby that I could watch that would provide enough stimuli for me to actually live through the service. It wasn't until I was helping with the class that I started to realize that not only did I not like going to church, I wasn't really sure what the purpose of going was for. I always tried to be a good person and I always tried to do my best towards others and for myself. Doesn't God know this? Isn't that enough? What's the point beyond that? And I know that it was these thoughts that eventually led me to where I am today: a non-believer.
I still consider myself spiritual, but enough hate and evil has been done in the name of religion that I cannot condone, acknowledge or even understand a single religion in existance today. None of their beliefs. Certainly none of their dogma. I see religion as a way of explaining things to people who feel they need to make sense of the world. People who need something more than, "Life is pretty strange sometimes, it's a truely remarkable thing and as long as you're nice to folks, you should end up witha rather fulfilling experience." all religion is, in my mind what I feel a fact, a mythology like any in teh history of man from Gilgamesh to Zues to Odin. And the fact that there constantly, throughout time, has been mythology is enoguh to me to mean that we are all interconected cosmically, somehow, but not enough to warrant founding countless clubs all claiming that their club is better than yours.
I could go on forever on this alone, but I think the jist of where I'm coming from is there. I can now move on to my thoughts on the Pope. I do want to say that, if religions were football teams, and they might just as well be (except you will rarely get blown up for rooting for a different football team), Catholicism is the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are my favorite. I understand them the most. And having the pope die is a lot like when Chuck Noll passes sometime down the road: the coach is dead, and though he doesnt coach MY team any more, he coached my team when they were loved the most.
Before I continue, I want to say taht John Paul II was an amazing, remarkable man. He did astonishign things for Eastern Europe. At no time did anything he ever said feel disingenuous or inconsistent. He, more than any other person I've ever heard of in my lifetime, was a true Christian. I believe that. And I think he would have been an even BETTER person had he not been tied to the Catholic church.
I had an interesting conversation with my friend Chris last night (a STAUNCH Catholic) about the Pope. He made the comment that religion acts as sort of a grounding point as a person moves along in their lives. And my rebuttle was, and I can't believe I thought of this on the spot was, "But the problem witht he Catholic curch is, most people would like to see that grounding influence move along with them." There are so many things going on in the world today that were not issues 1000 years ago, let alone 50 years ago, that in today's world, the dogma of the Catholic church actually causes more harm than good.
At the very basic level, there is the underlying subtlety of women STILL being second class citizens. It's ridiculous, it's worng and it has no place in any organization that people are tying their beliefs to. Part of this is "Tradition for the sake of Tradition." It gets to the point that people do things that they don't even know why they were done in the first place. There's no Biblical reason that priests can't be married (it was done in the Middle Ages becasue priests were leaving church lands to their children) just as there isn't a reason that a priest can't be a woman. But that's obvious and is mainly a mindset thing. But it's imortant becasue it probably doesn't help the causes of women in developing areas where the men are considered the center of the world.
Next, and I think this is far more egregious and dangerous, is the on-going stance of the church against birth control. The problem is, even in the poorest of countries, child mortality is dropping. And so the parishoners in those countries, where Catholic Law is far more likely to be followed, have far more children than they can reasonably support. This practice perpetuates keeping the standard of living for these people to a very bare minimum. I'm not saying that if they only had 2 kids rather than 8, they'd be taking the family for a trip to Disney World. But they'd probably be more likely to raise healthy children that would be able to find a better way of life for themselves. At least give them that chance.
Lastly is a related issue: the sanctity of life. I can actually understand the Pro-Life stance. I am against abortion as a form of birth control. But I would never try to prevent someone from making that choice. Religious beliefs should never guide other people's lives. The whole idea is that you be kind to others. Try to affect their lives through kindness and words and thought. But to set up barricades - be it physical, leagal or any other - that tries to dictate a person's life based on your own beliefs is wrong.
My favorite protest of the Iraqi conflict is What Would Jesus Bomb (a play on the whole WWJD thing). I think John Paul II always lived his life in the ideal that is behind WWJD. But you can't just take a man as the good in him. You have to take him as a whole. And the Pope is a man. And as a man, you have to ask, are all of teh tenants that he supported truely in the best interests of his followers? Obviously, you'd LIKE people to abstain. And you'd LIKE people to not fuck like bunnies, spawnign unwanted children. And you'd LIKE the clergy to not molest kids. But this is not reality and the church has done little if nothing to deal with reality.
I do consider the Village Idiot President a truely evil man, a bad guy in the strictest sense of a Hollywood Movie, because he professes to be a Christian and yet acts AGAINST all Christian ideals. This is not something the Pope has done ever at all! His is failure in omission. Mistakes where the lack of action led me away from the church and religion as a whole. I'm certain I'm not the only one, either. It certainly is human to not act when those actions are difficult. But God Danm, you have to love him for the actions he did take. He truely meant well and was a great man that achieved more than most people could ever dream. I think the Catholic church would do well to find an even more brave man for the next Pope.