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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
September 12, 2014

Popes and Polls
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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[CLASSIC] — Every time the Pope visits this country, the media trot out the usual stories and features, complete with opinion polls, showing that most American Catholics love the Pope and are “loyal” to him, but “disagree” with his “policies” — on sexual morality, the ordination of women, and other “issues.”

One recent poll found that most Catholics here prefer “the dictates of their own consciences” to “the Pope’s positions.”


Complaining that the Pope is out of step with modern life is like accusing Moses of being out of step with the Golden Calf.

 

 

The phrasing of the question implies that those “dictates” are stern (though the data suggest the opposite), while the papal “positions” are merely arbitrary personal opinions, with no fundamental connection to the Gospels or the permanent deposit of faith.

Another poll found that “85 per cent of U.S. Catholics say their religion is very important or fairly important in their lives”— as if
“very” important and “fairly” important were just about the same thing. If your religion isn’t “very” important to you, giving meaning,
purpose, and structure to your whole life, in what sense is it your religion?

The undertone of all this religious reportage in the secular media is cautionary: this old Pope is out of step with modern life! Well,
I should hope he is. Complaining that the Pope is out of step with modern life is like accusing Moses of being out of step with the Golden Calf.


The whole purpose of a religion is to keep you out of step. The human race can be pretty much divided into those who want passionately to be up to date and those who want to keep in touch with the permanent and the eternal.

 

 

If you want people who are really out of step with modern life, try the Orthodox Jews. They have been out of step for about 3,000
years, which may be why they are still here after 3,000 years, while various fashions, novelties, and whole empires have come and gone like summer insects. They still seem to attach more weight to the Torah than to the opinion polls. Is it possible that they know something most of us don’t? Perish the thought!

The whole purpose of a religion is to keep you out of step. The human race can be pretty much divided into those who want passionately to be up to date and those who want to keep in touch with the permanent and the eternal.

The first type dreads being left behind, wearing last year’s clothes and talking last year’s slang; the second type dreads losing
its identity (in old-fashioned language, its soul) by being swept into the currents of the ephemeral.

Journalists generally fall into the first type. It’s professional death to fall behind the passing show; a journalist has to be in the
know, abreast of the latest developments, ready to change, and if possible ahead of the curve.

Even Rush Limbaugh justifies himself, however jocularly, by claiming to represent “the cutting edge of societal change.” Newt Gingrich is more futurologist than traditionalist. Today it’s “conservatives” who are apt to say they’ve seen the future, and it works — while accusing liberals of the modern sin (the only sin modernity recognizes) of living in the past.


Apes that we are, most of us are still touched by these living representatives of the ancient: the nun in her habit, the Hasidic Jew with his spit-curls. What may seem eccentric at first comes to appear admirable in its fortitude and self-denial.

 

 

The second type consists in great measure of people who are not only willing to hold unfashionable views but also willing at times to look outlandish in their dress. Apes that we are, most of us are still touched by these living representatives of the ancient: the nun in her habit, the Hasidic Jew with his spit-curls. What may seem eccentric at first comes to appear admirable in its fortitude and self-denial.

A decade ago the popular film Witness touched a secret nerve in modern movie-goers by portraying the Pennsylvania Amish, stem
holdouts against the modern world (including movies), with unreserved sympathy.

The modern world turns out to have been well worth staying aloof from; it can be summed up in the words of Shakespeare’s Thersites: “Wars and lechery!” Pope John Paul II, having almost supervised the collapse of Communism, now keeps warning the
West about its own sins; it has reduced even the mystery of sex to a consumer option.

The West replies, in effect, by quoting its “enlightened” Catholics, whose “consciences” belong not to the Catholic Church but to
the sexual revolution and who say petulantly that no old celibate is going to tell them what to do. Put otherwise, they will not sit still for lectures on virtue from someone who actually practices it.

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Copyright © 2014 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This is an article being considered for a new collection of Sobran columns titled Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (fgfBooks, 2014). It originally was published by Universal Press Syndicate on October 5, 1995.

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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