Friday, February 28, 2014

The Pope, Pretending to Know

I'd like to take a moment to illustrate exactly how much pretense can be packed into suprisingly little theological utterance. I'll use a single sentence tweeted by Pope Francis earlier today.
"The Eucharist is essential for us: it is Christ who wishes to enter our lives and fill us with his grace."
Francis's statement is unquestionably a claim to knowledge--knowledge that must be based upon faith. As Peter Boghossian has pointed out, it is typically apt to replace "faith" when used in the religious context with "pretending to know what you don't know." Here's a list of some of what Pope Francis pretends to know (but doesn't) and leads other people to pretend to know just in this sentence alone.
  1. The Eucharist is essential for us. It is in no way clear that a ceremony to commemorate the alleged Last Supper is essential for anyone. Francis pretends to know otherwise.
  2. The Eucharist is Christ. It is in no way clear that the "transubsantiation" in the Eucharist is Christ. Francis pretends to know otherwise.
  3. Consecration does something. It is in no way clear that consecrating bread or wine--or anything else--does anything at all. It is even more dubious that the result of ceremonial consecration "transubstantiates" food and wine into human flesh and blood, and the matter is only made worse by saying it is the flesh and blood of God. Francis pretends to know otherwise about all of these matters.
  4. Christ wishes to enter our lives. This is not known. Indeed, it is not even clear what this means (and may not mean anything). Francis pretends to know otherwise.
  5. Christ can enter our lives. In order to act upon the stated wish, this action has to be possible. It is in no way clear that this is possible or, again, meaningful beyond the metaphorical. Francis pretends to know otherwise.
  6. Christ wishes to (and can) fill us with his grace. This is not known, and it is not even clear what this means. Note that this is really two claims to pretended knowledge. Francis pretends to know otherwise to both.
  7. Christ's grace is important. If the Eucharist is Christ wishing to enter our lives to fill us with his grace, and the Eucharist is essential for us, then clearly we can assume that Christ's grace, instead of being meaningless or metaphorical, is essential for us. It is in no way clear that this is the case. Francis pretends to know otherwise.
  8. And, of course, Christianity is true (or at least Catholicism), with a wide variety of other claims to knowledge in tow, e.g. about the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible. It isn't just unclear that this is the case; it's rather clear that it is not the case. Francis pretends to know otherwise.
As we know, though, Francis, along with many others, pretends to be informed by the light of pretending to know what he doesn't know. See this video for another example.

3 comments:

  1. It's funny, a lot of non-religious people I know prefer the new pope to so many of the earlier inhabitants. But you raise a great point -- he's still part of a system that subscribes to a preposterously bad way of understanding reality.

    The fact is the man subscribes to a process for forming beliefs that is preposterous. That he is perhaps a good and sympathetic man, who is compassionate and well-intentioned, is not necessarily related to, and is probably in spite of, the system that wants to claim him as its product.

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  2. Replies
    1. Keep on trying to understand things, Steve. You'll pull it off someday! You can do it!

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