God Digs Ambiguity (?)

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a former regular here at Ordinary Times who lives in a small rural town about two hours southwest of Portland, Oregon with his wife, kids, and dog. He enjoys studying and writing about the world of employment, which is good because that's his job. You can find him on Twitter.

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16 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    “They want him to be clear, dreadful, and authoritative so there’s no question about what we all have to believe and do in order to avoid an unending marshmallow roast with Gozer the Gozerian. Instead the pope’s talking in ways they feel give easy excuse for error, sin and vice.”

    I have colleagues like this. We talk about how much they like rules, because it makes obvious who is being “good” and who is being “bad”, themselves included. Why they insist on seeing the world in such terms, I don’t know. But from what I’ve seen of this pope, from what you’ve written, I like his style: give me a broader set of parameters and let me work within them. If I err, let me know. But don’t attempt to overly prescribe what I ought to be doing or not doing.

    Good piece, Ribs.Report

  2. Vikram Bath says:

    Your description of how audiences interpret the Pope remind me of how audiences interpret the US News and World Report college rankings. The rankings are taken to be sound given the authority, but the authority comes in large part because that authority behaves in carefully prescribed ways. US News can survive saying that Northwestern is better than Harvard for one year, but it probably wouldn’t survive saying that Northeastern is. There is a paradox in wielding such authority. What you say goes as long as what you say doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:


      Isn’t there also something at play in terms of how much what is said agrees with what one believes?

      I do this all the time with sports writers. “Oh, he’s got a team I think sucks ranked 30th? This guy knows what he’s talking about. Wait… he’s got my favorite team only ranked 25th? What a clown.”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Note: This is different than being able to agree or disagree in part or in whole. Rather, it is referring to how much credibility we put into the actual writer/speaker.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

        Can we turn this into prescriptive advice? E.g., if you want someone to believe your claim of X, say nine things he already thinks are true before springing X on him. Since you got the first nine things right (in his mind), he’ll be more likely to take your word for it on X.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think it in part depends on whether we are discussing that which is objective versus that which is subjective.

        If you demonstrate yourself to be a math whiz by successfully completing the first 9 problems, I might take you at your word with regards to the 10th and/or hold you up if I got the same answer on the 10th as you but was challenged.

        If you gave me 9 restaurant recommendations and all of them knocked it out of the park, none of that will make me like the 10th one if the food tastes like poopy in your mouth. I would probably still take your recommendations until such time that the poopy ones outweighed the homers or even just the risk of another poopy meal became too much to bear. But I would probably still call you a doof for like poopy food at that 10th restaurant.

        More broadly, I think it comes down to how willing people are to change their minds, or even be challenged. My hunch is that, collectively, we are much less willing to do this than we believe or would like to be.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

        But if I can get everyone else in the restaurant to exclaim how good the food is, then you might become convinced that poopy food must taste good.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        none of that will make me like the 10th one if the food tastes like poopy in your mouth. I would probably still take your recommendations until such time that the poopy ones outweighed the homers or even just the risk of another poopy meal became too much to bear. But I would probably still call you a doof for like poopy food at that 10th restaurant.

        Hang out with children much, @kazzy ? 🙂Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        I think your prescriptive advice is pretty good, but it’s more like the 9 things the person agrees with have to have some relationship with the 10th thing, or rather, all 10 things have to be related somehow. I don’t think one can get away by just saying 9 random things the other person already agrees with. Or if one can get away with that, he/she is not acting prescriptively, but acting tactically (with a whiff of flattery).Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    I dig Francis’ style. As compared to his predecessor, he offers twice the humility, joy, and public service, and none of the dread. He really hasn’t changed the content of Catholic teachings in any way I can see, but he’s changed the tone to one that seems to underline all the things I admire about Christianity.Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    I recently did two little posts about another religious man who isn’t saying stupid things. The world is thrilled to see Hassan the Cleric as President of Iran, a great contrast to the bellicose ignoramus Ahmedinejad.

    Pope Francis is still in charge of the Catholic Church, which hasn’t done much by way of action to demonstrate it has reformed its ways. Bernard Francis Law, erstwhile Archbishop of Boston, neatly escaped justice in the USA for his involvement in covering up many crimes of sexual abuse. He remains Archpriest of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, still unrepentant. Pope Francis has done nothing about this wicked little man, though he could and should.

    And like Hassan the Cleric, Pope Francis is not the complete master of his domain, whatever his title. He faces very considerable opposition within the Curia, of which Bernard Francis Law is a member in good standing. Nor has Pope Francis done anything about the groundswell of resentment among nuns, second class citizens within the Roman Catholic Church. In point of fact, Pope Francis is powerless to stop the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known in earlier times as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, yes, that Inquisition, from keeping things just as they are.

    Pope Francis has many enemies and his predecessor is still holed up in the Vatican, swanning about, doing whatever it is ex-Popes do. Pope Francis has done nothing about him, either. Benedict, the most ridiculous priest in modern times. What is the Church to do with that waste of space?

    The Vatican stumbles along as it always has, the stench of venality, corruption and malfeasance in its wake, especially its finances. I await the day when Francis will actually follow the example of Our Lord and evict the moneychangers from that Temple upon Vatican Hill, that den of thieves. Pope Francis is doing nothing of substance. Faith without works is dead.Report

    • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I agree, Francis may talk a good game (though even there I think he gets more credit than he deserves), but until we see some changes in policy he’s just a Benedict who’s better at PR.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to James K says:

        While Bernard Francis Law remains a free man, he’s getting very old now, the Catholic Church cannot be said to have corrected the sexual abuse situation. As the Hausa say, tubun muzuru, the sorrow of the cat — who has been caught in the pigeon coop. As these dreadful episodes are uncovered, the Church is terribly apologetic, rolling its eyes to heaven, paying out fortunes to the victims in civil courts — but as far as I have been able to determine, the Catholic Church has done nothing about Bernard Francis Law, nor will it.

        Bernard Francis Law was first Pope John Paul II’s pet project. Hours before he was to be subpoenaed, Cardinal Law fled the country and JP2 installed him at Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. I have already said Cardinal Law is in the Curia, though he’s supposed to have retired. He hasn’t. He’s waist deep in the repression of the nuns.

        Pope Francis should defrock Cardinal Law immediately and extradite him to the USA to answer for his crimes. While he remains a free man, the Catholic Church cannot be said to have repented for its disgusting coverups. The Church is ancient and its secrets are many. Even if we are to indulge Pope Francis, put the best light possible on this situation, all that can be surmised is that Pope Francis lacks the mandate or the will to bring Cardinal Law to justice.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to James K says:

        but until we see some changes in policy he’s just a Benedict who’s better at PR.

        I disagree. Sort of. For sure it’s possible that he’s engaging in an elaborate ruse, a PR game, intended to sustain and even entrench existing policy and power structures, including the Power of the Pope to Decree. But on a pretty important level this seems incoherent: one cannot imbue the Papal Authority with Mystical powers by demystifying Papal Authority. That’s the entire premise upon which the Church has been constructed. So it seems to me his current message will unravel, to some degree anyway, the ultimate grounds for Authority held by Believers. It brings the Church back into the real world where a dynamic and reciprocal relationship between the laity and ultimately the Pope.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to James K says:

        Papal Authority is no different than any other sort of mandate. Authority translates to capability. The Pope supposedly holds the Keys of St. Peter, the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever the Pope binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever he frees on earth will be freed in heaven.

        That’s one big-ass mandate.

        It doesn’t matter if Pope Francis is engaged in a ruse or a PR game. He hasn’t done anything to reform the Curia. The two most important players in the Curia — first, a bit about the Curia itself, it’s actually several different Congregations. Think congressional committees. The two biggies are Doctrine and Evangelisation. Pope Francis continues very much along the lines of Benedict XVI. Doctrine is still run by Archbishop Mueller, very much a Benedict XVI kinda guy. Doctrine is the linchpin to the rest.

        Pope Francis is trying to reform the Holy See. One of two things are coming to pass: either he’s running up against roadblocks, that’s my guess. Or he’s just not pushing very hard. In either event, his mandate has not been used terribly effectively.Report