Friday, January 03, 2014

New Years musings: on getting them wrong

'Tis the season to think about my own errors of the last year and what I might do to avoid making similar ones in the future.

Edward Snowden: When Snowden's NSA revelations, first burst on the scene. I was suspicious of the guy. Obviously I was interested in his material -- had expected its existence but was thrilled to see it emerge -- but his picture and his story put me on alert for a phony. So did his apparent political innocence in thinking he could find protection in Hong Kong and later getting stuck in Russia.

Was Snowden some kind of annoying libertarian techie? So it seemed. I don't look to that kind for political wisdom. It didn't initially give me a good impression of Snowden that he seemed hooked up with Glenn Greenwald. I was an enthusiastic reader of Greenwald from the beginnings of his civil liberties-oriented blogging career, but I soured on him when he seemed to take every political disagreement as an occasion for all out war on everyone who disagreed with him.

But I now think I was being bigoted about Snowden (giving him a bad rap for being a young white guy) and probably also about Greenwald. The releases seem to have been done well, responsibly, and effectively. Like a lot of folks, I've come to be very grateful to both men. Now even the New York Times is urging the US government to ease up on Snowden and a former State Department official concurs.

Pope Francis: I didn't pay much attention to his election, except to note that he'd vocally opposed legalization of gay marriage in his native Argentina (didn't succeed in that intervention, by the way.) I was open to charges that he'd sided with the murderous military in their Dirty War against the country's leftists and youth in the 1970s and '80s. Wasn't supporting fascists what princes of the church do?

But in practice, he is apparently the last thing I expected from a Pope: a Christian. His emphasis on inclusion, humility and care for the poor are the fruits the Gospel might lead us to expect from the followers of Jesus, but so seldom what we (those followers) offer the world, especially by way of our institutions.

James Carroll's thoughtful New Yorker profile offered a clue to what motivates the Pope's humble approach to his absurd position. The future pontiff was a mere 36 years old when he assumed responsibility for and authority over Jesuits in Argentina just as the crimes of the junta were taking off. His own early mentor, a woman named Esther de Careaga, was one of many kidnapped and dumped from a helicopter into the ocean. In the face of authoritarian horrors, priests were divided about standing with their poor flocks or trying to keep their heads down. The current pope admits

“My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative.”

At least two Jesuits were taken by the military and tortured, though they survived. The Dirty War had tens of thousands of victims who did not.

According to Carroll, drawing on interviews with Jesuits and the pope's own statements:

The years of the Dirty War form the general ground of the Pope’s striking self-criticism: his experience, one Jesuit told me, was “searing.” After leaving office as Provincial, [the future pope] was rector of a Jesuit seminary for a time, then worked on a dissertation for a degree in theology. He was sent to a Jesuit house of studies in Córdoba, Argentina, as spiritual director, yet these were wilderness years for him. He told [Jesuit journalist Antonio] Spadaro that in Córdoba he “lived a time of great interior crisis.” In an earlier interview, he had confided, “I had to learn from my errors along the way because, to tell you the truth, I made hundreds of errors. Errors and sins.” He told Spadaro bluntly, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech.”

This Pope acts in ways that make me want to believe that he wants to exemplify the possibility of our turning away (repentance) from past wrong acts. None of us who have not faced threats to our personal survival and responsibility for the survival of others under murderous tyranny can lightly make judgments -- though we naturally will.

Maybe we can learn something from this pope. What a pleasant surprise!

I still suspect the Roman Catholic ship of state will founder on the iceberg of treating women as fully equal humans. But meanwhile, I'll enjoy knowing Pope Francis is increasing the sum total of good in a fractured world.


DJan said...

I agree with you on both of them. I was also very wary of Snowden, but now it seems he was doing the only thing his conscience would allow him to do. Same with the Pope, and he's a refreshing breath of fresh air in a dilapidated institution.

I read almost everything you write, but I rarely comment because I don't have anything to add, usually. This time I had to let you know how much this post resonates with me, too.

Sandra de Helen said...

Yes, Jan, what DJan said. I read you religiously because I agree with so much of what you say. I also find you one of the best political analysts in the blogosphere.

Hattie said...

Yes. Absolutely agree with you.

Michael Strickland said...

It's always heartening when an individual really DOES make a difference for good, progress, whatever you want to call it, in the wider world. And yes, they have both been utter surprises, whose every revelation/announcement adds to their simple, powerful messages. I'm surprised they are both still alive, to tell you the truth.

Rain Trueax said...

I think what Michael said and feel the same about Snowden. It'll probably take a new president to get that one right as if the NSA has been breaking the law basically, then who should go to jail? And the Pope is really preaching the Christian message and being bashed by the right that forgot everything but the name about what it means to follow Jesus

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