New Levels of Irrelevance

Well, we can stop trying now.  We have officially taken the concept of the "non-story" to a new, and in my view untouchable, high.  Don't let anyone tell you that we cannot achieve wonders in our time, because the last few days have proven that we can.  As Pope Francis would certainly be comfortable saying, "Si se puede."

I am speaking of course about the guest list of people who will be present with President Obama to greet Pope Francis when he arrives in Washington.  Did you know that Bishop Gene Robinson, a known homosexual, will be there?  Did you know that Sister Simone Campbell, who is openly a member of a Catholic religious order, we be there?  Did you know that no less than two transgendered people will be present?  Well, you do if you have been reading the Catholic Right and its various publications and organs.

What you wouldn't necessarily know, because many of the articles fail to tell you, is that Bishop Gene and Sister Simone will be among 15,000 people who will be on the White House lawn to greet the Pope.  Let me say that again--fifteen thousand people have been invited be greet the Pope.  It is not, as it has been usually framed, that Obama decided that it would be just him, Bishop Robinson, and a a few transgendered folks bro-ing out with the Pontiff.  Instead, they will be unrecognizable members of an enormous crowd.

But being a single, unrecognizable person in an enormous crowd is a terrible danger, you see.  They are a danger, and I promise you I am not making this up, because they might get a selfie with the Pope.  Yes!  Putting aside the logistical difficulties of elbowing your way through a crowd of 15,000 people to get your picture with the Pope, we certainly can't have random people getting their picture taken with the Pope and reducing his dignity.  Pope Francis surely won't stand for that:

But Mike, you say, it's not just any selfie--he might be photographed with a gay person!  Or even, a gay bishop!  As herculean as the effort is on my part, I will resist making a Cardinal Burke or Archbishop Cordileone joke here and simply point out that the propaganda value of this supposed provocation would be minimal.  No outsider would look at our hypothetical photo of Pope Francis and Gene Robinson and conclude that this represents the Pope's endorsement of gay marriage, any more than it represents a sign that Pope Francis is on the verge of switching over to the Episcopal Church.

What this complete non-story represents is the confluence of two streams of obsession among the Catholic Right.  The first stream is Obama Derangement Syndrome.  Once you accept the (entirely unsupported by any actual evidence, mind you) conclusion that President Obama is a Kenyan Marxist Muslim radical, then everything he does is immediately translated into some sort of provocation (for an excellent break-down of this phenomenon, read Elizabeth Bruenig's hilarious review of the films of (convicted felon) Dinesh D'Souza).  No act of President Obama is too petty or meaningless to be converted into the tip of the spear of his assumed agenda.  This is par for the course, the same stuff we have been seeing for the last seven years.

The other strand is the profound cognitive dissonance that is gripping members of the Catholic Right regarding Pope Francis.  Here is their conundrum, as set out perfectly in this Washington Post article (h/t to Maureen Clarke for alerting me to it).  Pre-Pope Francis, they had a view of the world in which their agenda was the Church's agenda, and the fact that the Church's agenda was the same as their agenda meant that they must be right, because the Pope is guaranteed to be right.  It was a positive feedback loop, where both sides mutually reinforce each other.  Now Pope Francis shows up and changes the agenda, leaving one of two choices--either he is wrong (in which case the feedback loop is cut and they have no reinforcement for their agenda), or they are wrong (in which case they are in for a painful restructuring of their lives and outlook, as well as a tacit invalidation of everything they had been working on previously).  

The only way out of this conundrum is to hope that, despite every indication, Pope Francis is not actually changing the agenda at all.  What they are looking for is some shred of reinforcement that Pope Francis is not going to force them to choose between their Church and their political and social agenda.  A smiling picture of Pope Francis and Gene Robinson standing together is a sign to the Catholic Right that they are on their own with regard to their culture war crusades.  Thus, the idea that Pope Francis doesn't care about Gene Robinson and What He Stands For (which a random selfie would signify) is just as problematic as the clearly more fanciful notion that Pope Francis secretly agrees with Gene Robinson.  That's why even the remote possibility that such a picture may come to pass is a source of such angst--it undercuts the possibility that they are going to avoid having to confront the notion that their pristine world is crumbling a bit.  They need to cling to the hope that Pope Francis isn't going to cut their legs out from underneath them.  It is, to use a term that has become more common later, a "trigger," one they seek to avoid if possible.

To my friends on the Catholic Right--please, for your own sake, relax.  You cannot stop the sun from rising a setting, or the moon to pass through it's phases, and any efforts to do so are wasted.  Your flailing around is just going to result in you hurting yourselves.  Pope Francis may be rocking the boat more than you would like, but he is not going to tip you out over the side.  There is always a place for you.  Even if it means the possibility of seeing an uncomfortable selfie every once in a while.


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