An atheist view on the pope’s speech to congress

I may be an atheist and humanist, but I’m still impressed with Pope Frances compared to prior holders of that office (who I associate with covering up child abuse and prioritising their own power and wealth). In his speech to congress, he covered a lot of important issues.

On international politics and religious fundamentalism:
“we must especially guard against the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarisation which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice”.

On the responsibility of government being to serve the whole population:
“All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity… If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance”.

In relation to racism and refugees:
“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.

On poverty:
“in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope.”

On the arms trade:
“Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade”.

He also called for more action on environmental issues, referencing his recent publication on this topic.

Finally, in relation to families:
“I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions”.

As an atheist, this kind of interpretation of religion resonates with me, despite my lack of belief in a deity. Most of all, I admire anyone who uses their platform to speak for the vulnerable and to advocate for peace and altruism. This is a Pope I can admire. A wise man, and one who leads by example. If only he would overturn the church’s negative approach to homosexuality and contraception, I’d feel like he was an all round great man, despite our very different perspectives on the world. This was a fantastic speech, full of insight and compassion. Hopefully his audience, and the world, will take note.

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