February 15, 2013

Too Pooped To Pope

Is it just me or is the world getting crazier by the minute? In just the span of a week, we've had a manhunt for a crazed cop-killer cop that ended in a fiery cabin shootout, a cruise ship from Hell, meteors slamming into Russia, and the first resignation of a Pope in over 600 years. President Obama's State of the Union address very nearly got lost in the shuffle. To quote our good friends in the Twitterverse: WTF!

In some ways, the Pope's retirement was a bit poignant. Turns out he's just like any other working stiff who has that moment when he realizes he just can't face the office one more day, so he gave his two weeks notice, albeit in Latin, albeit in more ornate surroundings. Still, is it just me, or did it seem to you that there was a playful, "Let's have some fun with this" spirit in the way he handled it? A precedent-setting announcement of historic importance delivered in barely audible Latin during an otherwise routine meeting? Really? You have to think the Pope was having his own little private joke.

Sadly, the joke was kind of on him. A few decades ago his announcement would have rocked the world, maybe prompted a round of soul-searching as we pondered what would come next. Instead, it held the attention of CNN-nation for a couple of days, and then we moved on to the next big breaking news story. It's hard to hold the world's attention for very long when so much crazy shit keeps flying at you faster than you can process it. Even a Pope only gets 15 minutes of fame these days.

Part of this is simple recognition of the fact that the Catholic Church ain't what it used to be in terms of the width and breadth of its reach. At the same time, we also know that what comes next for the Catholic Church will very likely be more of the same: Catholic conservatives trying to hold the modern world at bay -- especially the female part of that world -- even as the Church withers from within. I hope not, because we need a vibrant spiritual community now more than ever.

I'm not big on religion, at least on the bricks-and-mortar side of it, but I do feel a vacuum in the public discussion that religion used to fill. We need voices reminding us that there are limits to human wisdom. We need voices reminding us that we are stewards of the world and that we have a moral obligation to care for all of creation. We need voices reminding us that material progress and spiritual growth must proceed hand in hand.

I'm not talking about the rules-driven form of religion that seeks in one way or another to impose its version of morality on everyone else. I'm thinking of religion that guides us to the mountain top so that we can more clearly see where we are headed.

We are on the verge of another huge burst of new technology -- 3-D printing, synthetic biology, robotics -- that will change everything, pushing us into areas formerly reserved to a higher power, revising and extending our understanding of just what it means to be human. What won't change is our human capacity for good and evil. How we use these tools ought to be just as important a part of the discussion as how we can make them faster and cheaper.

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