The Norman Transcript


June 9, 2014

The pope, politics and downgrading of dogma



The pope randomly calls ordinary people at home. He invites homeless men and their dogs to eat with him. He picks up a hitchhiker in his Popemobile. He wears ordinary shoes. He embraces people in such ordinary ways. These sacramental acts symbolize love.

The dramatic turnabout in public attitudes toward the Catholic Church – moving it from irrelevant for many to very relevant to so many more – should be something other social institutions study and emulate.

There is little evidence that political institutions run our democracy. Rather, popular culture drives politics. The pope’s downgrading of dogma captures the macro cultural trend that embraces the disruption of old orders. That trend toward disintermediation has unleashed unprecedented creativity in the arts and sciences. Is it wrong to hope that political institutions might soon see that the first reform must be attitude?

The dogma downgrade won’t alter what people think is right or wrong. But unless institutions of governance embrace human frailty by acknowledging their own, they won’t grow, renew or make things better.

Consider that the pope didn’t start by judging the flaws of other institutions. He started by embracing the frailty of his own. “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”

Perhaps, we will all do better in the work we do by beginning as he has begun.

Richie Ross is a political consultant in Sacramento, Calif. He wrote this for the Sacramento Bee.

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