February 06, 2022
What the Pope really meant when he talked about pets in our lives.
This month Pope Frances, one of the most influential people in the world, reminded all of us that he belongs to another time. A time when religion held so much power that people believed their salvation was contingent upon blind obedience, faithful allegiance and silent submission to a religious institution.
The shift away from organized religion’s influence over us has been subtle, but it has been occurring steadily for the past eight decades. And just like any relationship that is continually under the tension of a non-symbiotic existence, there comes a time when something so harmful or egregious happens that the one who is hurt or abused decides they’ve had enough…
And they leave.
All of Christianity, including Catholicism, is feeling the strain of Christians walking out of church and never returning. A recent Gallup poll indicated that for the first time in America, more people who identified Christianity as their religious heritage have chosen to be unchurched, making them the majority over people who attend church.
I’m one of those people who left with no plans to return. My own story, which is eerily similar to so many others, is now part of the statistics that indicate how quickly times are changing and why — although I’m not Catholic — the Pope’s words remind us why we left in the first place.
In case you didn't hear what Pope Francis said during a general audience session at the Vatican, he made disparaging remarks about people who choose pets over children. He suggested that it lessens our humanity. This wasn’t just a passing comment that could be dismissed as trite or “off the cuff’. He called it “a form of selfishness” that “is a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us…”
The reaction was swift, prompting many of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to push back. One quick google search will reveal all of it. You can also see my video response on TikTok, where many people left scathing comments directed at the Pope for his insensitivity toward pet owners..
Some people wondered why so many of us cared about what he had to say about anything. As the head of an organization that boasts 1.3 billion followers, the Catholic Church wields power throughout the world. Its vast amounts of real estate, ancient, sacred artifacts and unimaginable wealth reveal how much influence organized religion can have on government and those in power.
There is so much swirling around the Pope’s words that demand attention: his disregard for the healing presence of animals’ in peoples’ lives, the heartbreaking reality of pet overpopulation that is lessened by adoption, and the choice to not have children just to ensure people can pay their bills and keep food on the table, to name a few.
But there is a more compelling and profound message to what he said that is being missed entirely, and it is here that we find his true intentions.
He used the phrase “demographic winter,” and it isn’t the first time. Demographic winter refers to a period of time — or a season — when death rates outpace birth rates, resulting in negative population growth. While the Pope is speaking specifically about Italy’s declining population, global birth rates are also falling.
He and other church leaders are very aware that declining church memberships, compounded with declining birth rates mean that funding for the perpetuation of their religious institutions are at risk.
And to that I say “amen.”
I don’t say that lightly or to be disrespectful. The truth is however, this consistent eight-decade decline signals that people are no longer aligned with the toxic theology inside Christianity, and the mass exodus will continue. Organized religion does not recognize that an evolved humanity does more than invite the poor, hungry, destitute and marginalized to a table of compassion. It recognizes that they never owned the table or had the right to invite or withhold others from it to begin with.
People are exhausted at the bait and switch theological dance performed by church leaders that excuse pedophiles and abusers yet condemn the sexual or gender authenticity of kind and loving LGBTQIA+ humans. They are tired of the harm that has been done by a rigid dogma that demands a blind obedience to ancient scripture taken out of context and used for control. They no longer trust that church leaders truly care for their well-being when they are seen leading extravagant lives while struggling single parents are denied basic services or even help within the church.
And they are angry that Christianity has been hijacked by nationalist extremists who have aligned with corrupt and unethical political figures who now threaten our democracy.
How have church leaders, including the Pope, responded to the mass exodus? By doubling down. They are holding firm to an archaic system and demanding that those of us who have left return, ask for forgiveness, and come under submission. It’s evident in the way they are scrambling to take control of the narrative around deconstruction, dismissing us as having never been “real” Christians, as weak in faith, and just “wanting to sin.”
The Pope’s response to this mass exodus? Well, people are just selfish.
The demographic winter is a complex societal issue that goes beyond leaving religion. It reveals the spaces where greed in the corporate boardrooms forced labor to the edges of poverty to the delight of shareholders. It brings to light the real problem of entire political systems in which both Democrats and Republicans participate, that pander to this corporate greed which insists that not raising the minimum wage since 2009 is acceptable.
As a side note, as a junior in high school, I made $7.50/hour working at a fried chicken restaurant. This was in 1978. Our current minimum wage, which again hasn’t been raised since 2009, is $7.25/hour. Even if we are expecting our youth to make ends meet with those wages, they are less than what I was making in small town USA in the 70’s. Just stop with that idiotic nonsense — you’re simply regurgitating corporate propaganda.
No, church leaders. People are not selfish — they are awakening to the reality that you nor their government can be relied upon to take care of even their basic needs. They are awakening to the hypocrisy of the “all life is precious” message and seeing your support of political leaders that will deny them social services to help care for that life that you just called precious.
If you sense my rage in these words, you are correct. Patriarchy is a malignant cancer that relies on the continued oppression and silent submission of entire swaths of communities.
I won’t be silent. And I won’t tell someone that enjoying the company of a dog is selfish. The selfish ones are those who are offended that humanity is awakening to their greedy, corrupt, exploitative systems.
Jesus modeled what to do when corruption is found among us.
He walked right into the center of its power, flipped the tables and in no uncertain terms, told them that their ways were not the way of the Holy.
Jesus exemplifies where humanity finds itself today.
May it be so.
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The 60’s were a dichotomy. They held great tension as people risked their lives to free themselves from the oppression their ancestors had endured. Even brutal winters did not deter activists from marching in frigid temps to stand together and fight for their rights.
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