Christianity is not a comfort zone

Nobody is perfect. Not even Christ’s vicar could claim to be. So Pope John Paul II, who stepped into the shoes of St Peter, the man who denied Jesus Christ thrice, was only human.

But he was the leader of the biggest Christian outfit in the world and, therefore, his actions rightly attract scrutiny.

The pontiff had made his mind known with reference to women’s roles in the church.
Many Catholics, especially women, are unhappy that the church has yet to pay sufficient attention to their position in the organisation.

Many other Catholics feel that the church is out of touch with its continued stance against contraception and the use of condoms.

Hopefully, a new pope will deal adequately with these questions because they are not going to go away. A collective mea culpa would be in order rather than blaming the pope.

In other instances, the pope is scrutinised using secular standards rather than by referring to his religious standing as a benchmark. He is found to have failed because his views on abortion, divorce, recreational sex and use of condoms do not tally with those of secular society. Yet the man was a religious leader and not a populist.

The fairest way of assessing John Paul II’s influence is by judging him against his primary vocation — a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ as he understood it.

Using a political or other benchmark to assess him is akin to trying to measure Nelson Mandela’s political credentials by his being thrice-wed and to thus find him wanting. It is a preposterous benchmark to invoke, as are some of the benchmarks that the pope’s detractors now use.

Of course he had clout beyond his congregation, but it is equally important to acknowledge that because of his office he was never adequately going to satisfy competing political lobbies ranging from how to deal with apartheid to what to do about Zionism.

In his pastoral work, John Paul II pontificated that if people only had sex within a monogamous union then there would be no fear of them contracting HIV/Aids. Up to now, there hasn’t been any argument challenging this simple truth.

Instead we are told that the reality is that people are having sex outside the unions defined by the church and, therefore, the church may as well accept it and cut its losses.

Yet the church was never meant to preach to one’s comfort. As Jesus Christ himself once said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In short, those who choose to be Christian ought to know that it is never going to be a walk in the park.

Many have opted not to believe in the idea of a god and that does not make them any less or more of a person.

Yet, when people, like the pope, reaffirm how difficult it is to live by the tenets of their faith, they are accused of being anachronistic.

There is also a point of view that the pope had blood on his hands because he preached against the use of condoms in an era where Aids kills relentlessly. This neglects the message about condoms being part of a twin message that the faithful should uphold a righteous life.

One cannot say that “though my faith teaches me not to have sex outside the boundaries of marriage, I will make an exception in this case, but I will definitely observe the rule pertaining to condoms”.

We are all at liberty to choose whether we live by the teachings.

Be that as it may, only stupid ideologues defer the practicalities of running their lives to a leader’s opinion.

It is incumbent on the married faithful, if they discover that their partner had acquired HIV (from whatever source), to decide what they do next.

Ultimately, religion is between individuals and their maker, by whatever name.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a practising Catholic

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