Humility and Hubris

Much has been written about the Pope’s humility, and he himself has often spoken about the need for humility. Yet it is possible to detect a certain amount of hubris in the positions he takes on political and scientific matters.

For example, it takes a certain level of hubris for a man to take a public stand on the threat of global warming when he has no background in the subject, and when the evidence for global warming is sketchy. On that score, it would be interesting to know if the Pope or his advisers subscribe to the “hockey stick” model of global warming promoted by Dr. Michael E. Mann of Penn State University, and later given a starring role in Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. If they do, are they aware that scores of eminent scientists and climatologists are now deserting the Mann model faster than retirees are deserting the frozen-over country otherwise known as the Northeast.

I’m not saying that the Pope is puffed up with pride—just that he must be awfully sure of his opinion to promote the global warming scare at just the point in time when so many prominent scientists are beginning to have their doubts. “The ecological crisis threatens the existence of humanity,” said Pope Francis. Yet the earth has been warming and cooling for millions of years, and will likely continue to do so for a long time to come.

Moreover, one has to be decidedly sure of oneself to stress the urgency of addressing this hypothetical hyper-crisis when there is another ominous and much more obvious threat to global safety. The pope has spoken about the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and Africa, but not with the same urgency he reserves for environmental issues. When speaking of the genocide being committed in the name of Islam, Pope Francis tends to use the language of moral equivalence. Thus, when addressing Congress he lamented:

Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism…

“Religion?” What religion might that be? Although Pope Francis is quick to condemn rapacious capitalist corporations for the crime of environmental destruction, he lets Islam off the hook for the “brutal atrocities.” Rather, he spreads out the blame for “violent conflict” to include generic fundamentalists from every religion. Could be Catholics. Could be Mormons. Could be Buddhists. Best not to look too closely.

The Pope seems quite sure about things that are widely debated. He is sure that global warming is an imminent threat, and he is sure that violence has nothing to do with Islam. Pride, as they say, goeth before a fall, and, in a way, the pope’s sublime assurance that he is on the right side of the issues helps open the door for even more violent conflict. But before going into that, let me say a bit more about hubris—or, to be specific, liberal hubris.

When it comes to strictly theological matters, it’s not wise to try and fit popes into liberal and conservative categories. But otherwise it seems safe to say that on many political and economic issues, Pope Francis (along with others in the hierarchy) tends to line up with liberals and with the big government solutions that liberals favor. The hierarchy often simply borrows the liberal analysis of problems, assuming that a great deal of thought has gone into the analysis.

But anyone who has dealt with liberals knows that, with some exceptions, they are more interested in feeling good about their policies than in checking to see whether the policies work. What allows them to skip over the details is the presumption that they are highly intelligent, because all the smart people—in government, in the universities, and in media—agree with them. The thinking process for liberals consists largely in checking around to see what other liberals are saying. In brief, if your intentions are good, and if all the best people are of the same mind, there’s no need for further research.

I wouldn’t accuse the Pope (and like-minded bishops) of seeking the praise of the world as so many liberals do, but there is something disturbing about their tendency to adopt the most high-sounding policies without giving much thought to the consequences. All that the bishops (many of them, at least) seem to require of a policy initiative is that it be couched in the language of “peace,” “justice,” and “compassion.” For example, when the world powers signed on to the Iranian nuclear deal, the Vatican immediately endorsed it. Vatican officials probably know very little about the details of uranium enrichment, the difficulty of inspecting secret sites, or the apocalyptic mindset of the mullahs. But none of that matters if you’ve been assured by all the smart people that this deal presents “the best chance for peace.”

Whether or not this knee-jerk endorsement of liberal fantasies amounts to hubris, I can’t say. But there’s little evidence of humility in it—not in the sense of humility before the facts. The facts strongly suggest that the Iran deal will bolster Iran’s worldwide terror campaign. And the facts suggest that once Iran has the bomb, it will use it. The end result of the Iran deal looks to be far more deadly in its consequences than a half-degree rise in the earth’s temperature. Yet Catholic prelates continue to prefer nice-sounding narratives to hard facts.

No one, I think, could doubt the Pope’s personal humility. By all appearances, he is not the sort to take himself too seriously. But, judging by his public advocacy of controversial positions, he does take his ideas seriously.

In the minds of many, however, they are half-baked ideas which, if put into practice, would have the opposite effect from the one the Pope intends. For example, in listening to Pope Francis speak about economic models, you come away with the impression that global poverty is somehow caused by capitalism. But most of the basket-case economies of the world are not run along free market lines. Rather, the socialist model which the Pope seems to favor is a far more reliable generator of poverty. As to Francis’ contention that fossil fuel production hurts the poor, even the most liberal economists would admit that fossil fuel-produced energy has done more to pull more people out of poverty than almost any other factor.

The latest and perhaps most ill-considered initiative coming out of the Vatican is its call for Europeans to welcome hundreds of thousands of migrants into their countries. When he addressed the UN, the Pope spoke of the dreams of immigrants to build a “future in freedom.” But what if the dream of a significant number of migrants is to build a Caliphate in Europe? If that dream is fulfilled—and it seems increasingly likely that it will be—it will create a whole new refugee crisis in Europe: Europeans fleeing the continent before the Islamic Curtain comes crashing down.

No one expects the Pope to issue a call for more water cannons and barbed wire on the borders, but the injunction to help your neighbor in his immediate need ought to be balanced by a more realistic assessment of the overall situation. Pope Francis, however, seems unwilling to frame the issue as anything but a simple matter of compassion.

Others are not so sanguine. As Hungarian bishop Lazlo Kiss-Rigo put it: “They’re not refugees. This is an invasion. They come here with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar.’ They want to take over.” Kiss-Rigo added that the pope was misinformed. “He doesn’t understand the situation,” he said.

That would seem to include not only a misunderstanding of the intentions of the migrants (about 75 percent of whom are single males), but also a gross overestimation of the capacity of Europeans to assimilate them. The Catholic Church in Europe can’t even keep Catholics Catholic. What makes its leaders think they know the key to turning Muslims from the Maghreb and the Middle-East into good Europeans? Over the past half century, the number of Catholic churchgoers has declined precipitously, along with the Catholic birthrate. Meanwhile churches are being turned into mosques at an alarming rate; and in some major cities, Muslim children already outnumber Christian children.

Perhaps the Pope believes that the Church in Europe can eventually recover from whatever setbacks it experiences due to the Islamic incursion. But history suggests that Christianity has never been able to recover from Muslim conquests, except in those cases where Christian armies managed eventually to expel the Muslims invaders.

In the face of Christian persecution, too many Christians are relying on the maxim “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” It’s true that in case of the Roman Empire, persecution of Christians did lead to the growth of Christianity. But that wasn’t the case in North Africa, Byzantium, and the Middle East—places that were nearly one hundred percent Christian until the Muslims appeared. Under Islamic rule, the Christian population steadily declined, until today Christians in these regions face total extermination.

Will Christianity in Europe survive successive waves of Muslim migrants? Considering what’s at stake, the attitude of the Pope and numerous European bishops is puzzling. We expect bishops to remind their flocks of the duty to help those in need. But we also expect them to warn Christians when there are grave dangers involved. They have done the former, but not the latter. Why? Is it simple ignorance of the true dimensions of the situation, as Bishop Kiss-Rigo suggests? Is it ignorance of history? Ignorance of the Islamic doctrine of hijra (conquest through immigration)? Or is it hubris?

For those of a progressive mindset, dreams of the future take precedence over lessons from the past. For that matter, they rarely feel the need to acquaint themselves with the facts surrounding current issues. A little surface knowledge will do—just enough to give them some talking points. The main thing for them is the feel-good factor. Mid-East scholar Raymond Ibrahim asserts that for Western governments, media, and academia “taking in refugees has little to do with altruism and everything to do with egoism.” He continues: “By taking in ‘foreign’ Muslims as opposed to ‘siding’ with ‘familiar’ Christians, progressives get to feel ‘enlightened,’ ‘open-minded,’ ‘tolerant,’ and ‘multicultural’—and that’s all that matters here.”

I don’t believe that’s “all that matters” for some bishops. I think they are motivated in large part by genuine Christian charity. At the same time, it’s difficult to avoid noticing elements of egoism—a certain self-congratulation on their own compassion, tolerance, and superior understanding of world affairs. And even if their knowledge of world affairs is not extensive, they know that their hearts are in the right place—and that, for them, is the main thing.

Are these bishops consciously trying to win plaudits from the press and praise from the Euro elites for their “forward-looking” views? It’s hard to say. But it’s not difficult to imagine that they are subject to the same temptations as the rest of us—and that includes the temptation to pridefulness. That, more than anything else, may explain their uninformed pronouncements on everything from climate change to jihad. If the word “hubris” seems a bit strong, call it “self-satisfaction,” “intellectual complacency,” or “presumption.” Just don’t call it humility.

(Photo credit: Tony Gentile / AP)

William Kilpatrick

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William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com

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