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SF Chronicle: 14 Thoughts For The New Pope

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14 Thoughts For The New Pope

Condoms. Female priests. Stop gay bashing. And dammit, do something about Christian rock

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

OK, first things first.

They say you're a hard-line conservative, new pope Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Benedict XVI) of Germany. Very old school and drab, a real lover of repressive, bitter, orthodox doctrine. No fun at parties. Catholic in chains. What glorious times of joy and progress the church is in for, millions now say, dejected sarcasm dripping from their once-hopeful mouths.

See, most spiritually progressive peoples the world over were sort of hoping for a new pope who would recognize this as a historic opportunity, an unprecedented moment for the church to finally get with the times, modernize, shake off the dust and roll some bones and pry open some of those old dungeon doors and bring in some goddamn light.

You know what we wanted? More sex. Love. Good TV. Gender freedom. Better wine. Less sneering doctrine and homophobia and sexism and more fun with condoms and music and spiritual joy. But, instead, we got you.

So then, before you venture forth on your ostensible path of increasingly bitter conservative dogma, Benedict, you need to be reminded. Right now. Before it's too late. Is it already too late?

Here, then, 14 random thoughts and ideas, all for you, Benedict, on the off-off chance you're open to such things. Which of course, you're probably not. But trust me here, this is what we were hoping for. And you need to hear it.

1) You read it right: Endorse condoms. Crazy, isn't it? But this is what millions were hoping for. Condoms and birth control and finally allow your miserable, repressed priests to get married and have sex so as to avoid mental breakdown and spiritual angst and gross pedophilic urges. Hold to the Old Ways on this topic, Benedict, and you'll simply become even more archaic and silly and disrespected to the point where no one of the independent-minded and especially female persuasion anywhere in the world will have any respect for what you stand for. I am so not kidding.

2) Enough with the gay bashing. I know, seems almost quaint, given your orthodoxy. But haven't we had enough of calling gay marriage part of the "ideology of evil" that is insidiously threatening society, as your predecessor did? Sure, he was "the people's pope." But if those people happened to know a thing or two about interior design and good shoes and where to buy the best lubricant to go with their Mazda Miatas, he was suddenly like Karl Rove at the Vagina Monologues. Which is to say: abusive and mean and more than a little disrespectful. And who wants to be like that?

3) Let's shift gears. Let's get philosophical, Benedict. Sounds like you could use some new philosophy. If Buddha and Allah and Jesus were playing blackjack and Satan was dealing and had a six showing, who would be most likely to double down? Have you ever been to Vegas, Benedict? Is it possible to know the heights of grace without knowing the depths of happy sticky sin? In other words: If you don't see God after spending two hours and about 500 bucks at the Palomino, does it mean you're not tipping enough? These are the things you should know.

4) You are multilingual. They say "The Da Vinci Code" has been translated into 40 languages, and you can probably read about nine of them. I know, the book's basically a clever pile of religious conspiratorial fantasy. Or is it? That is, everyone knows the church has stolen and repressed and rewritten the world's (deeply feminine) religious history a thousand times over, as it sees fit. Doesn't that make you a little uneasy? Sad? Hell, the book's a best seller in your own home country. And that creepy conservative Catholic sect Opus Dei has a vested interest in your bitter ideology. Does that make you sleep funny at night? Put another way, were you as disappointed as the rest of us when you heard Tom Hanks was going to play Robert Langdon? Weren't you expecting someone a little more, oh I don't know, interesting? Rugged? Jeremy Irons? Liam Neeson, maybe?

5) Which reminds me: Pope, go see "Kinsey." Pronto. You could really learn something about sex and love and raw human heat. Plus, Laura Linney. Yum.

6) Pope, why is Christian music still so patently awful? Do you know? Oh, I know, there's all these quasi-hip new Christian rock bands and drug- and alcohol- and debauchery- and nipple-clamp-free Christian rock festivals drawing tens of thousands of completely sanitized teens, and sure the songs no longer have to mention Jesus or the word savior, or Lord, or "Don't touch my genitals" in the lyrics like, five hundred times to make it clear they don't have much fun in life, but still. Christian rock is an oxymoron, Benedict. Forever and always.

7) A related confession: I recently found myself sampling snippets of the new Kristin Chenowith album on iTMS, mostly because she's that cute little thing from "The West Wing" and she has that adorable mouse-on-helium voice and I wanted to see what she sang about and oh sweet Jesus this toxic CD totally decimates all thoughts of her cute likeability, and its numbing saccharine Jesus adoration makes you gag and sigh and wish she would discover the joys of a good Hitachi Magic Wand and a gallon of premium vodka. What is wrong with her? Why is music like this?

8) You know who Jesus would have liked? Pearl Jam. Nick Drake. Maybe some classic Deep Purple (for the badass organ). You know it's true.

9) Speaking of "The West Wing," we all know it's just not the same without lots of Martin Sheen and if they go for one more season you know it's gonna be all about Alan Alda, which isn't all that bad, I suppose, and could be far worse, but hey how cool would it have been if we had had Jimmy Smits for president?

10) And, by the way, Martin Sheen's President Bartlet is a devout Catholic, and still a rampant pro-choice liberal. Isn't that great? You don't have to be so unhappy and conservative, Joe. Hey, speaking of Sheens, whatever happened to Emilio Estevez? Oh wait, I know. Two words: Mighty Ducks. Look for him on "The Surreal Life 3" in 2006.

11) Do you get pay-per-view in the Vatican? You do? Order "Repo Man." Now, that's good Emilio. Still weird. Still a classic. Now, Harry Dean Stanton, he would've made a great president. Remember him as the Apostle Paul in "The Last Temptation of Christ," a film so ridiculously better than "Passion of the Christ" it makes me scream? Can you do something about my sadness, pope? Can you slap Mel Gibson? Alas, I fear you cannot.

12) True, some kudos go JPII's way for opposing the death penalty and advocating human rights and opposing communism and for sort of mildly seeming to oppose BushCo's insidious little war, but man, have you got a long, long way to go. Hell, it took forever for JPII to barely lift a finger on the still rampant, churchwide pedophilia scandal. Remember these words? Cocaine. Sodomy. Sex with teenage girls. Booze. Molestation. Sex as a means to access God. Pot. Rampant homosexuality. Damn, pope, the luscious Burning Man festival has nothing on the Boston Archdiocese. Remember? Because you really, really need to. After all, Boston is just the first.

13) And now, women. Ratz, your church has bashed the divine feminine for so long, it's sad and frightening. But of course you know the Goddess is making a comeback, yes? Have you taken note? John Paul did, and he was scared, scared, scared. Because man, is She pissed. Wouldn't you be? The Goddess is everywhere: women's rights, female Episcopal priests, wicked-smart scholars, pop culture icons, entire monologues spoken by irate and needy and blasphemous vaginas. Smack her down again at your peril, pope. Wake up and smell the Shakti. Translation: Female priests. Now. Vatican III? You know it's time.

14) And finally, consider this: branding. It's the latest thing. Everyone's doing it. All the old sports stadiums, buildings, events. Why not you? Why not the pope? Hell, you're planning on taking the church down a much stricter road of drab ideology than JPII ever dreamed, so you're as much an edifice, an aging artifact, as anything. Just think of it. You could be the Advil pope. 3Com pope. Google pope. And now, here's the pope, brought to you by the new Ford F-150 Extended Cab XLT. Imagine. Your robes could be covered in patches and silly logos, like a NASCAR driver. Mopar pope. Midas Muffler pope. Penzoil pope. The mind reels.

Sorry, that one's a little silly. But do you see? See how easy it is to get distracted? How easy it is to ignore you and deem you totally insignificant in the current Dark Age/Imminent Rebirth of the individual self-defined dogma-free spirit?

This, then, was to be your biggest challenge. To make yourself relevant again, make yourself known. To make open-hearted and sex-positive and choice-happy and pantheistic changes to your dusty dying church that make the world sit up and take notice and applaud.

Is it still possible? Is there still a glimmer of hope that you might choose to buck dour church tradition and kick down the doors and throw open the stained-glass windows and remake yourself as modern, as inclusive, as the Pope That Changed Everything? Because right now, the world has this sad, sinking feeling again. All signs point to more of the same as the last bitter and bilious 2,000 years, if not even worse. All signs point to more repression, homophobia, intolerance, denial, insularity, guilt like a weapon.

But hey, maybe I have you all wrong. Maybe there's more to you than meets the skeptical, untrusting eye. Are you willing to at least take a peek? Consider a small dose of the new? See how the other half lives? Very doubtful. But at this point, the world can only hope.

Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF Gate, unless it appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which it never does. Subscribe to this column at sfgate.com/newsletters.

Further Reading:

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