Papal power in the 21st century
Everyone recognises that the pope had a great amount of power in the past. It is relatively recently that Italy became a whole nation state without direct influence from the Vatican in the way it was run. Looking even further back the Pope was the head of a network of influence spanning the whole of Europe that wielded the power of excommunication. Go back to the crusades and the Pope was the guiding force that led Europe into a series of crusades to try and defeat the Middle East.
Those were the days of the warrior church. In the modern era the ghost of the Holy Roman Empire is seen as an anachronism, a state without an army, and a largely harmless ideology. While heads of other religions may launch Jihads, fatwas and the like, it seems as though the Pope is little more than an old man in strange robes who simply tries to encourage folk to live life according to the gospels.
Currently the Pope is one of the more innocuous popes. Speaking out against capitalism and poverty it seems that this is a Pope who can recognise some of our most immediate problems and knows what has to be done with the greatest immediacy to effect positive change in the world. He has given up the tradition of living in the papal palace and prefers to live in a simple apartment. It is rumoured that he leaves the Vatican at night to hand out charity to the destitute whilst disguised in every day garb.
Despite all this positivity in the image of our current Pope he still wields an immense amount of hidden power. In a world where even One Direction have the power to make hundreds of shops sell seemingly endless lines of One Direction merchandise, so that thousands, or millions of One Direction fans can buy money boxes, posters, cushions, mints, etc, it is clear that the leader of a global religion can create huge change with the utterance of a few words.
Thank goodness that we do currently have a Pope who seems to have his heart in the right place. Unfortunately this is not necessarily enough. One of the points on which most of the Pope’s critics agree is that the banning of contraception is not a good idea in a world where there are so many sexually transmitted diseases. Obviously it is not good that people should pick up disease, or even die from disease, and a simple barrier contraceptive would help prevent this in the majority of cases, but I can see the Pope’s point of view. It has been a long standing rule of the Catholic church that life should be encouraged and procreation is good. It has also been a long standing view that sex without procreation is purely a pleasure seeking act. When the greatest pleasure in life is supposed to be God it is natural that competition should be discouraged. Beyond the usually considered dangers of unprotected sex there is also a further danger far beyond most people’s realisation, a danger that is very far from the kind of outcome one would expect to be encouraged by a church of any religion.
We are all agreed that STDs are not good but the less obvious danger is one that is caused by successful gestations. At present most first world countries are experiencing a gradual growth in population due to the advantages of the modern world. In poorer areas of the world there will soon be a much greater amount of growth that could become an issue. China has for a long time had its rule against more than one child per family; India has one of the most incredibly packed populations in the world. In Africa great numbers of children are common for the same reason as they were in Victorian England, they offer the best chance of having children survive to adulthood. Currently population is kept small by diseases but we are rapidly finding ways to cure and prevent these diseases. We are also finding ways in which to increase food yields. These are all good things that we should be doing but as more and more of the world’s Catholics are lifted out of a state of nature there are more and more people who do not have the option of prophylactics to prevent large families.
Every life is a blessing and as any parent knows, their children are wonderful, but it is plain to see that some, due to circumstance, do not end up leading lives as positive as others. This is largely due to attempts to escape poverty or achieve better than that which fate has offered. A lot of us know what poverty feels like and a lot of us know there are better things out there than we have in our lives. Some people end up living like emperors. It is hardly surprising there should be a little jealousy. Recent years have seen the occupy movement and the recognition of the 1%. If this is the reaction of the citizens in the first world to the wealthy few who take the majority of the wealth then just imagine what the swelling populations of the poorer nations will feel like when they discover the riches claimed by those few, or even the comfort that many of our poorer people live in by comparison to so many others in the world.
Those folk who have to walk five miles per day to fetch clean water, and who spend most of their income on just enough food to stay alive already know that there are other folk in other nations who are far better off. It is largely accepted that this is simply the way things are. Soon, however, with greater leaps in agriculture and better understanding of medicine there will be far larger populations within these areas. We know from observation of the behaviour in overpopulated areas of our own countries that people become hardened to humanity when there is just so damn much of humanity around. The appearance of a disgruntled class of people who will begin to feel as though perhaps they have the numbers to take some of that wealth from the greedier nations is almost inevitable.
By insisting on the papal ban of contraception the Pope is likely to be able to add huge numbers to the armies of the future. By ensuring that there are huge families growing in nations where religion is taken more seriously the Pope is ensuring that there will be hungry and disgruntled young people looking for a way out of poverty at just about the same time that the population growth in the west will most likely be slowing or even reversing. There may be vast power shifts in our future and they may be vastly exacerbated by this one small proclamation.