I always viewed the reigning pope the way I did John Lennon — an older man with an uncommon capacity for love and forgiveness. An idealist with the soul of a poet. A bit of a chump. It was the chumpiness that I related to the most.
Look, I can’t make heads or tails of everyday life, let alone any sort of afterlife, so I am probably the last person who should weigh in on the power of organized religion.
Think of me as a Marxist in a bread line: I have a lot of answers. What I lack is bread.
Yet have you ever seen a man so at peace with himself as Pope Francis? Were he eligible for president, I would probably vote for him on character alone. As far as issues go, he’s a bit of an extremist and has a baffling stand on warfare. In short, he’s totally against war. No American candidate could ever win with a platform like that.
I mean, without war, what would we have left to export?
“The pope seems nice,” the little guy observed while watching his holiness on TV during his recent visit to the U.S.
That seems a given, but not all popes have been “nice,” and some have been as vile and corrupt as almost any figure in history. As recently as the Middle Ages, popes were fond of murder, sex, scandal, power plays — all the stuff we see in our most popular TV shows. One famously had a foe’s body exhumed, then defingered. Another complained when the screams from the torture chamber weren’t loud enough.
Were God on his game, we probably wouldn’t even need popes, yet everybody needs a little help. We are now on our 266th pope, and I think the little guy is right in his visceral assessment: This uncommonly reassuring pontiff is nice and genuine and is that elusive personal quality we’ve come to value over anything lately: authentic.
That’s what the little guy was seeing on TV that morning — a famous person with a quiet aura. In his 12 years, I don’t think the little guy had ever witnessed such a thing. Culturally, his America is an abandoned theme park. The zombie ride operators? Ariana Grande and Kanye West.
So I give you Pope Francis, the gateway drug to serenity and hope.
Obviously, Americans are deeply desperate for any sign of sincerity. It is reflected in many things — from indie movies to our cravings for artisanal cheeses — almost anything produced in smaller batches, with a sense of pride and craftsmanship.
I don’t think it is age-specific either. You see it at farmers markets, when doctors and CEOs shell out a few extra bucks for honey straight from the bee. You see it every time a struggling 25-year-old orders a craft beer instead of a sad can of Bud.
Speaking of holy water, when Anheuser-Busch bought out L.A.’s largest craft brewery last week, a little part of me died. It was like when the Vanderbilts accumulated railroads or Gould and Fisk cornered the market on gold. If you can’t mine your own gold — or your own decent beer — just buy up all the good beer and call it yours.
In an age when we can turn toilet water into tap water, producing a decent beer shouldn’t be an unobtainable alchemy. But it suddenly has become just that.
This local acquisition is grossly artificial and insincere and dispassionate. I think (and pray, Holy Father) that this corporate land grab somehow fails.
And it may. Of all the age groups that have embraced honesty and authenticity, I think it is the beer-loving millennials more than most.
I picked up on that at a recent pregame party. The 25-year-olds circled a keg of craft beer like altar boys at a dice game. As if summoning some ancient hymn, they sang their praises for the older adults who’d had the good sense to choose something artful instead of something crass.
Really, we are not so different — no matter our age, religion or creed (whatever creed is). We are thirsty for good experiences and honest leadership. I don’t know if that is passed from God to popes, or fathers to sons, or just from party guest to party guest.
Whatever the reason, it’s a relief to see that our default emotions are mostly sincere — not papal necessarily, but appreciative of the greater good and the small, authentic choices that we brew into rich and proper values.
Virtue. Forgiveness. The good and artful life.
Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @erskinetimes.