April 4, 2005 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Does the deification of a religious authority (such as the pope or in Hasidism, the rebbe) take away from the message of the religion itself?

While the pope did great things for his followers, it seems that the pomp and circumstance that surrounded him in life and death was not what Christ preached (humility). Are there other organized religions that do this (where the messenger is more important that the message)? This is one of the reasons I have turned away from organized religion.
posted by turbanhead to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total)
Are there other organized religions that do this (where the messenger is more important that the message)?

You could make a good argument that this trend began as soon as Jesus's nails were pried out.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:02 PM on April 4, 2005

So you're asking whether Papa Pope, God's eartly sales rep, and his triumverate of gods violate any tenants of Christianity (cough! no gods before me cough! cough!)? I'm not sure. I'll have to think about it.
posted by ba at 12:02 PM on April 4, 2005

Depends on the religion. Depends on the message. Depends on the guy in charge. I don't think you're gonna get one right answer on this one.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:07 PM on April 4, 2005

This begs the questions "Do Catholics and Hasidic Jews deify their leaders?" and "Why is the Pope more important than the message of the Church?"

No, they do not deify their leaders. No, the Pope is not more important than his message.

Intellectually dishonest, nasty question.
posted by klarck at 12:11 PM on April 4, 2005

Do religions' messages stand independently of their respective leaderships? Some people think religions are more basically social institutions than crystallized messages. The idea that there is one true message we could get after centuries of interpretation is hard to fathom.

And klarck is right, the pope is in no way deified in Catholicism. According to Catholicism he is infallible on matters of faith and moral, but this is far from being deified.
posted by ontic at 12:28 PM on April 4, 2005

turbanhead: " Does the deification of a religious authority (such as the pope or in Hasidism, the rebbe) take away from the message of the religion itself?"

Maybe. But does it matter? Catholicism without the pope wouldn't be Catholicism. Judaism without the rabbi wouldn't be Judaism. The organization is part of the definition of those religions, and trying to modify them into an individualistic religion would change it to something else.

Personally, I feel that the "organized" part of organized religion is the most saddening part. If people spent the billions of dollars a year towards helping the homeless, foodless, and medicine-less instead of for gigantic (albeit beautiful) cathedrals and whatnot, the world would be a much better place. And too many people spend too much time trying to be a "religious person" and not enough time being a "good person".
posted by Plutor at 12:31 PM on April 4, 2005

I wouldn't say "nasty," but naive.

Man more important than the message? How about Reverend Moon?
posted by inksyndicate at 12:31 PM on April 4, 2005

The question doesn't really make sense-- if a central tenent of a religion is that the leader of that religion is deified, then how could it "take away" from that religion? The question only makes sense if the questioner has already decided the answer.

Also, I should note that the example of Hassidism deifying the rebbe is also incorrect. There is a sect within a sect of Hassidism that believe the last rebbe was the Messiah.
posted by gwint at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2005

The "deification" of the pope does not happen in Catholicism and is not what you're witnessing now in regards to John Paul II, regardless of how revered he is, regardless of whether he is eventually beatified and canonized (as I suspect will happen as soon as Church law allows), and regardless of how venerated he may be if/when he becomes a saint. None of these is synonymous with deification.
posted by scody at 12:42 PM on April 4, 2005

The problem with this question is it has no real subject:

Does the deification of a religious authority (such as the pope or in Hasidism, the rebbe) take away from the message of the religion itself?

There's no such thing as a "message" unless there's a particular person (or persons) to hear it. So it doesn't make sense to ask if authority takes away from the message. Whose message? The message being listened to by whom?

Are you asking individual MeFites if they have trouble following the teachings of a particular religious text because they get distracted by ceremony? If any do, I doubt they would admit to it.

Anyway, I'm sure the answer -- for many people -- is sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes they forget "the message" and get caught up in the pageantry. Sometimes they forget the pageantry and get caught up in the message. Sometimes the pageantry and the message serve each other. Sometimes the pageantry is a way into the message.

Are you asking if the average Joe misses the forest for the trees? If so, I doubt anyone knows the answer. Is there really an average Joe when it comes to religious matters. It sure seems like there are a lot of individuals who are loosely following general trends (in their own ways).

And what IS "the message?" Do you mean the message as written in particular religious texts? Do you mean that message as interpreted by individuals (as opposed to by a priest)? Why is the individual's take more valid than the priest's? Why is the text the message and not the ceremony? What if the ceremony is the message? Is scripture distracting people from paying attention to the Pope?

I'm not trying to be snarky. But I think these questions are meaningless (or open to way to many interpretations to be useful) unless you clearly define what you're asking.
posted by grumblebee at 12:44 PM on April 4, 2005

As an amplification to what others have said about Christian Catholics...

As a Protestant I didn't deify this Pope either (although he seems to have been an awfully good, moral, upstanding Christian example). I would assume as a Protestant that most Protestants wouldn't put anyone between themselves and Jesus. I belive that Jesus is the only intecessor between myself and God, and I would posit that most Protestants feel something similar.
posted by tayknight at 12:54 PM on April 4, 2005

"Deified" is a term you should be avoiding. In both Judaism and Christianity, deifying anyone now would be heresy. Do you understand this word means "turn into a god"?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:58 PM on April 4, 2005

I would like to echo what everyone else says about the pope definitely not being deified in the way Egyptian pharaohs and Roman emporers were. Most of the pomp and circumstance results from the long tradition of the papacy and the once strong military and political position of the Pope.

As I'm sure you're quite aware, the pope was granted much authority over the Western Roman Empire by the forged Donation of Constantine. As a person of such great power tradition sprang up to pay him respect and worship which to the lay observer now is viewed as deification or papal worship. What didn't help were the many corrupt popes (see the Medici pope) who were out to simply seek their own self-interests and control a very powerful office. It was in their best interest to trump up the papal position as much as possible.

Keep also in mind that the "deification" of the popes lead to the collegiate reform of Vatican II, giving bishops more power. JPII exerted a lot of papal authority, and will most likely be a criticism in future biographies, but I'm sure the cardinals are seeking to install a pope that emphasizes the collegiate nature of a catholic church. Notice also the pope doesn't wear the triregno since around 1963 I believe.

If you need proof that the pope was really seen more as a leader of an empire than a deity, look no further than the Concordat of 1801. Between Napolean and Pope Pius VII it basically got rid of all papal power over England (as you might guess the nobility of France and the Catholic church went hand-in-hand and a major impedence to a full revolution in France). If the pope were viewed as a diety these demands would destroy important tenants of the faith (relenquishing papal control), but obviously they did not.
posted by geoff. at 1:27 PM on April 4, 2005

I think it does--i'm always suprised by the Hasidic nonsense and Papal veneration and even that some places have official "Chief Rabbis". It's another unneccessary layer between people and their deities.

Isn't that one of the reasons some people give against the whole Marianism(?) thing too?
posted by amberglow at 3:11 PM on April 4, 2005

posted by dash_slot- at 3:34 PM on April 4, 2005

Catholicism without the pope wouldn't be Catholicism.

Tell that to Dutch Old Catholics or Ango-Catholic Episcopalians.
posted by rustcellar at 4:07 PM on April 4, 2005

Anglo-Catholic, naturally.
posted by rustcellar at 4:08 PM on April 4, 2005

I just finished reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, and one of his main points in Siddhartha's spiritual journey was the distinction between following a leader who had attained holiness and actually discovering holiness for oneself. So, from that perspective, yes, it would be distracting from the real goal.

I'm going to assume that you meant 'veneration' more than 'deification,' and say that in my experiences of evangelical Protestant Christianity, I think there is a lot of that, even though there is the ideology that they only follow Jesus and have no mediator aside from him. However, there are many churches where it is anathema to disagree with the pastor, or a leading theologian, or a figure like James Dobson, Billy Graham, etc. When I was studying theology, I found many fellow students who would object to certain points with "but that's not what Calvin/Luther/Arminius/Grenz/whoever says".

The answer to your question would depend on what you're looking for in a faith -- an organized group to join and follow, or a thought to follow.
posted by heatherann at 6:04 PM on April 6, 2005

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