Listening to CNN’s news coverage of the selection of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope, I was moved by God Squad columnist Rabbi Marc Gellman’s view of the new pontiff’s humble lifestyle.
In an interview, the rabbi was asked by the news anchor how difficult it would be for Pope Francis to live in contradistinction to accepted social mores of the day such as the trappings of materialism and excessive sexual freedoms. The interviewer asked how effective the new pontiff will be in leading the church to a higher sense of morality and a stronger sense of humility.
Dr. Gellman’s answer was remarkable. What I took from it was that if we view ourselves and one another as having a limited mortal existence, and if we believe that this is the whole of life, then a more humble and faithful lifestyle will seem unrealistic and out of touch with what actually occurs in the world of declining moral values, conflicted ideologies, and the acquisition of increased wealth and power.
However, if we believe that there is something more than this material life, and view ourselves as spiritual, it is completely natural and consistent to adopt a higher standard of behavior. He went on to say that a spiritual view of oneself lies deep within, and if we are true to that inner self, more of us will be willing to take a stand that can often seem unpopular and unrealistic but really is spiritually acceptable. When one holds a spiritual view of life, the faithful’s lifestyle choice becomes natural, simple, and defensible.
As a Christian Scientist I welcomed Gellman’s comments. The founder of the Christian Science Church, Mary Baker Eddy, quoting from her class book, told her students that “man is not material; he is spiritual.” The very essence of faith depends on this spiritual view, humanly rationalized behavior notwithstanding. She added the entire class book to her primary work on Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” A central theme of that chapter, titled “Recapitulation” – and of the entire book – is how man’s spiritual nature as the child of God relates to and redeems humanity. She identified the falsity of a limited material view in the presence of the actuality of our spiritual nature. She asked readers to “seek the spiritual status of man, which is outside of all material selfhood” (p. 476).
Religious leaders who take a stand for spiritual selfhood in the face of ever-changing human mores deserve our support and prayers. Such leaders serve as examples to all of us to display the courage that must accompany faith in standing up for morality, moderation, kindness, humility, and mutual respect, no matter what the current mores may say to the contrary. This is a common denominator for Judeo-Christian-Muslim unity. Standing up for our better self, as spiritual thinkers and doers, may at times subject us to ridicule. But it will inspire and heal those seeking a more spiritual perspective on life and will bless the world.