Although religion and politics are not supposed to be discussed in polite company, they are nearly impossible to ignore. We try to do so in order to avoid heated, never-ending arguments, preferring to “agree to disagree” on the most contentious ones. It’s a mark of Lockean tolerance, but there are only so many conversations one can have about the weather and the latest hit movie before more interesting and more important subjects break through our attempts to suppress them.
This is evident even when there’s nothing contentious involved in a religious-political meeting. A case in point: U.S. President Barack Obama met Pope Francis for the first time on March 27 at the Vatican, a meeting that would be noteworthy in and of itself because of the offices involved. Yet secular and religious, conservative and liberal commentators immediately began telling us what to watch for well ahead of their meeting, as if there was something significant at stake – which there wasn’t. Obama supporters said the president and the pope are soul mates when it comes to poverty and inequality, while his detractors couldn’t wait to hear about Francis reminding Obama about the U.S. Catholic bishops’ unanimous opposition to the mandated coverage of contraception and abortifacents in Obama’s health care plan. The debate over who said what to whom in their 50-minute conversation continued when the Vatican press office and Obama himself presented different versions of its contents. (more…)