Vanity thought #1399. Popal Warning

After talking about imminent decline of science I thought it was a good time to mention latest Vatican message on global warming. It’s been over a week and the news cycle has moved on but the message might only be starting to propagate in Catholic communities.

This paper was called encyclical and I admit it’s the first time I heard the term. Apparently, it means that this time the Pope was serious, as opposed to his usual blabber. It was issued in the form of 200 page book so it will take time to get translated, read, digested, discussed, and watered down to the actual priests. The US, however, has already released a guide on how Pope’s message is to be presented, and it isn’t short either. Whether people will accept the message is another matter.

For the American public the Pope has been a hit and miss. One day he says things pleasing to the liberals, another day he pleases conservatives. One day he goes along with Democrat party agenda, next he seemingly supports the Republicans. Catholic Church is firmly against abortions, for example, which is a Republican stance, but it now also supports the evolution, which gives ammunition to fire against the conservatives.

The global warming paper supports the Democrats but there are plenty of Republican Catholics in the run for the next year presidential elections and so far they told the Pope to get lost. The highest polling candidate, yet another Bush, said he was not going to take advice on how to run the economy from his priest, but then he has no problem in deferring to religion on issues like marriage etc.

All this mess just shows how divided, confused, and bewildered Christians are, and that’s just among the Catholics. Protestants don’t accept the authority of the Pope but they’ll probably accept his global warming message while Catholics themselves will try to downplay it.

Why is it so divisive? Global warming itself is actually not, it’s the need to do something about it that goes against people’s attachments to material enjoyment. Even Catholics are not going to let Pope stand in the way between them and their sense gratification. Heavily invested Protestants are not going to accept the message either, so it’s actually a false dichotomy. The world is divided here not by religious flavors but by effects on people’s aspirations.

As for global warming itself, the Pope said all the right things. He framed it as not an issue of economics but as an issue of morality and responsibility. It’s God’s Earth to begin with so it’s not ours to destroy, and it’s not prudent to destroy the environment even if we decide to play God ourselves.

Posited this way, it’s not so much about global warming or environment but about fundamental relationships between us, God, and our planet. As aspiring devotees there’s nothing to disagree for us here. Go Pope!

And yet we can pick on him for not being a vegetarian, but if we do so we’ll run into the same problem that has been dogging Christianity since its inception – they are free to interpret their scriptures to suit their tastes and so nothing is ever definitive there .

The current Pope is named after Saint Francis of Assisi who, among other things, was very kind to the animals. It is not clear if Francis was a vegetarian himself but, generally, he ate very little and abstaining from meat was not unusual in monastic communities at the time. Vegetarians, therefore, will pick his quotes on protecting the animals while meat eaters will cite lack of proof that Francis practiced what vegetarians claim he preached.

Pope Francis is not a big eater, he never goes to restaurants, but there are reports of chicken and wine being on his menu. Wine? Seriously? Doesn’t he notice the effect it has on one’s consciousness? Or are all Christians live in a perpetual state of total confusion that they can’t tell the difference between being intoxicated and sober?

We have our regs and I’ve never heard drinking to be a problem for any devotee. I would even say that devotees abstain from drinking because they can’t stand their minds being clouded and unable to concentrate on Kṛṣṇa. The reported feeling or warmth and comfort for us is a feeling of betrayal of our service attitude. What does it say about spiritual advancement of the Pope?

This is the biggest problem we have with Christianity – utter lack of spiritual realizations. Leading a clean and austere life is a prerequisite for any spiritual undertaking and Christians can’t manage even that. For Muslims it’s Ramadan right now, they believe they are “fasting”, but even in their wildest dreams they can’t imagine stopping killing animals for their own pleasure.

It’s no wonder the Pope is confused on so many issues. He’s got brains, we should obviously give him that, but trying to understand science of God with one’s mental prowess along is futile. Arguments can be made for everything and even if in Vedic times jñāna yoga led to legitimate realization of the Absolute Truth on the basis of intelligence along, nowadays people’s intellect is extremely weak and they’ll swallow anything that is only made to look convincing. It was one of favorite Lord Caitanya’s pastimes – challenge people to a debate, defeat them, and then defeat His own arguments in their favor, and so on and on.

Without direct spiritual knowledge intelligence is simply inadequate. We are not smarter than the Pope but we have proper authorities to rely on. Authorities spoke the truth, our job is only to understand how it was so, we don’t get to determine what the truth actually is, it has already been done.

We can, and actually must, humbly say that we don’t know anything and do not have any spiritual realizations but our ācāryas are spotless and we can simply repeat their words. Christians don’t have that luxury.

What did our ācāryas say about global warming, one might ask – the concept didn’t even exist then. And this is another very important point – Pope and his fellow Christians are trying to make a world a better place, more suitable for their perpetual enjoyment, if not for themselves then for their children. They talk about global warming as a threat to their comfort and security. Our ācāryas didn’t think in such selfish and materialistic terms. When they pointed at people’s faults in Kali Yuga they didn’t mention global warming because it’s not the cause but only a symptom of the problem.

When Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī described qualities of the Kali Yuga (SB 12.2) he started with money being the sole criteria for respect and with laws being applied only on the basis of power. This is what led the world to the situation we found ourselves in right now – global warming is the result of our greed and manipulating the laws to feed it. Well, Pope was right about that.

One more thing, in the spirit of yesterday’s post – science should share some of the blame, too. When they invented all those cars and airplanes and factories and power stations they had no idea of the consequences, of the strain it would put on world’s resources. For all the superior knowledge they claimed, they actually had no clue and didn’t even think about that, and now we have to pay for their ignorance, too.

Vanity thought #1250. Christian problems

Frankie the Pope has been a lot in the news recently, I think he deserves being mentioned. Partly because he is the leader of 1.2 billion religious people, partly because he spoke on things that look trivial to us.

First, he had the biggest mass ever in Manila, with six million people in attendance. That’s impressive by any standard. Six million is a huge number, it’s like one in ten able Filipinos was there. It’s more than come to Olympic Games or World Cup. However imperfect, these people came out to celebrate God and His message, and the attendance shows that people still know what their priorities are. It would have been better if they were chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa there but it’s probably as good as it gets in this day and age.

So, during this mass, one little girl came up to the Pope and asked a question about drugs and prostitution. Why does God allow these things happen to children? The Pope was visibly moved by her sincerity and went for a hug. Overwhelmed by emotion he couldn’t talk about anything but crying, he even ditched his prepared English speech and reverted to his native Spanish. He asked everyone to learn to weep for abused children.

That was obviously a non-answer but it had its own advantages, too.

On the plus side, it showed people not to burden themselves with questions about God but display humility and compassion. God’s divinity is not in question, he implied, and so we should worry about what we should do rather than worry about how God might not be doing His part. It’s a good advice, generally, but the execution was clearly below the par.

Lots of media outlets omitted Pope’s real answer:

    She is the only one who has put forward a question for which there is no answer and she was not even able to express it in words but rather in tears.

Understandably, it doesn’t look for the Pope to admit that he has no idea why God makes children suffer. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation why God allows such ignorance to be spread in the name of religion, but it all settles in one word – karma. Well, plus reincarnation, but it’s mostly karma. No one suffers undeservedly, that’s not how God’s creation works

How does it really work, though? Factually, no one suffers AT ALL – it’s all just interactions of material elements, spirit souls are made of different substance and cannot be touched by matter. All the suffering and all the pleasure is only an illusion. Having said that, why do WE have to be subjected to the law of karma? It’s one thing for material elements to move according to the laws of material nature, it’s quite another thing to force our polluted consciousness to do so.

OTOH, it gives us the opportunity to leave this world without worrying about who will occupy our next bodies, the ones we were supposed to acquire according to our mentality. I mean if the law of karma works then whatever we think or want must eventually manifest itself one way or another. We might occasionally think of Kṛṣṇa but we still have enough thoughts to earn us a new body, right? Devotees, however, will not live through that karma, which is great, but what happens to it? The law isn’t supposed to be broken, every action must have consequences.

One way to look at it is to say that our body itself does not produce the next one, only our mind does, therefore when this body dies it doesn’t mean another one must be born somewhere else, meaning there’s no physical, empirical connection between this life and next. If we go back to Godhead the material world isn’t losing anything.

This can be counteracted by reminding that mind is also a material element and therefore thoughts have consequences just like actions do. Our thoughts never go in complete vain, we remember them, they affect us, they influence our future decisions. If thoughts are spoken they affect other people, too, and even if they are not, our behavior might display what’s on our minds even better. There’s no disconnect between gross physical and subtle mental reality. What happens to that mental reality after we go back to Godhead? Who inherits our thoughts?

I don’t know the answer when the question is put this way and, perhaps, it’s time to use Pope’s trick and say that I shouldn’t confuse myself and resort to chanting.

The Pope recommended crying, as I said, but crying for what? For things that are not worth lamenting, as Kṛṣṇa said in Bhagavad Gītā. These unfortunate children are sort of unwanted progeny Arjuna was worrying about in the first chapter and Kṛṣṇa immediately cut him short, the first words He spoke were about “impurities” and “degrading impotence” not befitting his status (BG 2).

This compassion is totally misguided and is born of ignorance, not of knowledge and not of love, more like of unhealthy obsession with acquiring material happiness and satisfying material desires.

How can this leader of the biggest church in the world be so spiritually blind?

It’s one thing for a new bhakta to complain that Kṛṣṇa consciousness doesn’t make him happy, that he doesn’t get enough money or enough sex, but this is supposed to be a temporary stage that passes as one matures in his service and his understanding of his position. Pope should know better but he doesn’t.

He somehow recommends cultivating the very same thing that brought us into material hell in the first place. I know it’s not how they explain his words in Catholic church but the effect is the same – more attachment to material happiness. In Christianity they all suffer for the original sin, the poisoned apple, but what do they do now? Ask for more poison?

They are totally delusional.

Another thing the Pope said on the way back was something about contraception. Catholics are against it but the Pope asked them not to breed like rabbits anyway. He was talking about a woman who had seven children, multiple cesarean sections, and was pregnant again. Pope was seen as judgmental and some people pointed that this woman was simply following the doctrine – breed and multiply.

In a bigger picture, the Pope was talking about causes of poverty and he rightly said that it’s not the number of children that causes it but our crazy economic system. I wish he expounded more on it, and maybe he has, but the media picked up only “breed like rabbits” line.

Officially, Catholics recommend following natural ways to avoid getting pregnant – something about monitoring women’s menstrual cycles, regularly taking their basal temperature and so on. The idea is to avoid sex when women are very likely to conceive. How’s that different from contraception, though? They are still interfering with “God’s plan”, in their speak, just in a slightly different way.

Our answer to “do not breed like rabbits” is overall reduction of sexual activity as the goal of family life, or any human life, for that matter. I had an impression that Christians were aware that overindulgence in sex is harmful to one’s spiritual progress and I wouldn’t have thought of them as “breeding like rabbits” but that is my personal experience, I’ve never met a Catholic mother of seven, the Pope has.

The Pope also commented on freedom of speech issue but I think I’d better cover it separately because it’s a big topic in itself.

Vanity thought #1167. Pope’s roll

Fresh from embracing gay values and blessing divorcées, Pope Francis went to the altar of science and declared allegiance to Big Bang and evolution. I swear I’m not searching for Pope related news but he keeps saying outrageous things that get widely reported and sneak into my news feeds.

A couple of days ago the Pope was speaking at a Vatican science conference and he gave a speech where he said quite a few head turning things about the subject. It wasn’t impromptu speaking, he read from a paper, words carefully selected by his speech writers and approved by himself. He meant what he said.

The speech was in Italian, I can’t understand it, but so far no one claimed that published bits were mistranslated or taken out of context. The only remaining problem is that news media might have put them in different contexts to stress their own narratives. I will probably do so, too, as Hare Kṛṣṇas we have our own story line to develop and Pope’s speech should be seen from our perspective, too.

Depending on what one considers important, there are several sentences to give most prominence to. I, for example, can’t get my head around “God is not a divine being..” but most media outlets focused on “or a magician” part of the speech, which came out twice.

Maybe it was a mistranslation here, I don’t know how any religious leader could say “God is not a divine being”. I don’t know what Pope Francis meant there, maybe just one particular aspect of God’s divinity that he refuses to acknowledge – the one where He acts as a creator. Maybe it’s so ridiculous that it’s not meant to be taken at a face value but then he also argued WHY God was not a divine being – in the magician part. He was serious. He stripped God of at least some of His divine powers.

Now, the most often quoted magician part is this:

    When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.

Ummm, how would he know? It was this same Pope who said he can’t judge if gay priests are okay by God or not, so how can he claim to know what God did during the creation?

Again, I don’t know what he meant there. From Bible’s Genesis God appears to be pretty magical, creating the entire universe in just six days. Of course it could be argued whether Christians should read it literally, our Lord Brahmā’s day consists of a thousand of maha-yugas, untold billions in Earth’s years, so on that scale six days is not particularly fast. Still, Genesis stuff IS magical.

There’s also the point about Pope’s choice of words – what’s the difference between “magical” and “miraculous”? In this context it seems the Pope denies God’s miracles. He actually denies that God is “able to do everything”, with His alleged magic wand. I don’t know what kind of God he is talking about but God is able to EVERYTHING by definition.

From here Pope went on to justify evolution: “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.” He also said that God gave creation full autonomy while also guaranteeing his constant presence in nature and people’s lives (how? what kind of presence?)

Perhaps Pope’s statements can be explained away and his new take on Genesis can be squeezed into familiar Christian tenets but I think whatever jugglery required for that would run into a myriad more questions from the orthodoxy. Can’t wait what Intelligent Design people respond to that.

Intelligent Design, btw, seems to be the main target of Pope’s attack. There was another Catholic scholar speaking at the same conference who went directly after the ID and in the end it seems Catholic church has embraced evolution through *natural* selection rather than the Creator’s direct involvement in the design.

Atheists jumped on it, the principle of “enemy of my enemy is my friend” worked fine here. Destroy the ID first and deal with Catholics later. Catholics do not seem to represent any real threat to atheism anyway, thanks to this Pope they have excluded God from every day life already, now God is just a sentimental notion for people to hang on to. God has no real powers, He doesn’t control anything, He gave us full autonomy, there are no God’s laws as opposed to nature’s laws, so who cares if Catholics still believe in Him or not.

This is where it can affect us because our ISKCON scientists tied their work with success of Intelligent Design. The strategy, afaik, is simple – sow doubts in Darvin’s natural selection, introduce the Creator, answer all subsequent questions from our books. So far, we have put all our efforts into discrediting evolution, Catholics embracing it would seem like a betrayal from people who were supposed to be our allies.

Well, it’s not up to me to judge, devotees working in science and with scientists might see the situation completely differently. Personally, I won’t be surprised if they ditch ID, too, and for the same reasons Pope did – it’s unfashionable.

Of course I don’t know what exactly moved the Pope to sign up for evolution without creator’s control but his overtures to atheists and gays were certainly influenced by public opinion. When he allowed communion for divorcées, for example, one of the cardinals explained that it would bring many more Catholics back to the churches again. Same attitude is evident in lots of Pope’s talks – how to make his church more appealing to the modern population, how to make it relevant again.

This is another area where his approach might impact ISKCON, too – we used to cite Catholic Church as an example of organization that remained conservative, did not compromise on its values or its teachings, and managed to keep its flock better than crowd pleasing protestants. From CC example we, and I meant our ISKCON strategists, concluded that “innovations” do not work in the long term. People go for them in the beginning but they won’t stay, they need commitments to something permanent, something they can sacrifice their momentarily interests for. Up until this Pope, Catholic church provided such a sanctuary and we thought we should not compromise on our practices, too.

CC changing course hasn’t changed the argument but now it must be cited with a disclaimer that we don’t know how these changes will affect the church in the next couple of generations. At least what happened from the revolution of the 60s and 70s up until now still stays.

Another popular point in Pope’s speech concerned the Big Bang. This one is not so important for us, however, not as much as denial of Intelligent Design. Theories about what caused the Big Bang are a dime a dozen, we don’t have a stake in that, it’s not described in our literature and we speculate about it just as everyone else. “Evolution”, however, was done by Lord Brahmā, and he does it every day when he wakes up, repopulates the universe with all the species from scratch. That we will not concede, not matter what the Pope says, though losing such an important ally is obviously disappointing.

OTOH, CC has accepted evolution half a century ago, long before Intelligent Design became a thing. The previous Pope seemed to lean towards ID but Catholic scholars speaking against it now weren’t born yesterday either, it’s just that they are given more prominence under the current regime.

Oh, and the best (or the worst) part of it was that this Pope delivered his evolution speech departing from the course set by the previous pontiff while unveiling a bust in Benedict’s honor. That looks mighty hypocritical to me.

Vanity thought #1159. Pandering CC style

Pandering has become unspoken, self-evident truth, except now it’s called “democracy”. “People’s wishes”, they say, “it’s for the people”, “people have spoken”, and everyone must oblige.

In BBC news feed there’s a story about British couple murdered while on holiday in Thailand. “People” have spoken and the verdict is that the UK must send its own police team to investigate the case because they don’t believe Thai police caught the real murderers. “People” don’t believe DNA evidence, they want their own team to retest the samples, what to speak of the confession which was withdrawn under lawyers advice, and defense attorneys always speak truth and nothing but the truth, as far as “people” are concerned.

Silly notions like sovereignty of Thailand and dignity of Thai police do not matter, not when “people” thousands of miles away demand justice. Thais are not people anyway, they have a huge, nationwide conspiracy to cover up a crime by an “influential person”. Their national police can’t do anything about him, because he runs one out of thousands of bars in some hamlet on some island, and all Thais are on it, fellow bar owners, employees, local police who collect protection money, everyone else who pays the police, and the chain goes all they way up to Bangkok. Everyone “knows” but the entire country is so hopelessly corrupt that “people” of the UK must send their own investigative team and show them how it’s done.

The logic of it is unquestionable, there’s no point even in doubting this narrative, no one can go against “people” here, and the Prime Minster must demand Thais to give up their sovereignty. “People” have spoken, they even have a petition dutifully signed by 100,000 UK citizens, government must react. All hail to the powers of the Internet, ‘cos that’s where all this is coming from.

It’s not the details of the case that interest me here, I don’t know them anyway, I just came across one starry eyed representative of the “people” here. What interests me is all-pervasive, subconscious, fundamental assumption that “people” are always right and must be listened to at all times.

Of course “people” can be manipulated into supporting all kinds of nonsense ideas, that’s what PR companies are for, or Facebook experiments on people’s mood, but that is beside the point.

Latest to jump on “we must listen to the people” bandwagon is Catholic Church. It all started with the new Frankie the Pope, the man of the people who made it his mission to reconnect the church with the grassroots. He preaches humility and he practices it as well, from actually washing the feet of selected faithful to regularly picking up the phone and personally answering letters sent to his office.

Earlier this year he got in trouble for making concessions to a woman who married a divorced man in a civil, not church ceremony (divorce is still forbidden there) but that didn’t stop him. Recently he called the family of the man beheaded by ISIS fanatics in the Middle East.

All this listening to the people made him feel their concerns, which is a good thing, right? Well, what if this association rubbed off on him in the wrong way, like with homosexuality. Gays won full acceptance by the society and in “people’s” eyes there’s nothing wrong with homosexual relationships, gays are as sincere about approaching God as anyone else, and therefore they should be treated like anyone else.

Who is this “pope” man to argue? Well, this one actually said “who am I do judge” so he is “with the people” on this.

And so against this background that holy (and democratic) Synod, which is currently in session, has issued paper that calls for acceptance of homosexual relations. Gays are now to be valued, their sexual orientation must be valued, and their marriages recognized as some kind of support in people’s lives.

It was a preliminary report to be voted on and it didn’t pass, as had become known a few hours ago, so CC doctrine got saved by the skin of its teeth, but it appears that these controversial paragraphs still gathered over 50% of the vote, just not the required two-third majority.

It also appears that this push came from the Pope himself and that the issue will be raised again next year when Synod reconvenes in larger numbers and so would become open to lobbying.

People have spoken and they might also rewrite the Bible while they are at it. Who is this “God” character to argue with the people anyway? “People” invented him and he must follow them in every respect or lose all credibility.

There’s at least one unequivocal passage in the scripture (Cor 6.9):

    Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men

But that can’t stop “people revolution”. God must keep up with the times and if we say gays deserve Kingdom of God then God must comply. We’ll sign a petition with a million of signatures if necessary. Those medieval cardinals in Vatican cannot stop the flow of history, we’ll send them the message – approve homosexuality or else. Catholic Church must not be seen on the wrong side of history here.

Do I need to mention it was sarcasm?

The world has gone crazy, “people” got so drunk with their power that they can’t even fathom there’s another reality where their speculations and disgusting “culture” carries no weight whatsoever. They can’t even imagine such a place can exist.

Wait until they hear that God is the Supreme Autocrat and there’s no democracy in His KINGDOM. “People” would probably say they don’t need this god and his kingdom if they can’t vote him out.

The whole idea of unquestionable surrender is repulsive to them, it might as well be non-existent, they have successfully cut it out from collective consciousness and God must not be allowed back.

What it means for us is that we are also part of the same world where these same “people” dictate their will and so we must take them into consideration. Obviously, it affects how we preach and how we settle these matters within our own society, but it also means that atheists are drifting further and further away and we’ll start noticing irreconcilable differences that arise from such fundamental disagreements in our views of the world.

We would appeal to things and authorities but their value will not be understood or accepted by our opponents, like Thai sovereignty I mentioned earlier. There’s no such thing as sovereignty in public consciousness, all leaders all over the world must be answerable to “people”. This goes without questions, all arguments against it elicit only blank stares.

But, perhaps, we should pay more attention to our own purity first and how we can cope with rising acceptance of homosexuality. We can’t deny that it “feels good” and homosexual marriages feel righteous to the practitioners, and we don’t know what to say in response other than insistence on strict interpretation of our fourth reg. I don’t even know why we should be talking about “interpretations” here, it’s as clear as day, and it rules out all homosexual relations. Period.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, BUT..

No buts.

Vanity thought #779. Even Pope knows it

So it must be true – endlessly arguing in defense of our siddhanta leads nowhwere.

About a month ago Pope Francis said in an interview that catholic church cannot focus only on abortion, contraception and gay marriage, it must find a proper balance and put those issues in proper context. Without balance, he said, the moral structure of the church will fall like a house of cards.

He didn’t change his position on the doctrine itself, he didn’t become pro-gay or pro-abortionist, but he said that this is not how church should define itself – they have bigger fish to fry with preaching, love and bla bla bla.

This is a very wise decision – they realized that they can’t win an argument by producing more arguments. Everywhere you look there are hot debates on every issue yet I don’t recall a single case where anyone changed his opinion because other side’s arguments were more convincing. It just doesn’t happen.

Is US government shutdown justified? Is Bradley Manning a patriot or a traitor? Should Syria be bombed or not? Well, bombing appears off the charts for now but not because the arguments against it were particularly good.

What arguing does is that it actually entrenches people in their positions, forcing them to defend their views, however erroneous. What arguing doesn’t do is to make people into better Christians, or better devotees in our case.

While we are obliged to protect reputation of our guru and other vaishnavas and we are obliged to protect our siddhanta it’s not our service to go around arguing with people. We are supposed to discuss these issues in the company of devotees, not try to outargue non-believers. Let infidels be infidels, we should preach only to those who are favorable to devotional service.

That’s what sankirtana, going form house to house and telling people about Krishna, should be about – finding people who want to hear the truth and engaging them. It’s not about conversion at all, it would be offensive to talk about Krishna to those inimical to Him.

Actual conversion happens in people’s hearts and it depends more on our purity in our prayers than on our external arguments. We preach better by becoming better devotees, and we become better devotees by better executing our service, not by wasting time on arguments.

At some point, and Pope has apparently just caught it, arguing any further pollutes our minds and our hearts, reduces our devotion, and diminishes our chances of success. It empties us inside, it kills our spirit, and it replaces devotion with fanaticism.

A devotee should never be caught arguing, he should rather be seen in places where people appreciate and value our message, places where genuine exchange of loving relationships can take place, places where everyone is engaged in congregational glorification of the Lord. Places of arguments, oth, should be avoided just like abattoirs or gambling dens.

As I said yesterday, problems can be solved and answers can be obtained only through devotion, everything else is treating symptoms while ignoring the underlying disease. This treatment is sometimes necessary but it can’t replace “watering the roots” – when Krishna is satisfied all the problems are solved automatically.

So, kudos to the Pope for this important realization, kudos to the Catholics who support this withdrawal from the useless debate and concentrating on what really matters. We should take heed here, too.

Vanity thought #662. Atheists

They are very interesting people. Normally they are condemned throughout all Vedic literatures and one should immediately jump into Ganges if he happens to see an atheist but we are not living in normal times. Atheists are everywhere, we are forced to live among them and share their association or at least observe them in their natural habitat – modern civilization.

They have one redeeming quality – they want to do good things and be moral and upstanding citizens. Of course they were quite a few mass murderers and dictators in their ranks but those who we meet everyday are not particularly bad in their behavior.

What is the source of their morality? I do not know. The only source of moral standards or any standards at all is God and His laws and so it’s a mystery how atheists managed to appropriate things like ethics or honesty. They can’t adequately explain it themselves.

Obviously any society would function better if its members treated each other with respect and followed some codes of conduct but societies are large and slow to react. Faced with immediate gratification one would be wise to drop the rules and just do whatever he wants. Shoplifting is a good example – everyone knows it’s bad for the society as a whole but so many people indulge in it because effects are so far removed that they are practically negligible.

There obviously are other reasons not to steal or not to cheat than fear of punishment but neither me nor atheists can find them.

Personally I think that while proclaiming their rejection of God most atheists actually grow up in a society based on Christian laws and values and they take them for granted. They just don’t know anything else so they don’t notice that they owe God everything they know.

Anyway, their goodness doesn’t go unnoticed. A couple of weeks ago the Pope himself said something that was kind of approving of atheism. There are different takes on what he meant and how to reconcile it with Catholic doctrine but it all is based on accepting that doing good things is fine regardless of one’s religion or the lack of it.

Some understood it to mean that atheists and Catholics will eventually reunite, some drew a clear line that atheists are still going to hell. That doesn’t really matter, what matters is Pope’s appreciation for good, ethical behavior.

We haven’t been spared from atheist appreciation either though we usually go about it in a roundabout way – we appreciate all the clever things they create and subtly absorb their value structure – respect for human rights, democracy, equality and so on. This erodes our society from within because there’s no equality in Krishna consciousness. There’s spiritual equality but that has nothing to do with us being here. Down here we are all different and we all must find a place for ourselves in the appropriate hierarchy.

We must have superiors and we must have juniors. We must beg mercy from someone and we must be merciful to others.

Actually, there’s no equality in the spiritual world either – everyone is someone else’s servant and everyone is also responsible for some devotees under his wing.

Back to atheists, however. What I find most fascinating about them is their obsession with God. Many of them think and talk about God more than some of us do. They never say anything good or respectful but they talk about God nevertheless.

Should we stop them? I don’t think so.

I see two major principles at work here – everything connected with God is perfect, and offenses against devotees will never be forgiven.

Following the first principle we should let atheists talk about the Lord as much as they like. They will surely be punished but that kind of punishment would be their greatest benediction. Many of us don’t get that. Krishna knows about us but since we aren’t doing anything special we don’t attract His attention. Atheists do, and so they win.

The second principle kills all their progress. If they offend a devotee they can’t be forgiven by the Lord, only by that devotee personally. It’s quite possible that Krishna does not even accept all the talk about non-existence of God as an offense but if atheists turn their attention to Srila Prabhupada, for example, then it becomes unforgivable.

So I think it’s okay to leave atheist to their own devices and if they divert their minds to something else we can gently remind them about God but we should not bring any personalities into the discussion.

We can’t say “Srila Prabhupada said…” because that would surely make atheists question Srila Prabupada’s authority and say something ruinous.

We also can’t say anything about Krishna Himself. We can talk about God only as much as they understand and accept the concept but we can’t describe God’s glories because that would be an offense against the Holy Name. Pretty much everything connected with Krishna is inadmissible. We can’t even say that He is the source of all other incarnations because that is certainly one of His glories, ie a no-go territory.

We can try and expand atheists’ idea of what God is and what are His features but that should be done very very carefully, adding bits and pieces only when they are almost ready to make a discovery themselves. They know that God is the creator of this world and so we can talk about that and explore how atheists try to understand the creator with tools provided by the creator himself. It’s a vast topic that can take any number or turns without actually disclosing any of God’s glories.

We should also keep in mind that this kind of inquiry will never touch the personal aspect of God, only the possibility that God actually has His own life and His own interests. Come to think of it, if our discussions with atheists come to this point that would already be greater than all impersonalist philosophies combined and it would be possible only by the mercy of the devotees.

I mean only if a devotee helps guiding atheists in their speculations about God that they can “discover” God’s personality. On their own people can only understand the existence of Brahman, their “non-devotee” tools can take them only as far as that. No one discovers God by himself, by simply observing and studying the world around him. This has never happened, at most such process culminates in impersonalism.

Another good aspect of atheism is that they always keep us on our toes. You can’t forget God in their association, they won’t let you, and we should be grateful for that.

There’s should be a disclaimer here – I mean actual atheists, people who define themselves by their position towards God. They are different from ordinary enjoyers who can’t care less about God’s non-existence, those are absolutely useless unless they accept our preaching. On their own their life has no value whatsoever, they might just as well be born as dogs or cats, and I suspect many of them end up as pets in their next lives anyway.

Vanity thought #587. The last on Pope

It’s been two weeks since Catholics got themselves a new Pope. He looks okay to me, and that’s what I want to say a few words about – the old Pope looked disturbingly evil.

Even though I appreciate his stance on their theological doctrine and his resistance to liberalism I never got around to liking his face. This is a strictly materialistic judgement, strictly according to my pre-conceived notions of what good and evil people should look like.

If we give external looks any more value than that someone might say that Srila Prabhupada doesn’t look too good either. We can protest about that and say that physical appearance does not show internal spiritual level, or that a person has a weird taste and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to judge people, but it will be too late. I can either denigrate the ex-Pope for his looks and invite the same treatment on Srila Prabhupada, or I can shut up and think of it as some curiosity, nothing more.

But he DOES look disturbingly evil:

Pope

There are, of course, much better pictures elsewhere but this one sums up my memory of him pretty well.

I never liked my own pictures, too, and I remember scaring quite a few people, including children, but I have an excuse – I don’t particularly want to be liked, our goal shouldn’t be success in this world, being rejected is actually a blessing, be it for the looks, lifestyle, convictions, whatever.

A devotee is actually a bane of this world – people should hate us with all their guts because devotees take away their source of enjoyment, they break their dreams about overlording everything they see and ask them to surrender to Krishna instead. Devotees come here to destroy everything people believe in. It’s songs and sweets only in the beginning, afterwards our egos get crashed, slowly and methodically, day by day, round by round, Name by Name, until we finally give up hanging onto our illusory dreams and surrender to Krishna.

The inconvenient truth is that we can’t have both – comfortable life here and devotion to Krishna, so, well, yeah, if people don’t like me they are doing me the greatest service, it’s the ones that admire me I should be afraid of because I might get attached to their veneration. Luckily for me these people are only imaginary, no one likes me that much.

So, until the new Pope does something extraordinary I will leave him and his church alone.

Vanity thought #569. Pope, progress, and ISKCON

There was an article in my local paper that I, unfortunately, can’t trace down, the article that exposed a different aspect of recent Pope’s legacy, one that I haven’t thought of before and one that is very important to our ISKCON, too.

I don’t have much time for research to double check facts presented in that article so I’ll take them on faith. While searching for numbers I found some other interesting arguments that further support the proposed idea.

The article claims that Pope Benedict’s legacy is one for the history while most of us think his reign was quite unremarkable. Why so? I think they are onto something.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (his pre-Papal name, in case you don’t know) started making his mark on the church in the late seventies and it’s this impact – the past forty years, that should define his legacy, not the rather short period of actual papacy.

In the seventies the world, as we knew it, was going to end. Hippies, flower revolution, free love, disco – there was no place for religion anymore. There was place of spirituality and New Age but not for those buttoned up church types with a big stick up their backsides.

Catholics were bleeding like anything, in the space of only a decade or so the congregation lost two thirds of its membership (or so the argument goes). Everyone was leaving, including the pastors, those who stayed demanded modernization or were too busy raping choir boys. Sex scandals were still many years away but it was the height of the abuse. It was predicted that Catholic church would split into some new, protestant like, reformed entity, a deeply traditional American cult, and a few odd souls who still pledged allegiance to Vatican.

That didn’t happen, and much of the credit should go to the future Pope who had become Vatican’s chief doctrine enforcer. He didn’t allow any free love, no sex outside of marriage, no pre-marital sex, and no sex for pleasure only – no contraception. He practically defended our fourth principle. Oh, and there was no place for gays either.

He stuck to these “ancient” principles and insisted on preserving ancient traditions. Bleeding eventually stopped, the church got over sex abuse scandals, and even saw a modest increase in membership in the past decade.

Taken over a century, American Catholics were at the same place where they were a hundred years ago – roughly one third of US population. The author also says that it has done better than churches that went progressive but I couldn’t verify that. “Modern” churches have seen phenomenal growth lately but, perhaps, those that started forty years ago haven’t fared well over the time at all.

Even if they were more successful than Catholics in the past few decades it wouldn’t matter much – it’s the fact that traditional, uncompromising approach still brings results is what’s important. People can create and follow numerous fads and be successful at it, it’s not what we as Gaudiya vaishnavas are after. If it ain’t broken don’t fix it, and similarly we, as a tradition, do not need innovations just for the sake of it.

Here’s Pope Benedict’s take on it, after staving calls for revisionism for most of his career:

Nothing is more harmful to the liturgy than a constant activism, even if it seems to be for the sake of genuine renewal.

There’s another passage on that page that is worth noting, it starts slowly but builds up and leaves us with a very powerful and a very relevant statement:

For over forty years, the vast majority of Catholic parishes have tilted the celebration of the Mass in a manner that was thought to stimulate God’s Really Awesome People. The Church, according to cultural trends, needed to be a more welcoming and friendly place. So we placed greeters at the doors, and, just in case we were not welcomed enough the first time, we are then invited by the lector to greet our fellow pew-mates before Mass begins. The music melody and attendant instruments are also intended to appeal to us, not God, so that the celebration may feel meaningful for us, the worshippers. Whether God, the object of worship, will be satisfied by our selections is not even given a thought.

Does this need translation? I don’t think so. Our wannabe reformers in ISKCON should at least take heed.

If someone says that ex-Pope is not an authority for us I can counter that reformers already bring so many outside ideas for ISKCON to ponder without ever questioning their sources so it’s not a real objection. In fact considering outside counter-arguments is necessary, too, we can’t let ISKCON be shaped only according to their cherry picked ideas from materialistic world. If they want to bring outside in, let’s bring it all first and then sift out what doesn’t stand the test of the outside itself.

Well, this turned out to be pretty conservative post, I wish I had something similar to defend “post-modern” preaching, too. I promise I’ll write about it as soon as something turns up.

Vanity thought #559. Papacy and guruship

The idea of succession of infallible Popes is very much like our guru parampara and that’s what separates Catholic church from all other Christian denominations – they accept the supreme authority of the Pope who himself must be properly authorized. Catholics do not allow any speculations or free interpretations of the scripture as practiced in Protestant churches.

Orthodox Christians believe that the original Pope was a deviant himself so there’s no value to pass on down the generations but let’s focus on Catholics for now.

Unlike our acharyas, Popes are elected. Actually, our ISKCON GBC and ISKCON gurus are elected and voted in, too, but no one believes that simply by securing a vote one would attain the mercy of Krishna. Oh, hold on – that’s exactly what we believe in.

We believe that devotees get empowered through following their guru, and in case of GBC, by following Srila Prabhupada’s desire to see GBC as the supreme authority for our society, and if GBC votes something or someone in, he or she gets recognized by Krishna, too. While it’s not guaranteed that Krishna would infuse these elected devotees with His shakti, it’s the best available solution – Srila Prabhupada wanted GBC to represent Him, Srila Prabhupada was Krishna’s dearmost devotee, if we do not get empowered by following his orders we have no other recourse left anyway.

So, we cannot infuse someone with shakti by voting but we hope that Krishna doesn’t ignore our votes, as long as it’s done sincerely with the sole desire to please Srila Prabhupada.

This principle must be reconciled with the absolute position of a guru. Some devotees can’t get their heads around it and demand that gurus must be fully powerful on their own, that gurus must be liberated souls on uttama level.

Catholics also face same kind of questions – when they talk about infallibility of the Pope. Thanks to Dan Brown’s books the procedure of electing the Pope is well known now and nowhere during the proceedings there’s any place for God to put a tick in the checkbox. It appears that the process of infusing Pope with super power of infallibility is entirely materialistic. It might not be even democratic enough by modern standards, so why do so many people, 1.2 billion, accept the Pope as God’s representative? Where does this infallibility come from?

One answer lies in limiting Pope’s scope of infallibility only to doctrinal matters, not to everyday talks and orders. Apart from resolving theistic issues, the Pope gets authorized to perform certain liturgical procedures like ordaining new cardinals or bestowing sainthood. It’s not unlike our initiations that allow one to worship the deities or perform sacrifices.

So, when Catholics consider Pope’s various roles and functions they come to realize that being the Pope is a position, papacy is an office, Pope is not a person.

Can we apply the same solution to our gurus? It would certainly make it easier to deal with guru falldowns. Or should we see our guru as absolute in every respect?

Actually, the guru is absolutely perfect in every respect he follows Srila Prabhupada. If we see only those aspects we will have no problems at all, but if we get to see the guru acting on its own we should be very cautious – we can’t afford to develop critical attitude and we can’t blindly follow unauthorized teachings either.

In those moments when the guru appears to be doing something else but preaching the message of Lord Chaitanya we should, perhaps, learn to see how everything in the material world still works under direction of Krishna but some actions teach what to do and some teach us what not to imitate.

That’s where it’s important to remember that the guru is not his body. His body is transcendental, like all Lord’s paraphernalia, but sometimes things like conchshells are directly engaged in worship and sometimes they appear to just lie around and do nothing. Same with guru’s body – sometimes it’s preaching and sometimes it’s sleeping. Sometimes it needs to eat and sometimes it needs to procreate.

Some of our gurus have “resigned” from their positions, meaning their bodies are not fit to perform guru duty anymore, but that doesn’t make them any less dear to Krishna or any less transcendental.

Perhaps it’s better to see that our guru is our eternal master but his current manifestation in this world is an “office”.

That’s what the Pope officially said about his resignation – his body can’t perform the functions of the office anymore.

There will be repercussions for Catholic church from this resignation just as some devotees freak out when this or that maharaj retires from his guru responsibilities. I think we all should deal with it in a mature way. I have some ideas about it and maybe by Krishna’s mercy they get into shape in the coming days. So far I can’t “nail” it yet.

Vanity thought #558. Pope goes the weasel

The news of Pope’s resignation has been out for a while now and at first I didn’t pay much attention to it but eventually we should all take heed to it because Catholic Church, after all, is the largest religious institution in the world and our ISKCON should eventually reach that status, too.

Popes don’t usually retire, for the past 600 years death was their only way out so resignation is a very significant event in Church’s history, it’s practically unprecedented considering that we don’t identify ourselves with the world 600 years ago anymore.

At the time of total modernization of every sphere of human life this resignation is like the first divorce or the first abortion ever. It might have its own merits and values but, perhaps, more importantly, it has a profound and irreversible effect on “tradition”.

Now there’s public talk about possibility of the church embracing gay marriage, abortions and whatever else matters to contemporary people. Nothing is sacred anymore – the Pope was supposed to be God’s representative on Earth and if we can willfully severe that connection then we can do everything else we want, too.

It’s been only about a month since the Pope very publicly inaugurated the first ever official Pope’s twitter account – funny how these two firsts came so closely together. Maybe we should consider how changes start relatively small and end up in complete disaster.

This might not sound like a good example or a reasonable connection to make but these are not the only changes the Pope was forced to make – he actually started with financial audits to keep Vatican in compliance with international accounting standards. While on the surface it seems like a welcome development it immediately sparked internal wars and produced accusations of corruption, powerful people got threatened, some went on attack while others took defensive measures.

When it all became public, in the Vatileaks scandal, all the dirty laundry was out and caused the Pope’s resignation. Yes, they tightened up procurement policies and saved quite a few euros here and there but is it worth destroying the credibility of the institution they originally set to strengthen when they introduced new accounting policies?

The reformers would say that they will build a new Vatican, more open and transparent and better in every way, and it sounds wonderful, but pessimists would say that by solving one problem they create a multitude of new ones and from now on it will be just like the rest of the world – chasing an impossible dream with more and more efforts needed to solve more and more problems and there’s no way you can return to simple ways of the past.

Old Vatican could lay claim to being connected with God from its very foundation, new Vatican would be an entirely human creation, and they started modernizing it when credibility of modern financial system has been completely undercut. They can’t sell this financial transparency dream elsewhere anymore but somehow Church’s leaders bought into it and committed themselves to this reform.

Anyone who has tried it knows that there’s no end to it, every time it fails to deliver you’d be required to dedicate even more resources to it, make even more changes to your life and your attitudes. Reforming yourselves to fit with modern standards requires total dedication and total surrender. You’d have to give up your culture and all your traditions to succeed in keeping up with times.

Elsewhere it’s called westernization, now even Vatican got hooked on it and it suffered its first causality – the Pope himself resigning in frustration, and it’s just the beginning.

In ISKCON we’ll come to face similar problems, too. There’s no lack of reformers and innovators in our movement and we are alsooddly fascinated with modern managerial practices. FDG issue is just one of the aspects of “westernizing” ISKCON, we’ve already adopted divorces and a loose interpretation of illicit sex, and homosexuality is always lurking around, waiting for its chance in the limelight.

Our GBC needs to keep a fine balance between the legitimate need to adjust to time, place, and circumstances and being pressured by foreign, non-devotional ideas.

There’s also an amazing absence of any spiritual considerations in all of this – it’s all about management and politics and all kinds of material needs and considerations, nothing about Krishna (or God for Catholics). I guess it’s because we apply a completely godless value system to judge our performance and, consequently, get a completely godless set of proposals for improvement.

My personal stand is that these reforms are like a vampire – you don’t invite one in your house because once you let him in you are finished.