“Repubblica” Interview And Explaining The Obvious: Proselytism.
It might be useful to expand a bit on a couple of the controversial statements of the Bishop of Rome in the recent interview: those concerning the “proselytism is nonsense” stunt. .
As the headlines, even when true, only report the actual words, the context can help us to better see what the situation was and was Francis was doing. In addition, we can use this to observe the way communication works, and apply it to all the other pieces of nonsense the Bishop of Rome continues to regale us with, and which are too numerous for a blogger who also has a job to examine in detail.
I have read the Italian of the text, and can vouch for the correctness of the translation.
Please consider that Repubblica is one of the biggest newspapers in Italy. It is not read by theologians, but by millions of John Does (or rather Mario Rossis, or Giovanni Colombos). Francis knows this perfectly well. He also knows the readership of the newspaper is one of leftists, generally entirely godless or tepidly cafeteria Catholics. This is not a newspaper bought by people of conservative attitudes, or by people ready and willing to give his every word the ideal, theologically appropriate Catholic interpretation after they have spoken with their parish priest.
Let us see.
Ora son qui. Il Papa entra e mi dà la mano, ci sediamo. Il Papa sorride e mi dice: «Qualcuno dei miei collaboratori che la conosce mi ha detto che lei tenterà di convertirmi»È una battuta gli rispondo. Anche i miei amici pensano che sia Lei a volermi convertire.Ancora sorride e risponde: «Il proselitismo è una solenne sciocchezza, non ha senso. Bisogna conoscersi, ascoltarsi e far crescere la conoscenza del mondo che ci circonda. A me capita che dopo un incontro ho voglia di farne un altro perché nascono nuove idee e si scoprono nuovi bisogni. Questo è importante: conoscersi, ascoltarsi, ampliare la cerchia dei pensieri. Il mondo è percorso da strade che riavvicinano e allontanano, ma l’importante è che portino verso il Bene».
And here I am. The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: “Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.”It's a joke I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”
The dynamic is clear enough. Francis says a light joke to Scalfaro about “attempts at conversion”. The other jokingly answers “same here”. At this point, Bergoglio launches an abrupt “proselytism is solemn nonsense”.
The reader does here what everyone of us does when he reads or talks: he follows the conversation. The Bishop is immediately linking “conversion” to “proselytism”, and calls the latter “nonsense”. He does not say anything on the lines of “I'd love to convert you, dear Dr Scalfari, but I am afraid it won't be that easy, or that fast”. This is the kind of answer a gracious Italian Catholic would have given; I mean spontaneously given, during a jovial conversation, because he is a Catholic. He does not even say “I wish I could make you understand how important salvation is for you, but I must pay attention that my imprudent enthusiasm does not result in the opposite of my intent”, thus making clear that if badly made, proselytism can backfire.
No. Francis is very brutal. It goes directly to the core of the matter (conversion) and says that… proselytism is nonsense. He says this, full knowing his words will go around the world as meaning the very words he has said: proselytism is nonsense. Not “some proselytism is nonsense”. Not “proselytism can be nonsensical”. Not “proselytism is good, unless it is made by a fool”. Nothing of all this. He says
“Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense.”
To expect that the millions of readers of Repubblica and all over the world understand these words as anything different from what they very obviously mean is, truly, a solemn nonsense, and it makes no sense.
Also, Francis does not say that, say, after the two have improved their acquaintance he hopes he might persuade Scalfari to come closer to God, and perhaps to explore again, together with him, the reason of the Faith in friendship and without prejudices. He is not interested in converting the man at all, be it in the long or in the short term. He simply acknowledges the two have chosen very different ways and is very happy for this to be so, because “the important thing is that [their separate ways] lead toward the Good”.
Scalfari could have said exactly the same words to Francis, and no one in his right mind would ever interpret this as a desire of conversion to atheism.
“But Mundabor” – you might say – “you are now dissecting and analysing every word! Francis cannot dissect and analyse every word before he speaks!”.
To this I answer:
1. He can (in a way). This is an interview for a newspaper, not a live TV show. He could certainly ask to read the final draft and have the parts that aren't good or do not reflect his thinking to be taken away. If he hasn't done it, well he is a vainglorious fool who knows he tends to talk a lot of rubbish but thinks an interview on Repubblica is more important. Besides, I cannot imagine Scalfari would have said “no: either the text as it goes out of the recorder or no interview”. That's why you make newspaper interviews nowadays.
2. Think of how conversations happen. You have a leading idea that you want to express, and your words spontaneously express the idea you have formed. Our communication is spontaneous and authentic exactly because we do not have time to chisel two minutes on every word. What the heart feels, the mouth will tell, because words are but the expression of the concepts we have in mind. This is why when we are in conversation we generally do not stop our interlocutor asking to repeat the concept three times with different words. This is also why when – which at times happens – something isn't clear we stop the interlocutor immediately and ask him to explain it again; or why when we understand we might have expressed ourselves badly – also a rare occurrance: the mouth has generally no problem at all in expressing what the mind thinks – we immediately correct ourselves.
Not here. Francis is very sure of what he says. No qualifications, no distinguos, no problem at all with planting “proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense” in the middle of the conversation and leaving it there. What the heart has felt, the mouth has spoken.
It astonishes me that it could be any differently, not only here but in every interaction. If we had to apply the method some suggest we apply to Francis to every interview, newspapers and TV interview would be a solemn nonsense, they would make no sense.
I insist on this latter expression. Read it again. When I write “it's a solemn nonsense, it makes no sense”, does anyone have a doubt about the meaning of my words? Really?
And by the by, do I really have to spend one hour and more at the keyboard for such a simple concept? Isn't it what Francis has already said? Do you remember the “Rehab” post?
Do you need to convince the other to become Catholic? No, no, no! Go out and meet him, he is your brother. This is enough. Go out and help him and Jesus will do the rest”.
For heaven's sake, let us stop telling tales to ourselves.